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The “No Animals Were Harmed In The Making Of This Film” Lie

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I took in a great indie horror film last week. “My Friend Dahmer” screened as the show opener for the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, chronicling the infamous serial killer in his high school days. A generally gore-free film, one particularly tense scene included a young Dahmer tearing a fish apart with a hand knife. I squirmed in my seat, something I’m not known to do during the most graphic human on human violence. Other threats were made to dogs on the protagonist’s journey to hunting humans, but thankfully none materialize on screen (we’re left to imagine that horror for ourselves).

So when the credits rolled and I began my best Roger & Ebert impression for my partner, I noticed the standard “no animals were harmed in the making of this film” line trailing the credits. Somewhere between the name of interns and colour specialists, we’re told that we shouldn’t lose sleep because any animals that were brutalized moments earlier were only actors, well taken care of by their handlers. I immediately begin studying my memory for the fish scene. Could they have worked some movie magic and crafted a replica fish of sorts, with convincing blood packs? My instincts tell me heck no, as fish are not commonly afforded the “animal” title to begin with. Sea creatures, slaughtered in the billions for our palate pleasures, are often left out the conversation completely when we refer to animal use. Haven’t we all met the ‘vegetarian’ that eats fish? They don’t have the high marketing budget or curly tails of pigs, so we can treat them as literal props and not call it “harm?” It’s just the same as treating them as dinner, omega3’s, or a sport–it’s all equally as despicable. 

While I had a moment of silence for the very-likely real fish that was sacrificed unnecessarily for entertainment, I was reminded that even with if a model fish were in it’s place, the actor portraying Dahmer likely wore animal products in the film. And above that, the entire film crew probably did too. I also don’t know if there are vegan craft services on set, but I can safely assume that at least most of the crew tucked into an animal product or two on their lunch breaks. Then there’s a beauty team, and another whole crop of potentially (and likely) animal-ridden products. No matter how glamorous we perceive it to be, a movie set is not unlike our offices, our homes, and all the other places we see animals fall victim to use. 

Clearly, Hollywood’s definition of “harm” does not include systematic breeding, rape, or slaughter. And the people responsible for looking after animals on set do not consider the ones already long dead and served up as relevant. It’s the compartmentalization we are subject to day in and day out. Single-issue campaign fuelled ideas that some animal use is worse than others, or that animals considered property can’t possibly be afforded the same rights as those we make a celebrity of, is the real horror.

Remember when the whole ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ controversy was fresh, and we had to remind people that feeling bad for the protagonist dog was a natural response and it was ignoring other animals who face their own injustices off-screen that was insane? There remains no moral difference between a fish in ‘My Friend Dahmer’ or a steak on your plate, so why are we waiting for that silly little closing credits lie? 

We need to stop turning away from the scary parts of animal exploitation and we cannot continue allowing the gentle back pats of “no animals were harmed” promises to gloss over reality for ourselves or others. Use is harm and that’s of any animal, in any way.

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