I think the media needs to adopt a rule about not displaying raw footage of dead animals, especially if they’re in a poor state. It’s gross, undignified and triggering – but most of all, it’s used to convey a very narrow-minded view of a complex problem.
The gross factor ties into the question of dignity: animals need to be shown the way they might be had they been alive. Using their dead, deformed bodies to inspire action on the part of some humans is not fair. The use of such images also triggers guilt, which is not useful when you want the outcome to be positive change.
But the biggest issue is that by using the image of an animal devoid of all agency, apparently at the mercy of human justice, you’re driving home a point more specifically defined than it should actually be: that it’s about saving the animals. It’s not.
Sure, we need to save the animals – but in the process we need to be solving an actual problem as well. Instead, ‘saving the animals’ has been too frequently used as a rallying cry for having done some kind of good when really it’s just been a distraction from doing the more difficult thing.
Recently, when that whale was found dead near a beach in Indonesia with 115 plastic cups in its belly, the gory image was used in the press as if to remind the people that they’re not supposed to be dumping plastic in the sea. I think that’s a problem.
Yes, our world is a consumerist nightmare that’s driving climate change and widespread resource inequalities. However, saving the animals is not the point here. Some whales are dying but if we’re to save all of them, the conversation we need to have is about how we’re going to stop manufacturing plastics and start recycling all of the rest. If we do that, the animals will be automatically saved.
Instead, we’ve got news reports almost entirely fixated on marine plastics and not talking about the way we make, transport, consume and trash plastics at all. This is what fixating on dead or dying animals does: refashions a problem to be far more downstream than and different from what it actually is.