We are surrounded by animals and we don’t even know it.
Animals don’t just live within reality, but also live within mainstream media, films, advertisements, shows and documentaries.
We, as consumers, obliviously accept most of the information that is given to us through the media and don’t question things further, especially when it comes to animals.
The 1939 film ‘Jesse Jackson’, was created as part of the Western genre. A traditional convention of the Western genre is the stable horse which are used in getaways and standoffs.
However, this film took the idea of getaway too far.
Towards the denouement of the film, the main protagonist and his trusty steed escape their followers by jumping off a cliff. While watching this particular scene, we as an audience are not particularly moved because we recognise movies as fiction. We may be moved to a slight reaction, however, this is only temporary when we see the horse and his companion arise from the water.
In actual fact, the horse doesn’t. The horse does not resurface.
It was later revealed that the horse was blindfolded and forced to jump from a 70-metre cliff for cinematic appeal. The drop itself didn’t kill the horse, but the shock of the jump and landing into the water caused the horse to go into state of shock which ultimately drowned him.
However, this information wasn’t readily available to the public, so it wasn’t questioned.
A year later, officials investigated the famous horse cliff scene and deemed it as harm to animals after information was released that the horse did in fact die. This saw the invention of The American Humane Association Film Unit in 1940 who became the officials who deemed if media that used animals harmed animals or not.
The still image from the Jesse James film looks extremely similar to that of the man falling from the Twin Towers during the 9/11 attacks.
The only difference is that the image of the many falling to his peril caused an uprising within audiences who deemed the image as too confronting to be broadcasted on television.
“Bill Feehan, second in command at the fire department, chasing a bystander who was panning the jumpers with his video camera, demanding that he turn it off, bellowing, “Don’t you have any human decency?” before dying himself when the building came down. In the most photographed and videotaped day in the history of the world, the images of people jumping were the only images that became, by consensus, taboo—the only images from which Americans were proud to avert their eyes.” (Junod, 2016)
It is interesting to note the difference between the two scenarios. Both stories look at a distressed individual forced to jump. However, the Jesse James film lead to the creation of an animal association to label media as “no animals were harmed in the making of this piece’ whilst still keeping movies such as this on air. Whereas the 9/11 image of a man falling caused an uproar in the audience to keep the images off screen.
This clear distinction between the two refers directly to Jean Baudrillard’s theory of Simulation and Simulacra where the simulacra no longer points to the original as it becomes the original.
The media has desensitised audiences toward animal involvement to the point that we remove ourselves from the reality of cruelty toward animals. Much like dead metaphors such as horsing around and pigeonholed, we no longer associate the animal being to the saying, it has been completely overwritten–thus demonstrating the harsh hand the media plays in audience manipulation.