Thursday, August 24, 2006

Do not actually kill your cats

My innocent-seeming post on House, M.D. has gotten me in trouble with a friend who works for PETA. So we're clear: I did not censor a comment to this blog: she simply didn't post one. She sent me an email privately, and I have decided to post at least part of my response here.

Anyway, this is at least partially my fault. At the very least I didn't fully explain the joke. See, I was just sort of watching an episode of the show while writing the entry, when something I found funny happened, and I decided to include it.

But the scenario was basically that this woman had allergies she hadn't known about, brought on by a cat she had inherited when her mother recently died. House starts to write her a prescription for pills and she goes "Pills?!?" and makes a face. So he throws away the prescription and starts to write another for a nasal spray, and she goes "Steroids?!?" and makes a face. So House looks at his pad, then back at her, and says "Well, if you live near a river, I can write a prescription for a bag..."

So there's a level on which it's the same as the Solomon "Cut the baby in half" thing. He was saying that the woman needed either pills or steroids for her allergies, or she needed to find the cat another home. He was simply making his point in a way that might be considered inappropriate, which is kind of OK, if only because he's a fictional character whose thing is saying things that a doctor would never say. If I'd posted something about the wisdom of Solomon, though, there is no way I would've gotten an email pointing out how mean people are to babies every day. Unless I had a friend who worked for People for the Ethical Treatment of Babies.

Now I know that this person doesn't have a tv, so would be unfamiliar with the premise of the show. And that she works for PETA, where they are faced with the real stories of terrible things happening to domestic and non-domestic animals all the time. But I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that, as a guy who has two cats myself, I might not actually be advocating the murder of cats.

She went on to say that she was not just getting on my case, that she would call me out if I made a racist joke as well. Which in the first place I don't think is necessarily true. I think if I made a joke that sounded racist, she might assume I was joking about racism, as I undoubtedly would be, because she knows me and might grant me the benefit of the doubt. The other point here being that it's not the same thing at all. I think if you asked someone (we'll call this person Mike) who had worked and struggled against racism their whole lives if these issues deserve to be lumped together, they would feel you were cheapening something important to them with the comparison. I think Mike might say that people use this tactic not so much because they believe it's a valid comparison, but because it's an easy way to rack up a point in an argument. It's the "fuck you" that ends the fight, the invokation of Naziism that gets your opponent to sit down.

I don't, for the record, believe that man has dominion over the Earth and all the creatures therein. I do believe that some legitimately awful things are being done every day to animals. I also believe that some pretty terrible things are being done to humans every day. The fact that I can believe this and not make either one my life's work is not inherently indicative of a flaw in my character. Everybody has to prioritize things and make choices for themselves. And everybody else has to respect the choices you've made, or at least decide that whatever disagreement isn't worth endlessly arguing about. Or decide to not have anything to do with you. It's a basic part of our ability to talk to one another at all.

I guess on some level this boils down to funny vs. not-funny. And I don't necessarily think that because something is a serious topic that it's not ok to make jokes. There's a level on which the things which sadden us are the very things we most have to try to have a sense of humor about. At the very least, it can sometimes help us choose our battles.


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