From Carnism to Cannibalism: intersectional speciesism in fiction film, Cloud Atlas

Herring, L 'From Carnism to Cannibalism: intersectional speciesism in fiction film, Cloud Atlas' , in: Animal Activism On and Off Screen , Sydney University Press. (In Press)

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documentaries. This chapter explores what a fiction film can say about animal activism when read from a critical intersectional perspective. In 2012 Cloud Atlas was released to surprisingly little fanfare, garnering mixed reviews and underperforming at the box office. The film, based on a novel of the same name often described as “unfilmable”, comprises a number of interweaving stories that foreground issues of race, gender, sexuality and spirituality. The film serves to identify the superficiality of these differences and highlight the principal of interconnectedness that unites us all as “one tribe”, that binds us beyond the reductive process of labelling. Intersectionality plays a crucial role in the film’s portrayal of these constructed distinctions and the critical response to the film clearly identifies this. However, what is less acknowledged is the aspect of the storyline that focuses on speciesism. Richard Ryder suggests in his seminal work on attitudes towards speciesism, Animal Revolution, that ‘those of us who seek change’ should ‘press on with our campaigns to educate and legislate’ (2000: 250). I suggest that a critical reading of Cloud Atlas supports such an education. In his short history of speciesism, Peter Singer establishes that the practical matter of ‘the rule of the human animal over other animals’ can only be properly understood as ‘the manifestations of the ideology of our species – that is, the attitudes which we, the dominant animal, have toward the other animals’ (2015: 185). Singer notes that our attitudes towards animals are formed when we are very young and that ‘we eat animal flesh long before we are capable of understanding that what we are eating is the dead body of an animal’ (2015: 214). With its depiction of meat farming human bodies, Cloud Atlas makes a direct comparison between the dead bodies of humans, as abhorrent, with the dead bodies of animals, as widely accepted. In doing so, the film draws attention to the ‘invisible belief system’ that Melanie Joy refers to as carnism; the theory that ‘we eat animals without thinking about what we are doing and why because the belief system that underlies this behaviour is invisible’ (Joy, 2010: 29). This chapter seeks to address, through contextual analysis, the way in which Cloud Atlas critiques carnism, by simultaneously connecting the meat industry with cannibalism, human slavery and sexual exploitation. Carol J. Adams in her work on The Sexual Politics of Meat (1990) draws attention to the relationship between meat-eating and issues of gender, class, race, and power. I contend that this relationship is likewise highlighted in Cloud Atlas. The spirit of connected souls and the belief that we are all united that underpins the films morality is emulative of Ryder’s ethos of speciesism; ‘We want people to open their eyes and to see the other animals as they really are – our kindred and our potential friends with whom we share a brief period of consciousness upon this planet’ (2000: 250).

Item Type: Book Section
Editors: Herring, L and Parkinson, C
Schools: Schools > School of Arts & Media > Arts, Media and Communication Research Centre
Schools > School of Arts & Media
Publisher: Sydney University Press
Depositing User: L Herring
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2023 10:00
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2023 10:00

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