“Can we recognise animals as subjects with agency – without turning them into humans?”

7, 500 years ago in central Europe, Dairy Farms popped into existence and mankind discovered cows milk. Flash forward to the present, and there are now so many cows bred specifically for meat and dairy that they are literally causing a hole in the ozone layer.
Not all of us have had the displeasure of seeing exactly how these products came to be on our shelves in the supermarket, even ones who have still happily consume and continue to contribute to the demand, while the rest are content to sit idly by, munching on flesh and preferring to not think about where it came from.

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Animals have always lived among us, as far back as 10,000 years ago when cats were first domesticated in ancient Egypt. Even then, arguably less evolved as we are now, we were able to look beyond our greed and recognise animals for what they were – companions.
So why do we continue to pick and choose our favourites? What contributing factors come into play when we decide to play God with different species? Who gets to live and who dies?

As humans, we often form attachments with non-human beings or objects, anthropomorphism is older than the internet itself. We adopt dogs, cats, guinea pigs, ferrets, rabbits and even rats to love and form relationships with (I have two cats myself) and yet when faced with the thought of consuming that beloved pet, it’s seen as unbearable, hideous, inhumane. Why?
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It is easy to see why we form these kinds of relationships when you grow up in a world ruled by disney and cartoons. Where your best friend is a little dog with little problems – just like you. Children empathise with these characters, and this form of media is what creates that curiosity and understanding that paves the way for the bonds we have for animals later in life.

In her book Perceptions of Animals in American Culture‘, Elizabeth Lawrence states that: “Among the explanations for why we in Western culture, and particularly in contemporary American society, neotenized our animals as we do is our need to gain a sense control over them. As docile and playful ‘children,’ they may be relegated to a separate category, without full citizenship in our world”.

I agree with this argument, non-human animals are considered second class citizens in our world. The fact that we consume them alone is a testament that we see them as less than we are.

The power of connectivity: YouTube and It’s media domination

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YouTube was created in 2005 by co-founder Chad Hurley (Jawed Karim and Steve Chang) and was sold to Internet giant Google in late 2006 for $1.65 billion (MoreViews Inc., 2012). The creation of this platform allowed the upload and sharing of user-based content, blurring the lines of the relationship between the creators of online media, and it’s audiences. Burgess et al (2009) discusses the importance of YouTube in relation to media production and consumption in the book YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. The authors explore the idea of YouTube as a platform and the participation of the community in a common space.

YouTube intervenes in a much larger history of participatory culture, offering new mechanisms for promotion and circulation of amateur media. YouTube emerged from the utopian fantasies of early cyber-advocates and from the decisions made by a range of different subcultural communities and interest groups to seek a shared rather than localised platform for distributing their content(Burgess et al., 2009)

What this means is that YouTube is not only a technology designed to allow it’s audience to participate, collaborate and generate, it is also a domain for the average citizen, ruled by the production of unprofessional content, and consumed by the same people who created it. This adaptation would not have been possible without the concept of convergence, and has opened up a mass amount of possibilities in relation to the public sphere, including the possibility to distribute news, and quickly.

The introduction of this further developed the idea of citizen journalism, which is widely used today by major news corporations, to allow the general public to participate in what was once considered a professional occupation (Mashable, 2013). Amateurs took to YouTube to share their live news coverage, enabling users to create a participatory culture outside of the control of the mass media giants, who once regulated the gateway that determined the flow of information being released into the public domain.

What differentiates YouTube from the standard social networking site is that it went further by enabling and documenting the creation of an online community in a way that is both visual and interactive. The YouTube logo says it all: broadcast yourself” (Rassi, 2007)

Just as new and developing media platforms continue to rise from the internet, the old ones are coming up with fresh and creative ways to update their appeal to the public. In 2014, YouTube offered its own live-stream coverage of the State of the Union address, allowing viewers to listen to the President at their computers or through their mobile phones instead of the television.

“Not only did this give lots of Net users an attractive additional option for watching, it also allowed YouTube to offer a unique live service, something that could become a more common habit for future live events.” (Demers, 2014)

Constantly adapting to its users changing preferences, YouTube has become the ultimate interactive technology. From online comics, books, video and music playlists, skits, vines, vlogs, marketing tools, political broadcasts and opinions, it’s never been easier to connect with other people, and become apart of the customisable domain you as a consumer (and producer) have helped create.

This is just one of the ways that a media platform shapes our lives, anything is accessible in an instant, and you get a front row seat right when it happens.

References

Burgess, J. and Green, J 2009, Online video and participatory culture, 1st ed. Oxford: Polity Press.

Demers, J 2014, Op-Ed: Politics, books and marketing: YouTube still changing the world, Digitaljournal.com, viewed 6 April 2016, <http://digitaljournal.com/tech/technology/op-ed-politics-books-and-marketing-youtube-still-changing-the-world/article/368347&gt;

Mashable 2013, Citizen Journalism, viewed 6 April 2016, <http://mashable.com/category/citizen-journalism/&gt;

Rassi, T 2007, YouTube: Examining a Revolution, gnovisjournal, 8(1), p.12.