Last Thursday I posted a video about the killing of Cecil the Lion. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do so here: You Killed Cecil The Lion.
I’ve had many conversations in the past week since the story broke about why it is so frustrating. I go into a lot of the detail in my video so I won’t rehash it here.
But I think one point that didn’t make it into the video was a broader point about society, social media, and the nature of activism in the digital age.
The story of Cecil the Lion was frustrating because for a few days, the majority of people were on “my team.” For a few days, the world’s attention (or, the internet-using-world’s attention) was on a story that was in my wheelhouse, in my camp.
It’s not often that people speak up for animals, especially with such vigor, passion, and quite honestly, vitriol.
You’d think this would be an overwhelmingly positive development, that I’d be ecstatic by this attention to an issue I care about deeply! Here lies the rub though — it doesn’t last. It never does.
It is frustrating to have the whole world pop-in on your issue for 3 days and go “I care! No really, I care!” only to have them go back to posting about Kim Kardashian, Coachella, and their lunch a few days later.
The world of 2015 is a strange one. The internet, social media, and click-bait have paved the way for a new brand of content called “outrage porn.” Essentially this is seemingly inflammatory content (whether or not it actually is outrageous is the line between news and outright click-bait) presented in a way to get you to click on a story, and more importantly, share it, with outrage and indignation.
It’s the news-anchor who lies about certain details of a decade old story; the comedian who’s joke offends one person in a crowd of 300 that goes viral because he/she was being filmed; or the killing of a lion –a species facing far worse outcomes than the death of any one individual — thousands of miles away in a country with far more pressing issues.
Yes, the story of a priviledged rich white American male traveling to Africa to kill a prized lion is an awful one. But the frustration is that there are SO many awful things happening, in Zimbabwe, to animals, and in your community, to minorities, to women, to the environment. Why do we only have the attention span for one isolated story at a time, and why does the issue fade so quickly?
Remember the outrage after Sandy Hook? Where did that go? What about the Ice Bucket Challenge, how long did that really last? I already sense the outrage over police mistreating and murdering black people waning, which is devastating. When will the outrage over Cecil’s death subside? I feel it has already passed.
That is sad, because as I pointed out, 10 billion animals are slaughtered every year in the U.S. alone. Africa’s lion population has plummeted 60% in 30 years. We are destroying habitats by the millions of acres to make room for more animal farms to feed meat to more humans.
A plant-based diet requires 1/16th of the land of a meat-eating diet. The fact that we continue to drive species to the brink of extinction to continue a habit, a choice, that is not only destroying the planet but personal health as well, is ludicrous.
The problem is that this outrage is manufactured pop-culture. Everyone wants to have an opinion on it, and everyone wants to feel virtuous and “right.” When the tide shifts, there’s no one left holding the torch but the few activists that were there before millions piled on for a fun few days. “Thanks for stopping by…”
The real outrage is not over one dead lion, but billions of unnecessarily slaughtered animals; animals that live on land that was taken from wild animals, causing their mass extinction; animals that clog our arteries and cause disease.
This is the real outrage. This is, however, the issue that only ~3% of Americans can stand up and say, “No really, I care!”