Popular TV show, Queer Eye, is known for its message of inclusivity and acceptance, so why does it seem to be promoting animal cruelty?
Is it time to give speciesism a serious makeover? For all its woke generation appeal, the new season of the rebooted Queer Eye fails to be entirely unproblematic when it comes to non-humans. Claire Hamlett writes.
The sixth season of Queer Eye, released on Netflix on New Year’s Eve, dropped the Fab Five into hot and humid Austin, Texas, where they transformed the lives of everyone from a transgender weight-lifter to a group of teenagers who had weathered the pandemic through their final year of school. Two episodes in particular may have stood out to those watching with their vegan goggles on: episode three, “No More Bull”, featuring cattle rancher Josh Eilers; and episode seven, “Snow White of Central Texas”, featuring animal rescuer and vegan Jamie Wallace Grenier.
As a vegan, I struggled to enjoy Eilers’ episode, knowing what he does for a living. But what made it truly uncomfortable was how the Fab Five reacted to the cows on the ranch. “I do love cows, I think they’re so beautiful,” said Tan, only to laugh when Antoni replied, “Especially when their fat is beautifully marbled.” In this sort of banter, we see how quickly people who profess to love animals can forget to see them as individuals or as worth anything beyond their cuteness or as food.
This became even more apparent in the episode with Grenier, who runs Safe in Austin Rescue Ranch, giving a home to unwanted, often physically challenged animals, and offering differently-abled children a chance to connect with the animals as a kind of therapy. I have to admit, I was holding my breath until Grenier stated that she is a vegan. With that worry out of the way, I could focus on how the Fab Five reacted with such admiration for her commitment to animals and so lovingly to the animals to who Grenier introduced them.
“These animals are so pure, they haven’t done anything wrong to anybody,” said Antoni. The lack of awareness of his own moral inconsistencies in that statement is breathtaking. Does he imagine that the cows on Josh Eilers’ farm, with their “beautifully marbled fat”, have done something wrong, something to make them deserve being sent to slaughter?
None of this would be quite so jarring if Queer Eye weren’t a show that explicitly aims to promote equality, compassion, and respect. From the personal struggles that the Fab Five share about themselves to the way they help to lift up the guests who don’t conform to societal norms or broaden the horizons of those with blinkered worldviews, the show often centres social justice issues and challenges harmful narratives about those subjected to bigotry and discrimination. In this context, Queer Eye’s blindspot around violent and discriminatory practices targeting animals because of their species or breed is notable, though not surprising.
Speciesism is deeply ingrained in our society. The disenfranchisement and suffering routinely inflicted upon billions of animals for human ends is rendered invisible by powerful forces of social conditioning as well as political lobbying and marketing ploys by the industries that gain financially from exploiting and disregarding animal lives. At the same time, the links between these industries, the oppression of certain groups of humans, and the climate and ecological crises are glossed over.
Jennifer Molidor, Senior Campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, argues that colonialism in the US arose through cattle ranching. “The way we eliminated native lifestyles here is through livestock,” she told 50by40. Writer and scholar Z. Zane McNeill argued in a piece for Sentient Media that in South America, “The extractive logics of cattle farming that are driving environmental degradation and terrorizing Indigenous peoples are inherently colonial enterprises built upon intergeneration legacies of genocide, dispossession of land, and racialized inequalities under capitalism.” Others have argued that climate justice must be understood as an issue of multispecies justice. Without accounting for non-human lives and how they interact with our own, our climate solutions will perpetuate the inequities and colonialist mentality that got us into this mess.
These ideas struggle to break through to mainstream thinking because they challenge the destructive lifestyles which are still considered the norm. This results in the kind of ignorance displayed by otherwise sensitive and progressive people like the Fab Five.
I don’t expect Queer Eye to turn into a show that only makes over vegans or for Antoni to only cook plant-based food with the guests, or for it to become a show about the harms of animal agriculture. But it could work harder to normalise seeing animals as deserving of respect and compassion the way they do so successfully with people who don’t fit into societal norms. This could be done through the choice of guest (do we really need to see another rancher? I’m sure there are farmers out there who grow plants and need help with self-care) or by gently steering guests towards plant-based and compassionate choices in their food and other products used on the show. Or the Fab Five could take time to interrogate their own and others attitudes and connections to animals in the way they do with the habits and narratives that hamper and harm the guests whose lives they transform. That was certainly a missed opportunity in Grenier’s episode.
At the very least, I hope that the Fab Five begin to show greater awareness of how they talk about animals and their own moral inconsistencies. It would be pretty disappointing if their experience at Safe in Austin – particularly the transformative experience Antoni claimed to have had by going there and meeting Grenier and her animals – had no lasting impact at all, and the show simply reset to the status quo like the shallowest of sitcoms.
Original source: https://www.surgeactivism.org