On May 3, Decider Bush signed into law a bill that makes most animal-fighting activities felony-level crimes that'll get perpetrators thrown in the slammer for up to three years.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that only pathetic, sadistic creeps force animals to fight. All 50 states already have laws against animal cruelty; the new federal law just raises the stakes. Good. If you're so insecure about your masculinity that you need a heated battle to prove it, hold a Red Rooster hot-sauce-chugging contest and leave actual roosters alone.
The reason I bring up this significant victory in the struggle for animal rights is that I've been reading lately about a documentary making the rounds called Zoo, which tells the story of a Seattle-area guy who died in 2005 from having sex with a horse.
The film, directed by Robinson Devor, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, was picked up by ThinkFilm for distribution and has been generating a lot of buzz. Zoo is the controversy du jour, now showing in Los Angeles and, unfortunately, no doubt soon appearing in San Diego.
The reviews have focused mostly on the art of the production—its slow-motion, filtered photography and staged re-enactments of interviews with the fellow horse-abusing friends of the dead man and the foregoing of gratuitous bestiality scenes in favor of aestheticized, lyrical meditations on nature and desire. Ken Fox of TV Guide calls it “remarkable and haunting.” “Lush” and “fascinating,” says Scott Foundas of Variety. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly calls it “poetic.” “Elegant and eerily lyrical” says Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times. “Unexpected beauty,” says Brian Orndorf of Ohmynews.com. “Beautiful and beguiling,” says Nathan Lee of The Village Voice. And on and on.
Not enough reviewers express appropriate outrage at the film's avoidance of political and moral questions concerning the exploitation of animals.
But this is not a review. That'll be CityBeat film guru Anders Wright's burden to bear. It's unfair to review a film you haven't watched, and I'll be missing this one. Still, sight unseen, the project reeks of a cheap publicity stunt, an unintended satire of a documentary about the tragic, universal humanity of the protagonist, which would be soundly trashed if it were about, say, child molesters. At least Ray Greene of Boxoffice.com has the horse-size balls enough to point out that the terminally biased film not only lacks meaningful context, it also lacks the perspective of a horse.
The absence of outrage surrounding this film is reflective of what I believe is society's ambivalence toward so-called zoophiliacs. Most people are so grossed out by the very thought of human-on-nonhuman sexual contact that they don't want to think, talk or do anything about it. Others see it as a funny freak show that doesn't really hurt animals and is suitable for wacky workplace e-mails. Those who do recognize bestiality as an exploitative crime mostly assume someone else is doing something about it, because who wants to bring up the subject of sheep molestation at dinner (other than everyone who works at CityBeat)?
At the mention of dinner, it's tempting here to draw the obvious parallel between bestiality and the exploitation of animals for food that pervades our culture, but I won't really go there. Readers of this column may remember that I had my say about animal eating at Thanksgiving last year. It's wrong. But one form of animal abuse at a time.
The way that lack of outrage over sexual exploitation of animals is most offensively manifest is in law. In the U.S., laws against animal sexual abuse are determined by individual states. Though state laws on these issues change frequently, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as of 2007 only 29 states have anti-bestiality laws, and in all of them the crime is defined as a misdemeanor, with only five allowing felony charges. For example, according to Pasado's Safe Haven Animal Rescue, Minnesota law punishes animal sexual abuse with either a fine of not more than $3,000 or a sentence of not more than one year in jail. Likewise, in California, sexually abusing an animal is a misdemeanor, like failing to appear in court for a parking ticket. Really.
Some states that don't have specific anti-bestiality laws have prosecuted these abuses with deft creativity, classifying them under archaic and stupid anti-sodomy laws (Kansas), as “unnatural sexual acts” (Maryland) or as “sexual psychopath” crimes (Washington D.C.—they must have their hands full). It has been alleged—though I haven't seen the documentation—that in some cases prosecutors unable to find a legal basis for prosecution have charged the individual with “sex with a minor” if the animal is under 18.
The sources I consulted report that between 13 and 20 states still have no laws against animal sexual abuse. It took attention from the death of the man in Seattle-the one whose story is told in Zoo—to pass a law making bestiality a felony in the state of Washington. Last October, the Seattle Times reported that a Spanaway man was the first charged under the new law after his wife caught and photographed him screwing their 4-year-old female pit bull terrier on the porch.
What we need more than sensitive art films that teach us to have sympathy for poor, misunderstood “animal lovers” is a tough federal anti-animal-cruelty law to make animal sexual abuse a felony. The law needs to be very clear that animal sexual abuse should always be considered harmful to the animal. Let's leave the constitutional wrangling about defining “harm” or contesting “mere morals legislation” to the legal hair-splitters. What I want is to throw the horse-fuckers in jail. Maybe if we put it that way, the dimwitted cowboy in charge will sign it.