Charlotte's Web is a film, to be released next Friday, contriving an intimate study of a pig and a spider.
1. Charlotte's Web is a film, to be released next Friday, the 9th February, in the UK. It is a forerunner come lately of the film Babe, which attracted a lot of attention at its launch a few years ago and will continue in repeats for a long time. Whereas Babe concentrated on one pig and his relationships with a range of other animals (including the human sort), Charlotte's Web contrives a more intimate study of a pig and a spider.
2. The trailers and advertorial explain: "The picture tells the story of a young girl, Fern, who rescues a piglet named Wilbur from slaughter. Charlotte, a spider who lives in the same barn as Wilbur, then takes up his cause, conspiring to keep the wee porker from the frying pan by spinning rave reviews about him in her web." She spins and spells out a thesaurus of descriptions surpassing even the most adept doctors of the genre. To make the idea work, the film makers had to prove that theirs was an oeuvre "in which you grow to love a character that is initially repulsive" (and so much so that he doesn't rate a pronominal who). The film "is refreshingly straight with its young audiences about what exactly the spider does." Wilbur gasps: "You eat flies?" The spider replies: "I just drink their blood."
3. The animal trainer comments on his tasks: "There's a whole methodology that's similar to teaching children: you need love, understanding and discipline. And it's important to look at a situation and put yourself in the animal's position." Anthropocentrisms still surface and arise again with record of "the wait for 7 or 8 hours for a cow to lift its head in the right direction." Perhaps "it" is left-hooved or enjoying the cuddling and belching a ruminant requires; and, whereas Americans find it difficult to find a singular word for cattle (as compared with, say, sheep) we English still know - and we hope our children know - that the milk comes to us through the means of a mechanically sucked female of the species. Another quaint farmers' description of the maiden heifer elevates her almost to the sanctity of the BVM - the Blessed Virgin Marigold; and her thirsting calf as the archetypal mother sucker. The film may not pursue these lines of thought.
4. What do our children learn from us and our practices, and from reports of expeditions and observations of David Attenborough, Bill Oddy, Ray Mears, and their likes with top-level camera-work, abetted with the CGI (computer generated image) technology the film - like Babe - demonstrates. The old exponents are now assailed by critics of carbon footprints and stimulation of eco-tourism in conditions engineered to conform more with safety-at-work regulations than in a jungle teeming with challenges to which domestication has left us ill-equipped. While schools touch gingerly questions of evolution, zoology, Creationism, and religion, have all the messages of George Orwell's Animal Farm been fathomed out? Is it likely that today's teenager grows up in appreciation of calf love as no more than a preference of the nether regions of the female hominid over bums and tits? And the collections of animals in zoos, circuses, farms with touchy-feely exotics as well as cuddly, furry familiar livestock, to which the Animal Welfare Act now applies, will have to justify their existence and standards or go bust.
5. We at VEGA have spent much time to achieve the highest and advancing level of consistency in our attitudes, respect and decency towards the "other" animals we exploit or live with. We are animal welfarists - a definition that could embrace rights. The stricken person attended by the good Samaritan would have preferred the ministrations of a pot-bellied paramedic administering first aid to a lean holy man or a vegan offering nothing more than yet another organization and garbled statistics.
We hope we can all view this film and the issues it could stimulate with all the good will that an objective and open attitude can generate. Reviews of the film should be thought-provoking too. And the new school curriculum offers opportunities to air these matters responsibly: here's an issue for teachers, school governors, and parents to engage with children.