The use of graphic footage and imagery is one of the more heated debates within animal activism. This already controversial issue is profoundly intensified when one adds in the question of showing graphic content to children.
Within the world of vegan activism and education, there exists ample, ample debate about which methods, individuals, and tactics are the most effective, and which are ineffective or even damaging. One of the most divisive issues is the use of graphic footage imagery.
Arguments in opposition include: it reduces the reach of the message as most people avoid unpleasant content, it makes people less receptive to hearing about veganism, it’s a cheap shock tactic when a grounded approach would yield better results, it’s a further form of exploiting the animals themselves, et cetera.
Arguments in favor include: most people have to see to truly believe, there is power in exposing the truth, especially when it’s deliberately and systematically hidden, the animals deserve to have their stories told, consumers deserve to know the truth about what they are paying others to do and what they are putting in their bodies and feeding to their children, et cetera.
This already controversial debate is profoundly intensified when one adds in the question of showing graphic content to children. [tweet this]
This little powder keg of an inquiry was one of the questions I received during my back-to-back live Q&A sessions on Facebook and YouTube. If you missed either of the Q&A sessions, you can find them here and linked at the bottom of this post.
So I thought I’d share my response from the live stream followed by some additional thoughts on this subject. The following is a transcription of the answer I gave during the Q&A:
Well, I think, honestly a lot of it depends on the child and the family, and the parent. I mean different children have different sensibilities and different sensitivities, and also different levels of maturity, just depending.
So I mean, you’re going to know your kid better than anyone else can. So for some, it might be something that is important to them, or that would be helpful for them.
For me, as a kid, I would have liked to have seen that. I always say I came out of the womb like 35. I’ve always been a very serious child…I didn’t have the care-free days of my youth. Anyways, so I think it really, really depends on the child. I don’t think it’s something that should be done by default. I think there are ways to explain these things to kids without graphic imagery, which is what I do in my kids videos.
However, I am definitely one who thinks graphic footage is important. It has incredible value and it has its place. I still use it very discerningly. There are a lot of times I could use it and probably the videos would perform even better because it’s a shock tactic type of thing. But I only do it if I think it’s going to serve the content effectively and that it’s purposeful.
But it is important because of the fact that we work so hard—humanity—to hide the reality of what goes on with animals and what happens to them. So there is incredible value to seeing that. And to letting those animals have their stories told. Because they deserve that. They deserve someone to at least bear witness.
And for me personally, I always think: if they have to live through that and they have to die by that, the very least I can do is bear witness to it. So I think it’s incredibly important and I do think there is value to showing young people the truth.
I would never sugar coat for kids, and I say in my videos for them: ‘”I’m going tell you the truth. I’m not going to show you anything scary, but I am going to tell you the truth. I’m not going to lie to you.” So I think as far as the actual footage, that would probably be up to the parents.
One of the main reasons I started making vegan videos for kids was how much I wish I’d had access to this information when I was younger. And while I do not show anything graphic in those videos, I am very passionate about never talking down to children and adolescents.
Kids are incredibly intelligent and very often underestimated or even dismissed by us adults. I remember what that feels like, and I vowed as a kid to never forget what it was like being discounted. This doesn’t mean my content for children is identical to videos crafted with a more adult demographic in mind—there is a very vital difference between pandering and delivering a message suitable to one’s intended audience. [tweet this]
This is a concept I covered in depth in my speech, “A Wake Up Call For Vegans.” Additionally, I plan on further exploring the graphic footage debate as a whole in another dedicated video. But for now I wanted to touch on a couple important points.
As with many controversial topics, there exist far more grey areas than black and white absolutes. And while we humans have an affinity for labeling things one way or another, the effectiveness and appropriateness of graphic imagery depends on an endless array of variables.
This touches on one of the most difficult aspects of what I do with Bite Size Vegan: attempting to simplify very complex concepts and arguments without reducing them to a one-dimensional all or nothing message.
For example, in my “A Wake Up Call For Veganism,” speech, I stated well into the talk that:
If we want the world to confront the truth, we must do the same, no matter how daunting. Nothing we can experience will ever equal what the animals are experiencing. They don’t have the convenience of insulation. And they deserve us to at the very least bear witness. Yes, we already know—or at least we think we do—but if we, the ones to claim to feel their pain, if we too refuse to look, how can we expect the rest of the world to do it?
I’ve received feedback from a number of viewers who have interpreted this as meaning that all vegans should subject themselves to traumatizing images and footage constantly. Of course the very next line was,
This isn’t about sitting and watching hours of brutal footage. That too can be circular. Berating ourselves or lamenting the impossibility of it all is equally unproductive. But we make a grave error when we fail to ourselves stay connected to the truth.
I also went into great detail about one of the times in which I chose not to use graphic footage despite considerable availability. At the same time, I have utilized graphic footage within a number of videos and speeches. I’ve also streamed live video to my channel from slaughterhouses in the UK and the United States.
I do the very best that I can to be as effective as possible with my activism. But I will never pretend to have all the answers.
The only way to stop the misinformation and disinformation we pass down from generation to generation is to be open and honest with our children. This was one of the main themes in my spoken word piece “The Greatest Lie Ever Told,“
We teach what we know which is what we were taught:
the biggest lie ever bought and our own greatest trick,
is the sick conviction that we can kill in a way that is kind—
A conscience-gnawing uncertain certainty we solidify and smooth over and pass down
the line, telling our kids it’s okay it’s fine
From our generation to the next.
So while there are plenty of times when, after much forethought, I’ve chosen not to show overtly graphic imagery—and I never do in my content for kids—if there is one thing I’m certain of, it’s that no matter your age, everyone deserves to know the truth. [tweet this]
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Now go live vegan, share the truth, and I’ll see you soon.
— Emily Moran Barwick
Robie S. says
Great topic! I’ve been showing your videos to my kids trying to explain to them why mommy and daddy don’t eat meat and they have sparked some great conversations.
As far as if we should show them graphic footage I say not right away. I worked for an animal sanctuary for a number of years and every time we did a fund raiser the president insisted on showing graphic slaughterhouse videos. These always turned potential donors away. When we switched things up and instead brought one of our rescues it drew people in and got them asking questions. You’d be surprised how many people were willing to at least discuss vegetarianism after petting a cute pig versus the vile comments we got when showing videos. So, I’d say introduce them first and draw them in. Its the “more flies with honey than vinegar” approach. Once you have their attention and asking questions then I think its okay to show the slaughterhouse videos, but even then I’d say be mindful of the age and audience. I don’t think you have to show them actually killing the animal, just some of the living conditions are usually enough to make people at least question their beliefs on eating anumals. But that’s my two cents.
Emily Barwick says
Wow! Thank you so much for sharing the videos with your kids! That really means so much to hear. And I really appreciate your insights and experience on how to approach this topic. My apologies for such a delayed response! All the best and much love to you and your family.
Susan marks says
I agree in telling the truth to children sometimes nothing works like a video about the appalling treatment of animals who are completely helpless