April 7, 2012 by Heidi
Not too long ago, the amazing Amy of Tripping Over Books had a post about her “pet” peeve, in which she bemoaned authors killing off animals in books. I agree wholeheartedly, and when I had my own brush with this feeling while reading Barry Lyga’s fantastic I Hunt Killers (reviewed here), I figured I had enough to say that I’d write my own post!
So here’s my first question—does the fact that we see death in books, video games, T.V. and movies so much help to dehumanize it? Now, I am so NOT one of those people who thinks that violence in entertainment leads to psychos and violence in real life, in fact, I’m a big proponent of it on the level of personal enjoyment, but I can’t help but feel like experiencing the death of people so much makes me really not care.
Flannery, of The Readventurer included a pretty amazing graph in her review of I Hunt Killers in which she plotted various books and life events on a chart with an x-axis of funny to scary and a y-axis of gory to clean (and yes, Flannery, child birth is both very gory and a little scary). This helped solidify some thoughts for me. I like gore, and I like funny; I heart Quentin Tarantino movies and Chuck Palahniuk books. Some sick, sad part of my soul revels in the gratuitous violence of a scene so bloody they have to make it black and white just to forego an NC17 rating (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, go watch Kill Bill. Stat. Unless gratuitous violence bothers you, then really don’t). The Showtime show Dexter fits in there somewhere, as does the aforementioned I Hunt Killers. I feel virtually nothing for these people whose lives are lost. In fact, I savor them. But then there’s a line, and that line my friend, is cute fluffy animals (okay, any animals, but being cute and fluffy helps with the pity factor).
That’s it, the one and only time I really felt anything like horror for any of the victims in I Hunt Killers was for the dog (I don’t think this is a spoiler as it’s mentioned early and often). Why is that? What’s wrong with me? Part of me thinks that we get so upset about animal deaths because they always seem unnecessary. Animals, generally, don’t have motives or perform actions that make them responsible. They’re always the innocent bystanders. Animals can’t be dehumanized for us, because they aren’t human…and quite frankly for me I tend to like them better than most humans.
So, is it sad that in order to pull at our heart strings, authors have to resort to killing off animals? Is it even necessary? I think it can be a cheap ploy, but on the other hand, it can be a genius way to put a ‘human’ face on a situation we’ve already stepped back from emotionally. When I go into a book or movie knowing there will be violence, I’m cool with it. I expect it, I like it, and as such, I don’t care when people die. I’ve dehumanized them, and already written them off as not real. But I can’t do that with animals. Animals are always real, and thus, will always have my pity.