Saturday, December 22, 2018

to click or not to click:
you get to make the moral decision

Feel free to blame me, if you want, for linking to the following video. I bounced the ethics of this around in my head for a few minutes, and I eventually decided not to embed the video on the blog, which would have meant ambushing you with the video's title and its potentially morbid thumbnail. Let me at least explain the video to you, though, and then I'll leave it completely up to you as to whether you click the link or not.

The video is of three cats, all(?) of which are male, and all of which are litter-mates. One cat is dead, and in the description underneath the video, the owner writes that the veterinarian said it would be a good idea to bring the dead cat home and present the carcass to the cat's brothers so they could come to understand, in their own feline way, that the cat was dead.

What the video shows is the carcass of the dead cat, gently wrapped in a blanket, with the cat's open-eyed face exposed. The first surviving brother approaches cautiously and begins sniffing the dead cat's body, and soon enough, the brother reacts to the cat's death* by heaving and retching a tiny bit onto the tile floor. The brother then stays near the body while the second surviving brother approaches.

The second surviving brother seems, initially, much more interested in probing and prodding his living brother than in examining his dead litter-mate. This obviously annoys the first surviving brother, who hisses several times at his clueless sibling. The second brother eventually goes in to examine the carcass for himself, but his own reaction to the dead cat strikes me as fairly noncommittal.

For me, the video plays out almost like a parable. You learn that animals can react strongly to the death of a sibling, and also that animals—like people—react differently to death. The scene plays out in a way that I find to be almost human, and that, Dear Reader, is why I had an ethical dilemma as I thought about embedding this video on my blog. You might say that these are "only cats," and that cats can't experience the intensity or the complexity of bereavement of which human beings are capable. Nevertheless, as I watched, the moment struck me as very intimate, and while I don't question the veterinarian's recommendation of presenting the carcass to its siblings, I do wonder whether the person taking the video should have filmed this moment in the first place. This feels a bit like a violation, like when news crews push a camera into the faces of the recently bereaved after an apartment fire or plane crash, or when cameras film anguished souls during moments of intense prayer. And by viewing the video, I've become complicit in that violation, and further, by passing the video on to you, I risk making you complicit as well.

So now, perhaps, you understand why I've given you the choice, by merely providing a link, to watch or to pass over the video as you wish. Click on the link or not—it's your call. I'll completely understand if you don't. You might ask why I'm linking to this video at all if I have that much of a problem with it. All I can say is that, when I saw the video's title, I assumed it was meant in jest, and that the "dead" cat in question would turn out to be napping or heavily drugged after a visit to the vet. In other words, I thought this was going to be another example of humorous cat-vlogging. What I got, instead, was something as serious as the question of life and death itself. Once I started watching the video, I realized what was really going on, and even while uttering, "Oh, no" under my breath, well, I just kept watching. It's like rubbernecking as you drive by an accident scene—this sort of thing compels the attention, and by the time I thought about not watching any further, I felt I was in too deep and might as well watch to the end. Maybe that's a moral weakness on my part. Or hey, maybe I'm way overthinking this, and it's just a dead fucking cat. But the video did affect me. Undeniably so. It's wordless and bare-bones. All you have are the cats, and the implied presence of the person doing the filming, and the brute fact of death.

I can deduce that I'm not the only one to react strongly and emotionally to this video. It's very telling that comments have been disabled. I remember thinking it was morbid when Rick Santorum made the news for bringing home his dead infant child for the family to see. In his case, too, I think some doctors had recommended that this might actually aid in the grieving process. I recoiled from and rebelled against that notion when I blogged about it, but over the intervening years, my position may have softened just a bit.

Click or don't. You decide. But if you do, you might find yourself thinking about the video long after you've finished watching it.

*Admittedly, I could be anthropomorphizing, here—imputing a "reaction" where there was none. For all I know, that could have been just a bit of random retching.

1 comment:

  1. Didn't watch but I wouldn't have any moral issues with doing so. I guess I'm firmly in the "maybe I'm way overthinking this, and it's just a dead fucking cat" camp. Without having seen it my sense is that imputing human emotions on a feline is risky business. Although as a dog owner I can't deny that animals do demonstrate emotional qualities that appear similar to human feelings. What do I know? Maybe I just don't like cats!



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