Celebrities in animal activism- helpful or harmful?

Celebrities in animal activism- helpful or harmful? from Remy Taylor on Vimeo.

Animal rights organisations use celebrity influence to promote their message. This video takes a look at two campaigns by PETA to understand the authenticity of the celebrity’s message. In order to further understand this I’ve asked whether celebrities are helpful or harmful to the message of animal activism,  how the two celebrities were featured in the campaign material and if this was a distraction from the message and whether or not unrelated personal information about these celebrities was a key factor in influencing the intended message.



I’m an ethical vegan and an animal rights activist, so my stance on the narrative in documentaries such as Blackfish, Earthlings, Cowspiracy and The Cove will contain bias. Throughout this blog, I’m going to attempt to detach from the ideologies that consume my everyday life and look beyond the message of animal activist documentaries to focus on how the narrative structure influences humans as a whole.

Animals have long since dominated our lives: in our homes, throughout social media and especially on screen. Raising awareness about their abuses in a documentary can be confronting for most people. In relation to the narrative and structure of animal activism documentaries, how does the media influence our ethical opinions towards animal abuse and our stance in the animal rights movement and what is the best possible approach to this? 

We’ve all talked to our animals like humans at some point in our lives. In fact, I’ve done it to the point where my cat thinks she IS human. So is our relationship with animals at home the same or similar to that of a documentary when the narrative structure defines ‘nonhuman animals as morally relevant victims, animal rights activists as heroes, and animal exploiters as villains? (Freeman and Tulloch, 2013) This specific technique used in animal activism documentaries is called anthropomorphising animals. It is when animals are made to appear to have human attributes, which characterises them. For example, Tilikum the orca in ‘Blackfish’ and Tyke the elephant in ‘Tyke Elephant Outlaw’. Perhaps the reason documentaries present animals as humans is because the only way we can mentally picture their suffering is if we picture them as ourselves. Freeman (2010) agrees, arguing ‘the paradox for animal rights is that it needs to emphasise similarities between human and nonhuman animals in order to deconstruct the dualistic thinking that separates and privileges humans, yet one must also respect diversity found across the species spectrum.’


“In 1994, an elephant named Tyke gave her last circus performance. By the time the dust settled, a trainer was dead, 13 people were injured, and Tyke herself had been shot almost 100 times and killed.”

It sounds selfish of the human species to pity an animal only because it has been portrayed as a human. Therefore, if the activists are already willing to watch the documentary, how do documentary makers target the other percentage of the human population? , Scudder et al. (2010) examined the impact of a graphic animal rights campaign launched by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) against alleged abuses on a corporate farm. The results found that there wasn’t necessarily an impact on pre-existing values of the food-processing industry but more of an act of respect and ‘credibility’ for PETA. This means the media influences our ethical opinions through the credibility of the existing organisation. Credibility can come from a wide range of areas: posters, advertisements, short videos, protests, documentaries and celebrity support.


PHOTO: An example of the ads appearing on the back of some Coffs Harbour buses

Keeping this in mind, we must look at this from the perspective of the activists making the documentaries. Freeman and Tulloch (2013) narrow the media’s intentions down to three points:

1) thrusting clandestine spaces of animal cruelty onto the public screen and exerting a reverse panopticon pressure on industries;

2) challenging the human/animal dualism, the violent hierarchy it justifies, and the (imagined) humane self-image of society; and

3) serving as a critical rhetoric that constructs dissonance-producing antagonisms, (dis)identification, and legitimacy of the movement.


Beyond the activist’s campaign goals there needs to be a larger motive in terms of the world viewing animals as ourselves. Narrowing it down to a specific species is chipping away at the colossal glacier of animal rights, but not fast enough.

“Right now I’m focusing on that one little body of water, where that slaughter takes place. If we can’t stop that, if we can’t fix that, forget about the bigger issues. There’s no hope.”

-Ric O’Barry, The Cove


Packwood Freeman, C (2010). “Embracing Humanimality: Deconstructing the Human/Animal Dichotomy.” Greg Goodale and Jason Edward Black, Eds. Arguments about Animal Ethics. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, [online] Available at: http://works.bepress.com/carrie_freeman/2/

Packwood Freeman, C. and Tulloch, S. (2013). Was Blind but Now I See: Animal Liberation Documentaries’ Deconstruction of Barriers to Witnessing Injustice. OxfordScreening Nature: Cinema Beyond the Human. [online] Available at: http://works.bepress.com/carrie_freeman/13/.

Scudder, J. and Mills, C. (2009). The credibility of shock advocacy: Animal rights attack messages. Public Relations Review, 35(2), pp.162-164.



The f word in followers

In today’s digital era the word ‘followers’ is a universal term used on a wide range of platforms. In real life, a follower is a person who imitates, copies, or takes as a model or ideal, however on social media Webopedia defines a follower as ‘someone who subscribes to receives your updates.’ In this post, I’ll talk about what it means to have followers, online AND offline. Can our society function without status? To begin, think about the platform you use most regularly and ask yourself whether or not you can imagine it without followers. I’m analyzing the importance of followers on Instagram, especially in regard to using status as a tool for social media marketing. I found that the digital era, along with its continual growth of social media platforms has encouraged an addiction to social approval and image distortion. So how important are followers in today’s society?


To put into perspective how valued followers can be on social media here is an equation:

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 8.18.37 PM.pngImage source: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/instagram-cool-ratio-2014-6

I want to further build on this concept by looking at Instagram as a status symbol. Alice E. Marwick, an academic observer of American online culture argues the fluidity of status, in that a person can have it in one area and lose it in another just as easily. She says with Twitter for example that ‘not only does follower number literally measure popularity, it also implies a level of influence, viability and attention (Marwick 2013, pg 96).’ She’s right you know; as shown above, ratio plays a big part in society’s value of followers. Sadly, enough, if you’d like to witness this pitiful notion there’s an article by  The Business Insider from last year talking about the ‘cool ratio’ equation. This equation may have similar results in real life. For example, in 2001 Anderson et al (2001) of the American Psychology Association found that ‘one of the most important goals and outcomes of social life is to attain status in the groups to which we belong.’ We see this just by looking at our own social hierarchies that formed in high school. The ‘popular’ group was popular regardless of their online status. So does this mean the line is drawn between social status in real life and social status online?

Focusing back on Instagram, last year social media users got this notification…


It was Instagram cleaning up the spam accounts in a form of ‘spam purge’ and essentially taking away what looked like thousands of real followers from ‘popular’ accounts.
So what happens when we come across a popular Instagramer with a damn right ‘cool ratio’ number? Essentially, following almost no one but having thousands of followers. I’m cringing just addressing this concept but we have a perceived legitimacy based on the numbers. Sometimes we will think ‘how can YOU have these followers?’ But do we take into account the hashtagging, regularity of posts, other linked platforms, paid posts, collaborations OR worst of all ‘BOTNETTING’ (buying followers). As a regular Instagram user I’d like to think we do, but looking at the broader and even worse spectrum it’s hard to believe. Tindenberg and Gomez Cruz (2015) of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre state ‘images play an important role in how we experience being in the world and increasingly, due to the ubiquity of online interaction how we ‘shape’ our world’. This one sentence along with the thought of the contemporary quantified self can be a scary thought.

Overall, status applies to both the online and offline world. It is extremely valuable in today’s society. Having followers means you have status. There may not always be a connection between the status of an individual online vs the status they have offline. However, people interact so regularly online that a status highly regarded as one of the most important aspects of our world. Our society can not function without status as it has become more than just a number or a ratio, it’s a tool.

In previous research here is what I found to be the conclusion to getting rid of status online. 


Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 7.59.12 PM

.. just to make matters even worse, I suggest you give up your attempt to claim the ‘coolest ration number’ because Beyonce already won that award 6.1 mil times over.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 9.04.09 PM




Anderson, C., John, O., Keltner, D. and Kring, A. (2001). Who attains social status? Effects of personality and physical attractiveness in social groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(1), pp.116-132.

Katrin Tiidenberg and Edgar Gómez Cruz (2015) Selfies, Image and the Re-Making of the Body  http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1357034X15592465.

Marwick, A. E.. (2013). Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age. Yale University Press.