On taking things at face value – when ‘cute’ is a lie

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

I’ve written short posts in the past about my extreme discomfort at seeing animal videos on social media being presented as ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’ or ‘funny’ and ‘hilarious’. They are clearly very popular, very widely shared, and the comments range through the entire social media repertoire of cutesy emotes, to the most inane and sentimental of comments.  As an animal rights activist, it is rare for me to consider that any of these are actually funny once I stop to think about it.  I’m sure you know the kind of things I’m referring to.  How often do you find yourself witnessing what is clearly an individual in distress and thinking, ‘For pity’s sake, put down the camera and help them’.

I still have a stark memory of a video that was going viral, of a group of capering, bouncing, baby goats in pyjamas . Closer inspection of the source revealed it to be a PR video from a goat dairy, presumably making money from the babies before they were sent to slaughter.

I’ve also seen videos of ‘fainting goats’ attracting great hilarity (and consequently many shares) but it turns out that the fainting is due to myotonia congenita, a hereditary condition that causes the affected individual to collapse as a response to fear.

Mocking and finding humour in the misfortune of defenceless creatures, even breeding them to have defects that we find ‘cute’, is not funny. Not even slightly. It’s a demonstration of the ugly prejudice known as speciesism that our species learns from childhood.

Sweet little monkeys being bathed

This all came to mind today when a video was shared in a group I follow. It depicted two tiny monkeys being bathed by a human. They were presented as a mother and child, rescued from exploitation, being cared for by a kind woman. Tender music was playing as a soundtrack.  Predictably, many seemed to take that description completely at face value.

So what’s my problem in this case?

Even in a group where many are aware of the widespread exploitation of members of nonhuman species for human indulgence and financial gain, few who commented on the video looked any deeper than the carefully crafted ‘script’.  However the person sharing the post on the group pointed out that the ‘mother’ was in fact a male and that the infant was starving. This piqued my interest and my own closer inspection suggested that when the two monkeys were not clinging desperately to each other, the older individual was trying to leave the scene and was being subtly compelled to return by means of gestures and possibly vocal commands. This latter, of course, is speculative because as I’ve said, the entire soundtrack was a romantic piano track and the face of the ‘kind woman’ was never shown, only her hands, the monkeys and the tub.

The infant was certainly much too young to be away from their mother. As always in such situations, my internal commentary immediately wonders why the baby is alone. No mother would willingly leave her child so there has to be a back story. The bathing seemed completely unnecessary as the two looked spotless and it was clearly not welcomed by either of the monkeys.

In fact all things considered, I’d go as far as to suggest that while the infant was probably too young to be trained (yet), what I was witnessing was a performance by an adult prisoner trained to act out a part; being exploited in the same way as any circus performer and one can only speculate about the reality of the existence both the individuals were enduring.

A bit far-fetched?

So what motive could anyone possibly have for presenting a contrived video designed to pull at the heart strings of an uncritical audience?

Social media is a powerful force, where for many groups and organisations, whether legitimate or dubious, site traffic is the critical element in building their influence and trade and high traffic sites are in a strong position to advertise products and services.

We’ve all heard the term ‘viral’. It’s a word that describes content that spreads rapidly online through website links and social sharing, and anything viewers find particularly appealing or relatable has the potential to drive more traffic to the source. Sites that advise on this sort of social manipulation, specifically recommend avoiding any content that’s likely to cause debate or discussion. The message is keep it light and humorous.  For content to go viral, it is essential that people want to share it to reach the maximum audience, and videos that people latch on to as ‘cute’ or ‘funny’ or ‘adorable’, particularly depicting members of other species, are a particularly effective means of achieving this end.

And so we return to the video of the monkeys.

There is a remote chance that the video in question was what it seemed – a woman washing rescued monkeys. My bet, however, is that it was not; but rather a cynical and staged exercise in exploitation created for a purpose related to human financial gain. It may not be so easy to spot as the image at the top of the post, but it’s every bit as offensive.

All I can ask is that when you see this kind of presentation – please look deeper than the saccharine façade. It’s extremely likely that you are being offered a window into tragedy; a glimpse of innocent creatures existing in misery and exploitation. At the very least, refuse to play along by sharing the videos and pass on your knowledge about this sickening trade to any who will listen.

Being vegan is about a lot more than what we eat. One of the things we rapidly discover is that the world is a much darker place than we ever imagined.

Be vegan.


Links for further consideration


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5 Responses to On taking things at face value – when ‘cute’ is a lie

  1. Phil Hatfield says:

    Great article – well done for bringing to light what I can only see as being a growing problem. As well as the ‘cute’ videos and pics staged on various platforms, the videos I find particularly disgusting are the ‘rescue’ videos where it appears that and animal is being saved from a dangerous situation but has in fact been placed in danger so that the ‘rescuers’ can come and save the day. I always wondered how people on certain channels were finding so many animals in need of assistance and it never occurred to me that they were staging every video.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rhonda-T Warren says:

    Thank you for bringing this issue to light so succinctly. I have witnessed repeated postings of this type of video lately, especially by vegan advocates who refuse to look logically at the situation, and in fact become quite defensive when asked to examine the non-spoken language more closely. I believe people may be so desperate for a happy ending, (and donations??), that they will add their own context and refuse to consider the possibility of an alternative scenario. Is this a product of the times; another path of exploitation, or the sheer indifference of humans who are fed up and refuse to consider more negativity. Your words so clearly address the situation, and as always, I am grateful for your insight and the facilitative effect of your words.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this, Rhonda. I have experienced the same defensiveness along with the imagining of context that stretches wishful thinking to the limits. I am led to understand that many ‘rescued cats and dogs’ videos may be similarly manufactured. When we stop and ask ourselves how it is that so many of these are so perfectly filmed right from the beginning where the wounded and desolate are living in squalour and misery, through to the ‘happy ending’ we should really be more critical. If I were in the position of a rescuer, the best I might manage is a blurry photo or video on my phone because all my efforts would be taken up with reassurance and rescue. I think this is a topic I’ll return to in future.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Veda Stram says:

    Amazing humans like you who so poignantly address the realities of being vegan while living in a not-yet-vegan world give me hope. Too many humans do not have a clue about what we know and the deep sadnesses we confront every moment of every day of every week… Great writings, like yours, empower and inspire me. I’m always privileged to repost your words on All-Creatures.org.

    Liked by 1 person

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