It would not surprise me in the least that by writing the words “Cecil the Lion,” the lion’s share of this readership (sorry about that, but I couldn’t resist) would respond “Cecil the who?”
After all, this cause celebre is now the distant past as far as television time-keeping goes, because it took place a whole couple of weeks ago. That’s 84 months in dog years.
Though this particular uproar (OK, I promise to stop) has dissipated, there will no doubt be other media juggernauts to follow, but it is still worth taking a look back into the ancient past where there is always much to learn about our culture in the here and now.
The media fueled frenzy over the unfortunate killing of a lion and watching it unfold like a California brush fire in October on every television news and entertainment program (one in the same in a lot of instances) was dizzying. The first — some may even suggest knee-jerk — reaction from a Catholic who was particularly distressed and repulsed by the recent Planned Parenthood tapes, is to wonder aloud how the world can instantaneously combust over the accidental killing of a lion but go along its merry way as ghoulish flesh merchants discuss the going rate for baby kidneys on the open market. … One of these tapes even takes place over lunch, adding a macabre touch Edgar Allan Poe would have envied.
I’ll leave the Planned Parenthood outrage to more capable hands and focus instead on the way television informs and even molds public opinion when there is a story that is visceral and has all the “right” elements.
The “bad guy” in the Cecil the Lion story was right out of central casting. A rich dentist. How many people love dentists? Let’s see a show of hands … I thought so. He spent over $50,000 to travel halfway around the world in order to shoot an animal, stuff it and then display it in a trophy room that I would wager is filled to the brim with interesting rugs and wall ornamentation. Once all that information was disseminated on television, the dentist stood about as much chance as a white bearded gnu has against a Ruger Hawkeye .338 rifle.
No doubt this incident hit a made-for-television nerve. It had late night television hosts famous for being funny, nearly breaking down in tears over the loss of the lion. You couldn’t turn to a channel or view Facebook without encountering seething anger from the lips of every celebrity expert and every online expert, all of them painting a target on the back of a dentist from the Midwest.
To paraphrase the murderer of millions, Joseph Stalin, the death of one person is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic. Apparently the death of a single lion in Africa is also a tragedy, whereas the death of 3,000 children from malaria in Africa every single day is just a statistic.
The dentist had to close his business, his vacation home has been vandalized, and very public people in very public venues have suggested killing him. This is not the respect for our environment and nature that Pope Francis teaches. Ironically, it is more evidence of the culture of death he and his recent predecessors have warned us about.
It also demonstrates how deeply television, in the form of nature shows, has infiltrated the way we view nature. This is not your grandfather’s National Geographic special. Animals on television are provided motives, feelings and all manner of human-like attributes in shows that are on the surface, supposed to be about the animal kingdom.
A prime example of this is found in the Cecil the Lion story. I actually saw an actress and animal rights activist on the local television news near tears when she voiced her deep sadness about what was going to happen to the young cubs who Cecil the Lion left behind. What has probably already happened to these cubs is exactly what happened to the cubs sired by the male lion Cecil supplanted in his pride a few years ago … They were killed by the new dominant male. The fact that Cecil killed the cubs of his rival did not make him a bad animal … it made him a good lion.
I do not hunt. In truth, I did try to go turkey hunting with my brothers once, but the only turkeys I encountered on that trip were bipeds who, although seemingly possessed with tool-making capabilities and opposable thumbs, were abject failures as big game hunters.
I know hunters and I know that in the United States for the most part they are responsible people and their activity has been the reason so many types of fauna in the United States are healthy and NOT on the endangered species list. And since I eat cheeseburgers, I cannot with a straight face denounce wholesale, hunting activity.
Seeing all the disproportionate anger and sorrow over an accidental killing of an animal and the ensuing bloodlust for revenge for the perpetrator was unnerving. Why is it so easy to defend animals who cannot choose who they are or how they act and so easy to hate humans who, though burdened with sinful natures are, unlike Cecil the Lion, also capable of love and compassion and for the contrite dentist …maybe a little forgiveness.