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Are We Desensitized to Human Deaths on the Screen while Traumatized by Animal Brutality?

Do you notice how a movie can feature one death after another and there is not one shriek from a member of the audience until the killing of an animal occurs? Why does the audience accept the loss of human life yet become upset and unsettled when a dog is shot to death? Is it a matter of innocence? The animal lacking the same mental faculties as the human and therefore placing it in an inferior, and therefore more sympathetic position? This is a phenomenon I have witnessed countless times across a number of different audiences, and I, too, have the exact same reaction. Another interesting aspect is when the victim is an infant or young child, though still in the process of development, clearly superior to a dog, but still conjuring a higher level of sympathy. This leads back to my prior questions: is this a matter of inferiority? A matter of innocence? Please discuss whether or not you have witnessed similar reactions and what is your thinking behind this disparate response?

  • It might be interesting to look at human babies versus dogs. I would imagine that there is a similar response between those forms of deaths because of, as you mentioned, a lack of mental capacity. Most likely we react poorly because we are socially in a position to protect dogs (and in conjunction with the last point babies as well) so seeing harm come to them is especially hard to watch. Dogs also do not have he same reasoning abilities as humans, which means often they are blissfully unaware of some dangers. – LondonFog 5 years ago
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  • Well said, LondonFog, and I do like that idea of the human baby, or young child. That would add an interesting and difficult dynamic. – danielle577 5 years ago
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  • When the charging pit bulls were killed, in "No Country for Old Men," everyone in the theatre breathed a sigh of relief. When Gayle Boetticher ate a bullet, it was a waste. – Tigey 5 years ago
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  • This is such an interesting topic, and so important in today's society. I agree with TKing- I think it will be important to consider circumstances and also the connection that viewers have to both the animal and the person in question. – LilyaRider 5 years ago
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  • What might also be interesting to explore with this topic is the origin of dogs in particular, as they were bred to protect humans. Shouldn't we be accustomed to seeing our body guards die and more affected seeing our own kind perish? – rowenachandler 5 years ago
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  • Interesting topic. I think the audience cannot accept an animal being killed on screen mainly because they are living in "more civilized" society, where various groups of people speak up against animal brutality. They like animal rights and they think that mankind, as master of creatures, should have a responsibility to protect any kind of creatures. It sounds bizarre and sarcastic (because we do kill pig for pork, cow for beef, sheep for lamb.) On the other hand, we ponder human deaths to be a general phenomenon because of our nature. I mean, our nature as animals. Our society is indeed competitive. There are winners and losers. Like animals, tigers would chase their targets and kill them for healing their hunger. The laws of jungle not only belongs to the wild animal but to us. – moonyuet 5 years ago
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  • Cultural background is relevant, too. People from rural areas look at animal slaughter as normal, while urbanites - to paraphrase Aldo Leopoldo - believe food's from the grocer and heat's from the furnace. – Tigey 5 years ago
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  • The way I see it, human beings are very different than all of the other animals in the world. For one thing, while other animals contribute to the environment of the planet, we humans are starting wars and conflicts out of sheer disagreement in perspective. Which is why people will have more sympathy for a creature following its natural instincts rather than one that has violent and destructive tendencies for reasons that have yet to be explained. – RadosianStar 5 years ago
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