Thoughts On: Zoo (2007)
An examination and exploration of ‘people who love animals’.
After recently watching Elegy, a cinematic poem about horses and people (which will be featured in the next End Of The Week Shorts), I decided to go down the rabbit hole of films like this and ended up at Zoo. This film is essentially about zoophilia and bestiality; the difference between the two being that zoophilia is just a sexual attraction whilst bestiality is the act. The focus of Zoo is then the infamous case of “Mr. Hands”, who, in 2005, sustained fatal injuries from having anal sex with a horse which he later died from.
Before jumping into the hugely controversial and challenging material of the film, we’ll quickly discuss form. This is mainly a poetic-expository documentary with a lot of dramatic reenactments. In such, whilst there is a lot of V.O explaining the events and happenings around the subject matter, the reenactments provide imagery below this that is often quite abstract – which plays into the edit that means to build a complex, associative and questioning narrative. All of these elements were surprisingly effective in constructing a debate for the majority of this run time, juxtaposing the opinions of media outlets, law officials and, centrally so, many of those involved in the case. As we will go onto discuss, this isn’t an unbiased film, however. Moving towards the conclusion, it becomes very clear that this documentary means to have you see this case in a somewhat sympathetic and positive light. Staying with form for a moment more, the manner in which this was built toward works pretty well thanks to the strong edit, leaving the documentary as an undeniably effective one with a rather intriguing premise to draw you in and a narrative to keep you there.
Ok, to start delving into the content of this documentary, we’ll come back to the bias. As said, Zoo builds towards a question to the audience that is framed somewhat in favour of zoophilia. Another interpretation of this end would be that it simply means to shine a sympathetic and understanding light on the case of Mr. Hands – which, according to some in the documentary, was unjustly sensationalised by the media at the time. My opinion on this is that I don’t mind a documentary having a bias as long as it doesn’t lie or leave out important facts. In regard to Zoo trying to push this understanding perspective of zoophilia and bestiality, I wouldn’t say that it’s entirely unethical – especially considering the fact that the Mr. Hands video was leaked onto the internet, becoming a gross-out horror challenged video that, unfortunately, yes, I’ve seen. In contrast to the video of Mr. Hands’ fatal injury, Zoo is certainly a more just portrayal of the case which allows the people involved to give their side of things and begin to explain elements of who they are and why they do what they do.
And with this film as a voice for the zoophiles involved, it becomes ever more challenging and intriguing. They all, of course, don’t see what they do to be bad. This was bolstered by the laws of Washington which saw bestiality as legal from 1976 up until 2006, a year after Mr. Hands had died and those involved weren’t incarcerated. The defence given by these zoophiles in the documentary is that they (paraphrasing) loved the animals and are engaging in something that comes naturally. It is, however, very clear that they all knew that what they were doing was far from morally acceptable. With them nonetheless forming groups over the internet as to gather in little societies, it makes sense that they knowingly engage in this taboo. Again paraphrasing, they say that they can be themselves, free from the hierarchy, class and social standards when together and when engaging in sexual intercourse with animals. Moreover, they describe the act of bestiality to be an extension of the connection they have with their animals, one that provides them comfort and solace that people don’t seem to be able to give them. In such, the act of sexual intercourse becomes this moment of connection where there seems to be a plane of communication accessed by both animal and human.
It’s this detail that was the most articulate detail of the documentary as it demonstrated the social disconnect that resides within these zoophiles. Whilst some may have children and have had partners in the past, there is a very stark need within these people to distance themselves from humanity. And this seems to be a paradigm that is expressed in many aspects of society. This paradigm can be defined to be a question of human evolution – and there seems to be two major paths here. The first path that society seems to want to take is one towards technological integration and evolution – the end result being a world full of A.I and computer programs injected somehow into our own species. The second path that society questions taking seems to be one towards simpler times where we lived in dependent communities and close to nature. What we can see to be the end goal of both of these paths is the simplification of living. Moreover, both of these paths also seem to take us further away from an idea of humanity that could be best represented when you look out of the window. Thus, with computer technology being integrated into our species, we become something else. The question is: is this something else electric sheep or Gods? And with humans living closer to nature it seems we’d become more like a more primordial version of ourselves. The question here is: enlightened humans or a herd of peaceful sheep?
What can thus be deduced from progressive ideas that claim to make human existence more peaceful, enjoyable and simple is that there is a clear element of dehumanisation that, in certain senses, brings us closer to animals and the way they inhabit the Earth. The link this shares with the subject matter of Zoo is that these zoophiles are very clearly also trying to transcend a present idea of humanity for the sake of their own enjoyment and comfort; the ultimate goal to be closer to animals. What this says about humans in general is not that we all are zoophiles, rather, that we all have an urge to escape the reality of being a person. And you can see infinite examples of this throughout society with people believing in Gods, religions, spiritual beings and innumerable abstract and escapist concepts. It is then not very surprising that religion finds its way into this narrative not only as a way of contesting the idea of zoophilia, but also, as asserted by faithful zoophiles, affirming it. In fact, you also have politics functioning in a very similar way throughout this narrative, and in such, we are seeing belief systems that put us on the route towards the future coming into conflict.
The almost absurd conclusion that we can then take away from this narrative is that bestiality is direct path towards understanding both belief and the future of humanity. This is because we live in a state where archetypes of thinking that consider the future (religion, science, politics) are all concerned with post-human concepts. In such, with elements of religion there is a tension between reality and a spiritual realm where you may walk with God, free from the confines of humanity and the Earth. With certain branches science, there seems to be a conflict based on human evolution, technology and how humans will move on from their current state. And with certain elements of politics, there is an explicit focus on both individual orientations and freedoms (in terms of identity politics), but also societal orientations; how we should function in respect to one another, the environment, technology, such and so on.
Through all of these veins, you can see running, as mentioned, a will to transcend humanity and connect with something, in varying degrees, entirely different from ourselves. And what the zoophiles make somewhat clear through this documentary is that this will comes from a yearning in all people for a simpler and more enjoyable life. So, whilst we may not all be zoophiles, maybe we’d consider ourselves proponents of a communistic free love, a universally tolerable society, or, God-fearing believers; lovers of a deity, or even just a guy willing to screw a robot sex doll if the chance comes one day.
What I am then trying to tease out of this documentary is a paradigm that seems to be prevalent in most people; a fixation on fantasy and escapism through belief systems. Though we may use moral judgement and laws to disagree with one another, there seems to remain this conflict between routes away from humanity. So, what we can suppose to be a question that needs to be asked after we make our moral judgements on bestiality is: what do you believe and how does that seem to progress a post-human ideal? And from this point it seems that we reveal the crux of all of this debate: what is ‘human’ and how should that be monitored/controlled – if at all? Should our thresholds cut off at murder as we say that it is inhuman to kill another person? Should our thresholds cut off at having sex with animals? How about murdering animals?
Zoo seems to inadvertently engage these questions by citing the argument, through officials, that bestiality should be illegal because animals cannot consent to sex. However, does an animal not consent when they mount a person, or, are we manipulating their unconscious reflexes? If they aren’t conscious enough to make such a decision, how can we then consider that this is abuse? It would take a human cognitive functioning to interpret sex as abuse in this respect (especially considering that the animals are not putting up a fight). So, by treating the animal in such a way, you are extending to it human traits. Is this right if you have just said that it is not human enough to have sex with a person? Moreover, animals probably don’t want to die, we still kill them. Antithetical to this is the notion that animals do want to procreate – or at least have the sensation of it. People like Mr. Hands provide this. Is this wrong?
What this confounding debate thus seems to expose is the strange grounds you can find yourself on when questioning the humanity of people and animals. And what’s even more interesting about this documentary is that it doesn’t engage the idea that bestiality doesn’t make scientific sense and that it is pretty unhygienic. This seems like sound arguments against bestiality – well, until you consider the idea that scat fetishes aren’t illegal. Nonetheless, there is a prominent trend throughout the documentary to directly engage a question of humanity beyond conceptualisation in a world where you can often only engage in conceptual and moral debate.
So, the question I then want to leave you with is: what is humanity in your eyes, where are its boundaries, and how can you justify this?
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