My research question asks how effective animal rights activists are in addressing the role of power holders in the factory farming industry, and what might they be able to do to better confront them?
In response, I argue that while animal rights activists effectively draw attention to power holders through extreme actions, these results usually don’t spread to influence companies that aren’t directly affected, and little education/persuasion is involved. Thus, they have room for improvement in their ability to reach power holders. The lack of both unity in the movement and organized efforts to change legislation greatly affect the power they have to fight against such powerful organizations. In order to improve, animal rights activists should unite behind a common identity in the way that the Black Lives Matter movement has taken a name, a history and a purpose as a way to define their common identity and empower them. Additionally, they should focus less on grabbing attention and more on education, both for the public and for lawmakers who are currently acting (mostly) in favor of agribusiness.
In my RBA, I plan to include background information both on factory farming and the impact agribusiness has had on the presence of factory farming and meat consumption in the U.S. Then, I plan to lay out the strategies animal rights activists are using to combat the growth in factory farmed products, and explain how they are not as effective as they could be. Finally, I will put forth my own ideas of what animal rights activists should do to improve.
The process of finalizing my research topic was rather difficult for me. Among tips for my presentation itself, I received comments on my topic, animal rights activism and labels, that made me revisit the decision to focus around that. The comments included it being too vague/abstract and not relevant enough to activism. Additionally, one of the main points of my research was exploring stereotypes and how they relate to labels and the success of animal rights activists, and I received feedback advising me to reconsider that point altogether. After hearing more feedback on my research proposal paper and getting similar comments about the lack of clarity in my topic, I decided to change it to have a clearer, more relevant focus. My infographic was based on this new topic, animal rights activism and factory farming, though my plan for it wasn’t completely solidified yet. I received feedback after this presentation that advised me to make it more specific rather than an overview of animal rights activism and factory farming. From that, I narrowed my topic to the role of the U.S. government and agribusiness in the effectiveness of animal rights activists, which finally seems specific enough to lead to a research question. Tentatively, I want to use my research to consider the question of whether the U.S. government and agribusiness are actively hindering progress for animal rights activists, and if so, how animal rights activists can respond. From what I’ve read so far, it seems that corporations and sectors of the government involved in agriculture are passing legislation and motivating consumer choices in ways that are too subtle for activists to easily address or reverse but still heavily influence the reason factory farms exist, meat consumption. Furthermore, many activists accuse those who are responsible for anti-whistleblower laws in agriculture, lawmakers and corporations with lobbying money, as acting to silence the opposition, which would be a direct attempt to take power away from animal rights activists. Thus, my thesis will likely take the position that the U.S. government and agribusiness are using their power to tip the scale in favor of corporate economic prosperity at the expense of truth and the moral considerations brought forth by activists.
One topic I am considering is the use of identity as a means to encourage people to support or reject activist causes, with specific respect to vegan activism. For example, with meat and protein so closely tied to masculinity, many people find it difficult to transition to a more plant-based diet in fear that it will make them appear less masculine.
Another topic I am considering is the label-based rhetoric used in racial/ethnic activism and its detrimental effects on the ability of minority individuals who don’t fit into the typical minority groups to contribute to conversations about representation and equality.
Finally, I am considering exploring whether there must be both moral and economic justifications to support a movement in order for it to be effective. Historically, many movements that have led to lasting change have involved these two major components. First, moral arguments collected people to support a “righteous” cause. Then, economic arguments preserved economic stability while promoting significant changes to the industry being challenged. For example, the whaling industry was once a significant portion of the U.S. economy due to Americans’ dependence on whale oil for lamps. Initially, hundreds of activists protested the extremely high volume of killings, but the industry continued to collect their oil. Finally, driven by a demand by those opposed to the whaling industry’s actions, kerosene was invented. After there was no longer an economic justification for collecting whale oil, the industry quickly dried up. While the moral arguments were the kindling, it was technology that provided the spark. In my research, I want to explore the interdependence of moral activism and economic incentives in effecting lasting social and political change. With ample evidence to support either the need for both components to make a lasting impact or the lack thereof, we can use the result either to justify a greater number of unified moral/economic efforts by activist organizations or to encourage greater focus on one of those components should it not be essential that both exist.
In Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society, author Tim Jordan explores the role of activism in making fundamental changes to the framework of society. During his exploration of activism! in its many forms, Jordan investigates the phenomenon of “cultural jamming,” the practice of using familiar branding “to terrorize the symbols and codes that make up the semiotics that subordinate our desires to corporate and state imperatives” (104). One example he provided of cultural jamming is an image of Ronald McDonald with “Grease” written across his mouth and the two e’s replaced by sideways golden arches.
This activism strategy has the effect of calling the power of symbols (or codes) such as Ronald McDonald into question. Corporations such as McDonald’s use branding very frequently as a means of persuading consumers to buy their products by selling an image or lifestyle while neglecting any quantitative means directly regarding the product for sale. Another branding example Jordan provides is Nike’s famous swoosh, a symbol of the lifestyle promises Nike makes in their ads. The famous athletes and calling female customers goddesses imply that by buying Nike products, i.e. by wearing the swoosh, consumers can transform their lives into ones as glorious as those of Tiger Woods and Serena. Branding like this is a very popular target for cultural jammers, who replicate popular images almost exactly but in the subtle details manage to turn an advertisement on its head. According to Jason, this juxtaposition gives way to discussion because “the language of the original adverts is faithfully reproduced, meaning that the language itself becomes a topic” (107).
However, the matter becomes difficult in situations where advertisers use cultural jamming to further their own goals, such as when Nike effectively mocked itself in a shoe advertising campaign that referenced their dependence on sweatshops. By diminishing the power of cultural jamming and forcing audiences to question its source, corporations may threaten cultural jamming as a means of protest. However, it seems that such an advertising strategy is a double-edged sword, for by exposing their faults in an attempt to hinder jamming, they leave themselves open to activists making direct acknowledgements of the flaws those corporations tried so cleverly to imply.
Whether cultural jamming is the most effective way to force people out of the hypnotic effects of branding or is merely a fleeting alternative to more radical or straightforward forms of protest, it certainly starts an important dialogue about the power of targeting the unconscious thoughts and desires of audiences and the ethical concerns behind it.