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October 2005
Undercover TV: Animal Rights Reality Television
By Mat Thomas

 

It’s no accident that television often presents animals not as sentient beings, but as products to be consumed. Networks cater to transnational corporations that spend billions annually to air advertisements deliberately displaying animals’ remains as tasty food or stylish fashions. Usually, these products are well disguised, allowing viewers to overlook the grisly reality that meat and leather are actually the flesh and skin of once-living animals raised in factories and butchered on mechanized assembly lines. Marketing campaigns also commonly portray anthropomorphized farmed animals as happy with their enslavement, further blurring the boundary between nightmarish reality and commercialized fantasy.

But now, flipping between post-primetime sitcom reruns and wearisome late-night infomercials, thousands of channel surfers from coast to coast are seeing something different: shocking scenes from inside factory farms, vivisection laboratories, fur ranches and other industrial dungeons where animals are tortured and killed about as routinely as the average American buys eggs at the supermarket. The source of these unsettling images is Undercover TV, a potent new antidote to the pervasive normalization of institutionalized mass-murder. With the tenacity of a muckraking reporter tracking down and exposing corruption in high places, Undercover TV boldly broadcasts the terror billions of animals endure their entire lives to sate society’s hunger for convenience, pleasure and entertainment.

Though its first episodes were created about ten months ago, Undercover TV already airs on over 50 public access stations across America, including some of the largest U.S. cities (such as New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco). This means millions of people can already watch Undercover TV, making it the most viewer-accessible animal rights television program in history. The show is well distributed thanks to a network of committed volunteers in different host cities around the country. This efficient dispersal system enables a single activist to potentially reach thousands of people by simply delivering a box of videos to his or her community public access station every month or two. In addition, Undercover TV will soon make episodes available for download from its website.

While officially a project of In Defense of Animals (IDA), Undercover TV is a collaborative effort between many animal protection organizations that provide compelling investigative videos, from national nonprofits like PETA and HSUS to regional grassroots groups. Undercover TV presents these videos in 30 minute-long themed episodes. For example, an installment on “Factory Farming” may include investigations of pig farms, broiler chicken operations and beef production facilities. This allows viewers to learn about specific animal cruelty issues while gaining an overall understanding of the abusive pattern driving all animal exploitation industries. Sandwiched between carnage sometimes more horrifying than the scariest slasher movie, Undercover TV’s host—champion vegan bodybuilder Kenneth G. Williams—briefly introduces each segment, providing context for viewers who may not fully understand—or believe—what they are seeing.

Undercover TV’s unique content and structure distinguish it from typical animal-related programming. As the show’s producer and director, longtime animal rights activist Gabe Quash, points out, “Undercover TV shows animals in a different way than other programs on television: we expose the graphic, unfortunate truth of humanity’s exploitation of animals. Most mainstream animal programs show only the harmonious aspects of humankind’s relationship to animals. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of animals, the reality is much more disturbing. Undercover TV brings these images to the public so that people can know the truth about what’s being done to animals.”

While Undercover TV is breaking new ground with viewers, it is also revolutionizing the way animal advocacy groups get their message out by providing a national television audience for their exposés. The show allows video activists to become the media and tell the animals’ stories from their perspective. Nathan Runkle, founder and Director of Ohio-based Mercy For Animals, says the group’s undercover investigations of battery cage egg farms “have been very successful in generating media attention, but some television stations won’t air the most graphic footage for fear of offending viewers and losing ratings. Undercover TV eliminates the unfortunate barriers we sometimes face when working to expose animal cruelty through mainstream media.” Viva!USA Director Lauren Ornelas agrees. “Getting the media to cover factory farming issues is difficult,” she says. “Every time we do an investigation, our goal is to show everyone the constant abuses taking place behind the barn door, so to speak, of the factory farming industry. Undercover TV helps us do just that.” This assessment fits well with Quash’s ultimate goal: “to show the truth and achieve justice for animals.”

If you haven’t seen Undercover TV yet, visit www.undercovertv.org to find out whether it airs in your city. If it doesn’t, you can get it shown on your community public access channel by joining Undercover TV’s nationwide distribution network. Currently, Undercover TV is especially seeking volunteers in some of the larger cities, like Austin, Boston and Portland. Visit the website to find out how you can help, and for information on submitting investigative video footage for future episodes.

Mat Thomas is a staff writer for In Defense of Animals and lives in San Francisco with two cats. He has been a frequent guest on Vegan TV and volunteers for Undercover TV’s production crew. To learn more about Undercover TV and view a guide to all 11 episodes, visit www.undercovertv.org.

 

 

 


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