Commentary: Olympic PETA controversy

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For weeks prior, observers speculated about the staging of the opening ceremonies at the Summer Olympics in London. Knowing that quirky English film director Danny Boyle, who garnered a Best Director Oscar in 2008 for his rags-to-riches movie Slumdog Millionaire, was in charge of production, critics were poised to trash the event, should the choreography and costuming fall short of Olympian standards.

Indeed, many English commentators considered Boyle an odd choice to create a ceremony that would showcase Great Britain to the world and set the tone for the 2012 Games.

They were wrong to doubt him.

His $42 million extravaganza was universally acclaimed for capturing the essence of British history, culture and humor in what was described as a “technically stunning” show. He used what one critic called a “frenzied, high-energy soundtrack” during the ceremony, similar to how he scores his movies, using self-deprecating humor to highlight Britain's quirkiness with fake clouds, dancing nurses and neon doves on bikes.

In addition, more than 100 farmyard animals were part of the pageantry, including 12 horses, 3 cows, 2 goats, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, 9 geese, 70 sheep and 3 sheepdogs.

The wild show was topped off by a much-talked about video clip starring no less than Queen Elizabeth herself in spoof with James Bond actor Daniel Craig acting as her bodyguard, ending with stunt doubles for the two parachuting into Olympic Stadium.

You had to love it.

Unless you belong to PETA, that is.

Of peaceful pastures

In the aftermath of the opening ceremony’s success, English members of the animal rights group have accused Boyle of breaking a promise that animals used in the Olympics opening ceremony would be spared future stress. That’s because—unlike the thousands of humans competing in the English capital over the next two weeks—animals must never be subjected to stress, or put to work, or otherwise compelled to exist in anything other than the protected, artificial environment PETA people convince themselves animals prefer.

Boyle and company have strictly adhered to their pledge that the animals used in the show would not become part of the food chain—because, of course, animals in the real world never eat or are eaten by each other. All of the animal performers have been shipped off to sanctuaries, they stated.

So what’s PETA squawking about? They’re mad because instead of lolling around some petting zoo or non-working farm until they die of old age and disease, the animals used in the opening ceremonies will continue to work in the entertainment industry.

In a letter to Britain’s Captive Animals Protective Society, Bill Morris, the Olympics committee’s director of ceremonies,told the London Telegraph newspaper that the animals were loaned from a specialty supplier and emphasized that none of them are destined for the food chain.

“Indeed, it is expected that they will return to natural surroundings and future roles in movies and theatre,” he said.

Theater? Are you serious? To a PETA person, entertainment is the moral equivalent of slaughter.

“PETA is livid at the London 2012 Organizing Committee’s new revelation that the animals used as props in this Friday’s Olympics opening ceremony will continue to be used by the entertainment industry after the event and ultimately face an uncertain fate,” the group’s statement read. “This is contrary to a personal assurance from [Director] Danny Boyle that he would ‘vigorously’ look into sanctuaries to retire them to.

“Far from the fictional scene of free-living animals on lush green pastures that these animals will be involuntarily portraying in the opening ceremony, they are, in reality, to spend the rest of their lives being hired out for film and theatre productions for humans’ financial gain.This is highly stressful to prey animal species like geese, chickens, cows and sheep.”

PETA’s statement noted that after filming Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle was compelled to provide for the welfare of the child actors used in the Academy Award-winning production and demanded the same treatment for the Olympic animals.

“We are calling on him to be responsible now for the fate of the dozens of animals he [subjected to] the noise and stress of a 80,000-seat arena.”

Because, as the animal experts at PETA are convinced, wild animals never encounter any stress. They never subjected to fear or famine or predators. They never experience hardships or pain. Life in the wild is quiet, peaceful and carpeted with “lush, green pastures” where they “live free” throughout their long and rewarding lives.

In contrast to the Olympic ceremonies, that scenario is the real fantasy. ÿ

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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