The campaign to promote veganism by exposing the destructive reality of the animal agriculture industry.

From ‘Cowspiracy’ to ‘Seaspiracy’: Discursive strategies in contemporary vegan advocacy documentaries

0

Although eco-docs focus their efforts on combating global warming and climate change, it is the vegan documentary, such as Cowspirary and Seaspiracy, that is assuming most of the responsibility for pointing out one of the main causes of the environmental crisis: the consumption of animal products. Both films have helped place the environmental impact of animal-based food production on the public agenda with a greater impact than has been achieved by other sources (academic, journalistic, institutional, activist, etc.)

ENRIC BURGOS: This article offers an analysis of the discursive strategies implemented in Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy, contrasting them with those employed in other vegan advocacy documentaries, and in environmentalist documentaries in general. The first part of this analysis focused on the central role given by both films to the environmental argument in their call for a change of diet. In this sense, Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy demonstrate the position occupied by pro-vegan documentaries within environmentalist non-fiction, and both films have helped place the environmental impact of animal-based food production on the public agenda with a greater impact than has been achieved by other sources (academic, journalistic, institutional, activist, etc.) that have been pointing out this problem for some time.

Beyond the impact that veg(etari)an advocacy initiatives can achieve based on their overlapping interests with environmentalism, it is worth highlighting the meritorious role being played by vegan advocacy documentaries and recognizing their contributions to the subgenre of environmentalist documentaries to which they belong. Although non-vegan eco-docs focus their efforts on combating global warming and climate change, it is the vegan documentary (with notable examples such as Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy) that is assuming most of the responsibility for pointing out one of the main causes of the environmental crisis: namely, the consumption of animal products.

This study then went on to examine the empathetic view of the animal kingdom adopted in Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy, which is particularly reflected in the way they deal with scenes depicting violence against animals. Also explored was the use of fiction film strategies in both documentaries, highlighting the detective plot around which they are articulated and the first-person narration they employ. This exploration has shown how the two documentaries appeal in different ways to the audience’s emotions in order to engage them actively and encourage a change of behavior. In particular, it has highlighted how the sensation of revulsion that images of animal abuse or slaughter can elicit is redirected toward pleasurable emotions, how the intrigue of the detective story aims to hook in and persuade the audience, and how the performative nature of both documentaries presents us with a subjective discourse charged with emotion that predisposes us to sympathize with the filmmaker, and consequently to change our habits.

In short, in Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy, the cognitive and the affective reinforce each other in order to gain our favor and lead us toward collective action. However, as noted above in relation to the criticisms of Seaspiracy, this emotional approach has not always been well-received and has led some authors to question whether these documentaries should be sacrificing the complexity of the issues they deal with in order to be more persuasive. It could be argued that the answer to this question can be found in an observation about Tabrizi’s film made by one of these same authors: “When viewed from the lens of investigative journalism, the film does come across as sensationalist. But when viewed through the lens of environmental activism –where getting eyeballs on an issue is key– the film is a compelling piece of environmental communication”.

In the final analysis, especially given that they are activist films, stoking controversy and sparking debate should be viewed as indicators of the effectiveness and success of these documentaries. Sacrificing the complexity of some of the issues they address may not be such a high price to pay when the primary objective of these films is to stir the conscience. That is why it is argued here that in the current context, it is perfectly legitimate and even advisable that the proliferation of films like the two analyzed and the others alluded to in this article should shift between exposition and proclamation, in some sense echoing the approach of the guerrilla documentary that flourished some decades ago.

Just as the political-militant productions in this category of documentary defined by Barnouw (2012, pp. 231-256) sought to confront Cold War threats, savage capitalism, and imperialism, the current climate emergency calls for a similar belligerent attitude that audiovisual non-fiction can use to prick the conscience of viewers. After all, pretensions to scientific objectivity have always been relative for a documentary genre that began life as a propaganda tool and which, as John Grierson would suggest, proposes a creative treatment of reality that goes beyond mere recording.

This study has also examined how the environmental damage caused by the meat and fishing industries is presented as a contemporary problem that affects us globally, whose causes, responsibilities, and solutions involve every country and all the people who inhabit the planet as consumers. Both documentaries thus conclude by encouraging responsible consumption and activism, but above all, the reasonable individual challenge of changing our diet. By providing the audience with proactive messages and explicit steps toward achieving this, the two films combat the usual reaction of helplessness that overwhelms the audiences of other audiovisual pieces more inclined toward catastrophism.

The empowering and hopeful message that Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy convey is expressed in easily achievable proposals that can allow us to contribute to the process of cultural transformation entailed in the ecological transition. Andersen’s and Tabrizi’s documentaries thus urge us to recognize the value of individual contribution and to abandon our sense of helplessness in order to avoid a future foreseen by Natalie Dorfeld when giving up meat and fish will not be a matter of choice but an inevitable measure to ensure human survival. SOURCE…

RELATED VIDEOS: