On the screen, a deer walked through the woods. Then came the shot. The animal jumped, ran a short distance, collapsed, kicked, and lay still.
The hunter paused the video on his laptop and turned to me.
“What’s it like for you to watch that?”
I took a deep breath.
In my anti-hunting vegan years, I told him, I would have found it repulsive to watch that kind of video footage, of hunters shooting animals. Over the past decade, as a hunter, I have occasionally watched such scenes. I still don’t enjoy seeing them. Though my reaction is not as strong as it once was, discomfort lingers.
Searching for a way to explain, I came up with two quick analogies. I apologized for both, knowing they were imperfect and would sound strange. Now, months later, I haven’t come up with anything better.
The first analogy was sex.
For me, making love is very personal: an intense experience made meaningful by being there, in that specific situation, with that person.
I adore making love with my wife, but am not interested in watching other people do it on screen. As part of a well-crafted movie, I have no problem with fictional erotic scenes. But I don’t care to watch video clips of real people engaged in real sex.
Even if making porn did not involve the exploitation of women, as it typically does, such videos strike me as flat, meaningless voyeurism. The viewer is disconnected from the situation and the people. He is not a participant. Neither his body nor his heart is involved. (I use “he” deliberately, as men are the primary viewers of porn.)
For me, taking a life is also very personal: an intense experience made meaningful by being there, in that specific situation, with that animal. I am not interested in watching other people do it on screen.
Even if the hunt is conducted respectfully—and not merely as fodder for the camera—video footage of the kill usually strikes me as flat, relatively meaningless voyeurism. I am completely disconnected from what occurs. I am not a participant. Neither my body nor my heart is involved.
This imperfect analogy falls apart in several places. Unlike taking life, making love does not involve harm and death. Unlike making love—and many aspects of the hunt—taking life is not something I enjoy. And, yes, I do recognize the hazards of drawing the parallel, given the argument some critics make: that hunters are motivated by a psychosexual urge to dominate.
The second analogy that came to mind was sacred ceremony.
Though I do not follow any particular religion, I respect the power of ritual: an intense experience made meaningful by being there, in that specific situation, with those people. Video footage of other people engaged in sacred ceremonies might be educational. But it strikes me as flat, relatively meaningless voyeurism. It is nothing like participating.
In all three cases—taking life, making love, and performing ceremonies—the medium of video turns a potent, real experience into an impoverished visual spectacle. To the modern ear, it may sound like an odd trinity. Perhaps we have forgotten that the three belong together.
Perhaps we have forgotten that life, death, and sex are—like ceremony—sacred.
© 2014 Tovar Cerulli
*With apologies to Steven Soderbergh