2000s Archive

Consider the Lobster

continued (page 9 of 10)

9 The terminal used to be somebody’s house, for example, and the lost-luggage-reporting room was clearly once a pantry.

10 It turned out that one Mr. William R. Rivas-Rivas, a high-ranking PETA official out of the group’s Virginia headquarters, was indeed there this year, albeit solo, working the Festival’s main and side entrances on Saturday, August 2, handing out pamphlets and adhesive stickers emblazoned with “Being Boiled Hurts,” which is the tagline in most of PETA’s published material about lobster. I learned that he’d been there only later, when speaking with Mr. Rivas-Rivas on the phone. I’m not sure how we missed seeing him in situ at the Festival, and I can’t see much to do except apologize for the oversight—although it’s also true that Saturday was the day of the big MLF parade through Rockland, which basic journalistic responsibility seemed to require going to (and which, with all due respect, meant that Saturday was maybe not the best day for PETA to work the Harbor Park grounds, especially if it was going to be just one person for one day, since a lot of diehard MLF partisans were off-site watching the parade (which, again with no offense intended, was in truth kind of cheesy and boring, consisting mostly of slow homemade floats and various midcoast people waving at one another, and with an extremely annoying man dressed as Blackbeard ranging up and down the length of the crowd saying “Arrr” over and over and brandishing a plastic sword at people, etc.; plus it rained)).

11 The short version regarding why we were back at the airport after already arriving the previous night involves lost luggage and a miscommunication about where and what the local National Car Rental franchise was—Dick came out personally to the airport and got us, out of no evident motive but kindness. (He also talked nonstop the entire way, with a very distinctive speaking style that can be described only as manically laconic; the truth is that I now know more about this man than I do about some members of my own family.)

12 To elaborate by way of example: The common experience of accidentally touching a hot stove and yanking your hand back before you’re even aware that anything’s going on is explained by the fact that many of the processes by which we detect and avoid painful stimuli do not involve the cortex. In the case of the hand and stove, the brain is bypassed altogether; all the important neurochemical action takes place in the spine.

13 Morality-wise, let’s concede that this cuts both ways. Lobster-eating is at least not abetted by the system of corporate factory farms that produces most beef, pork, and chicken. Because, if nothing else, of the way they’re marketed and packaged for sale, we eat these latter meats without having to consider that they were once conscious, sentient creatures to whom horrible things were done. (N.B. PETA distributes a certain video—the title of which is being omitted as part of the elaborate editorial compromise by which this note appears at all—in which you can see just about everything meat--related you don’t want to see or think about. (N.B.2Not that PETA’s any sort of font of unspun truth. Like many partisans in complex moral disputes, the PETA people are -fanatics, and a lot of their rhetoric seems simplistic and self-righteous. Personally, though, I have to say that I found this unnamed video both credible and deeply upsetting.))

14 Is it significant that “lobster,” “fish,” and “chicken” are our culture’s words for both the animal and the meat, whereas most mammals seem to require euphemisms like “beef” and “pork” that help us separate the meat we eat from the living creature the meat once was? Is this evidence that some kind of deep unease about eating higher animals is endemic enough to show up in English usage, but that the unease diminishes as we move out of the mammalian order? (And is “lamb”/“lamb” the counterexample that sinks the whole theory, or are there special, biblico-historical reasons for that equivalence?)

15 There’s a relevant populist myth about the high-pitched whistling sound that sometimes issues from a pot of boiling lobster. The sound is really vented steam from the layer of seawater between the lobster’s flesh and its carapace (this is why shedders whistle more than hard-shells), but the pop version has it that the sound is the lobster’s rabbitlike death scream. Lobsters communicate via pheromones in their urine and don’t have anything close to the vocal equipment for screaming, but the myth’s very persistent—which might, once again, point to a low-level cultural unease about the boiling thing.

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