Who‘s really watching when animal abuse is exposed on TV?

Everyone knows that farmed animals are killed, and if you‘re vegan you probably know just how brutally. But observance trumps knowledge.

Last night, ARD, Germany‘s main public TV network, aired a documentary about piglet factories: "Tortured, Beaten to Death, and Thrown Away." I spent half the time with my head turned away from the screen and my fingers pressed against my ear drums.

First: This is the kind of research I want my tax money to make possible. So thank you, ARD, for not merely entertaining, but informing and challenging as public television should.

But: How effective are these graphic, revelatory documentaries in preventing what they expose? I fear they aren‘t.

First, who‘s watching? I dare say mostly viewers already convinced that farming animals is wrong. It‘s not my teary-eyed self or the other nauseated (but unsurprised) vegans watching who need to be informed. Those 80 million Germans who need to be shocked out of their sausage were almost certainly not watching. They would never pick a show called „Tortured, Beaten to Death, and Thrown Away“ for their Monday evening unwinding. And if they happened upon the piglets‘ agony, they would quickly surf on to another, more „mindless“ program.

German children eat "Teddy" Wurst.

German children eat "Teddy" Wurst.

Second, let‘s say some brave meat-eaters did make it through the documentary. How would it change them? Like most such documentaries I‘ve seen, it did not question the fact that we farm pigs, only how we do it. And its undercover footage was from factory farms, giving the viewer the option to cop out of any real resolution and instead resolve „No more factory farm meat,“ and run over to the next organic butcher. To abolitionist vegans, who oppose not a certain way of farming animals but every way, this is half a cent into a beggar‘s cup. And even animal welfarists know that organic meat is not from pigs who are happier than their proverbial cousins in mud. Watch Animal Rights Watch‘s footage of organic farms, if you can.

I‘m still glad ARD made the documentary. Animal suffering should be shown in the mainstream media, not only in my own vegan-skewed Twitter feed. But how do we get the „right“ (meaning the wrong) people to watch it? Those who need to know? And how do we make sure their conclusions are worthy of what they just saw and not lukewarm like „The organic meat seller will absolve me of my sins“?