We went to see 'The Rise of The Planet of The Apes' today, desirous as we always are of seeing fine cinematic art. The movie was surprisingly affecting, the story of the mistreatment of Cesar, the lead ape, managed to evoke a strong sense of empathy. I found the whole theatre reacting to the scenes of Cesar in captivity. As an audience we came to be with and for the apes as we raged against the inhuman and inhumane way the animals were treated. It was as if they had no feelings and no sensitivities. Human care givers were brutish and mean.
The scene that got me, and I don't think this is much of a spoiler, was when a water hose was turned on Cesar. It was then that I understood the sense of my dis-ease with what I was watching. From then on, I couldn't shake my realization that an audience was involved in acts of caring - as evidenced by the gasps of horror and the snorts of annoyance during moments of maltreatment - for these animals. Yet, for generations people have been locked away in institutions, brutally treated, hosed down, been subject to electric shocks and cattle prods. There was nothing there, on the screen, that hasn't been experienced, that isn't being experienced by people with intellectual disabilities, people with mental illnesses all over the world.
Where is the empathy?
Where, even, is concern?
Drown a child with autism in a bathtub ... set a young man with an intellectual disability on fire ... knock a young woman out of her wheelchair ... and the world may tut tut - but then it moves on. But strike a dog or light a cat on fire - and, my Gosh, the outcry. I am not saying this to diminish in any way the horror of the abuse of animals. I do not hope for and want a world that diminishes animal mistreatment. What I want is a world that has a horror of MISTREATMENT and ABUSE OF POWER AND PRIVILEGE. Human beings kept in horrible institutions for the crime of difference is a tragedy of enormous proportions. Human beings treating human beings in barbarous ways is a disgrace of unthinkable magnitude. Isn't it?
How many people with disabilities, world wide, live in captivity, subject to the whims of fate - their quality of life determined by the quality of character of their care providers? How many people with disabilities live in fear in their home communities - fear of brutish bullies and thuggish teasing?
Would outrage, justified outrage, change anything?
I think it would.
But, wait, caring for a fictional ape in a fictional cage costs nothing. Outrage that can be fed by popcorn isn't much outrage at all.
There was a moment, a powerful moment, where Cesar declares that he will no longer be treated harshly. A chill ran down my spine. I'm going to remember that moment. I'm going to remember how it made me feel. Because then, right then, I understood the primal drive for freedom.