Saturday, March 12, 2011

Petulism: Boudicca's Thought For The Day #3 - The rat race and working feline INVECTIVE

We have referred briefly to the problem of unremunerated work in the owned animal community, but a deeper look at employment roles seems warranted. Let us leave aside the role of certain unlucky souls as consumable goods, as that's just too depressing to contemplate - instead, let us focus on the function of animals as actors in the economy more widely.

The majority are involved in production, whether the end result is directly consumable (dairy produce, eggs) or used in the production of consumer goods (wool and other fibres). One can discern a dichotomy between the valuation of certain luxury goods (pashminas, Uniqlo's cashmere range) and the valuation of the workers that produce them. Those poor bloody rabbits. Anyway.

At this 'working class' level, one can also look to animal involvement in transport, both historically and currently in less developed countries, and the more niche markets of agricultural security and clean-up (ladybirds), and artisanal production - bees, arguably, are the farmers' market stallholders of the animal world, and then there's that coffee that involves civets doing the kind of thing that would probably constitute sex-work were a human to do it.

More middle-class pursuits are available to those willing and able to do a bit of training and move up the ladder - sadly, this seems mainly the province of canine workers, and the occasional horse. Jobs are available with the police and other law-enforcement agencies (the sniffer dogs' union is currently considering a dirty protest against Ben Goldacre after this libellous little piece), as well as other service providers such as mountain rescue, domestic help (guide / hearing dogs), but the apogee role is that of sheepdog, the middle managers of the animal community. That glass ceiling ain't shifting any time soon.

In times of crisis, animals have also played their part - as the Dickin Medal tartly reminds us, "We Also Sodding Serve" (ed - could you check I have that right?); dogs serving with the Marines and the paras/SAS, dolphins getting roped into all kinds of things by the Navy, and pigeons shoring up communications and very nearly getting themselves set up as suicide bombers in a project that thankfully was too weird even for the US Armed Forces.

There is also a fine tradition of animals contributing to scientific and medical research, although this rarely ends well for the worker. Whether it's getting shot into space with not enough Chum, dumped in a maze and expected to find your way out while lots of white-coated eejits stand around clutching clipboards, or having one of those unflattering bucket-arrangements put on your head, animal researchers rarely get the credit they deserve. Mind you, it's not all bad - it seems a bit off for a bunch of indolent beagles to sit around all day smoking fags and bitching about working conditions, it's like the NUM in the 1980s. Admittedly, some creatures do manage to make the leap from lab rats (no offence intended) to practitioners, such as leeches, and these guys, who even get a professional title (once at consultant level, they revert to being Mr or Mrs Fish), although such examples are rare.

Finally, animals are very involved in the entertainment industry, but again seem to miss out on the most basic protections. One wonders what would happen if under-track cabling put 1000 volts through Usain Bolt - I'm guessing the meet would not have continued. Beauty pageants may be seen as the lighter end of the entertainment spectrum, but one has to wonder at a a society that actively encourages exaggerated physical deformity to the detriment of the model's health - then again, at least the RSPCA gives a shit, humans in this position just get that lanky bint from the M&S ads. The RSPCA wear uniforms - they'd worry me more than someone who can attractively wear harem pants. So maybe here we're better off.

Another traditional career for many more 'exotic' animals faces opposition from a bunch of do-gooders interfering, and that is the circus life. Unemployment levels are horrific in this sector - I mean, think about it, what else is a lion supposed to do for a living? If you think you're going to move them into a clerical role, frankly, you're going to need better insurance. And they are highly trained professionals - the continuing descent of popular media towards 'reality' shows makes young cubs think that all they need to do to get a job is look cute while digging. OK, David Attenborough has been going for years and has won many awards (but does he pay royalties? do he my arse), but the rise of youtube means that all manner of amateur show'man'ship is on display - singing bunnies, bouncing goats, frankly, it's just fucking undignified.

As is the use of animals in advertising - here, again, cute is often a requirement, although props to that credit card company for daring to put a gay couple in an advert*, but there are also opportunities for animals who apparently embody a metaphorical quality tangentially associated with the product in question, at least in the mind of a coked-up advertising exec on a deadline. Here, you, panther! Jump into this hatchback - and look moody...

Speaking personally, the role of cats in the workplace has been on the more artistic / creative end of the scale, with many of my fellow felines involved in modelling, or playing a 'muse' role. In a more traditional role, we are valued for being good at catching and killing things, although if that Larry creature is being charged with dealing with all the rats in Downing Street, he's got a bloody big job on his paws. But we are perhaps mainly known for our role in literature and art, on which, more later.

So - if any of you humans ever look at an animal and think 'lucky sod, they just sit around all day', just reflect on this - no wages, no contractual protection, no chance of reaching a board position, and for many, the very real prospect of being bashed on the head and then eaten. Not all cool, you know. And for those of us who do, genuinely, spend all day eating, sleeping, shagging and shredding furniture, just remember - some of us may be busy plotting something.

* can't find the link - when I did a youtube search for "egg gay guinea pigs" the first result was this, I kid you not...