Beauty and the Beast: #CeciltheLion and the ‘Migrants’

One of the biggest trending hashtags in the past week has
been #CeciltheLion. The killing of a lion by a rich American has stimulated outpourings
of anger, disgust and sadness. The reporting of the story has run in
conjunction with a really shocking event: ‘migrants’ in Calais are dying in an
attempt to reach British shores in the hope of a better life. As pointed out in
a number of articles in The Independent and The Guardian, these migrants are afforded nowhere near the same
degree of compassion or empathy as ‘Cecil’. The New
Statesman
article on the subject picks up on the importance of the
language used by politicians, celebrities and media in describing the two news
stories. What is argued here is that the language used in these two cases shows
us that there is something increasingly proto-fascist about the political and
social establishment at the moment, something another recent
Everyday Analysis article
suggested in a different context.

image

As a result of having been endowed with the name of ‘Cecil’,
the lion has been humanised. As with our pets, the lion’s name includes it as
one of the human family (which perhaps explains why the lion was given a
British imperialistic name instead of one that originates from Zimbabwe). The
name automatically conveys his belonging and acceptance, he is ‘one of us’, a ‘member
of the family’. Just a few hours ago The
Daily Mail
reported that Cecil’s
brother ‘Jericho’ may also have been killed by poachers
after earlier reporting
that Jericho
was looking after Cecil’s cubs for him
. This very comically shows us that
we relate to these animals as ‘one of us’, even as if they share our family values.

Whilst ‘Cecil’ has been humanized,
thousands of ‘migrants’ have at the same time been dehumanized by the right-wing press and even, perhaps unsurprisingly, by David Cameron. Primarily, the word ‘migrant’ used to describe the people in
Calais points us away from thinking of people as refugees: in the past few
decades, people fleeing war-torn countries undergoing complete social
decimation have been referred to as ‘asylum-seekers’, moving towards a haven,
safety and the prospect of a new secure life. Now, however, the right-wing
press, including the BBC, have ensured that the term ‘migrant’ has become hegemonic,
a word embroiled in the worlds of market and capital, used to suggest that
people have made the economic decision to leave their homes to set up in
Britain. ‘Migrant’ also signifies the movements of animals when the weather
changes, and this is where the right-wing, proto-fascist process of
dehumanizing desperate people becomes potent.

Russell Brand points out a BBC reporter saying that ‘the
arrival of spring weather has encouraged more migrants to take the trip’,
treating them like migrating birds.

Rendered nameless and consistently referred to en masse as ‘the
migrants’ with no personal detail beyond the generalised notion that they are
from ‘North Africa’ or ‘the Middle East’, it is emphasized that the people at
Calais do not belong, that they are not acceptable or to be accepted, neither
in France nor Britain. Whilst Cecil is a member of the family, the migrants are
not.

Many, including Ricky Gervais, Kristen Davis and the head of
the Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce Johnny Rodrigues, have emphasised the ‘beauty’
of the lion in relation to their own dismay and outrage at the killing that
unfolded. The lion is incredibly aesthetically pleasing, with big round eyes,
golden fur, a wide symmetrical face and a huge mane. Along with ‘beauty’, images
of the lion conjure up such words as ‘majestic’ and ‘regal’, and it is of a
male portion of a species that is frequently referred to as the ‘king’ of the
animal kingdom. The lion and the king
have long been associated with one another: from Hercules wearing the pelt of
the Nemean to Richard the Lionheart and Narnia’s Aslan and The Lion King. Historically, fascism has also had this focus on the
aesthetic, and specifically on the beauty of the regal and
majestic.  Walter Palmer had already killed
a cheetah, a white rhino and a bear before ‘Cecil’ but the same level of furore
and anger has not surfaced until now. Cecil the lion actually seems to
represent the ideas of a regal and majestic centre, a ‘beautiful’ king-like
powerful figure who represents us and our family and political values, explaining why his death troubles us so much.

On the other hand, the media representation ‘migrants’ is as
people who don’t belong in ‘our family’, who do not convey an attractive
aesthetic sense of regality and majesty. This animalistic dehumanization has
manifested beyond the word ‘migrant’ and can be seen in the fascist rhetoric of
The Sun’s Katie Hopkins referring to
the refugees as ‘cockroaches’ or David Cameron describing them as ‘swarms’.
Whilst the world rallies around the death of a humanized creature it deems
beautiful, the people in Calais fleeing horrific conflict are met with
degrading, xenophobic and outright fascist attitudes, evident in the right-wing
language that constructs them as pests and parasites who multiply and seek to
invade.

Whilst the Cecil story and the reporting of the migrants
seem like two separate stories, the celebration of something beautiful (Cecil) in fact works
alongside the expulsion or rejection of what is deemed not attractive (the ‘migrants’) by western
right-wing politics. This ideology, which involves celebrating the beauty of our
centre and rejecting the ugliness of the other, is fundamentally fascist.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: