Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Headlong Career and Woful Ending of Precocious Piggy

One of the more remarkable children's books featuring a pig is Thomas Hood's The Headlong Career and Woful [sic] Ending of Precocious Piggy, by the Late Thomas Hood; Illustrated by His Son (Boston: Mayhew and Baker, 1859). In this tale, a pig leaves his mother to go see the wider world. He tries out a career as a landscape gardener, rides in a carriage, starts drinking, attends a ball and the fair, and buys a wig (see image at right) before meeting his end with the butcher. It's quite a dark story, one you can read for yourself here, as a hand-colored version has been digitized by the State University System of Florida.

Thomas Hood is perhaps more known in pig circles for his poem "The Lament of Toby, The Learned Pig," about which more later.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Disturbing Video from Nike

My colleague Cris Hernandez shared a strange and disturbing video from Nike with me. It features a pig who is having nightmares about being roasted on a spit or turned into sizzling bacon. While that part of the flash animation makes sense--it seems fair to assume that pigs wouldn't want to be killed and eaten--the next scene does not. The pig finds himself on a conveyor belt, where he's squashed flat and blown up into a football, which flies through a clear blue sky towards the uprights. This time the pig is smiling in his sleep at this presumably sweet dream. You can see this for yourself here (you'll find the pig video on the far right of the Nike "Show Some Love" screen) or here (via iFilm). My earlier post on footballs as pigskins can be found here.

By the way, if you'd like to watch some of the cartoons mentioned in my posts from last week, you can find links posted by Axis of Evel Knievel's David Noon in the comments section. Thanks, man...

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Pigs in Animated Shorts During WW2

There were at least five cartoon versions of the Three Little Pigs story produced during the Second World War in the United States:

Thrifty Pig, Disney/National Film Board of Canada, 1941
Wolf Chases Pigs, Columbia, 1942
Hams That Couldn't Be Cured, Walter Lantz, 1942
Blitz Wolf, MGM, 1942
Pigs in a Polka, Warner Brothers, 1943

Three of these shorts were explicitly about the war effort. In Tex Avery's Blitz Wolf the wolf (named "Adolf Wolf") is attempting to invade the state of Pigmania until he is thwarted by "Sgt. Pork." In Frank Tashlin's Wolf Chases Pigs, the wolf enlists in the army and ends up being outranked by the pigs. Disney's The Thrifty Pig was designed to promote the sale of Canadian War Bonds. The Big Bad Wolf wears a Nazi hat and armband, for example, and when he tries to blow down the house made of bricks he finds that it is protected by a secure "foundation of bonds." This cartoon reuses and reanimates some footage from the classic 1933 Disney short The Three Little Pigs.

The remaining two shorts, while not about the war, were remarkably clever. Friz Freling's Pigs in a Polka, based on the dance music of Brahms, was a parody of Disney's 1933 The Three Little Pigs and the classic 1940's film Fantasia. Finally, in Walter Lantz's cartoon we learn that the pigs are actually at fault for the wolf's actions, for they had wanted to play jazz instead of the classical music that the wolf was trying to teach them. This short may be seen as having set the stage for the revisionist versions of the Three Little Pigs that seem to pop up all the time these days, especially in children's books.

By the way, I'll be out of town for a week or so, so don't fret if you miss your more-or-less daily fix of pig-related news and comment.

Introducing Porky Pig

The animated cartoon character Porky Pig was introduced in the Merrie Melodies short I Haven't Got a Hat, which was released on March 2, 1935. The character was designed by animator Bob Clampett and was originally voiced by Joe Dougherty. Porky's name apparently came from the nicknames of two childhood classmates of director Friz Freling: "Porky" and "Piggy." Porky Pig got his stutter from Dougherty, who really had a stuttering problem. Mel Blanc won an audition for the character in 1937 and voiced Porky until his death in 1989.

According to the commentary for I Haven't Got a Hat on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Vol. 3 dvd, this cartoon version of the popular Our Gang films was intended to create a new generation of cartoon "stars" after the departure of the successful character Bosko with his creators in 1933. While I like the adorable twin puppies Ham and Ex the best, Porky clearly stole the show, setting him up for a long and distinguished career as both a star and a sidekick.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Changing Pork Industry: Lessons from Iowa

The results of a study by Mark Honeyman and Michael Duffy of Iowa State University on changes to the pork industry in Iowa can be found here at the site of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. They note that although Iowa has led the nation in pork production for over 120 years, there have been profound changes to the industry in the last couple of decades. While the total number of pigs in the state remained about the same (15.5 million head in 2002!), the number of pig farms decreased by 83 percent between 1978 and 2002. The average size of pig farms increased dramatically, from about 250 pigs per farm to more than 1500 pigs. The location of pigs in the state shifted with this increasing concentration, something plainly visible in the maps to the right. In addition, the nature of the business changed, with more that half of Iowa pigs in 2002 being fed under a contract arrangement with swine companies or swine packers rather than in the traditional farrow-to-finish production of family farms.

Honeyman and Duffy conclude that pigs are now viewed differently in Iowa. Animals that once were called "mortgage lifters" in Iowa's communities are now viewed negatively, with a 2004 poll ranking hog confinement operations below prisons, landfills, and sewage treatment plants as desirable rural development. As they note, the Des Moines Zoo has added sows ready to farrow to their displays, demonstrating how "as the state becomes more removed from pig production, some Iowans now go to a zoo to see pigs."

Pigs on Trial II: The Hour of The Pig

My colleague Marie informed me of a quirky little 1993 film written and directed by Leslie Megahey called The Advocate. Set in 15th-century France, the film stars Colin Firth as an educated lawyer who hopes to find peace and quiet in the countryside, but instead enters a world of murder, mayhem and witchcraft. Much of the film involves the trial of animals, including rats (described as "witnesses of no fixed abode") and a pig. According to the reviews I read on Rotten Tomatoes, Miramax had trouble figuring out how to categorize this somewhat anachronistic film (Roger Ebert referred to Firth's character Richard Courtois as "more Perry Mason than medieval"), which isn't quite a comedy or mystery despite having many elements of both. Accordingly, Miramax retitled the film for the American audience and urged viewers not to share the mysterious identity of the main defense client. I guess the film's original title, The Hour of the Pig, gave too much away. I quite liked the film, which I found both smart and irreverent, although I apparently only got to see the American edit, which took out 15 minutes of footage presumably of a sexual nature. Too bad. You can find a brief yet informative interview with director Megahey here on the Columbus Films website.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What Are We Doing to Pigs?

Back in March 2006 John Stewart did a brief segment on the The Daily Show called "What Are We Doing to Pigs?" in which he commented on news that scientists have engineered pigs so that their bacon has more omega-3 fatty acids. His comment: "Yes, yes, we 'could' eat in moderation, but wouldn't it be easier to just rearrange a mammal's cellular structure." I thought of Stewart's clip (which can be found here) and its catchy theme song, when I read recently that farmers in the U.K. are working to breed "stress" and "hostility" out of pigs to make them more obedient on the way to the slaughterhouse. According to a Nottingham University professor cited in the Daily Mail (January 10, 2007) the goal is to create animal "vegetables." As Stewart said in disgust at the end of his segment, "God..."

When Pigs Swim

A dozen Dongba pigs from Thailand, which are said to be small and agile, compete in a swimming game at a park in Nanchang, in east China's Jiangxi province, on Saturday February 3, 2007.

Thanks to Sean for the AP image.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Trials and Punishments of Pigs

In The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (1906), E.P. Evans listed 37 prosecutions of swine between the ninth and nineteenth centuries. A few examples: In 1266, at Fontenay-aux-Roses, near Paris, a pig convicted of having eaten a child was publicly burned by order of the monks of Sainte Genevieve. In 1394, a pig was found guilty of "having killed and murdered a child in the parish of Roumaygne, in the county of Mortaing, for which deed the said pig was condemned to be haled and hanged by Jehan Petit, lieutenant of the bailiff." Finally, in 1379, three sows from a communal herd at Saint-Marcel-le-Jeussey rushed upon Perrinot Muet, the son of the swine-keeper, throwing him to the ground, fatally injuring him. The entire herd was arrested as accomplices and sentenced by the court to death. But the prior, Friar Humbert de Poutiers, not wanting to endure the loss of the swine, sent a petition to the Duke of Burgundy asking that all of the pigs, save for the three sows, be pardoned. The others were set free, "notwithstanding that they had been present at the death of the said swineherd."

Writing a hundred years earlier, E.P. Evans could only attribute these prosecutions to "an extremely crude, obtuse, and barbaric sense of justice," but as Nicholas Humphrey has suggested in his 1987 foreword to Evans' book, these trials may have helped "to domesticate chaos, to impose order on a world of accidents--and specifically to make sense of certain seemingly inexplicable events by redefining them as crimes." A similar argument is made in Darren Oldridge's Strange Histories (2005). As he concludes, "For us, the treatment of these animals may have the character of farce, but it was much nearer to tragedy for the men and women involved."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Ethical Meat Lures Lapsed Vegetarians

The BBC News Magazine has published several articles lately about vegetarians whose resolve has weakened now that organic meats are becoming easier to find. The first, by Megan Lane, recounts her own reversion to meat eating as long as it comes from "animals who've enjoyed a happy life before being slaughtered." Her article notes that organic products constitute just 1.4% of meat sales in the U.K., though the amount is rising. A spokesman for the Vegetarian Society noted that many of the three million vegetarians in the U.K. likely gave up meat in the first place because of the practice of factory farming, but added "you would be hard-pressed to find a committed vegetarian who would switch back to being a meat-eater simply because a lamb or cow was bred on an organic farm. These animals are still killed whether they lived on an organic farm or not." Suffice to say that the on-line version of this essay comes with lots of comments which make for interesting reading. You can find the whole article, titled "Some sausages are more equal than others" (nice riff on Animal Farm, eh?) here.

There is a follow up called "As happy as pigs in muck" in the magazine's "Reader's Column" by former vegetarian Tom Welch, who now has "the occasional pork sausage or chop from my own pigs" as a by-product of his turn to farming. Welch, pictured above with one of his pigs, has 30 free-range pigs on his farms that he describes as part of an effort to remind us that "farm animals are living creatures, not industrial commodities, and should be treated as such." He tries to give his pigs a "happy life" at Treflach Farm. These two essays reflect a broader turn toward "ethical meat-eating" that can also be found in the U.S. More about that later...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Xiang Xiang's "Song of Pig"

Louisa Lim's excellent NPR story of February 6th concluded by mentioning a song by 21-year-old pop star Xiang Xiang that has been downloaded over a billion times. Her "Song of Pig" boasts (in translation, of course) the following lyrics:

Pig, you have two holes on your nose
When you catch cold, you are snorting
Pig, you have black eyes which we cannot see beyond
Pig, you have two big ears
And you cannot hear that I'm cursing you silly
Pig, you have a curling tail which you cannot run without
Pig head, pig brain, pig body and pig tail
You are a good baby who eats everything
Everyday you won't wake up till noon
And you never brush your teeth and you never fight

If you'd like to hear this song for yourself, try this link. There is a BBC article on Xiang Xiang and the internet as a distribution mechanism here.

China's Ban on the Use of Pigs in Advertising

NPR's Louisa Lim had a great piece on Morning Edition today about China's recent ban on pigs in advertising on CCTV, the state-run broadcaster. Interestingly, it's not about cheapening the image of the pig in the run-up to the Year of the Pig, but an effort "to avoid conflicts with ethnic minorities," in this case, the 20 million Chinese Muslims. Global corporations operating in China, like Coca-Cola, have created different advertisements in response to this edict. In one Coke ad described in Lim's report, a cute piglet struggles to get home for Chinese New Year; the ad shown in Muslim areas features a panda instead. You can read (or listen to) this excellent article here. The image to the left (taken by Lim) is of a commemorative bag containing New Year's snacks.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Wild Pig Hunts in Hawai'i

According to the Associated Press, a yearlong pig hunt began last weekend above Honolulu neighborhoods that have been beset by feral hogs. Hunting will be allowed on Sundays and Wednesdays from dawn until dusk. Given the proximity of neighborhoods, individuals can only hunt these wild pigs with dogs and knives or with bows and arrows. Special hunts will be held every other month on the full moon. You can see the effect of wild pigs on the Hawaiian ecosystem here--there are also other links here to sites about feral hogs. There is a local article on the hunt and the impact of these non-native species in the Honolulu Star Bulletin. You can find it here. In the article Terry Day, a local resident, notes "The pigs are very dangerous. They've gotten emboldened and come right behind houses everywhere you look. They're used to human smells and noises and are not going to be frightened away." Many residents have contracted with members of the Oahu Pig Hunters Association in the past to help deal with the feral pig problem. Alas, I haven't been able to find further information about this organization. I assume they are excited about these new hunting opportunities.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

"The Other White Milk" Controversy

So I don't post for a couple of days 'cause I'm trying to get some work done and I almost miss a minor pig-related scandal. Thanks to my man Sean I heard on Thursday that an Ohio-based blogger known as "The Lactivist" received a cease-and-desist order from the attorneys for the National Pork Board because she was selling t-shirts that referred to breast milk as "the other white milk." The outrage at a major industry picking on a local activist spread pretty quickly through the interweb, so much so, in fact, that when I returned to "The Lactivist" today I found "an update on the pigsteria," as she puts it. Turns out that she has received an apology from the CEO of the National Pork Board, adding that they are hoping to work toward a resolution of their dispute.

This "controversy" led me to something even more interesting, a couple of mentions that the National Pork Board purchased the slogan "The Other White Meat" from the National Pork Producers' Council for the whopping sum of $60 million! Apart from the fact that a slogan sold for so much money, there are questions about the transparency of the deal and the use to which the funds will be put by the NPPC. As the blogger Parke Wilde at "U.S. Food Policy" has noted here, the NPPC can lobby, something the Pork Board cannot do as a mandatory federal checkoff program. Clearly there is more to be learned about the politics of pork...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hog-Calling Contests

I've found it surprisingly difficult to find information about the world of hog calling contests. There are several sites dedicated to world champion callers, including 1999 World Champion Bob Wood and 2-time World Champion Roxanne Ward (pictured at right with her potbellied pig Oscar). Apparently almost anyone can learn to call hogs. As Ward notes, "To be a good hog caller, you gotta love pigs and appreciate how much fun they are.” I can't find any MP3 files of Ward's call, which has helped her win upwards of 25 contests, but you can find Leonard Emmanuel's 1975 call here as part of the excellent Phonoanomalies: A Totally New Recording for Hi-Fi Bugs compilation (via WFMU). Interestingly Wood is from Oklahoma and Ward is from Texas. I guess I would've expected champion hog callers to be from Iowa...