This is an agenda-drive, single-answer to the world’s problem, California and US centric production.
There are problems with its presentation, the production techniques and approach and the choice of and use of evidence, and the ethics of how they treat those interviewed.
This is not a BBC Horizon or Panorama, or a BBC / Open University production. In GB we are used to the highest production standards. Ask yourself if the BBC would broadcast this.
Cowspiracy is the TV equivalent of the News of the World.
The story telling technique and style is to use exaggeration, scaremongering, a pastiche of the Hollywood storyline template, and exploiting tropes and clichés of the investigative documentary genre.
- People and organisations that do not wish to take part are assumed to be guilty of a cover up just because they do not wish to respond to emails or the presenter doorstepping their offices..
- Doorstepping and gratuitous use of ‘hidden camera’ angles suggests that those approached have something to hide – that is not proven; they just cannot respond to every nutter who presents themselves at their door waving a camera.
- Using emotive scenes where animals are killed or culled.
- Unnecessary and gratuitous lingering on a duck as it goes under the chop then cutting later to the presenter puffing up his cheeks and shaking his head. Yet this was an example of small-scale backyard farming that in reality is one of the answers to decreasing industrial-scaled meat production.
- The presenter playing the role of Jesus in the wilderness. ‘Someone like us’ – not a journalist, or academic, just a member of the public making his enquiries. He claims to be going on a learning journey but follows a singular path to prove his hypothesis.
- Scaremongering by making unqualified claims about potential mass extensions of species and lines such as ‘we’ve stolen the world from free living animals’.
- The death of an activist.
- Shot choice and cliches: tuna fishing, animal culling.
- By the end of the film, with lingering shots of California trees there is a distinct ‘hug a tree’ atmosphere.
- Cutting away to the presenter and his easy to read body language and facial expressions.
- Emotive, exaggerated animated graphics that are unrepresentative of the evidence they purport to come from making naive scaled-up calculations to illustrate the problem and make projections.
- Inadequate introduction to those interviewed i.e. their context and stance relating to the argument.
- No interviews with the people who wrote the reports, news paper, magazine articles the ‘evidence’ was selected from.
- The quality of the research is weak. The sources poor, biased, limited and often of no value.
- The assumption that ‘peer reviewed papers’ were read and used throughout, when in fact only three are given on the website as ‘facts/
- Failure to adequately cross-reference and corroborate the ‘evidence’ uses.
The Ethics and Legality of some of the interviews
- Setting up an interviewee to be mocked/humiliated on camera then putting this online.
- Recording before and after the interview to get the person off guard then using this. It must be assumed that a ‘release form’ of some kind was used, yet did these people know that the material would be used in this way?
- Showing and naming children on a sustainable farm who were indirectly mocked. If I was the parent of this farm I would have taken legal action against the producers.
- Using access to a sustainable farm and a backyard farm to mock them and in the case of the sustainable farm probably doing significant damage to their reputation and trade. Implying that what they were doing is worse than industrial farming was ludicrous and revealed the presenter and the programme makers to be unscrupulous activists not documentary filmmakers.
A single issue mockumentary aimed at animal activist vegan supporters.
More like a recruitment video for a movement or cult produced for believers to support their preconceptions.
The US is the guiltiest party, with by far the greatest consumption of meat per head in the world.
Abuse of selected evidence too often using newspaper and magazine journalists as the supposed ‘expert’ sources. (See the website).
What an Oxbridge candidate should do:
Use it as a catalyst for candid debate seeing the argument from multiple points of view and backed up by scrupulously qualified and cross-referenced research.
Causality is complex but the presenter wants to reduce it to one thing
Go to a reputable source such as the Oxford School of Geography and the Environment and find and use only peer reviewed papers in reputable journals. Take nothing for granted, check the papers cited in these papers and construct your own understanding of the issues.
Use Google Scholar if you don’t have access to a university library.
Don’t just read the relevant papers. Follow up the lines of argument and researched cited by these papers too.
Don’t buy the T-shirt.