Written by: Heather Clemenceau
Let’s face it, Schindler’s List would not have been the same calibre movie with say, Kevin Costner in the lead role. Liam Neeson is a commanding presence and a great actor. But I’m not feelin’ it for Mr. Neeson any longer, and don’t see myself watching any more of his movies. Truthfully, I think he’s a bit of a doofus.
Neeson fell out of favour with me starting with his role preparation for the movie “The Grey,” filmed in Canada with British Columbia subbing in for Alaska. While other actors may prepare for a role in harsh climate or conditions by showering every day for 10 minutes in a cold shower, Neeson prepped for role immersion by eating the meat of a trapped wolf. At a press conference to promote the movie, Neeson, who was born in County Antrim, said that while some cast members had been sick after eating the wolf meat, he was not fazed by the experience. “I’m Irish, so I’m used to odd stews,” was his attempt at explanation.
In January 2012, British Columbia’s The Province featured an article about the movie’s buying four wolf carcasses from a local trapper, two for props for the movie and two wolves for the cast to eat. Naturally, this act angered environmentalists and animal activists, who were already irate that the movie depicted wolves in a negative light, specifically at a time when gray wolves had recently been removed from the Endangered Species Act in many western American states. But Sarah Palin gives it five stars! Both the film’s director and Neeson knew, or should have known, that leghold traps are one of the worst ways to kill an animal. Most animals caught in these traps end up chewing, or nearly chewing off their ensnared limbs in order to escape. Miscellaneous species of animals, caught in traps intended for fur-bearing targets are killed and then discarded because of their lack of value. I think leghold traps should be illegal everywhere due to the suffering inflicted, so the ensuing criticism that was heaped on both men was perfectly valid, IMO.
Fast forward to 2014, Neeson has become the unofficial and much vaunted (hat tip to Glen) spokesperson for the NYC carriage trade, whose existence is threatened by Mayor DeBlasio’s edict to remove the carriage operators from New York City. His ad-hoc discussion of the urban carriage trade wasn’t exactly endorsed by Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, where Neeson appeared earlier this week. Interjecting the issue of the carriage horses was a risk that didn’t quite pay off for Neeson since Stewart rejected his position.
In case the video goes away, here’s a transcript:
NEESON: He wants to close this horse and carriage industry in New York. And there was a poll last week, over 60 percent of New Yorkers want to keep the horse carriage industry in Central Park.
STEWART: Maybe if they put it in the park. I feel bad – we actually live right next door to them. And I always feel bad for them on the streets. It seems like they and a lot of the van traffic don’t get along. The horses –
NEESON: The horse carriage industry, they made the roads in New York. I just want that to rest there.
STEWART: They made the roads? What, are the roads made out of horse (bleep)? What do you mean they made the roads? Construction made the roads. What if they moved it into the park, so the horses wouldn’t have to walk the streets? Maybe that would be the –
STEWART: If DYFS – if the Division of Youth and Family Services ever found out that they are keeping their children in 60 square foot stalls and feeding them twice a day buckets of grain, that is not good parenting as far as I’m concerned. No, you feel passionate about this. But it’s – I think there probably is – I think the two sides do not trust each other at all. And unfortunately the horses –
NEESON: He won’t even take a meeting with the horse carriage industry. He is supposed to be representing the New York people.
STEWART: You’re –
STEWART: Is this a job you’ve done? Have you been in that industry before?
NEESON: I know a couple of the guys. I’ve been in the stables quite a few times eating.
NEESON: It is, Jon. It is a fulfilling life.
STEWART: Well, we don’t know.
NEESON: They are. They’re trained for this.
STEWART: Unless it’s Mr. Ed, you really don’t know. They may look at you and say “neigh.”
STEWART: Well, they could be trained to sit in a field and eat fermented oats
“The guys,” as Neeson puts it, are the drivers, many of them transplanted Irishmen like himself. This includes Colm McKeever, a native of County Meath and a friend of Liam’s, who met the actor when McKeever’s wife served as midwife in the birth of the actor’s first son.
“They’ll die, you know, darlin,’ says Liam, of the NYC carriage horses. “The horses are incredibly well-treated. They’re regulated up the wazoo. They get five weeks’ holiday every year. Tourists love them.” Along with former Mayor Bloomberg, Neeson also perpetuates the opinion that they’ll all be slaughtered too, and it’ll be the fault of meddling big city liberals, according to him.
I hope Neeson will somehow find a way to highlight the fate of horses in Ireland and elsewhere in Great Britain, where it’s popular to race horses on the commuter highways and evade the garda (police), often crashing the horses and abandoning them, injured. Ireland also has an ongoing problem with fly-grazing, where horses are illegally grazed on private property without the knowledge or consent of the owners of the property. I realize that the incidents of cruelty depicted here can and do happen everywhere, but Ireland, which has the highest horse population per capita in the whole of Europe, has a huge crisis of horses, with up to 20,000 of the animals currently needing immediate intervention by authorities for abuse and cruelty. Unlike Neeson, the horses are not actors and can’t walk away from these situations.
Every animal welfare charity in the country would probably say that Ireland is unique in terms of the volume of abandoned horses all over the country. Although there are no official figures, animal charities estimate that up to 20,000 horses could be owner-less and fending for themselves. So it’s a good litmus test of what’s happening elsewhere in the EU, especially as concerns large, expensive-to-keep animals such as horses, who might be the most disadvantaged four-legged victims of Ireland’s recession. Bought as trophy-pets during the Celtic Tiger boom years, homeless horses now run wild in their thousands across the Republic, most abandoned by owners who have no money for their upkeep. A total of 2,969 stray animals were seized in 2012 of which 72% were euthanised. In contrast, 2,936 horses were seized in 2011 and 54% were slaughtered. There are reportedly 3,000 horses in Dublin alone who need urgent care.
So why is Neeson seemingly unconcerned about these horses being abused, neglected, and slaughtered? Does he do anything at all to expose this crisis? Sure, he’s not obligated to do so, but it’s not like the horse industry couldn’t use his help as a spokesperson. Canadian singer/songwriter Jann Arden is speaking out on behalf of Canada’s wild horses. The Irish Farmers’ Association has been calling on the Government to introduce a scheme to provide financial assistance to horse owners to tackle the growing problem of unwanted horses. Maybe Neeson should advocating on behalf of these horses? I imagine someone his stature could lend a credible voice to these concerns, as Jann Arden is trying to do for Canadian horses.
So why does he speak up for horses who, according to the industry, are loved and would never be slaughtered, whilst ignoring horses who ARE being slaughtered in his native country? A potential explanation turned up on the Tuesday’s Horse blog, the official blog of the Horse Fund.
Vivian Farrell commented on her own blog post:
“This is not about the horses with Neeson. It’s like the Hispanics who scream when you try to ban their cruel horse tripping events that it is a personal attack on them and their rights to be in the US, blah, blah, blah. I was married to a very mild-mannered Irishman who worked with horses all his life; gentle soul. Yet he said during the troubles that he would hide IRA members even if they had killed children because no true Irishman would turn against his brother . . . I was stunned. So no surprise here about Neeson.”
But her comment was met with disdain when urban carriage supporters retaliated by questioning the status of the charity behind the blog by asking about the status of The Horse Fund’s 990s. Of course, this is a common tactic of Humanwatchers and their ilk, when someone writes something they don’t like – they set about attacking the credentials or status of their charity. They start poking through Guidestar and see if they can dig up any dirt on the person making the “inflammatory” post. And Ms. Farrell no sooner wrote those words making a comparison to Mexican rodeos than the quintessential horse tripper himself, Randy Janssen made an appearance to support urban carriages, denounce the ASPCA, and promote horse tripping on a different site. Ms. Farrell is not only wise, but she’s psychic! And that about rounds out the support for the NYC urban carriages – Humanewatchers, the Cavalry Group, United Horsemen, and now eaters of wolves and charreadors!
I try not to take offence at the politics in movies, and I don’t really care that much whether James T. Kirk was inspired by John F. Kennedy or whether Zero Dark Thirty fails to point out that torture is immoral. I don’t think we need political correctness in movies or television, because they often portray periods where societal attitudes or government policy were controversial. So, it doesn’t bother me that Neeson has taken a stance in favour of urban NYC Carriages, only that while doing so, he has seemingly ignored the chaos in the country of his birth. He apparently does so out of allegiance to the Irish, rather than casting a critical lens on the industry. Would he speak out if the drivers were predominately Serbian or Italian? I don’t know, but I rather doubt it. But the next time he’s in town and hanging with his buddies on 59th street, perhaps he can get in-character by eating some oats that have been spilled out into the street amongst the pigeon droppings, just for authenticity’s sake of course.
And next time Neeson comes to Canada, instead of eating an inhumanely trapped wild animal, I hope he would speak out for them instead.