Magazine August 24, 2015, Issue

Cecil-Justice Warriors

The Aussie voice on the other end of the phone explained that it was calling from a Melbourne talk-radio station, and could I say a few words about Cecil the lion? After all, I was in Minnesota, home of the most hated dentist since Lawrence Olivier bent over Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. Surely the entire state was aflame with shame. A monster walked in our midst unbeknownst. His teeth were white but his heart was dark. How did we feel?

Eh. There were protests at the dentist’s office. Heaps of stuffed animals, the standard response in the West to anything the media deem tragic. If this trend had been around in November 1963, they would have had to use a backloader to remove all the plush teddies from Dealey Plaza. One sign said “#catlivesmatter,” thereby linking Cecil’s death to the contentious issue of police violence, and you almost expected someone to chant “Paws up, don’t shoot!”

Luckily for the media, there’s more outrage to be extracted and refined into circulation numbers. The Express, a British rag, wants you to know that Cecil wasn’t the first lion killed by an American with medical training.

The second American, Jan Casimir Seski of Murrysville, Pennsylvania, was allegedly involved in an illegal lion hunt in April in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, the same park where the world’s most famous lion was killed last month resulting in a global outcry.

The term “world’s most famous lion” might go to Leo, who growls before MGM pictures, perhaps reacting with astonishment to the audacity of the Latin motto Ars gratia artis (“Art for art’s sake”) that hangs above his head. Cecil has fame in the West because he is a symbol of old colonial perfidy, of Bwana blasting away at glamorous fauna, disregarding the majesty of beasts who just want to be left alone and claw the occasional bleating antelope to bloody tatters.

The Cecil-killing tooth-fixer is a Bad Person, and this gives Good People an opportunity to unfurl their gorgeous plumage on behalf of charismatic metaphors. Sure, some were truly moved by the needless diminution of the lion community for one man’s amusement. But dressing up your child as a lion to sit outside a dentist’s office in protest, holding a sign that says Cecil you will always be in our hearts — well, Cecil might look cuddly and kingly, but the only problem he would have had eating the child would have been excreting the plastic shoes a day later.

Back to the Express:

The cold-blooded killer is a gynecological oncologist who is a director at the Centre for Bloodless Medicine and Surgery at Allegheny General Hospital — and is also a highly active big-game hunter.

You suspect that the second description is meant to say more about the man than the first. As if he tells his patients he’ll cure their cancer by sitting behind a bush for seven hours waiting for it to show up.

The Express has a picture of Seski posing with a dead elephant, which would be impressive if the elephant had burst into his house one night and he had had to strangle it with a drapery cord. Otherwise it’s hard to feel any admiration for someone who knocks down Jumbo for jollies. I’m not a hunter; I grew up around hunters; I understand why men like to tromp into the marsh and bring down geese and cook them up; and several childhood meals involved a pause for spitting out the shot on my plate. But hunting elephants is not something I regard as particularly admirable. There’s sport, and there’s vandalism.

Now that the media have revealed another hunter, what should his punishment be? It goes without saying that he should lose his profession, house, good credit rating, and social life; a red circle should be drawn around his house so it is visible in Google satellite views, and so passing astronauts can give him the finger. I mean, that’s a given. But what novel punishments will fit the crime? Piers Morgan, a CNN talk-show host who had more vowels in his name than eyeballs watching his show, suggested that the dentist should be skinned and decapitated. At least Jeffrey Dahmer tried to hide his fantasies. PETA, which insists that a cockroach is equal to a human and does its best to present the opposite equation every time it issues a press release, said he should be hanged.

Such unimaginative suggestions. They’re relatively quick and involve little direct pain to his children — an omission that the Internet pitchfork brigade corrected, wishing them dire disease and suffering. That’s how good people — compassionate people — think. Cecil, in heaven, will be roused from slumber and informed that his killer’s offspring have all entered a pediatric ward for incurable blood diseases. Cecil will sigh, nobly, and say, “It’s a start.” We love you, Cecil! I have your T-shirt! Yay, sick-dentist kids!

The hunter could have gotten in front of this story the moment it broke, pointing out that Cecil the Most Famous Zimbabwean Lion Ever was, in fact, named for Cecil Rhodes, a notorious colonialist and imperialist. By shooting Cecil, he actually struck a blow against the racist vestiges of Anglo expansionism, and now that Cecil’s namesake was dead, perhaps we could all have an honest conversation about the racism explicit in the colonial project. Why, Cecil was a living memory of injustice — proud, disdainful, predatory, enjoying male privilege. It’s interesting to see how many people still defend that sort of thing.

The mob would have fallen silent. For a few minutes, anyway. Some days that’s all you can hope for.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

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Cecil-Justice Warriors

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