Thursday, May 11, 2006

Hunting for real men

Jim Martel, a hunter from Idaho, has shot a “grizlar” in Nunavut. A grizlar is a cross between a grizzly and a polar bear. This is how men like Mr. Martel imagine that they prove their manhood: by killing animals for sport.

The Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, author of Meditations on Hunting, argued that sport hunting is a spiritual activity, a kind of religious rite, that reconnects men with their palaeolithic ancestors. The hunter temporarily leaves the effete world of civilization and becomes a predator animal himself, immersed in the natural world. Ortega’s claim was that “one does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.” Killing is not the ultimate point of hunting, but killing is necessary for the spiritual experience of hunting.

But let’s face it: these days hunting is hardly a test of manhood. Airplanes, guides, snowmobiles, high-powered rifles with telescopic lenses: not very palaeolithic. So I have a seriously immodest proposal (though I'm not the first). Let’s have a level playing field. Let’s have these guys who want to prove their manhood hunt each other. Let’s make it all legal, with government licences. Let the TV networks in on it for the greatest reality shows ever: Manhunt, Natural Killers, Ultimate Survivor. With big prize money. Think of the ratings and the advertising revenue! Think of the spin-off shows, with women swooning over these real men (the ones who survive): Bachelor Killer, for instance.

Some writers of an eco-feminist mind have argued that sport hunting is akin to rape, with the animal substituting for the rapist’s victim. Matt Cartmill, author of A View to a Death in the Morning, a history of hunting, finds disturbing the repeated equation by hunt apologists of hunting with reverence for the victim, an attitude that Cartmill refers to as “murderous amorousness”. Spoilsports, I say.

Back in the 1950s, Robert Sheckley, the great writer of science-fiction short stories, published “Seventh Victim”, which depicted a future where people could sign up to hunt and kill other humans, under strict rules. For every time you were a Hunter, you had to (if you survived) be a Victim (the hunted), though Victims were equally at liberty to kill Hunters. The story was later made into the movie Tenth Victim, for which Sheckley wrote the accompanying novel. Isn’t it about time to make the fiction reality – for the sake of all the real men out there?

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