Macklemore and the ethics of a fur coat

| 34 Comments

macklemore-thrift-shop-still_wide-

Last weekend I went to the Couleur Café Festival in Brussels. Saturday’s headliner was Macklemore & Ryan Lewis who flooded the airwaves of Europe with ‘Thrift Shop’ this spring, a song which may be about creating a unique, personal style through second hand shopping – or it might just be a one finger salute to the consumer society. Or simply an excuse to rap a ton of bad words.

Whatever the deeper meaning of the song, a silly scene played out during the performance in Brussels. Someone in the audience was kind enough to lend his fat fox fur coat to Macklemore while performing, but when trying to crowd-surf the coat back afterwards, another someone decided to keep the souvenir. Awkward situation, the rapper had to urge the thief to let go of the fur coat, and it was just one of those situations where most of the crowd thought “not so cool, dude. Return the coat” (which eventually happened).

Now, as much as this situation probably was about a fan wanting a souvenir from his idol, the whole thing did make me think about the ethics of wearing fur. In the fur debate, ethics are pretty much defined as having to do with animal welfare, the necessity of the product, the utilization of the fur animals, environmental impact, and, to some people, the intrinsic value of the animals – but what about the value to humans?

The only theme in the ethical debate that matters for the animals is the welfare provided for them whilst they are alive. Animals do not have an opinion about global warming, and they certainly do not have a clue of whether they are becoming food or fashion. Because animal welfare is the only thing from the debate animals can feel and experience, animal welfare is the single most important argument in the moral justification of using fur.

The rest of the arguments are only relevant to humans, and Macklemore’s fur coat kind of inspired me to an extra take on that.

Say we have a plate of chicken and a fur coat. Say that the chicken is deliciously prepared, and the consumer who eats the chicken gains both a full stomach and some joyful moments because this was a particularly sweet and tasty chicken. The next day however, her stomach is empty, and a few days after that the chicken is erased from our consumer’s memory forever.

The fur coat is another matter. If it is a cool fur coat, our consumer is likely to talk a lot about it, and this will lead to others talking about it. The fur coat might become a subject of admiration, maybe even envy, and even strangers will admire the fur coat. Perhaps, at some point in its life span, the fur coat will ignite an emotional debate about ethics too, but in the most cold of those winters, no one can argue against the value of the fur coat, and the owner’s appreciation is certain to grow. Year after year, the fur coat will provide moments of human feel-good and appreciation, perhaps even happiness, to its owner.

The chicken, on the other hand, is forgotten the same week it is consumed.

The life span of a fur coat is maybe 20-25 years. The value to the consumer during this time is obviously tremendous in comparison with a plate of chicken. And then, when the life of the fur coat seems to be over, it may just get another life through the thrift shop and revoke another number of positive human moments.

“What you know about rockin’ a wolf on your noggin?
What you knowin’ about wearin’ a fur fox skin?
I’m digging, I’m digging, I’m searching right through that luggage
One man’s trash, that’s another man’s come-up

34 Comments

  1. Haha. Listen to yourself!

    I’m sure you’re probably not aware that animals are skinned ALIVE to produce a pelt of fur? Because killing them by slicing or stabbing would damage the pelt and reduce its market value? Some of the animals remain alive and bleeding even after they are skinned?

    As a vegetarian-turning-vegan I’m against all forms of cruelty towards sentient beings which includes the beheading of a chicken. But it appalls and amazes me when people fail to understand why the fur trade is more cruel than, say, the leather trade. These animals die in unimaginably horrific ways but, wait, you wouldn’t give a shit anyway so why waste my breath on this issue. It’s for people who have a heart.

    • Fur animals are not skinned alive, and this fact is not changed just because the animal rights community keeps repeating the opposite over and over again. Neither does it become an industry standard just because Peta gives and old film a colorful makeover and puts it back into the social media stream.

      Are you yourself able to prove that fur animals routinely are skinned alive with something else than capital letters and those same few (and certainly disgusting) videos which have circulated the internet for years?

      It simply doesn’t make sense to skin a fur animal alive because the best skinning result is gained if the animal has been cooled down at least 24 hours prior to the skinning.

      In Europe, fur animals are either gassed or electrocuted. These are scientifically proven humane killing methods.

      • Scientifically humane, what the fuck does that mean. Can I humanely skin you. There is nothing humane about killing an animal and stealing it’s skin.

        • Look, I get that you guys have a lot of heart going for this one, but human use of animals have a long, long history. 40.000 years or so. Is that a part of the discussion you care to respect? You don’t own the definition of moral rights and wrongs, and you don’t wipe away 40.000 years of history just because you feel strongly about your cause. So could we start the discussion somewhere else? Like when and for what reasons is it o.k. to take the life of an animal and use it for human purposes?

      • not skinned alive?? are you fucking retarded? they are very much alive when their very flesh it ripped from their very conscious bodies. google it. watch some Chinese youtube videos about fur. learn the facts before you come out looking like a complete moron.

        • Please link to all the google documentation you know of. Let’s see just how much there really is.

        • Did you know that PETA paid people to skin Mink alive in the very YouTube videos you are watching? Skinning Mink alive doesn’t happen unless hateful people like PETA pay someone to do it. And please, Google and YouTube videos as a scientific source of information, sigh! You have no idea.

      • Yo man, in youtube there is a video of a chinese guy skinning animals alive, yes.
        Mostly foxes, DOGS (have no idea why) and minks.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLcgxIGTFRs

        And even tho, isn’t bad killing animals just for the sake of beauty? I don’t know man, i just feel terrible bad for the animals being killed for that reason.

        • @Mauricio – you are linking to the same video as everyone else. Just because this video has been seen an incredible amount of times doesn’t make skinning fur animals alive an industry standard – I am sorry to disturb your prejudices.

          I respect your view. My view is that meat is as much a luxury as fur. Just as there are alternatives to fur, there are likewise alternatives to meat – a product which humans can easily live without. So we kill animals for various human purposes. The important thing, in my view, is the welfare provided for the animals whilst they are alive.

      • Of course, they are often skinned alive. LOOK these 3 videos http://www.pelzinstitut.org/pelzgewinnung.html
        okay? it’s fact.

  2. I enjoy Macklemore’s music, but absolutely detest the way he carries himself.
    However much you reiterate and cry yourself hoarse justifying the use of fur and the commodification of animals, in my eyes, NO, wearing dead animals is NOT COOL.

  3. #1. The value of a life is not based on how much people talk about it once it has been snuffed out.

    #2. The value of a life is not dependant on what another life decides it is worth – all individuals, humans and non-human have their own value and all desire to continue living and all fear death.

    #3. No other being on this planet, besides, human beings, kill for greed and vanity. We do it and we find ways to excuse and justify our sick habits.

    #4. There is no need for fur “fashions” in the year 2013. None. Nada. Zero.

    And finally, Are you yourself able to prove that fur animals are not routinely skinned alive? Please don’t pretend you are an expert on how nicely all of European countries murder their victims. You are a paid shill for fur peddlers. You profit from pain, misery, and death. Of course you want to paint a rosy picture of your torture chambers and desecration camps. It is what you are paid to do. I feel sorry for your soul.

    • #1. To weigh the value of animal products in the light of the human benefits is a perfectly legitimate ethical consideration. After all, this is still the norm in today’s society.

      #2. Your view is legitimate too. In my opinion however, it makes a difference that the animals do not have the capacity to project themselves in time – they don’t know they are going to die, and they don’t have any imagination going for them that says the grass is greener outside the farm. Thus, they don’t fear dead coming. In my view, the ethical justification of breeding animals for human purposes lies in direct extension of the welfare provided whilst the animals are alive – with positive experiences for both humans and animals as a result.

      #3. Vanity may be one of the many traits that separate humans from animals, but certainly many of nature’s own killings seem without purpose. Wild mink, for instance, are known to go into a blood frenzy killing all possible victims – only to leave them behind.

      #4. Fur was used in the collections of 2/3 of the designers at the major fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris in February. Some people think fur is needed.

      #5. The burden of proof must necessarily lie with those making the accusations. My soul be fine.

  4. Mick, you should probably just stop talking. The people here who have left comments here make very good points, thus, your points here are moot. You being quiet can only help you at this point.

  5. Me: Just graduated fashion designer, not vegan, not vegetarian, living in a fuckin’ cold country.

    Fur is not needed to warm people up, unless you are an eskimo, what makes fur comprehensible. But if you are one, you probably will not have thousands to pay for a London, Milan, New York, Paris 2/3 fashion designer’s coat to cover yourself in the middle of the artic while you are fishing and hunting to survive.

    The rest of the people which support fur are just trying to flaunt ridiculous life styles. Fashion designers and brands that sell this wealthy people the idea which consists in: fur is rare, so it’s expensive, so if you have, your life status will upgrade and you’ll be recognized as wealthy, powerful, chic, posh, fabulous, etc. Well, they just want the cash that they would be cashing from selling dead animals shaped as coats, they do not care if a very refined lady or a clown will wear it. So, we still have designers designing with fur, because people are stupid enough to believe and buy this idea when all those concepts can be reached even if you are wearing 10 dólars flip flops and a bathing suit. And you will tell me “you cannot show wealth with a bikini and flip flops! Not at all!” and I will agree, BUT if you carry a 6cm piece of plastic (which can be a black american express card) along this outfit, you sure gonna show wealth.

    Dumb people need to self assert much more for themselves, then to another ones and that’s why the idea of having a fur coat still sells. But kill, take hundreds of innocent lives, to cuddle peoples ego is wrong in so many levels, that sometimes is just unbelievable that still exists in 2013.

    So, in my opinion people don’t need fur coats, but shrinks.

  6. It is my understanding from many conversations and professional interviews with designers, that they first and foremost use fur because of the create possibilities fur add to their work. Also, I think people have lots of additional reasons for buying fur than the ones you mention. In any case, I cherish their freedom of choice.

    Is everybody you disagree with dumb and in need of a shrink, or is this label reserved to people who – legitimately – wear fur?

    • freedom of choice means nothing when it’s harming other creatures. You can not defend freedom of choice when it has such a big impact on animals lives. We don’t need fur.

  7. I love wearing furs. And, for the fact if you don’t care for it then that is your problem.

  8. I’m late to the game! BUT, as a fashion designer and an adjunct professor of sustainability and ethics in fashion, I just want to point out that most of the assumptions made about both fur production, the sociology and psychology behind the celebration of furs within western, industrial cultures and the analogy to the plate of chicken are quite flawed, but I get where you’re coming from. Hopefully I can quickly clear a few things up:

    While skinning-alive is frequent, especially in countries like China where there are practically no animal welfare standards and killing methods are crude, and especially for animals like rabbits who are skinned immediately after their throats are slit and they are still bleeding out, and animals like karakul lambs (also know as Astrakhan) who are skinned after being cut from the mother’s womb or immediately upon birth, there are other industry practices that are “standards” that could be considered far worse from an ethical perspective. Therefore the ethical argument cannot hinge upon whether the animal’s heart is still beating as they are skinned. The difficulty of acquiring footage of the slaughter process is difficult. The fur industry certainly does not supply it willingly, therefore the burden of proof lies within the fur industry itself to provide compelling evidence for the manner in which animals are killed. There is no parallel between the frequency of undercover videos and the frequency of which animals are skinned while still alive, as attaining this footage is an incredibly difficult, dangerous and often illegal tactic. Why do fur producers not have CCTV in their slaughter facilities if everything is done “humanely” is a more poignant question.

    Before I go further, I must confront two popular and convenient assumptions about animals: that they are not aware, and that they do not have complex inner lives that are valid. To believe either one of these assumptions is to disregard modern science and bioethics. (http://io9.com/5937356/prominent-scientists-sign-declaration-that-animals-have-conscious-awareness-just-like-us)

    So now that we can agree that animals do indeed have inner lives that are inherently valid and valued (if only by themselves), and that they do display sophisticated, but different-than-human exterior social lives, we can continue.

    Death by anal and vaginal electrocution, especially for foxes, is an industry standard. As is gassing, neck breaking, and asphyxiation – all of which are crude and can rarely guarantee a painless or swift “dispatching” as they call it. The reason they don’t simply shoot or stab them in the head is that this risks damaging the pelt and compromising the economic value of the fur. Rabbits do have their throats slit, often because they are also eaten.

    In my opinion, the worst ethical aspect of fur production, when it comes to modern fur farms, is the mass confinement of animals who are not domesticated. Animals like mink who are semi-aquatic and foxes who are burrowers and predators experience anguish, frustration, and many begin to display signs of psychological trauma like infanticide, cannibalism, self mutilation, and incessant repetitious movements – behaviors which, in the wild, have not been observed as common. On a fur farm, animals are deprived of everything they evolved over millions of years to do. That alone is compelling enough to say that animals should not be on fur farms. (http://www.bornfreeusa.org/facts.php?p=372&more=1)

    All in all, we can agree that confinement in a fur farm, which offers no veterinary care, wire-bottom cages, and isolation is overall quite unethical.

    Trapping is not much better.
    http://www.bornfreeusa.org/a10_trapping.php
    http://www.bornfreeusa.org/flv_player.php?m=medium&rpath=Trapping-Investigation-Public-med.flv

    So then, why is fur still so popular? One major reason is that it symbolizes power. King Edward III’s sumptuary laws during the Middle Ages designated fur as a luxury only for royalty and nobility, making it criminal for anyone else to wear. These and similar laws extended through the 1700′s, the rippling effects of which, specifically casting fur as a symbol of sovereign power and class status, can still be seen today. In other words, our culture’s subconscious obedience to the Machiavellian aesthetic law of fur, though oppressive and irrational, showcases a faith in fur’s dictated importance, and unveils its wearers’ struggle to appear important, wealthy and influential, as well as their indoctrination.

    Because fur production is cruel, and because there are alternatives (synthetics have proven to be warmer than fur – that’s why astronauts don’t wear fur), the fur industry as a capitalist enterprise, is unethical, and the pleasures experienced by those wearing fur does not justify the experiences endured by the animals whose very lives and bodies are at stake.

    Lastly, and only because this always comes up, a recent, independent study by CE Delft proved that up to 5 typical faux-fur coats have less ecological impact that 1 typical mink coat – even if it’s second hand. (http://www.thediscerningbrute.com/2013/07/03/new-study-says-faux-fur-is-more-enviromental-than-mink/)

    I urge everyone to see the new documentary, The Ghosts In Our Machine:
    http://www.theghostsinourmachine.com/

    • Once again the premise is that the vegan advocate has ownership to define what is ethical and what is unethical. It is not so. You have your ethics, I have mine.

      I have also made my point regarding industry standards in China. Still, let me repeat that I represent European fur farmers, and our killing methods, gassing and electrocution, are used because they are considered humane by animal welfare scientists. To the extent animals are skinned alive in China or elsewhere I detest such practices. They indeed must be unethical. Keeping animals in captivity for human purposes is however, in my opinion, not per definition unethical.

      Anybody can come and visit a European fur farm, and there is not any secrecy about the killing process either, so yeah, we are pretty much for transparency, and we really don’t have anything to hide – you are welcome to visit too.

      With regards to your claim that fur animals are not domesticated, you are simply wrong. The scientific evidence for the domestication (e.g. characteristic physical and behavioral traits) is valid, and it is a myth that domestication takes thousands of years. Belayev’s world famous fox project bears witness to this, and you will not be able to find a serious scientist who will say that minks and foxes are not domesticated.

      Whether animals on the other hand have some kind of inherent value which makes the human use of animals unethical is certainly an interesting and relevant discussion. Despite your confidence that it is so, there is no widespread consensus amongst moral philosophers that this should be the case – or amongst the world’s general population for that matter. Personally, I find the idea intriguing but unaccounted for, at least for the time being. Our cultural history (of consuming animals) cannot just be ignored, and besides, I think discussions about animal use are ignorant if they don’t make an effort to consider the human benefits of animal use.

      I know the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, but claiming that animals are consciously aware to the degree of humans is downright false – and that is also not what the declaration states. The consciousness of animals is one big black hole in animal science – and so is human consciousness by the way. However, to the degree that we can measure the capabilities of consciousness in animals, nothing in the science suggests that, for instance, animals are able to project themselves in time (e.g. imagining that life is ‘better’ outside the farm – which it is likely not to be in terms of animal welfare due to nature’s high rate of mortality, starvation etc. ). There may be a few (cetaceans, great apes, etc.) that approach an understanding of time and immediate future in context of what may be currently happening around them. But, as far as we know, not in the context that humans can fast forward their imagination to enable us to forecast or predict a future time.

      Should we then, give animals the benefit of the doubt? Perhaps. I think however, that we should be very careful not to draw conclusions about the capabilities of animals without scientific evidence. People certainly have a tendency to project human capabilities on animals.

      Lastly, and only because this always comes up, a recent, not peer-reviewed study by CE Delft, commissioned by animal rights groups in The Netherlands, Belgium and Italy, turned out to over-calculate the feed input to fur farms – the single most important environmental factor – by 75% which, of course, twisted the conclusion in favour of the animal rights argument.

      Moreover, the CE Delft study did not include the life span of fur products which is crucial when calculating environmental impact. So no, the second hand use of fur was as a matter of fact not a part of the study – but it should have been, because distributing the environmental impact over time is a huge environmental advantage. Certainly fur coats have longer life spans than your average T-shirts. http://furforthought.com/take-the-cotton-out-of-your-ears-please/

      • Hi Mick,

        You are thinking of an older CE Delft study. This is a new one from June 2013, and yes, it does include second-hand fur (see pgs.6 & 36, specifically where “reused a couple of times” is mentioned). Please take a look at this newer study: http://www.ce.nl/publicatie/natural_mink_fur_and_faux_fur_products%2C_an_environmental_comparison/1383

        All studies are funded. This does not discredit a respected third-party research organization’s data. So unless you can provide evidence that contradicts the data (and why hasn’t the industry done so?), the attempt to discredit it simply based on who sponsored it as opposed to the data is more of an emotional argument than a factual argument. You act as though animal advocates have something to gain from helping animals (what do you imagine they gain?) when in fact it is the fur industry that has money to gain from keeping fur fashionable. This pervasive idea that the animal advocates are fooling people or praying on well- meaning people to get them to reject the fur industry would be for what? Money? Donations? Very few people get rich from advocating for animals – yet many luxury brands get rich from using and selling fur and convincing people that fur is the definition of luxury. Speaking of which, you did not respond to the social commentary on the history of fur’s popularity due to sumptuary laws – on which I’d be curious to hear your take.

        Your claim that European fur farms are held to higher standards has been challenged. Finnish organization Oikeutta eläimille has published yet another investigation into the fur industry in Finland. The new material includes 13 fur farms, out of which 10 have been filmed both in 2011 and 2012 (to prove that the conditions do not approve even when challenged). Two of the farms are owned by board members of the Finnish fur breeder’s association.Investigators found that all farms had similar problems. There were severe eye infections on all farms that bred arctic foxes. Other findings include open wounds, leg and ear injuries, stereotypical behavior, cannibalism, lame animals, gum infections, dead animals left in cages with living animal, etc.
        Read more: tarhauskielto.fi/english

        You claim that animals on fur farms have been bred out of their instincts to be semi-aquatic or burrow. If these animals are in fact domesticated for docility, that would make them not very different than our own dogs or cats – so why would you do things to these animals that you would never do to your own dog or cat? Or would you? And why are animals on farms observed acting out stereotypical behavior? In cases of escape or release, mink and fox have been shown to thrive directly upon release from fur farms – so their domestication has not removed their ability to survive in the wild.

        Telling me to visit your farm is both unrealistic and does not address other farms like these that continue to operate while causing great harm to animals.

        I am against fur farming not because an ideal scenario can’t be met for certain farms – but because animals are so vulnerable that we know they will be taken advantage of, an preventing this on a large scale is impossible. Therefore, fur farms are not an ideal scenario to scale up in an moralistic society. Have there ever been isolated situations where fur farms have not negatively affected certain animals? Of course. However, we know that when you scale up practices like this it is likely that animals will be taken advantage of, exploited and harmed because the agenda is maximum output and financial gain, not animal welfare. Because animals’ perspectives are systematically invalidated, they cannot represent themselves, cannot organize, and the risk that their vulnerability is taken advantage of is enormous. We must also see that they do not belong as units of production, and that we’ll be fine, if not better off, without taking them for mere units of production. Again, are there scenarios where humans have utilized an animal in a way that has not harmed or negatively affected the animal? Of course. However, what we know to be true is that whenever animals are used and scaled up in production models, it is inevitable that they will be exploited, taken advantage of and oppressed. There is big movement and emphasis by many small and often sustainable-identified designers who use animals on a small scale, but what we must remember is that all animal-based production models started small scale and they grew into things like factory farms. So simply going back to square-or doesn’t solve a problem, it just sets us up to repeat the same mistakes and maintains the perception that animals’ bodies are acceptable sources of textiles.

        Lastly, You say “Once again the premise is that the vegan advocate has ownership to define what is ethical and what is unethical. It is not so. You have your ethics, I have mine.” This statement “You have your ethics, I have mine” could basically be used to justify anything in the world by any person doing any action! The thing that is overlooked is that the perspective of the animal is not considered in this equation at all, yet it can be proven that animal is involved. How can you ignore this glaring flaw in your argument, or is the non-human perspective invalid? It’s not just my opinion vs. your opinion while completely ignoring the animal. If you believe that the animal perspective is impossible to interpret, and we are going to err on one side, why not err on the side of caution? Isn’t the outcome of erring on the side of caution far more ethical than risking the likelihood that animals are capable of immense suffering?

    • TheDiscerningBrute:

      You’re an awesome person. Articulate, well-informed, and companionate. So few humans have a well-developed conscience or any interest in becoming a better person or even researching the issues about which they have such strong opinions. Reading your comment was refreshing.

      Only greedy, soulless designers and/or shallow vacuous consumers think wear real fur is cool. No one person I like/respect on any level would ever wear real fur.

  9. please tell me Macklemore does not wear real fur

  10. Hi there! The fur coats wasn´t real. He show the coat (and another fur coats) in a video explaining it, maybe because of the controversy… maybe he´s not protecting animals, but at least he´s protecting another humans talking real about drugs, alcohol, human´s rights, etc. Nobody is perfect, i think he´s fighting his way and we, who loves the animals (i´m vegetarian too) must do our way trying to raise awareness in others, with patience. The articule is logic from your point, but i think that if we can send a man to the moon, we can do amaizing coats and food without killing animals. Have a nice day!

  11. Despite all the comments, arguments, rebuttals, it comes down to one question. Who would suffer if fur production stopped? The only answer is: those that profit from it. The fact that these humans kill other animals by skinning them alive, electrocution, etc. even if those methods are applied only 25% of the time, it’s too much!! And it’s all for profit?! Sickening. How can anyone call that ethical?

  12. Mick
    interesting that you ignore the comments put to you by TDM and instead just link to the music video to try and prove someone wrong….

  13. To the writer, anyone who buys fur and even anyone who looks on without disgust. You are disgusting.

  14. That is an incredibly ignorant position! Most fur is retrieved in an unbelievably cruel fashion. Animals are skinned alive and thrown aside to bleed out in excruciating pain which often takes quite a while. Them there are the animals like wolf and coyote caught in steel traps leaving them with two choices. Wait for the hunter or gnaw off the trapped leg. Animals are trapped for days in pain and starving. All this for FUCKING FASHION! It is COMPLETELY unnecessary and has absolutely nothing to do with the question of morality. It is simply heartless and, at best, shows lack of empathy! The comparison between the chicken and fur and how you arrive at justifying wearing fur baffles me and just underlines that you have no fucking clue! Now granted, the food industry is embarrasingly heartless when it comes to treatment of animals. It is a crying shame and must be addressed but there simply is NO justification for wearing fur whether it is from a thrift shop or whereever! The fact that Macklemore is promoting wearing fur because “the animal was already dead” is just plain ignorant and does not change the fact that he is glamorizing unspeakable cruelty against animals!

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