Because of pressure from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), HBO abruptly cancelled “Luck,” a new series centered around the horse racing industry. The series stars Dustin Hoffman, who also is Luck’s producer, along with David Milch and Michael Mann. Fans of “Deadwood,” will recognize Milch as the creator of that amazing show. Mann of course was the mastermind behind “Miami Vice.”
Luck’s producers did not use stock racing footage for its horse racing scenes. The series used 50 horses, trained by Matt Chew at Santa Anita. PETA claims the series used past-their-prime, out-of-shape thoroughbreds and were reportedly running them twice a day during filming. Whether that was the cause of the three horse fatalities or is not really known (the death of the third appears to have been a freak accident), but PETA has been on Luck’s back since 5-year old Outlaw Yodeler died during filming last year.
Of course plenty of animals die to feed the cast and crew on the set of most movies and TV shows and PETA is nowhere to be found, as The Onion satirized so neatly back in 2004, in its “Many Animals Harmed In Catering of Film.”
Emil Guillermo, writing for SFGate.com, says he isn’t sorry “Luck” was cancelled, and that the three horses “were actors, not real race horses.” Guillermo, whose wife is a PETA poo-bah, writes that no actors died making Mann’s Miami Vice or Milch’s NYPD Blue, so its incredible that acting horses died during Luck’s production.
“I am furious with HBO – putting old, unfit horses on a track is murder,” Kathy Guillermo passionately told RadarOnline.com.
The Guillermo Family’s comments, like those of many others, imply that animals have rights the same as man: That the death of an animal during the making of a TV show equates to the death of a human actor.
Philosopher Tibor R. Machan examined animal rights in his book Putting Humans First: why we are nature’s favorite, explaining, “A right specifies a sphere of liberty wherein the agent has full authority to act.” It is not possible for animals to have rights because animals don’t possess the moral nature required to take authority over their lives.
Only humans can act ethically and have the capacity of free choice. While we sympathize with animals, Machan makes the point that the concept of “animal rights” is a “category mistake–that is, the logical error of treating two different kinds of entities as equivalent in a way that they are not at all equivalent.”
PETA isn’t much for philosophy, but is an “abolitionist organization” with the simple moto: “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on or use for entertainment.” PETA is called by some Ingrid Newkirk’s cult, but as Michael Specter wrote for The New Yorker in 2003, the organization “is by far the most successful radical organization in America, raising more than fifteen million dollars a year, most of it in small contributions from its seven hundred and fifty thousand members and supporters.”
Despite the generosity displayed by PETA’s human supporters, Newkirk told Specter, “the world would be an infinitely better place without humans in it at all.”
Dr. Rick Arthur, the equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, believes the Luck protest is all a PETA publicity stunt.
“It almost looks to me,” Dr. Arthur told The New York Times, “as if there’s a bit of a turf war between the American Humane Association, which has looked after animals in filming for many, many years, and PETA, who loves to be the center of attention.”
Machan drives home the point that what really annoys animal rights advocates is the idea that profits are made with the use of animals. Although viewership for “Luck” has been tepid, it was the producer’s pursuit of profit and their greed that really came under attack.
TIME television critic James Poniewozik writes, “I eat too many hamburgers to pass judgment on Luck,” adding, “I can’t take the moral high ground—again, too many burgers—but logical or not, there’s just something more discomfiting about knowing that horses died so we can watch them in the comfort of our living rooms.”
There are still two episodes remaining for Luck, a very unique show in its depiction of life at the track. Ted McClelland writes, “as a dedicated railbird, I’ve never seen the grandstand, the backstretch and the jockey’s room portrayed so accurately.”
While Dustin Hoffman gets the star treatment in “Luck” as Chester “Ace” Bernstein, the very real characters that the series revolves around are four degenerate gambling buddies–Marcus (Kevin Dunn), Renzo (Ritchie Coster), Jerry (Jason Gedrick), and Lonnie (Ian Hart). Anyone who has spent days on end at the track (or Las Vegas racebook) trying to pick winners has seen, heard (and smelled), these four characters. Milch and Mann nail it.
Is there a market for a show about drug-addled jockeys; a suicidal agent who stutters; mobsters; crooked trainers, and degenerate gamblers? Maybe not enough of one. But HBO was willing to give it two years. Too bad PETA stopped the race.