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I’m With Stupid – September 5, 2014

by Todd Hartley

Todd Hartley-smallA month ago, I wrote a column chronicling the serious matter of the Russian satellite Foton-M4, which was carrying five geckos so that scientists could spy on the lizards having sex or, as the scientists claimed, conduct a “study of the effect of microgravity on sexual behavior.”

I know you were all captivated by the story, so it is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that all five geckos have died. The Foton-M4 returned to Earth on Monday, but all the geckos were dead and appeared to have been deceased for at least a week due to the fact that “their bodies were partly mummified,” according to an official from Russia’s Institute of Medical and Biological Problems.

One expert involved with the mission speculated that the geckos might have frozen to death after the satellite’s heating system malfunctioned. This is a safe bet, as space registers a brisk 455 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, a temperature that, even if it weren’t fatal, would likely cause sex-negating shrinkage for the male geckos and ruin the experiment anyway.

On the surface, this would seem to be a clear-cut case of animal cruelty. Those geckos are dead because of the actions of some humans. But I think this case actually resides in more of a gray area because I think the geckos were willing participants.

Think about it: If you were a gecko and someone invited you to go on a flying space orgy with some other geckos, you’d do it. And you’d accept the risks associated with space travel, one of which, evidently, is freezing to death.

In my mind, those geckos were no dumber than all the people who are queuing up for a chance to go die on Mars. In fact, the geckos may have been smarter. They might have made it back to Earth if the heat had stayed on.

But back to the issue of reptile cruelty, a subject with which we in the Aspen area are all too familiar.

For those of you who haven’t heard, Aspen was recently the epicenter of a heated battle twixt the forces of alleged art and the turtle liberation movement, with both sides making equally inane arguments in a bitter debate that split the community and the art world in two.

You see, there were these three tortoises with iPads on their backs, and for some reason that made a lot of people angry.

The tortoises were temporary residents of the top floor of the brand-new Aspen Art Museum, and they had iPads mounted on their backs as part of an installment called “Moving Ghost Town” by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.

The point of the exhibit eluded me, but the idea was that the tortoises walked around three ghost towns with their iPads recording the action, and then, in Aspen, they walked around their enclosure with the iPads showing what they filmed in the ghost towns. There was just one problem: The tortoises were out in the sun much of the time, rendering the iPad screens unviewable.

But even if people had been able to see the screens, it was a pretty silly exhibit. Don’t get me wrong; I am absolutely in favor of having big tortoises walking around. That will always get a thumbs-up from me, but the iPads didn’t add anything except a controversy that may have been sillier than “Moving Ghost Town” itself.

A lot of people, including people who never actually came to Aspen to see the tortoises, called the installment inhumane and unethical, and some even accused the museum and the artist of animal cruelty.

I saw the tortoises. If they were even aware they had dorky iPad mounts on their backs in the first place, they gave no indication. On the rare occasions when they were actually moving, as the title claimed they would, I’m pretty sure the only thought in their heads was “lettuce.”

Furthermore, the tortoises are now living it up in warmer climes, none the worse for wear. To claim that somehow they were physically abused is an insult to five frozen geckos who gave their lives for creepy, voyeuristic science.

If, however, you want to argue that the tortoises were emotionally abused, then I think you’re getting into a gray area. I can’t say whether a tortoise’s self-esteem takes a hit from wearing a goofy contraption on its back, but I think I can safely say that no animal would want to be associated with such a lame piece of so-called art.

Acclaimed artist Todd Hartley plans to set Komodo dragons loose on the streets of Aspen as part of a work called “Run!”


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