Friday, January 23, 2009

Mason family Pit Bulls

This is a real treat for photography and history buffs alike, not to mention dog and Pit Bull-o-philes. Now that Jere Alexander has had a bit of time to relax her body, recover her spirit and regroup her thoughts, she's starting to reassemble the bits and pieces from her online Pit Bull site, Pit Archive, which went buggy on her last year and couldn't be recovered (something I'm always worried about with Blogger software as well, actually). The intent of her site was to search out, preserve and present historically significant Pit Bull related documents.

The group of photos Jere has just recently reloaded onto Flickr, the Clyde Mason Photos, were sent to her from Clyde's granddaughter, Macie Martin, who asked if Jere would like to put them into the Archive. They are 25 black and white (except for one) photos of the various Mason family Pit Bulls posed with the kids, adults, cars and dog houses. It's obvious the Masons looked after their dogs and were proud of them. The dogs themselves look well socialized with their people and seem healthy and comfortable enough given the different standards back then.

What they did with the dogs, though, is another question entirely. Were they pit fighters? Did they breed fighters? Did they make money off of fighters? I suspect so but I don't know so. But if they were fighters, why the cutesy kiddie photos? Or was that nothing out of the norm back then, like smoking and drinking while pregnant, like not wearing seat belts while driving, like casual bigotry in front of the hired help. The whole Pit Bull game dog culture, especially the traditional aspects of it, is a big unknown for most of us. The perpetrators are viewed as the enemy - certainly their actions are deplorable - but as with anyone, there are many facets to their humanity or lack of it.

And so there are many questions. Like how can one care for something and take pride in it only to throw it into a pit to watch it maul or get mauled? What is the duality in our nature that allows us to do such a thing? Was Pit Bull breeding and fighting an open family affair for the Masons and other game dog breeders in those days? These days, dog fights seem to be relegated to street corner losers and moneyed criminals skulking about in alleyways or behind locked doors. Was it a point of communal neighbourhood pride back then to own winning game dogs? Was it like owning race horses? Or was it even then frowned upon as a "sport" of the lower classes? And, of course, what about the dogs? What were their lives like? Were they put through the same odious physical and behavioural conditioning as modern game dogs or were they just let off their chains to go at it? Were the losers and non-fighters killed or kept on as family pets? Even today, there are still listings of Mason dogs' progeny online. Are they still being force bred into cruelty? Or have their descendants been finally emancipated?

I don't know if Jere's intention is to eventually duplicate the old site in its entirety - in which case, we might see some of those questions answered. There will undoubtedly be finger pointing if she did restore the site, though, as there has been in the past, but we must remember that studying something doesn't mean one is a fan of it. (People study cancer to cure it, not to propagate it.) For now we have these few evocative, mid-century Americana photos of a bygone era and while it's certainly not a time to harken back to, it's not a time to forget either.


spotted dog farm said...

Thanks for sharing these pics. Clyde Mason was most definitely a dogman, a breeder and fighter. But I think the pics are really interesting and it's important to consider these questions.

My take is that dogfighting was at least partly rooted in an agricultural model. If you think about farm life, death and struggle are not unusual. Yet many farmers claim to love their animals, even as they send them to market. They try to give them good lives. (Not all that different than shelter work, huh?) But unlike the beef cow who has no choice, the game dog could continue to live and breed depending on his/her performance in the pit. One elderly woman told me, "We're in the country - we don't have pets, we have animals."

Of course, I'm not defending dogfighting, just trying to understand a different time and place.

Fred said...

It's good to be reminded that there is a cultural lineage to dog fighting, a language and society built up around it with it's own mythologies and icons that are decades old and that dog fighting didn't start with the likes of Michael Vick and isn't going to end with him. It seems to me that to combat it means combatting a whole culture and unless someone has the means to simply make it disappear with a magic wand, the only other real solution is to understand the culture, establish connections with it and influence it to change.

Social Mange said...

Absolutely, Fred. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Ian said...

Very interesting retrospective through pictures and I think this is dead on...
[quote]the only other real solution is to understand the culture, establish connections with it and influence it to change.[/quote]

I don`t think you can legislate this out of existence.

I think the younger generation is the key.