“We are nihilistic thoughts, suicidal thoughts,” Kafka once said, “that come into God's head.” “Our world,” he claimed, “is only a bad mood of God, a bad day of his.”
“Then there is hope outside this manifestation of the world that we know,” replied his friend Max Brod.
“Oh, plenty of hope,” said Kafka. “An infinite amount of hope — but not for us.”
The other day, the news broke that there was a Big Cow. Knickers, a 6’4 Holstein Friesian steer (which technically, if you're a cow nerd, means he's not a “cow” but a castrated bull), was pictured at his home in western Australia, clustered in the middle of his herd, towering over the other relatively tiny but actually normal-sized cows. The reports said that Knickers, age seven, was literally too big to be killed: abattoirs had refused to handle him, claiming that he would be too heavy for the machines; that even if he was somehow processed into meat, all the cuts would be too large.
And so, it seemed, the Big Cow would abide. It is a dark world, we all know this. The news usually only brings word of fresh stupidity, fresh horror; hot new disasters buffeting us every moment of the present, looming over us across every possible future. But now here, finally, was an image of hope. Suddenly, the eternal recurrence of the same evils had been, if only briefly, broken. Here we had something which felt new, and weird, and both obviously and uncomplicatedly Good. Somewhere, in rural Australia, there was a very Big Cow. Gaze at it in wonder, like a child seeing snow for the very first time. The Cow can't be killed. Perhaps things will turn out just fine for us after all.
But hope is always a fragile thing. We don't feel 'hopeful', unless there is a chance that what we want might not come to pass, that the hope in question might not be fulfilled. As the wonder settled, suspicion began to set in: Would someone take the Big Cow away?
We've been hurt before. There is a pattern here. Every time an inspirational or magical animal appears on the internet, someone tries to snatch it from us. Perhaps the IKEA monkey, way back in 2012, was the first example of this trend — the little monkey, imperious in its puffy coat and diaper, “reminded us, however momentarily, what it is to feel joy in this miserable world,” as Vice wrote. But it quickly turned out that the monkey was a baby macaque named Darwin who was being kept as a pet illegally; viral fame led to him being confiscated from his owner and placed in a sanctuary for his own well-being. What had been a funny thing turned out to be a sad one.
Every time an inspirational or magical animal appears on the internet, someone tries to snatch it from us.
When a video appeared of a rat taking a shower like a human earlier this year, rat scientists quickly chimed in to announce that first, the animal in the video wasn't a rat, it was something called a “pacarana”; second, the pacarana was probably only behaving like that because the soap on its fur was causing it incredible pain.
When footage of a courageous brown bear cub struggling and finally succeeding to ascend a snowy mountain went viral earlier this month, it soon became apparent that the cub and its mother were in fact fleeing from a drone that was filming them.
And so, it was hardly surprising when The Washington Post tried to debunk the Big Cow. “Democracy Dies In Darkness”— well, so apparently do fun viral news stories about cattle. Knickers the steer, the Post reported, is certainly a big boy, yes — no one is in any doubt about that. But he is by no means miraculously large.
Most male Holsteins, the Post’s story said, grow to just over six feet tall. But Knickers was standing in a field of wagyu cattle, who are usually under 4’5. So this wasn't really a Big Cow story: it was a story about lots of little cows. Knickers’s age, the story continued, was also a factor in his largesse — most steers are slaughtered by age three, but Knickers is seven; he's had four extra years to grow. And the biggest Cow in the world is actually an Italian ox named Bellino, who is a good three inches taller than Knickers at 6’7.
There was predictable pushback to the Post’s report. The Guardian ran story debunking it, claiming that, all things considered, Knickers is still “quite a bit above the top of his range.” Jacqueline Lynch, the reporter who originally broke the story for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, posted a follow-up in which she returned to Knickers’s field to be photographed standing next to the giant beast. “Yes,” she admitted, in the original pictures he is surrounded by waygu cattle, who are small. “But for me, a woman of five-foot-seven, it was pretty intimidating when all of his 1,400 kilograms (3086.5 lbs) first came lumbering through the gate towards me. In a field full of normal-sized cattle, he certainly commands a degree of respect and humility from those trying to take his photo,” she said.
At this point, I feel like the truth about the Big Cow’s size is pretty much irrelevant. In this ”post-truth” world, we're all obsessed with facts to a basically censorious, unhelpful degree. The fact is, our world sucks, and we ought to do everything we can to change that truth.
The real Bigness of the Big Cow is the hope it inspires — the possibility it presents, or presented when first seen, of a world less gray and terrible than the one in which we currently live. Staying true to Knickers the Enormous Cow means not letting the wonder we felt when we first learned about him fade.