I was having tea at my sister’s house the other day when she showed me an article about the Vinyl Cafe classic, “Dave Cooks the Turkey”. Apparently an animal rights group has successfully intimidated the CBC into cutting a couple of lines about the appearance of the turkey. One is, and I quote:
“The skin on the right drumstick was ripped. Dave’s turkey looked like it had made a break from the slaughterhouse and dragged itself a block or two before it was captured and beaten to death.”
The other is when the chef who cooks the turkey makes a remark about it looking like it was abused.
Now, neither of these lines says the turkey was abused. I know, from having had my own chickens killed by a licensed abbatoir, that the feather-plucking machine can sometimes rip skin. But apparently saying that the turkey looked as though it had been abused is about the same as condoning animal abuse. It’s quite clear to the intelligent listener that the chef disapproves, and that McLean intends the reference to the turkey’s appearance to be humour about the sorry state of the last remaining turkey in Toronto (and poor Dave’s sorry state, as well), and not an endorsement of animal cruelty.
I once heard a woman furious about the line “true patriot love in all thy sons command” in the Canadian anthem. I think it could do with some improvement, too – say, “in all of us command”, which maintains the meter and includes the women as being patriotic, too. But it was clear from her words that she thought the line meant the sons should be in command. She didn’t even understand what she was hearing!
“Dave Cooks the Turkey” is a work of fiction. Does this mean that none of us are allowed to write about anything unpleasant when writing fiction? If someone is robbed in a novel, beaten up in a short story, or shot in a flash fiction, will these things also be subject to censorship by the opinions of some radical PC group? Does anyone really think that not mentioning these things will make them go away?
I think the opposite. It’s important to keep these things in mind, to remember – in our sheltered, urban, food-comes-from-the-grocery-store world – that the turkey was a living bird, and was killed for us to eat. Perhaps it will make people think about where their food comes from, or make even a small commitment to a kinder way of eating, a more humane outlook. You can’t change what you don’t know about. And humour works better than preaching, I believe.
After dinner that night, I kicked major butt at Chinese Checkers. Better do it while I can, before the PC police get to it and change the name of the game, or outlaw it altogether!