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Countrycide

Posted by tinako on July 23, 2009

I am not into violent movies or television.  For 20 years, when “Itchy and Scratchy” comes on The Simpsons, I calmly close my eyes and wait for the cutesy music and screaming to end.  This segment of The Simpsons always disappoints me, because while it is possible to satirize, for example, a corrupt mayor without actually being a corrupt mayor, “Itchy and Scratchy” lampoons violent cartoons by being a super-violent cartoon, causing all the usual problems such as desensitizing us to violence and the pain of others.  It makes me wonder what the real motive is for creating it or watching it.

So I was glad that the episode of Torchwood I saw last night, “Countrycide,” while filled with more body parts and close calls than I care for, showed very little actual violence.  I am going to totally spoil this three-year-old episode. Here is the synopsis: There have been 17 disappearances within an area in the country, so the Torchwood team, thinking it might be aliens, goes out to investigate.  They zero in on a seemingly abandoned town and discover people’s body parts lying around.  They find picked-clean carcasses in the woods, parts in a fridge, and parts in canning jars, and come to the conclusion that aliens have come to eat us.  Even at this point I was making the connection that finding human feet in the fridge was not all that much worse for me than finding the leg of a pig.  This is how I felt at a party when someone kept putting bowls of chicken wings down in front of me; to me, it was a bowl of arms.

It turns out, however, to not be alien monsters who are doing this, but ordinary country folk.  Once every 10 years the whole town butchers for food any passers-through in what they call “The Harvest.”  Good finally prevails and the townspeople are rounded up.  The Torchwood heroine is determined to understand why they do this, so she questions the leader.  I am not sure she understands his answer, which he whispers in her ear: “It makes me happy.”  I think to most non-vegetarians, this answer is probably incomprehensible.  “How can it make him happy to kill and butcher?  He’s just crazy.”  I noticed the featured reviewer at the wikipedia site linked above didn’t like the episode because he couldn’t relate to the “inhuman” bad guys.  “There was no humanity in this episode.”  But to a vegetarian, this answer makes perfect sense.  It is the summing up of the pack of answers we hear for the question, “Why do you kill animals, or pay someone to kill them?”  “I like the taste” is probably the number-one reason given.  For hunters, they will talk about being one with nature, family togetherness, the thrill of the hunt… whatever.  It all boils down to “It makes me happy.”  Knowing what I know about slaughterhouses, watching this hour of gore and horror and hearing the farmer sum it up with “It makes me happy” makes just as much sense as hearing it come from someone eating a burger.  I’ve been there, having eaten meat for over 20 years, and can understand the reason on one hand and the senselessness of it on the other.

I was reminded while watching this episode that Colleen has a podcast called Little Boy Pig which mentions The Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie.  She said she had never seen it, for the same reason I give above (and neither have I), but it also makes the slaughterhouse connection.    Check out Colleen’s podcast, which is probably less graphic than this posting.

It seems very likely that the Torchwood writer was aware of the connection with this famous movie, and I feel sure he understood the cannibalism/animal meat connection he made in this episode.  Of course, there were plenty of meat references, because we are certainly meant to be horrified by the cannibalism.  Various meathooks, the fridge, the canning jars, a character was threatened with a cleaver and told he would be bled dry like veal, a reference to tenderizing the meat, and the agony caused by buckshot.  But more than a simple “isn’t it gross when people are treated like meat” message, I think the writer was aware of the irony that it is a precarious position to be so horrified by this gore when it is one animal, humans, but to lick our lips when it is another.  The most telling reference, I think, was at the beginning.   The writer makes a point of having the Torchwooders stop by a lone hamburger stand in the absolute middle of nowhere, the most empty, desolate land you can imagine, to eat burgers on their way to this country butchery.  This isn’t a throwaway scene, and the burgers weren’t by accident – they talk about them and are uneasy.  I think the writer gets that the monster is not only one of us, it is us.

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