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Review: Carnage – Swallowing the Past
Amelia Bacon reviews Simon Amstell's new feature on BBC 3, Carnage: Swallowing the Past, and discusses how it reaches out to meat eaters in a way as yet not achieved by other attempts of spreading the vegan message
“If you’ve ever felt like the dialogue between vegans/vegetarians and meat eaters is one of friction and condescension, this is the documentary for you
Carnage: Swallowing the Past is presented as a timeline, we begin in the year 2067 where the consumption of animals and their produce is non-existent. Youths are pictured frolicking happily in sunlit grassy meadows, and in contrast to this, a group of the older generation comfort each other as they confront their meat-eating past. The documentary follows the attempts of psychologists and citizens of 2067 to bridge the gap between the old and the young, as the young must come to understand why the old ate what they did. The timeline also allows viewers to explore the early beginnings of veganism, throughout history, and into Amstell’s idyllic future. Through this, Carnage has an enormous scope for exploring the many outlets veganism has found, from its first society during World War Two, to its wide uptake within grime, fashion, and art. Portraying veganism in its multitude of outlets requires viewers to change their view of it as more than a mere trend, and instead as a lifestyle to be taken seriously.
Part of what makes Carnage work so well is its self-awareness throughout, as it obviously pokes fun at the stereotypes surrounding veganism, therefore taking away any ammunition prejudiced viewers might have to take away from the message - Carnage laughs in the face of the stereotypes and imparts its message anyway. This self-awareness and comedy throughout opens a dialogue between meat eaters and vegans, as the former are able to watch something informative without the feeling of being preached to or shamed, something that perhaps other conversations and documentaries on this topic do. The comedy at times could be perceived as problematic, where it is maybe too self-deprecating could be seen to just reinforce the stereotypes of vegans, or other times may be seen to trivialise the seriousness of the issue. However, most who are attracted to watching Carnage would be previously aware of the debate surrounding veganism and are likely to understand the humour throughout.
“'If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian'
Despite its comedic tones, Carnage’s message is undeniable, and holds a mirror up to many of the practices within today’s meat industry that when analysed, seem far more absurd than initially thought. Examples such as celebrity chefs, the idea that ‘happy meat is tasty meat’, the distinction between pets and food, and the undeniable effects of the meat industry on the planet and its role in global warming, leads non-vegans to question their own dietary choices. Shots of commercials or advertisements for the global fast food icons that hold such significance in day-to-day life often cut to scenes of slaughter and violence, catching viewers off guard, and forcing them to confront what they would rather ignore. The intermittent graphic scenes are reminiscent of Paul McCartney’s famous quote “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian,” as viewers are met with truths that cannot be ignored.
Carnage: Swallowing the Past reaches out to meat eaters within the world and presents the undeniable reality of the practices of the meat industry, but in a way as yet not achieved by other attempts of spreading the vegan message. Carnage pokes fun at itself but offers its message as a peace-offering rather than a demand. Instead of having statistics directly shoved at viewers, Amstell’s feature simply lays out the effects of our current carnivorous culture and offers an alternate and better future, achievable through simple small changes - the rest is up to the viewer.