Wednesday, April 04, 2007

In the Penny Press! Three Coins in a Fountain!


Three points of interest in last week's New Yorker, each more disturbing than the last.

The first up is David Denby, the reliably schoolmarmish maiden aunt of movie-reviewing. In the issue in question, he reviews 'Shooter' and '300' - and oh, he isn't happy about either. Like every other reviewer in the country, he mysteriously, inexplicably, unaccountably refuses to call Mark Wahlberg a BAD ACTOR. Denby goes only so far as to say "Wahlberg has an unpretentious air about him," which is similar to all the other softpedalled evasions various critics have been using. The origin of this is not far to seek: Wahlberg got an Oscar nomination for 'The Departed.' It wasn't in any way conceivable on the face of the planet a SENSIBLE nomination - the so-called performance was cussing only - but it instills FEAR in the trembling hearts of professional movie reviewers, an inherently cowardly lot (with one or two notable exceptions, as the readers of this blog well know). That nomination means the utterly talentless Wahlberg will be treated to nonsense phrases like 'has an unpretentious air about him' for at least a few more crappy movies, instead of anybody just saying he can't act worth a crap.

But as bad as that-all is, Denby's ultimate reaction to 'Shooter' and '300' is even worse. He lowers his granny glasses down to the tip of his nose and pronounces that these two movies together "feel like the products of a culture slowly and painfully going mad."

Geez. Go to bed, Aunt Bea. They're only movies.

More disturbing was Jane Kramer's piece about the relationship between the forces of radical Islam and those of the Vatican, in the person of the current Pope, the Nazi Benedict XVI. Kramer tries her level best to portray things in a calm, reasonable light, but it completely doesn't work.

Try as she might to paint a veneer of civility over everything, Kramer can't really disguise from her readers the plain fact that the great religion of Islam is currently being spearheaded - and gaining its characterization in the West - by a narrow cadre of reactionary fanatics intent on violence and radicalism ... and that the great religion of Roman Catholicism is currently being spearheaded - and gaining its characterization in the Middle East - by a narrow cadre of reactionary fanatics intent on wealth and insularity. Not since the Battle of Lepanto have the two religions been in a worse position to talk to each other.

The blame is about equal, but it need not have been, if another man sat on the throne of St. Peter. The former Cardinal Ratzinger, in his brief time in charge at the Vatican, has proven even less interested in the daily lives of ordinary Catholics than his predecessor - which, during his predecessor's long and oblivious life hardly seemed possible.

But the problem is deeper than the fact that Ratzinger clearly prefers the palaces-and-parades style of Catholicism of earlier centuries. Nazis share a particular mindset that's disasterous in the present crisis: they not only aren't willing to entertain the viewpoints of others, they regard the EXISTENCE of viewpoints different from their own with a loudly snickering contempt. The Nazi Pope Benedict XVI is no different in this regard - at the exact moment when all men of influence on both sides of the question should be striving to develope some kind of dialogue, both side are afflicted with leaders constitutionally incapable of doing so.

In a perfect world, Ratzinger would be sitting in a Swiss jail for his orchestration of the murder of Pope John Paul I. Alas, this isn't a perfect world. One almost envies the Buddhists.

But the most disturbing thing in this issue of the New Yorker wasn't an article at all but a picture accompanying an article. The piece is a profile of British chef and all around lout Gordon Ramsay, about what an ogre he is to his loyal staff, how gratuitously vicious he is to his loyal staff, etc.

You're supposed to come away hating Ramsay, a petty tyrant made possible only in the ridiculous micro-culture of haute cuisine. He's a blip (that is almost certainly the ultimate source of his much-vaunted all-purpose rage) and of no consequence whatsoever, so that's not the disturbing part.

No, the disturbing part is the accompanying photo of Ramsay. He's standing against the grey steel backdrop of a restaurant's kitchen, and he's holding a little lamb up to his chest. The lamb is alive and looking in the direction of the camera, and the composition of the piece is so elegant and strong (it's by the always-reliable Jillian Edelstein) that you're a minute before you realize that you're not looking at a cuddly picture - Ramsay is holding up a MENU ITEM.

It's a quietly staggering image, not least because of the horrible portrait of the human in the frame. Most of you will never have spent any quality time with a lamb, so you'll be unaware of their nature. If so, allow us to confirm what your own eyes can tell you: they're open-hearted and goofy and entirely GOOD. They lose some of the goofiness when they grow up into sheep, but they still stay entirely good.

In that photo, Gordon Ramsay is holding up the best invitation to vegetarianism imaginable. Because it's not just the ogre Ramsay - it's every three-star restaurant, it's every no-star restaurant, it's every snack-shack and kiosk and McFranchise from one end of the world to the other. That lamb's innocent, goofy face - the face of a PERSON, someone markedly different from the other lambs with whom she was born -(and, needless to say, someone very different from Ramsay) represents the right way, and Gordon Ramsay with his puffy carnivore's face represents the wrong way.

Here in America, at least on the two coasts, the choice is always there and always easy: don't be Gordon Ramsay. Eat no meat harvested from innocent, loving beings, eat no bloodkill. You can go the whole length on your own if you so desire - you can disavow everything that isn't strictly vegetable and leave it at that - but at the very least, you can - we all can, no matter how enamored we've been in time of bacon, that sacred provender of the gods themselves - skip all bloodkill, regardless of how we might once have loved such things. Let that poor doomed lamb, not the Gordon Ramsay inside, have the final say.

17 comments:

beepy said...

So - what? - you're saying that we shouldn't eat meat? YOU are saying that we shouldn't eat meat?

JEaton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff E. said...

That does seem to be the thrust of this, which confuses me as well. I've seen Steve at a breakfast buffet take a plate of ONLY bacon.

Sam said...

What was Pope Benedict's role in killing John Paul I? Do you mean this literally? It sounds like the stuff of Elizabethan tragedy!

steve said...

that is indeed what I'm saying: don't eat meat. If you live someplace where the choice every single time is easy, where there are non-meat alternatives SHOVED UNDER YOUR NOSE, don't choose the meat alternative just because of momentum, or because it tastes better. Pick the salad or pasta instead. Start with what's easy, and work from there.

And as for Jeff's allegedly eyewitness testimony, well .... surely NOBOBY could eat an entire plate of bacon, so he MUST be wrong...

JC said...

Bacon, hell. I've seen Steve come back from the buffet with an entire plate of baby lamb. Which he ate! With a spoon!

Kevin Caron said...

Why, I've seen Steve come back from a buffet with a bowl-full of Hippo-Grits! 'Sucked em down with a straw!

Sam said...

Umm, hippo-grits...best with cheese...

However, it's true, you shouldn't eat meat, particularly meat from restaurants or from the grocery store. In these cases, not only was the animal killed, but you can be dead-set certain it was TORTURED before dying, usually all it's wretched life. Your chicken almost certainly lived in a shoebox sized cage with so little room to move that its feet became physically embedded in the bars beneath it. In all likelihood its beak was cut off so that when it went insane--as a result of being crammed with food and living in a room where they never turn the lights off--and began attacking it neighbors it wouldn't peck them to death.

The pig you're served had it's tail cut off for the same reason, so that it's maddened neighbor wouldn't bite it. The cow you eat stands in a narrow chute hardly wider than its body all its life until it's mercifully slaughtered, never doing anyting but eating, defecating on itself, and becoming deranged.

We should be mindful calling out hypocrites. If we can raise an animal and then kill it and eat it, that's one thing perhaps; but if we rely on industrial torture for our dinners, and insist upon being utterly unaware of such practices in order to enjoy the food, that's another.

Well! THAT was insufferably preachy, wasn't it! We return to our regularly scheduled wisecracks.

Sam said...

And by Umm, I meant, Mmm.

Kevin Caron said...

While treated far better than their soon-to-be-food bretheren, animals (monkeys, rabbits, cats, dogs, guinnea pigs, mice, rats, & chickens) are dosed with drugs; wired with telemetry; decapitated; impregnated, killed, then c-sectioned, the babies diescted; and more - all for various types of research by drug companies and such to create new medicines (human and verterinary) & test products for the potential to cause birth defects. If we're talking full disclosure here, we should keep the above in mind when we take a pill, or visit the doctor...

Sam Sacks said...

Well, Kevin is exactly right.

Obviously no one should be self-righteous about any of this (sorry...), but I vaguely sense here something like, "since cruelty is all over the place, it's more honest and consistent to not respond to any of it."

Kevin, would a tagline of your last comment be something like, "therefore, as well as we're able, whenever we can make a conscious choice, we should choose not to use those products that came to us by torture."

(Well, you'd probably phrase it in a way that wasn't so stuffy, but you get my drift.)

Kevin Caron said...

I guess my point here is that this is an issue that touches our lives in more ways than just the meat industry - it's a complex issue. As far as the torture of animals in the meat industry - it's truly abhorent, and even the most dyed-in-the-wool meat eaters must be against it - just as the vast majority of people are against the massive amounts of polution shot out by big agribusinness (though the man-induced suffering of the animals really takes it to the next level of terrible).

Not only is avoiding eating meat farmed in such terrible ways tricky for the carnivorous consumer, but even vegetarians have tough choices ahead of them (ie: the medical research I mentioned earlier - though, due to OSHA regulations, nothing like the tortures of the meat industry are allowed, and one could argue that the cause is more just, in the long run...), not to mention the challenge of buying any product where someone/something wasn't shat upon in order to make it so...

A couple things spring to mind, when trying to get my head around the subject:

1. It is perhaps more appropriate, sympathetic, and intellectually honest to, when addressing any of this, acknowledge that this is a messy subject, and even the best of us have a hard/near impossible time avoiding getting blood on our hands, be it due to weakness, expense, convienence, apathy, whatever. It doesn't excuse our resposibility to try, if it's what we believe in, but it's a more honest way to look at this.

2. As with most things, it seems that unfettered capitalism tends to make matters so much worse: the need to squeeze that much more profit out of the meat industry leads to the atrocities you mention (as opposed to a more regulated capitalism, which could instill OSHA-like restrictions to treating the animals so inhumanely...)

Just don't ask me what I had for dinner tonight, for I am weak...

Sam said...

Very nicely said--and not an ounce of weakness in the comment.

beepy said...

I've seen Steve eat a baby seal...whole...while it screamed for its mother.

steve said...

yes, it's a complex issue ... but it's not a difficult one. With the thousands of medical products and services available at any US hospital, you can't be sure (often the doctors can't be sure either) whether or not each and every one of them has a humane past (although if you live near a large teaching hospital, I guarantee you there are dogs in some sunless lab belowground, being subjected to entirely redundant medical experiments, all to justify a grant). But eating is different - none of the meat on the menu is humane because none of it CAN be

steve said...

And Beepy, kindly refrain from airing my private baby-momma-drama in public. That mother seal was a bee-yatch who had it coming. Word.

Kevin Caron said...

But we all agree that I can eat chicken, right? I mean, chickens aren't that lovable...