The terrible things we do to animals, the terrible things we do to ourselves and each other. ROADKILL CONFIDENTIAL is the second play at Son of Semele Ensemble with a central theme of dead animals that I’ve worked on. Of course, years before I heard of SOSE, they put on the mother of all animal metaphors – ANIMAL FARM.
Unlike in Sheila Callaghan’s ROADKILL where animals are (at least at first) killed on accident, in SLAUGHTER CITY (by Naomi Wallace) the animal would be put to death intentionally. But each time humans are the agents of death. Where in ROADKILL the destruction flows out of the need to go faster, reach greater glory, in SLAUGHTER CITY death was the last stop of exploitation and degradation that flowed down from management to senior workers to junior employees to the animals.
But each time animals suffer because we need to get from point A to point B. Whether it’s moving in a fast, heavy vehicle which could cause an even bigger mess if a poorly calculated swerve was taken at the wrong moment, or because our common and most socially accepted diet calls for steady consumption of meat. I suppose our society immediately tries to find the ethics of it – is it necessary, that is, what is reasonable when it comes to the consideration of other creatures while pursuing our own interests? But it doesn’t matter – animals still receive the end of our agency, whether it is dismemberment or mercy.
The way that things are, though, is what these plays see. In a rural area, especially where the roads are dark and windy, we tend to assume there’s little to be done but accept that people will have to run down small critters as they go into town. Just like we tend to assume there is little we can do about the poor people in disaster areas and war zones who must live chaotic and short lives. And we figure our hamburgers and hot dogs have to come from somewhere but we’ve been told not to look too closely into it because the process is really pretty gnarly. Just like we avoid looking into the realities of factory working conditions and present day labor exploitation.
We may ask ourselves how much we should really invest in caring about our fellow man – after all if getting broken up by women mass raped in the Congo doesn’t help them one bit is there a real point to empathy? Quitting eating meat won’t slow the thousands of animals that are slaughtered every year and it definitely won’t engender safer and better paying working conditions for slaughterhouse employees; realistically, it’ll just weird out everyone around you.
It’s the divide over the extent of our agency. We can drive slowly enough so Thumper can make it across the road safely. And we can find sources of iron and protein elsewhere. But we can’t make such a direct impact to people suffering due to the institutionalized methods of preserving the status quo. Conflicts in foreign lands will develop to protect financial interests of those who live much closer to us, and power plays will develop in the workplace that push people in every direction (physical, sexual, financial). The pursuit of one goal will have all of these unintended consequences. But solving the consequences (while trying to avoid creating more negative fallout) requires a huge battery of tasks by an enormous number of people armed with such comprehensive knowledge that can’t practically exist.
It almost makes a person want to dedicate herself to never leaving the house and switching to an all grass diet. But then how will the earthworms hide from the birds?! And we go around again.