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[whitespace] Todos Sobre Mi Gallina

When society decrees death, the spectacle of vengeance leads to public sadism

By Gina Arnold

A FEW WEEKS AGO, I became the unwilling owner--or perhaps I should say guardian--of a live white chicken. She cost $5 at the Farmers Market and was only saved from immediate strangulation for somebody's dinner by our timely intervention.

Instead of spending the night in a stew pot, Henny Penny spent it in blissful freedom on my back porch, eating a delicious reprieve meal of old rice, corn on the cob, bird seed and a piece of a banana. I think she was pleased, because she immediately laid us an egg.

Henny Penny's life was not to be one of leisure though. We had plans for her. She was going to star in a music video for a band called the Family Scott. Therefore, for two long weeks she was put to work, which in her case meant standing stock still against a blue backdrop while various lights were trained on her, and the director tried to make her flap or squawk by giving her treats or trailing a bug on a string tied to a stick in front of her disinterested gaze.

In between takes, she lived in the studio's bathtub and was extremely easy to care for. Really, it's easy to see why people keep chickens: I kept joking she was our hedge against the coming blackout days, when we're all going back to the land.

When the shoot was over, however, we had a problem: what to do with Henny Penny. No one we knew wanted her as a pet, and all our other immediate solutions would result in sudden death, like leaving her off in a park or taking her back to the Farmers Market.

All these things seemed like a poor way to treat your star player, but what's a person to do? Chickens, though easy to care for, are essentially quite filthy, and they don't look you in the eye or cuddle like a mammal. If you're not worried about World War III, it's kind of hard to justify keeping them.

Finally, I took her to Animal Control, at which a vegetarian friend of mine went batshit. She'd wanted me to take her to a farm-animal rescue joint in Vacaville or something where they would guarantee not to put her to sleep, but I somehow couldn't quite see my way to that. I mean, I admired my friend's vehemence, but somehow, I also felt that Henny's life was forfeit the moment she was hatched.

After I did it I started to feel really bad. Something was bothering me about it, and I finally realized it was the imminent execution of Timothy McVeigh. I've long been opposed to the death penalty--and here I'd just imposed it, and on a creature far more innocent than McVeigh.

OF COURSE, the McVeigh situation was different (although in a way, equally inevitable). It's bad enough that America still has the death penalty, along with 85 other human-rights violators, but last year, according to Amnesty International, 88 percent of the 1,457 documented executions took place in either China, Iran, Saudi Arabia or the United States.

But what really burned me up about the McVeigh execution was the part where they let the relatives of his victims watch his execution in person or on closed-circuit TV. "Vengeance is mine," sayeth the Lord, and that means it's not ours. Besides, vengeance, like cruelty, sadism and a few other nasty emotions--is one of the worst of human characteristics. To indulge it legally is absolutely disgusting, the lowest of the low.

You know how some people slow down and crane their necks when pass a car wreck on the freeway? That's the same crass impulse, and one that ought to be suppressed, not encouraged. It also seems ironic to me that a government which on occasion complains that the media and popular culture are too violent would allow its citizenry to view a real life snuff film--and boast about it providing closure or something.

But it's not providing closure. What it's providing is the closest thing to barbarism since the day, in 1996, when the Taliban executed Afghanistan's president, Mohammed Najibullah, and his brother, Shahpur Ahmedzai, by castrating them, tying them to a jeep and dragging them through the streets, then hanging them from a traffic tower in the middle of a prominent city boulevard. They let them hang for three days.

Afghanistan also holds public executions on Friday afternoons in the Kabul stadium which are well attended. We decry that, but how different is this, really? To watch people--even loathsome criminals--suffer is positively Taliban-esque. I personally couldn't do it, but then I don't go to violent movies, was ill at Pulp Fiction, avoided Hannibal--I don't even like to watch The Sopranos very much.

And yet, I did take Henny Penny to Animal Control--so much for my good intentions. I suppose, in my defense, I could say there's a big difference between human life and the life of a battery hen, but in my heart of hearts I'm not really so sure there is. I know I won't lose any sleep over the death of either Henny Penny or Timothy McVeigh, but that doesn't make me feel real good about myself.


THE MOST RECENT ISSUE of Esquire--the one with a naked model on the cover--includes a controversial interview with Michael Stipe of R.E.M. It's controversial because the article, which was written by Tom Junod, is by the author's own admission half fictitious. Apparently Junod, upon finishing up his assignment, felt the real quotes and experiences he'd had with Mr. Stipe were dull and disappointing, so he set about writing an article which told a better story.

Now, a lot of people find the very idea of such an article offensive in the extreme, but I'm here to tell you that the article is actually quite brilliant. First of all, it's a wonderful piece of writing in and of itself--and that's not something you can say about too many pieces of rock writing these days.

More importantly, however, I think it captures some truths about both Stipe and R.E.M. that couldn't have been revealed had Junod stuck to literal events.

After all, nothing that Junod says about the band's music or history is a lie, and even if he didn't drive all night with Stipe in a limousine in a driving rain storm to Hoover Dam, there's no doubt that when he first listened to the record Reveal, it "filled me with melancholy ... [because] the band exists now in relation to its past rather than its future." And which fact is more important?

In journalism school, they're always trying to pound in the idea of objectivity; making up anything is considered a sin of the first order. And yet, sin though I know it to be, I'd like to see a lot more writing like this: good writing, true writing, revealing writing, writing that's more like music than like a false and bloody press release.

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From the June 21-27, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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