"Overall it seems that, while meat-eaters are charged with inhumane levels of cruelty towards animals, the charge faced by early vegans is predominantly their inability to make veganism palatable"BBC

It’s 2067 and the consumption of meat and other animal products is outlawed. While young people inhabit an Eden-like earthly paradise of fresh air and fruit, the older generations have been stigmatised, as society is unable to forgive its own carnivorous past. Luckily for us, however, in this future Simon Amstell has made a documentary: Carnage: Swallowing the Past, charting the rise of veganism and explaining the so-called ‘Carnist’ ways to a new world which condemns them. It is not only the positioning of 2017 as the midpoint of this timeline that cleverly points to the programme’s own relevance. In recent years, veganism has passed from a rarity to an Instagram-fuelled trend, to now simply commonplace and unremarkable among students. My college JCR has campaigned for meat-free Mondays in the buttery and recently announced that once a week the formal menu will be vegan. Far from the hysteria of Black Mirror, a cynic might say that Amstell is merely employing reductio ad absurdum in his vision for the next 60 years.

With the pseudo-hindsight of history, today’s carnivorous norms seem dubious. While future generations’ inability to stomach a virtual reality reconstruction of meat-eating is unconvincing, a commentary on the early 21st century’s sexualisation of dairy products succeeds in showing the perverseness of clips of music videos in which singers pour milk on themselves, or Kim Kardashian’s sensuous yoghurt adverts, for example. Our treatment of animals and their produce is most directly called into question by the interspersed clips of cows being shot in the head, pigs bloodily slaughtered and chicken cramped in battery farms – scenes which are unambiguously anti-carnism.

“In recent years, veganism has passed from a rarity to an Instagram-fuelled trend, to now simply commonplace and unremarkable among students”

In an interview with VICE, Amstell explains: “If at any point Carnage became on paper preachy or annoying, we made sure something really funny was really near to that bit so people would be laughing rather than feeling judged.” Despite Amstell’s reservation, Carnage has been happily received by reviewers as a clever piece of pro-vegan propaganda. PETA recently published an article praising the programme and a website called www.obviouslyvegan.com waxes lyrically that Carnage is “about the absurdity of consuming animal products”.

I don’t think it’s that one-dimensional. From watching Carnage, one might not immediately discern that Amstell is himself a vegan – the satirical target appears to vary. There’s no denying that it is the vegans, past and future, who are being satirised during scenes of a support group in which stony-faced old people declare the names of cheeses they once ate, as part of their self-acceptance programme. Even the most earnest of vegan viewers surely couldn’t fail to see the funny side of an old man solemnly catching a bean-bag and uttering the word ‘parmesan’ to a backdrop of tense music. The commentary toys with our expectations, teasingly switching its satirical target so that neither camp can quite escape criticism. For example, vegan campaigner Troye King Jones (‘interviewed in 2027’) explains: “I was only with PETA for a short while. I just remember pretending to die a lot” – a testimonial which appears to mock the organisation and its inefficacy, until he completes his sentence – “and being ignored” – momentarily shifting the focus on to us, who have thus far ignored what are apparently the first steps in a larger movement.

Overall it seems that, while meat-eaters are charged with inhumane levels of cruelty towards animals, the charge faced by early vegans is predominantly their inability to make veganism palatable. Yet Amstell’s satire is even broader than this: he exposes the uncomfortable truth that society changes not due to commitment to ideology or education, but through a combination of commercial pressures, celebrity-driven trends, spectacle and violent national conflict, which divides generations and threatens individuals. The ideology behind veganism only truly takes hold when it is commercialised, endorsed by celebrities and eventually turned into a musical. One stand-out bite of realism comes in the form of a key figure in the anti-Carnist movement: a mother whose house is repeatedly flooded, who uploads a video of herself frantically demanding why no one cares about the environment. The video goes viral and the woman appears on The One Show. Amstell narrates that she was a “likeable victim” and, with the same misanthropic disdain for the self-absorption of a society constantly in need of entertainment and stimulation (a sentiment we recognise from Popworld and Never Mind the Buzzcocks) he adds: “While everyone enjoyed the spectacle of a working-class mother with a wet house, no one could hear anything she said.” Poe’s Law proved true as I Googled the woman.

“The commentary toys with our expectations, teasingly switching its satirical target so that neither camp can quite escape criticism”

“Back in the early 2000s”, narrates Amstell, “Britain was a loony bin.” Is what we are faced with in Carnage, then, a multi-purpose, one-size-fits-all satire? The all-encompassing nature of Amstell’s criticism, in which even the most basic actions of society are under attack, contrarily ensures the programme’s popularity, as reviews and discussions can inevitably bend the message to suit their own interests or design. Tom Sutcliffe, speaking on Radio 4, for example, begins by talking about how old people get marginalised in this new world.

Interviewed in Varsity in the 1970s, Alan Coren, then Deputy Editor of Punch, commented that satire’s object “is to attack and not to defend” and says that it points out problems rather than suggesting solutions. Yet to claim that Carnage offers no answers is to undermine the agency with which Amstell works. If the ultimate problem presented in Carnage is ‘how do we increase veganism?’, then Amstell does go some way to volunteering solutions – for example, in the form of a celebrity chef, Freddy, who makes a vegan diet popular among ordinary people, rather than available only to middle-class millennials with courgette spiralisers. “Up to that point, Troye had believed in change by any means necessary,” we are told, brilliantly followed by: “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, that sort of thing. It was Freddy who told him, you know, you don’t have to make an omelette.” It is lines such as these which reveal the wit with which Amstell employs irony. This is a delicately crafted work. It makes its points through humour rather than hatred and presents us with a future utopia rather than the all-too-familiar dystopia. Yet just as Carnage demonstrates the dangers of dividing society into ‘Vegans vs Carnists’, we should equally be wary of interpreting the programme in terms of such simple binaries. What Carnage ultimately shows is that the acceptable human treatment of animals is vastly complex, and it should be given due consideration as such

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