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Entry updated 21 March 2022. Tagged: Film.

UK film (2017; vt Carnage: Swallowing the Past). BBC iPlayer. Directed and written by Simon Amstell. Cast includes Eileen Atkins, Linda Bassett, Lindsay Duncan, Vanessa Feltz, Martin Freeman, Gemma Jones, Joanna Lumley, Lorraine Kelly, Racheal Ofori, Mawaan Rizwan, Miles Sembi, Kirsty Wark and Robert Wilde. 65 minutes. Colour.

A documentary in the year 2067 attempts to come to terms with humanity's past, explaining to horror-struck viewers of the future that there was once a time when the eating of animals was considered normal.

Writer/director Amstell's original plan, to stage a mock trial in which meat-eaters were outed, shamed and punished in the manner of war criminals (see Crime and Punishment), was softened in the development process to create an agitprop that is far more conciliatory in tone, imagining a future scenario in which veganism is entirely normalized, and then retelling a Future History to demonstrate the possible path to reach such a point. Using the tropes and stylistics of 2010s news television – talking heads, staged footage, film clips and archive material – Amstell charts a series of inflexional points in human attitudes, beginning with the real-world historical origins of veganism with the founding of the Vegan Society in 1944.

Echoing the rhetoric and "cancel culture" of the 2010s, with such disruptions to the status quo as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, Amstell offers a Conceptual Breakthrough: that it is not veganism that is odd, trendy or cranky, but "carnism" – a shared delusion of humanity that meat-eating was acceptable, with no consideration of the ethical implications. With wit and humour, he reframes the celebrity chef Fanny Cradock as a stooge of the meat industry, and argues for the likes of 1980s fast-food "Happy Meals" as a sinister form of grooming that lures children into a meat-eating life. In keeping with the ideological stance of real-world vegans, he also zooms in on the practices of the dairy industry, allowing his future mouthpieces to express their horror at policies and treatment considered benign in the past. The normalization of meat-free cookery programmes in 2023, and the release of a hard-hitting musical in 2024 in which actors voice the imagined feelings of animals, are included as inflexion points, and also allow for vignettes purporting to be clips from this fictional Media Landscape. Amstell's Satire is no starry-eyed Utopia, but includes an incisive imagining of likely backlashes, including a confrontational television show baiting vegans, and riots when Britons are deprived of their "right" to eat beef. He also suggests possible crises with unexpected outcomes – much as disease in the Planet of the Apes series wiped out cats and dogs, a super-swine flu leads to a drastic hike in the price of pork, and catastrophic flooding calls media attention to relationship of Climate Change to industrialized farming. The invention of a "Thought Translator" creates a Technology that allows a form of primitive Uplift, in which animals are able to express their feelings, soon leading to the passing of a Bill of Animal Rights in 2035 that finally criminalizes carnism.

The world-building of Amstell's future is subtle and unobtrusive – pyramid-like arcologies in the background of a pastoral scene, and glowing highlights to hair and make-up in some future sequences. But since much of his mockumentary involves reframing the footage and attitudes of our own era and times before it, there is little need for Prediction beyond the ideological. Like many other mockumentaries, such as Michael Madsen's Into Eternity (2010), which framed itself as a time-capsule warning to future humans to avoid nuclear waste dumps, or Kevin Willmott's C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004), which imagined a present in which slavery remained commonplace in the American South, the science fictional achievement of the mockumentary is betrayed only by the tone and editing of the era in which it was actually made, with an understandably polemic nature that ignores how attitudes, languages or broadcasting might change in the future. In a possible indicator of the incendiary nature of Amstell's work, despite its being a BBC production studded with high-profile celebrities, Carnage was not broadcast on terrestrial television, but buried in the online iPlayer service. [JonC]

see also: Charles Cole; Food Pills; Kang Youwei.


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