Politics & Media
Nov 26, 2008, 04:57AM

Saving Turkey-Killer Palin from the Vultures

Mocking the governor of Alaska is great fun, but there's something self-righteous and hypocritical about the discussion of her "Turkey tape."

The following video was included in this article:

In light of earlier criticisms I was surprised to take up the word processor in defense of Sarah Palin, but the recent attacks on her behavior demand comment. For those of you who’ve missed the latest, Palin has come under fire for displaying a lack of sensitivity during an interview she gave in front of a Turkey abattoir, in which she attacks the mainstream media while a gentleman in the background decapitates poultry. The suggestion is clear: “Look at this hick, doesn’t she know that civilized folk have other people kill things for them! Enjoy your turkey, Ma Clampett.” But since this isn’t an explicitly acceptable criticism her critics have instead latched onto the notion that Palin’s relative calm in the face of such unspeakable violence is evidence of some maniacal lack of humanity on the part of the Governor.

What's particularly odd about the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth raised by the video is that it isn't really as if anything particularly terrible is happening to these turkeys. They are being slain in what seems to be a fairly immediate and pain-free fashion. The device is effectively a guillotine, a method of execution perfected by Antoine Louisand and a group of physicians in 1791 as the most minimally excruciating possible means of execution. One imagines many a turkey, disemboweled by a carnivore or freezing to death in the wild would yearn for such swift release, if turkeys could yearn. The worker shows no evidence of sadism or cruelty. This is a job to him, as it would be a job to anyone who had to do it for any length of time: turkey in, corpse out, turkey in, corpse out.

To those offended, from whence the hue and cry? Were you operating under the impression, prior to seeing this video, that turkeys were granted some special providence over death? Was there something particularly tragic about this particular turkey's passing? Did you suspect that it might go on to write the Great American Novel, had its light not been snuffed out in a moment of savage violence? If the turkeys being decapitated in the background had been lucky enough to be “pardoned” by the Governor (which is an inane custom, participation in which being the only thing Palin really needs to be apologizing for) they wouldn't have gone on to die surrounded by their turkey family and turkey friends, reminiscing on what a rich and full turkey life they led. Humans are capable of giving death meaning; other creatures are not.

The workings of our post-industrial society have rendered it such that, compared to our ancestors, an astonishingly small number of us have ever killed a living creature. This disturbs me. It would be one thing if we were evolving into a society less enamored of violence, but I don't really see any evidence of that. Bear-baitings have been replaced with Kill Bill vols. 1 and 2, but anyone who believes our fascination with the macabre and grotesque has abated since we stopped making our own fried chicken from scratch should check out every single news story linked to from CNN.com. We have become more personally squeamish but not more moral. I remember accidentally killing a pigeon once with a B.B. gun (accidentally in that I only meant to frighten off and injure the flying rat) and wondering whether I should feign concern. I decided to go with it but suspect I didn't pull it off.

We should be wary of strong emotions that do not (or can not) precipitate corresponding action—they stink of pageantry and self-deception. Empathy in and of itself is not a virtue, and certainly no evidence of moral superiority of any kind. It is an instinctive reaction towards watching another living creature undergo pain, and a reflection of our desire not to be victim to the same. In fact empathy is often a barrier towards productive effort, insofar as it tends to placate one’s sense of guilt without affecting change—witness the Save Darfur movement, which has proved endlessly popular but practically useless (if you define its purpose as ending genocide in the Sudan and not selling t-shirts or making college students feel important). I fear for a society that has become so far removed from the practical workings of death that it cannot distinguish between mortality and evil. I fear more for a society that, having determined something is evil (falsely or correctly) has no greater recourse than to be vaguely offended by it.

Far better to see a person openly comfortable with the notion of killing a lower life form rather than abiding by this absurdly aristocratic notion that it's acceptable to consume something so long as you haven’t seen it bleed. If you want to complain about the lot of the life of a turkey, join PETA. They're idiots but at least they've got a structurally coherent worldview (albeit one that believes nudity to be the height of satire). In this video Gov, Palin actually demonstrates one of her rare virtues, namely a lack of that dishonest veneer of self-righteousness that is often mistaken for a trapping of high civilization. Our dear Sarah is not going to alter her daily plans one iota to stop the slaughter of turkeys. Neither are you, and while it us unlikely you will be called upon to prove it on television, you ought at least to have the common decency to admit to the ideology your actions consistently uphold.

  • Although I don't find Sarah Palin to be a dummy, as many reflexively do, her social views repulse me. That said, if the media would stop following her around, maybe she'd disappear. Obviously, she's courting the media for future ambitions--a fruitless endeavor in my opinion--but she's no longer news-worthy. Who cares about her and some dumb turkeys? Great article by Daniel Polansky.

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  • I agree with Daniel. The video didn't offend me. However, I still reserve the right to use this video as evidence of how absolutely oblivious she is.

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  • The election is over...why are we still talking about her? This is getting really ridiculous, leave the poor woman alone. Let her be mediocre on her own up in caribou country!

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  • yeah, yeah. the ol' media flip/flop. No. most of us weren't offended by the video; far from it. It was welcome frivolity in the welter of economic catastrophe. It was the conteXt not the content; the usual Palin folksy lack-of-awareness and then amateur mean-girl politik response. And despite the eloquent FAQ on capital punishment and the guillotine, NO, that (background) method of killing fowl is neither pain-free or immediate, unless you think that being mugged on the street, having your throat slashed with a razor, and your attacker standing on your legs while you bleed out. The mechanism is a set of blades which multiply slit the birds throat, deliberately NOT killing it so as to allow the blood to drain (for whiter meat, why not...). That is why the nauseating spectacle shows the constant beating and struggling of the animal between Palins' "coffee remarks". I don't think this article is particularly interesting at all unless you're part of GOP/Palin's ying yang crew. Happy Thanksgiving.

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  • I'm not part of of the "GOP/Palin ying yang crew" and I found the article interesting AND entertaining. But hey, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without hearing from the PETA crowd.

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  • Ditto on Polansky's dislike of Palin, and double ditto on his commonsensical, if probably very unpopular, view that the "Save Darfur" fad is spectacularly useless. As he said, it's a way to make people feel like they're doing something as they lead comfortable lives. It's a "safe" issue; no one is *for* the genocide occurring in the Sudan, but unless you go there it's an empty show of protest.

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  • I agree with philmedley & Max - the fault / humor her is that Palin is totally oblivious to what's going on in the background - this would be humorous if it were any public official yabbering on unknowingly while turkeys were being killed - it's just extra funny that it's her since she's developed such a ditzball reputation. The best part is when the turkey killer turns to the camera like "are they actually filming me doing this right now?"

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