Humans have a particular penchant for ignoring information we would rather not hear. Intellectually we might know livestock emissions count for around 14.5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Or that Beef alone accounts for 60% of global deforestation. And yet, we all hate Vegans.
In part, our dislike of this diet could be attributed to the fact Veganism is no longer simply a diet. It is an identity – one with laptop stickers, t-shirts, and all kinds of merchandise available to proudly promote a person’s veganism. Veganism is associated with preachiness, perceived moral authority, and general puritanical joylessness. Documentaries such as Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives, and Earthlings, all aim to persuade people to become Vegan by bombarding the viewer with distressing statistics and footage.
Simon Amstell’s Carnage, however, takes an entirely different approach. This mockumentary is set in the utopian British society of 2067, where almost everyone is vegan. The premise of the documentary is to tell the history of veganism in Britain in an attempt to break the taboo and shame faced by ‘former carnists’ (the last living generation who ate meat).
Half the documentary is real, using a mix of adverts, TV Shows and cultural moments to tell the history of veganism from the 1960s up to the 2010s. It jumps between ‘contemporary’ commentators explaining the horror of these adverts, and Amstell’s deadpan narration pointing out the inherent hypocrisy in this footage. For example, alongside the release of the film Babe which ends happily with a pig avoiding the slaughterhouse, McDonald’s released a Babe themed happy-meal.
But the main difference between Carnage and other vegan documentaries is that it is a comedy. Amstell wanted to ‘direct a film that was funny about [veganism] so that people could watch it and feel wildly entertained as well as feeling mildly upset”. As well as being more engaging, there is scientific evidence to suggest this approach will better elicit change: Janis & Feshback found when fear is aroused audiences are often more likely to ignore the threat, suggesting distressing footage from slaughterhouses alone is not enough to promote veganism.
Vitally, the film makes fun of vegans themselves. One of the first images of the documentary is a group therapy session for ‘former carnists’ in which Amstell’s voice-over informs us: ‘It is not easy for anyone to name a cheese – and it has taken weeks for the group to get to this point’. One member bursts into tears. For Amstell, this was a very deliberate choice: ‘we realised that we needed to take the piss out of vegans more than anything for this to work’.
Amstell artfully blends his sarcastic dry narration, with cold, undeniable facts, informing without attacking non-vegans. And yet the key messages remain at the centre of the film. Their impact is not lessened by the comedy but made more poignant. One scene features an excerpt from a fake musical in which a cow sings about the trauma of the dairy industry and is both witty and genuinely moving. In Amstell’s own words, “if you are a person who currently eats animals and you think vegans are ridiculous, then this is the film for you.
Categories: Film & TV