The Diary of a Free Range Chicken II
Bill Long 2/13/08
Just Say No--To "Chicken Soup" Books
Dr. Homer Crinkle, American-based colleague of Dr. Johannes Grackle, a chicken expert and linguist extraordinaire, was impressed by Dr. Grackle's publication of "The Diary of a Free Range Chicken" in the Annals of Poultry and decided to go up to Happy Chickville and see if he, too, could find literary "remains" of some of the free range chickens. Though not as accomplished in Chickenscratch as Dr. Grackle, he brings formidable talents in textual intrepretation and animal psychology along with an indefatigable spirit, to his task. This essay describes what he found.
Dr. Crinkle's Description of What He Found
I am quoting directly from Dr. Crinkle's field notes. "Late in 2007 I ventured to Oregon to visit Happy Chickville. I was looking for other literary (or dirt) remains of the free range chickens, in order to supplement our knowledge of this rather new phenomenon in American life. I was delighted to find, in a shed near to where the Happy Scratcher left its remains, a large (approximately 3' X 5' dirt area) filled with nervous scratches. Upon closer inspection, I saw these to be the well-reasoned thoughts of one of the free range chickens--one who seemed to be concerned about changing the image that Americans have of chickens. My hypothesis is that the new life "on the range" for these chicks has unleashed hitherto tamped-down longings for freedom and self-expression so that the literary remains we now have constitute something of a 'Chicken Renaissance.' Because of the thoughtfulness and systematic nature of the scratchings, I will call the writer the 'Professor.'" Here follows the text of the 'Professor's' scratches' ("PS").
Part I of the Text--Down with "Chicken Soup" Books
PS: "One of our first priorities as free range chickens is to change the image that Americans have of us. Many of them see us as mindless, instinctual creatures, with little brain power and no capacity for forethought. We are, in a word, only good to be eaten! The most damaging thing to come out of American culture in the last 15 years has been the "Chicken Soup" books, begun in the early 1990s by hateful anti-chicken gurus Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. They say they chose that name for their books originally because of the use of chicken soup as a home remedy for the sick, but we really know that they are chickenists, pure and simple. Yet, in the space of those 15 years, more than 105 titles have come out in that series. It really makes me want to puke. Some of the titles are ridiculous. I mean--"Chicken Soup for the Chocolate Lover's Soul." If they are chocolate lovers--why not give them chocolate rather than chicken soup! Honestly!
Well, this series perpetuates the nonsense that we are only useful if we are killed, sliced up and put in soup. But the series is too strong at the moment to hope to get it off the shelves. I was hoping at first to initiate a campaign to get the "Idiot" books to merge with the "Chicken Soup" books with the first book being "Chicken Soup for Idiots," but I have since come up with a better idea. Instead of trying to stamp out the "Chicken Soup" books, I propose we fund the production of a competitive line of "Chicken Soup" books, the goal of which is to make them so objectionable that people will no longer buy them. For example, I think we ought to have a title "Chicken Soup for the Serial Killer's Soul," and then "Chicken Soup for the Sex Offender's Soul." Finally, I want a special one called "Chicken Soup for Saddam." When people see these books, they will not only shy away from buying them but, we hope, stop eating chicken soup. It will be one small step for a chicken, one giant leap for chicken-kind."
Part II--Creating A More Positive View of Chickens
PS: "But we need to do more than simply win on the negative front. We have to establish a positive image of chickens. One of the ways we do this is to begin to change how people speak about chickens. We already have established a major victory in this category, though most people don't recognize it. Here is what I mean. Forty years ago, if people talked about being scared of something, they would 'chicken out' of that thing. My parents and grandparents heard humans talking like this all the time. But, guess what? Our long, but almost universally unknown, efforts to change the way America talked resulted in the invention of the word "wimp" as a verb in 1981, and the phrase "wimp out" was born. Now that phrase is gaining on "chicken out" in such a way that soon it is the wimp out will completely replace "chicken out."
Another effort in this area is beginning to bear fruit. You will recall that the phrase "chickenshit" refers to a person who is a coward or something that is ridiculous or small. This word has been with us since 1947. Indeed, Norman Mailer did us a great disservice in 1948 in that book Naked & the Dead, when he wrote, "What's the matter?" he asked. "You going chickenshit?" But we have been slowly lobbying for an increase in the usage of another term, which actually has seen a diminution in the hateful term "chickenshit." That new word we lobbied for? "Bullshit." The word "bullshit" is taking on such a variety of meanings that it soon will replace "chickenshit" in our vocabulary."
I wish the same could be said on other lingustic fronts, but we still have a long way to go. We still have to deal with the ignominy of the epithet "Chicken!!" Or, alternatively, the alternative dispute resolution crowd should be roundly criticized for resurrecting the nearly dead concept of the game of "Chicken," and using it in their strategies for teaching students to try to resolve conflicts. The game is also called "Hawk-Dove" game, and perhaps we can convince people to use that more and more. In any case, we still have a long way to go on language issues..
I would also propose that we develop a word that captures the more positive aspect of our lives--our diligence, pride, scratching ability--and call it "chickenfull." The word may begin to take on a life of its own."
III. A Third Area--Theology
PS: "Many people see theology as of small importance in life, but I think it is of central importance. Because America has so many Christian people, you can speak to them in language of Christian faith. If you can convince them that eating chickens is wrong, from the perspective of faith, why perhaps they won't do it anymore. We have a lot to learn from the environmental movement in this regard. In the space of a decade this movement has convinced all the Evangelical young people to be environmentalists. I am green with envy! Well, here is how we do it. We must argue from the Bible that God, is, in fact, a big chicken. You might think this is a ridiculous claim, but how else can you explain the following verses. First, Psalm 91:4:
"he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge.."
Or, take Psalm 63:7:
"for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy."
Not to belabor the obvious, I will add Psalm 36:7:
"How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refusge in the shadow of your wings."
Usually Christian people become defensive at this point and say, "It is only metaphorical! It is only metaphorical!" Metaphorical, schmetiphorical. This is real. This is true. This is the Bible. If we reject this, we are on the slippery slide that will take people to the bottomless pit. So, we must hold firm on this point. God is a giant chicken.
Then, we have to launch a frontal assault against that Christian organization that slaughters so many of us--Chick-Fil-A. Yep, about a decade ago they were just little Georgia farmers, clucking away at their restaurants. But now, because of some press they have gotten in the last year, they are the "big name" in Christian restauranting. I think that we need to make the case to them that if they continue to serve chicken, they really are implicated in slaughtering us--who are made in the image of God. I don't know how this argument will go, but I think we need to make the case."
I conclude by quoting Dr. Crinkle's words. "This amazing text shows us how much we still have to learn about the self-determination and urge for liberation that these chickens have. They seemingly have a well-coordinated strategy, unknown to humans, to change the cultural attitude towards them. They realize indeed how far they have to go, but this text indicates how far they have come....."
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long