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CBC Radio Needs To Omit Language That Normalizes Abuse of Animals

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As a longtime Vinyl Cafe fan, I run into the awkward holiday tradition of having to rush to the radio and turn off the annual reading of "Dave Cooks the Turkey" before it gets to the "jokes" about turkey-abuse. It seems I am not alone in this tradition and this year, listeners everywhere seem intent on doing something about it.

The story is to be aired again later this month, but an online campaign has risen to encourage The Vinyl Cafe and CBC Radio to edit out the jokes about animal abuse.

If you are unfamiliar with the celebrated story, briefly: Dave's previous failures in life land him in the situation that he has to cook Christmas dinner, but then his famous awkwardness for navigating the hurdles of life take over and turn it into hilarity for us all (or rather, hilarity for some of us). The mood ends with a Leave it to Beaver feel that some sort of lesson has been learned, but when we examine the details of the story this becomes questionable.

For example, one part reads: "Dave's turkey looked like it had made a break from the slaughterhouse and dragged itself a block or two before it was captured and beaten to death."

This is followed by four seconds of roaring audience laughter. Of course people laughed, The Vinyl Cafe's Stuart McLean is a brilliant storyteller with strong sensibilities for delivery and timing. But the times have changed and so have our collective moral sensibilities. We don't find abuse amusing anymore. People also tend to laugh when they are uncomfortable, but a theater of unease should not be mistaken for explicit consent for this kind of humour.

Letters from 100's of listeners continue to pour in every hour but unfortunately The Vinyl Cafe is currently replying that the story is scheduled to play later this month and the episode has already been recorded and delivered to CBC Radio, so "nothing can be changed." They go on to explain that this story is "tradition." Obviously, those are both poor excuses in this modern age of radio and for this modern age of sentiments.

The Vinyl Cafe is heard by over 1.5 million people every week so it is very much their obligation to do their best to not inspire any form of abuse.

Why would they drag their heels on editing this story? You'd think CBC Radio would be keen for any chance to show they are no longer tolerant of abuse and I very much doubt The Vinyl Cafe has ever received so many letters encouraging a change in behaviour. This story is recycled every year because it is their most well known story; and it is their most well known story because it is recycled every year. Familiarity has bred a golden goose for them. Unfortunately, their golden goose is also an abused turkey.

Initially, this may seem overblown, this is after all just a fictional story: Dave doesn't really exist so how can his turkey be actually abused? More importantly, this is a reflection of the many ways we all enable a culture of animal abuse and normalize it so it may continue. We even do this unknowingly and innocently. I think I even learned from one Vinyl Cafe story that it is how we make things right that we are measured. Confronting tolerance or acceptance of any kind of abuse is very important to me, and I fully expect it to also be very important to a family holiday show on our national public broadcasting station, CBC Radio. The holidays are for compassion, betterment and reflection.

Dave may indeed not be real, but his turkey abuse sure is. There have been several high profile farmed turkey abuse undercover investigations recently showing how widespread this problem is in Canada. If the CBC quietly omitted the language that normalizes or celebrates abuse, that would be constructive. It would do a great deal more and bring positive changes to our perspectives if they went even further and shared why the story is being edited. Unfortunately, they are currently not brave enough to speak out against abuse, let alone stop inspiring it.

This week Stuart McLean sat down for an interview about writing Dave and Morely stories for 20 years. He mused that this platform was the best for saying something. Presumably there is a yearning for saying something to positively influence the public good and not simply repeat the same jokes about animal abuse, year after year.

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