Monday, December 31, 2012

Pigs, Sheep and Wolves

The animal fable is at least as old as Aesop. And Simon himself used animals as human stand-ins in the song "At the Zoo."

But the most famous modern example is probably Orwell's Animal Farm. Here, Simon uses a similar set of creatures to represent various aspects of humanity.

First, we meet a pig. He's a "barnyard thug" who usually gets his way: "...nobody's gonna argue with him/ He's a half a ton of pig meat."

(This verse notes that the pig sleeps on straw but calls it a "rug," This line or two always seemed forced to me, existing only to rhyme with "thug." Simon must have agreed, because the entire concept is ditched in the In the Blue Light version and is now just "makes his bed in a puddle of mud." This, in turn, is somewhat pedantic and unnecessary-- we all know pigs sleep in mud-- but at least it isn't forced and distracting.)

Next, the wolves. While wild, they pose no threat to anyone in the farmyard: "Never did no harm/ Sleep all day/ Hunt till four/ Maybe catch a couple of rodents /You know, carnivore."

Last are the sheep, passive and pacific. And then, one day, like the sheep that wandered away from Moses' biblical flock: "One of the sheep wanders.../ Separated from the flock/ Where'd he go?"

Sure enough, he gets picked off. A crime scene is declared. Is there any evidence that might point to a potential suspect? "Got a gash as big as a wolf's head." Well, there you go. Case closed.

Except... what's the pig doing? "Wallowing in lanolin/ He's rubbing it into his pigskin." Lanolin is "wool grease, especially when refined for use in ointments and cosmetics." (m-w.com) Yes, lanolin comes from sheep.

But no one is looking for the pig! "Police going crazy/ Say, let’s get him/ Let's get that wolf." Of course, the wolf has his day in court, but sadly the "court-appointed lawyer wasn't very bright/ Maybe it was just a late night/ And he files some feeble appeal."

The wolf has one chance left-- the governor can stay his execution. But would why he, and be tagged as soft on crime... in an election year at that? "The governor says, “Forget it/ It's a done deal/ It’s election, I don't care, election!/ Let's give that wolf a lethal injection." (The In the Blue Light version is cleverer. Instead of repeating the word "election," the line is now "Objection? I don't care-- election!")

"Here comes the media"-- well, likely they have been there all along-- "Asking everyone's opinion/ About pigs, sheep and wolves." At least they suspect that the pig was involved. But it seems that they are shouted down.

From his wallow, the pig laughs. “This is hilarious/ What a great time/ I'm the pig who committed/ The perfect crime.”

But there is hope. "All around the world/ France and Scandinavia/ Candlelight vigils/ Protesting this behavior./ It’s animal behavior/ It’s pigs, sheep and wolves." (Let's pause to give Simon a nod for his "Scandinavia/behavior" rhyme! In the In the Blue Light version, France becomes "Japan," making the popular reaction less Euro-centric and better paying off the "all around the world" notion.)

The allegory works in many directions. The pigs seem to be the ones in power, whether governmental, financial, military, religious, or some combination thereof. The wolves aren't even in the barnyard-- they are the outcasts of society, minorities, useful as (to mix our metaphors) scapegoats... because we all know about those people and what they are like. And the sheep are the good citizens who try to go about their business and stay out of trouble... who get screwed over no matter what they do. 

Yes, sometimes the "wolves" do commit crimes. But a mugger can only rob one person at a time, and then only of whatever cash they have on hand. An embezzler can steal millions, from millions, and no one notices for decades. Yet, anyone who dares suggest that a business be a responsible citizen-- and not lie, cheat, steal, pollute, or impoverish people--  is declared "anti-business" and even "anti-American." 

A great book that is not a fable despite its title, Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches by Marvin Harris (which predates Freakonomics by 20 years), argues that-- to use Simon's metaphor-- pigs stay in power, remaining "big and fat," by keeping sheep afraid of wolves. I doubt Simon has read Harris' book, but I imagine he would agree.

Next Song: Hurricane Eye



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