More Boring School Work
Response to Joy Williams “The Killing Game” The Best American Essays, 3rd ed., 2001.
The Killing Game is fiery polemic against the sport of hunting. Using the rhetoric of the opposition, Williams highlights the absurdity of the rhetoric employed by pro-hunting supporters regarding blood sport. Using strong description and citations from hunting magazines and organizations, the piece is a sort of exposé and contrast of the idealized image of hunting versus the brutal reality of blood sport.
Blood sport is hardly new. I was a sympathetic reader of this essay, though I was quite aware of the myopic position it portrayed. In eastern Oklahoma, I’ve met many who are impoverished and hunt squirrels for food. Deer hunting is big there as well, though there are many hunters that try each year and never get the chance to see a deer, let alone shoot one. Yet they buy a license and go back every year: why?
Because it’s something that is deeply engrained in their culture. Few torture animals, or shoot birds to bits as depicted in the article. They are hungry people, and it would be nonsensical to destroy what you hope to have for dinner. However, I have no sympathy for the paramilitary ethics of gun culture. They see the right to shoot and kill things as an inalienable American right. I don’t think so; I think it’s just a cultural artifact, a vestigial organ like the appendix that needs to be removed if it is inflamed, but otherwise can rest undisturbed in the body.
Williams discusses some of the fundamental western bias involved in this activity. The need to “possess” the prey, to “own” the land, to “dominate” nature. But these biases are present in our entire culture, in sports, in politics, and in capitalism. Some countries have managed to outlaw guns, to temper capitalism, or to restrict and abolish blood sport. But the “apple pie” aesthetic makes this seem highly unlikely in the US in the foreseeable future. Do I agree with Williams? Mostly. Do I think her polemic serves any real purpose? No. It’s preaching to the converted, guaranteed to irritate and steel the resolve of the opposition.
The essay was truly “over the top.” Not very fun to read and not very informative except as a rhetorical exercise where the words of the enemy are ridiculed rather than dissected in a reasonable fashion. It marshaled the same military spirit used by the hunters to destroy its enemy. Every time I read such an “us vs. them” polemic, even when I agree with it, it makes me wonder how we managed to survive this long by vilifying our neighbor. It’s just another escalation in a long chain of war. It serves only to inflame the body politic by generating divisiveness, rather than heal it through conciliation or suggestion of an alternative. Particularly in the light of current events, the entire issue seems quite trivial.