A long overdue Patreon bonus essay for you. Last War in Albion will be back next week with a chapter of nonstop formalist gubbins. The Abominable Bride review will be up late tonight. Happy New Year’s, and may 2016 bring the end of western civilization. Tomorrow brings the end of the annual sale on my back catalogue.
“Burn the land, boil the sea.” – Theme from Firefly
In Warren Ellis’s 2013 novella Dead Pig Collector the protagonist, Mister Sun, describes his job in terms of the title phrase, explaining that in China (“a place rife with pollution and disease”) pig farmers often face large-scale deaths of pigs due to the aforementioned pollution and disease, which presents a major challenge. “A small farm – and, in places like Shanghai, they’re all small farms – cannot spend what little time they have disposing of tons of dead pigs instead of maintaining their remaining assets.” And since the penalties for selling such pigs into the market are steep, “there are people who have learned to effectively and safely dispose of swine carcasses. If you have a stack of dead pigs, and you don’t want to go to prison, then you pay for a dead pig collector.” As Mister Sun explains all of this, he is pouring bleach through a pair of holes cut into a plastic sheet laid over a bathtub in order to break down the blood within. Mr. Sun, see, is a hit man specializing in the efficient and untraceable disposal of the resulting corpse.
Many things are in the mix here – most basically this story from Foreign Policy, although Ellis changes the economic situation around in his story, eliding the fact that the government-hired dead pig collectors are in practice not getting work because the illegal pig traders offer a better economic deal – but one, almost certainly, is Deadwood, a television show that Ellis has raved about on many grounds, but most notably (and appropriately) for the way in which you want to call everybody a cocksucker for hours after watching an episode.
See, Deadwood has a minor but fan-favorite character in the form of Mr. Wu, the de facto leader of the Chinese population in Deadwood, who, among the many social roles he performs within the camp, keeps a bunch of pigs that are routinely used to dispose of the many bodies that pile up in the camp. Wu is an odd and somewhat troubling character. He’s a clear fan favorite, but for uncomfortable reasons mostly related to the stereotypical pidgin in which he speaks and the boundless enthusiasm of Keone Young as he shouts “COCKSUCKA” or his endearing mispronunciation of Al Swearengen’s name as “Swedgin.” And, of course, there’s something fundamentally depressing about the way in which the narrative reinforces its characters’ marginalization of the Chinese population by giving them, basically, a single speaking representative who, due to not speaking the same language as any of the other characters, rarely actually gets a plotline.
But for all of this, Wu’s presence in Deadwood is a potent image, and not just for the fact that it’s relatively novel to actually acknowledge the role Chinese immigrants played in American expansionism.…