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Writing Animals: Broadcast of the Foxes

Originally written in October 2014

On Thursday coming, my brother and I will present a brand new piece of music/fiction fusion called Broadcast of the Foxes. It's the first outing for one of a new batch of short stories I've recently penned on the theme of animal representation. In recent weeks I've written a horse story, a cat story and this fox story, to go with the pre-existing Tyson/Dog in The Alarmist magazine issue 2, and rabbit story Hutched. You may think I'm building up something of a bestiary, and you may well be right.

I've been preoccupied for a while now about the representations of animals in our cultural output, everything from movies and cartoons, to media and adverts. On the whole, I think we do it wholly wrong. If we are not ridiculing cats on youtube, we are over-exaggerating the perceived majesty of an eagle or tiger or a bear on a nature documentary. We give penguins jaunty cartoon music, and lions grand sweeping African orchestral scores. Advertisers glamorise the human/pet relationship, make light of animals as producers of our foodstuffs, and stick random animals with products that they have no actual connection with. In our fictions animals are reduced to metaphor or anthropormorphisation: there to either show the human hero as caring, wild, natural or in danger, or they are entirely stripped of any animal essence besides the aesthetic and the cliched. They entirely serve the human subject. Is it possible for animals to reclaim something of their true status? Or must they always be secondary to homo sapiens? That's what I'm trying to explore in my new animal stories.

In Broadcast of the Foxes the focus is on the media. I wanted to write about foxes because they have a curious relationship with the urban landscape. Sort of half-dog, half-cat, they are deeply entrenched in our notions of the night-time. They are strange wild-eyed interlopers, supposedly sly, up to no good. And yet so beautiful, enigmatic, mysterious. All of those things in myth, and none of them in reality. Scavengers, chicken-thieves, predators, with that bizarre scream-bark call often heard in horror films. Sexy? Foxy? Or mangy and dirty? Fantastic, or feral? Do they belong here with our bins, or out there in the countryside being hunted by bored rich people with violent frustrations?

Here in dear old England, foxes in the country should be left well alone, while urban foxes are not to be trusted. When I sat down to write about foxes, I knew it had to be the urban ones. A memory resurfaced of a news story about a fox who came into a house and bit off the tip of a baby's finger. The media tried to kick it into fury, Boris Johnson condemned the fox as a pest and nuisance, and for a while it became a hot Angry Person in Local Newspaper topic. There was talk of culls, retribution, of thinking of the children. There were no questions over why a baby was left unattended by an open door for long enough for a fox to creep in and have a nibble. And then this ridiculous 'experiment' surfaced:

The 'baby' in that video is in fact a dead pig. The fox is not trying to eat a baby, it's trying to eat a pig. Because it can smell pig. It has no concept of prams or baby clothes. It does not understand the tape of baby cries. It just wants a bit of bacon. And won't someone please think of the piglets?

Of course foxes aren't here to eat our children, but the idea of it is one of those delicious nuggets that the insipid local newspapers would happily have it's local people fearfully believe. You get the same thing when a so called 'dangerous' dog has mauled a child, an even more delicious nugget for the greedy medias. Tyson/Dog touches on that particular theme in more detail and it never fails to get me riled up. It is never, ever, ever the dog's fault, never, ever. Animals are so often so conveniently mute.

For Broadcast of the Foxes that became my starting point. Indignant local people, held in a frustrated place by the slimy hand of the sly media (there's a reason they are called Fox News). Soon the word 'Broadcast' wanted very strongly to feature, as did the satellite dish that decorates most pictures of a 'local' neighbourhood. And then the image of a stalking, spying fox peeking through a window, hunting for mischief, came creeping to mind. The rest followed quite nicely and evolved into something typically odd.

The fox himself became an absurd, abstract, Trickster figure (which is classically a fox or wolf), with bizarre, unreal abilities and the attitude of an amused onlooker. He is, like the other animals of my developing bestiary, kept almost entirely separate from the agency of the narrative. He barely contributes to it. He is almost incidental to proceedings, and yet wholly central to the concept and meaning. There are reasons for this: I have long decided that I cannot, and should not, attempt to present an actual, realistic, proper and pure animal, because it is impossible to do that, impossible to know that. Instead I have to go to the other extreme: absurdity. And when something gets necessarily absurd it often has to step away from the narrative in order to exist in it's own odd realm. And somewhere out there in that realm, in that place of the strange and uncanny, some kind of real meaning can be glimpsed, hinted, suggested. Does that meaning then lead back to the real fox? Does it get my point across? Only a reader can decide.

Broadcast of the Foxes will be performed at Words vs Music at Montpellier's Cafe, NQ on the evening of Thursday 9th October. Rick has produced a suitably edgy musical accompaniment with a twitchy rhythm and plenty of barks. Stalk the streets and find us. Peer through a window if you have to. But don't stay out too late...

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