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The Art Issue

The VICE Guide To Capital Punishment

I executed my dog today but it just didn't have enough of a spectacle for me.
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Κείμενο Bram
01 Δεκέμβριος 2003, 12:00am

Photo by Gen Kay

I had my shi tzu put down today. He wasn’t vicious. He wasn’t sick. He wasn’t even old. I’ve just always wanted to witness an execution and, in the absence of capital punishment (let alone public executions) in this fine country of ours, poor Beggy seemed like my only real chance.

But now I feel kind of guilty. Don’t get me wrong. It’s got nothing to do with the obvious fact that he had done nothing to deserve being prematurely ushered through the doggie door of mortality. I mean plenty of clods who were cooked, capped, choked, broken or left to the buzzards by higher bureaucratic powers didn’t actually do the crap that ultimately consigned them to their fate. No, I feel guilty because his death just didn’t do it for me. As the sedatives kicked in and the poisons shut his faithful little heart down, I couldn’t help but feel something was missing. And then it hit me. Where the fuck was the spectacle?

Foucault knew it. Norman Mailer knew it. Shit, even Phil Donohue knew it. If we want capital punishment to work it’s gotta look big. And messy. And sensational. What were those stupid Americans thinking while they strove so intently to make their executions more ‘humane’? Okay, so we have to ignore that little electric chair debacle where corporate interests in perpetuating electrical power as the panacea for all of society’s ills outweighed the self evident reality that there was nothing humane about exploding eyeballs, smoking skulls or repeat jolts when the first couple just didn’t work. But otherwise all means of execution have been geared towards making death that little bit more palatable for all involved. I mean there are few other places where sixteen year olds are done in with as much compassion as good ol’ apple pie loving America. Yet those yanks have missed the whole point.

Perhaps next time George W flies one of his spare spy planes over his great ally China’s airspace, he should take a look at how they do things over there. Lest I be accused of being some kind of pinko-commie loser, I’ll state at the outset that I can’t think of many things the Chinese have got right when it comes to law and criminal justice. But take note, George. One thing those wacky Chinese bureaucrats got right was making their executions a major spectator sport. None of that ‘five people behind a glass panel while we gently put that might-have-been-a-murderer guy down’ shit. No, they herd more people into a stadium than we can hope to squeeze into the MCG on Grand Final Day and the lucky bastards get to watch spiffily dressed army guys shoot a few crims in the back of the head. And then they get to see a soccer match to boot on the brain splattered pitch. Bonus.

Now, I’ve never really wanted to enter the capital punishment debate. I tend to dislike the idea of my government stooping to the level of the common murderer in my name. There is also no credible proof that execution has any deterrent effect. However, I have come to realise that I am part of an ever increasing minority. So I figure that if we’re gonna go the way of those beacons of human rights across the Pacific I should at least do my part to make sure we get it right. I’m not going to claim to have come up with any wonderful new and exciting ways to kill our murderers, traitors and (yep, we got a new category) terrorists. But then again I don’t have to. Indeed, I need only hark back a thousand years or so to the glory days of execution; when Crown sanctioned murder was both artform and bloodsport. And, like any self respecting fashionista, I want to give ‘em a good 21st century facelift, put ‘em on parade and rate ‘em according to the three things that count the most: pain inflicted, spectacle value, and, of course, fun. Watch closely Little Johnny. Cos this one’s for Beggy.

CRUCIFIXION
So we’ve all seen Jesus Christ Superstar. Or The Last Temptation of Christ. Or, at the very least Life of Brian. So I need not explain the process in too much detail. Suffice to say, some poor sod is stripped, nailed to a cross and left to die atop a pretty hill. Not as well known is how someone actually dies during crucifixion. Shock? Not really. Blood loss? Nope. Exposure? Occasionally. In fact the main cause of death is suffocation resulting from the restriction of the ribs, lungs and diaphragm when left hanging by outstretched arms. A fucking painful and drawn out death. But let’s face it, after the initial nailing and maybe five minutes worth of gazing at a nude guy doing his best biblical pose (add two extra minutes if the crucifee is a girl), crucifixion is a pretty damn boring event. On the upside, though, to paraphrase Victor Moore’s classic line on execution: “If it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”
Pain: 4 McVeighs
Spectacle: 2 McVeighs
Fun: 1 McVeigh

BURNING AT THE STAKE
Though it fell out of fashion in 1834, burning reigned supreme as the big daddy of execution methods for a good 1200 years beforehand. And here’s why. Watching someone scream in agony as they are engulfed in flames, smelling their own flesh burning around them, makes for damn good family entertainment. And that’s exactly what it was. A fully fledged family festival. With street performers, stoat-on-a-stick and carni games. Mel Brooks sure wasn’t kidding when he sang “The Inquisition, What A Show”. So, in our modern age of family dysfunction, where families no longer spend quality time together, there is definitely something to be said for getting back to the popular old ways. Roast rapist anyone?
Pain: 4 McVeighs
Spectacle: 4 McVeighs
Fun: 4 McVeighs

IMPALEMENT
Back in primary school I was always taught that if you had a hot iron pole shoved up your ass, pushed through your body and forced out your mouth, death would be instantaneous. But seems Miss Davis led me astray. You see, if done properly, impalement results in a prolonged and decidedly agonising death. In spite of the mutilated innards, choking sensation and one hell of an ass-ache, impaled people were known to live for days propped up like newly planted trees. If we wanna really see how it’s done without attracting the ire of those pesky civil libertarians, we can pay a quick visit to Algiers and Tripoli, where impalement is still a method du jour. However, before you fork out your hard-earned tourist dollars I should warn you that, much like crucifixion, there isn’t much to see after the initial ass ripping. Maybe we should just go skiing instead.
Pain: 5 McVeighs
Spectacle: 2 McVeighs
Fun: 4 McVeighs

BOILING
Cooking as a means of entertainment has really taken off in recent years (Jamie Oliver, Nigella Bites, etc), so I reckon this just might catch on. Unlike prawn crackers, which get dropped into boiling oil, the prisoner in this case gets to feel the oil heat around him, from the comfort of room temperature to the searing pain of full boil (assuming he doesn’t expire beforehand). Now that’s what Icall good pucka! Pain: 4 McVeighs
Spectacle: 3 McVeighs
Fun: 3 McVeighs

FREEZE DRYING
Those despicable Nazis were onto something when they attempted to freeze dry body parts of living victims and then smashed them into little pieces like glass. The logical extension of this practice is freeze drying the whole person and taking to them with a good whacking stick. Okay, so it’s never been tried as a method of execution, but you gotta give it to me—it’s a whole lot cooler than some of the other methods on the books. An obvious downside is the speedy death that follows total immersion in liquid hydrogen, but this is offset by the possibility for incredible spectacle. Dictate a prisoner’s final meal to include wrapped lollies and little toys and you got yourself a human piñata.
Pain: 1 McVeigh
Spectacle: 4 McVeighs
Fun: 4 McVeighs

THE HORN
While in some cultures rams horns are blown in religious ceremonies, in others they are shoved deep into a condemned person’s ass. In those latter cultures, the horn is merely a means to an end (if you’ll pardon the pun), because, in a procedure similar to felching (but minus the gerbil) an iron rod with barbed iron spikes is fed down the length of the horn up into the intestines and then twisted around until all that is left of the person’s innards is a messy shit-and-bile puree. Unfortunately any resultant spectacle value is quite decidedly offset by the pungent stench that inevitably spews forth from the breached and broken orifice.
Pain: 4 McVeighs
Spectacle: 2 McVeighs
Fun: 3 McVeighs

THE WHEEL
It is hard to imagine any method of execution that rates as high in all criteria as that old Franco-Germanic favourite called The Wheel. Here the prisoner’s limbs are broken and his newly malleable body is affixed backwards onto a giant wooden wheel. Upon said wheel can be found big metal spikes that, at first, only press against the poor prisoner’s skin. That is until the wheel is pushed along the street or rolled down a hill, when they tear right through, ever more deeply, whilst the prisoner is crushed by road detritus from front on. I don’t mean to influence government policy too strongly here but what better way to raise revenue than to have massive public wheel races? Yes. Think of it. A public forum where you get rid of up to ten or so undesirables in front of a crowd of beer swilling, popcorn munching spectators, all of whom have placed bets with hillside bookies. This is Gladiator for the new millenium. In fact, I’m gonna try it with my next dog.
Pain: 5 McVeighs
Spectacle: 5 McVeighs
Fun: 5 McVeighs

BRAM