Gobble gobble: Thankskilling and Birds Aren’t Real reflect new Marxist canon.


Ryan Yau

Illustration by Ryan Yau

By Bryan Liu, Living Arts Co-Editor

I’m an addict.

I can’t stop watching low-budget, B-list horror flicks that are certifiably shit. I would consider films like “Sharknado,” “Llamageddon,” “Dead Sushi,” and “Velocipastor” to be just as integral to my upbringing as the classic Disney movie or ballpark Blockbuster. But this year, one picture in particular really stuffed my turkey: “Thankskilling.” 

With a budget of just $3,500, it would take about six iterations of “Thankskilling” for an Emerson student to pay for a semester of housing—which still wouldn’t be worth it. But one instance of “Thankskilling” is all it takes for viewers to rethink Thanksgiving all together. This six-to-one value ratio dwarfs even Black Friday standards of savings—so go watch the movie. 

On Nov. 21, President Biden will pardon a turkey as per Thanksgiving tradition—a holiday rooted in patriotism. But by pardoning the turkey, Biden is choosing not to taste the structural and historical implications associated with the holiday.

After being pardoned, the aforementioned turkey will be sent to a children’s farm in Virginia, where it will usually die within a month. Turkeys are bred for one destination: the table—and the government wants them to know their place. 

The turkey is a prominent symbol in working class Americana: an edible participation prize we get once a year for doing our job. We only eat turkey because our country wants us to—nobody in their right mind would consistently eat a bird that costs more than chicken and requires hours and hours of salt brining and butter rubbing to be even remotely palatable. So, when the president chooses not to eat turkey, Biden implies he is above the working class because he has the privilege of choice: to eat or not to eat. The central question cements a divide between social classes: the American proletariat and the bourgeoisie. 

American mercy—whether it’s directed at Indigenous traditions or the working class—is a myth.

The structural connotation behind Thanksgiving naturally prompts a Marxist interpretation of “Thankskilling.” Hundreds of years ago, the prominent shaman Feathercloud was dishonored by the bourgeois pilgrim Chuck Langston. In response, Feathercloud necromanced a turkey corpse with a homicidal demon, who reappears once every 505 years to slaughter as many white people as possible. 

The film stars ‘Turkie,’ the profanity-prone proletariat bird in question, who wields an ax—the same weapon that Marxist icon Raskolnikov used to kill his landlord in Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” The ax is a symbol of proletariat uprising against the bourgeoisie—eating the rich one swing at a time.

In just 70 minutes of runtime, Turkie ax-murders various archetypal precedents of the horror genre, each one meant to embody the upper-class tier of capitalism: Ali the ditz, Billy the redneck, Darren the nerd, and Johnny the jock in escalating feats of violence, before finally being incinerated into submission by Kristen, the nice one. 

The Marxist lens reimagines Turkie as a working class hero. These gruesome moments invoke the inherently exploitative nature of the worker and the capitalist in Marx and Engels’ manifesto: violence is class mobility. 

In the scene where we meet Kristen’s father, a token landowning bourgeois sheriff character, he’s dressed in a full turkey costume for the upcoming Thanksgiving parade. He opens the door to meet Turkie, who is wearing Groucho glasses, and falls for Turkie’s disguise: mistaking the homicidal bird for a non-threatening little person. The sheriff takes pity on the disadvantaged Turkie, inviting him inside for drinks. Turkie on the other hand, isn’t a fan of classism. 

A couple minutes later and Kristen’s dad is thoroughly dead—but only because Turkie axed him a bunch and cut his face off. Later, when Kristen and the rest of the ensemble cast visit her house, they find that Turkie is wearing the sheriff’s severed head, assuming his new role as a capitalist by brute force. The disguise is so convincing even Kristen and the others are fooled into thinking Turkie is the sheriff. 

Here it’s clear Turkie has finally manifested enough class mobility to become one of the upper class: a bourgeois bird in his own right. 

But if there’s anything the Birds Aren’t Real movement has taught us, it’s “the birds work for the bourgeoisie.” In other words, the proletariat works for the bourgeoisie.

What began as a joke online has spiraled into a global conspiracy, claiming a government sponsored bird genocide between 1959 and 1971 replaced all birds with identical surveillance drones so they could collect data on citizens. According to Birds Aren’t Real official lore, the CIA assassinated John F. Kennedy because of his restraint to continue the national avicide. They shot him because he supported the working class.

The conspiracy will have us believe Kennedy was a Marxist: in the sense that he backed the birds—and later became a martyr of the proletariat by association. According to the website, Kennedy was shown a prototype of the Turkey X500 by CIA officials before his death—a robot that specializes in tracking and apprehending escaped criminals as well as killing larger birds like falcons and eagles. 

While Turkie from “Thankskilling” committed violence to create upward class mobility, the Turkey X500 shows how the bourgeoisie engineer violence to keep the proletariat oppressed. It’s much easier for the bourgeois to watch the proletariat tear itself apart than to actually do it.

“After Kennedy was killed, the CIA started rigging elections,” Birds Aren’t Real writes. “They would only allow candidates who were anti-bird and pro citizen surveillance to win the Presidency.”

Anti-bird Presidents are the ones who pardon turkeys every Thanksgiving—a gesture I never understood, and a holiday I’ve now taken as a performative mockery of the working class. In a highly-publicized event, bourgeois capitalists offer gratitude to the working class, or birds, who’ve made them successful by choosing not to accept their participation prize.

Native American writer and National Book Award winner Tommy Orange offers the decision back to the American people: believe in American mercy—or don’t. 

With blackout Wednesday, gorge Thursday, Black Friday, Thanksgiving weekend, and CyberMonday, the modern Thanksgiving narrative just seems like an excuse for young people to spend money, get lit, and get laid. 

Do that instead.