Battleship Potemkin is a proletarian propaganda film that reveals the cruel Tsarist regime, which gathers support for the revolutionists. The rotten meat in the first part of the film is the initial instigator of the revolution. The meat is a symbol of the sailor’s commodification and is a key device in the propaganda tactic that elicits empathy in the viewers of the film.
Today, meat is a commodity that many people use as their main protein source, or source of energy. Aboard the battleship Potemkin, meat serves the same purpose—to feed the mass of sailors. However, the disregard of cleanliness of the meat reveals that the Tsarist leaders regard the sailors as merely objects in their regime, not as people. This can be seen in the scene in which Dr. Smirnov tells the sailors that the meat is edible when it clearly isn’t.
Dr. Smirnov’s complete ignorance to the maggots in the meat reveals the power structure of the Tsarist regime and further supports the idea that the sailors are merely commodities to the bourgeoisie. In the screen shot, the sailors immediately line up in his presence, revealing their subordination to him. He has complete dominance over them; thus, his comments about the meat cannot be disputed. The fact that he declares the meat edible reveals he has no concern for the health of the sailors—he is treating them like objects of no importance. This is ironic because one would think that he wants the sailors to be healthy to run the ship; however because they are thought of as owned objects, in the mind of the Tsarist bourgeoisie, they can “buy” and replace ill sailors with new ones who will gladly accept the job offer. Thus, the inspection of the meat functions as a means of revealing the harsh commodification of the sailors on the battleship Potemkin.
As mentioned earlier, the rotten meat in the film is the initial reason why people begin to revolt. It highlights the fact that the Russian government should be overthrown and that the meat is a key element in the propaganda that supports the Russian revolution against the Tsar. In Odessa, the citizens surround the martyr, Vakulinchuk, who is “killed for a bowl of soup.”
This spurs the citizens of Odessa to sympathize with the sailors, which indirectly causes the audience to sympathize, as well. Because citizens of Odessa are greatly disturbed by the inhumane treatment, this reveals that not only are the sailors fed up with the cruel regime of the Tsar, but also the citizens on land are unhappy. The citizens of Odessa just needed a push (which in this case is the meat) to make them realize that they live under a corrupt government. This furthers the propaganda tactics of the film. Since the citizens of Odessa become so upset, which can be seen by the masses that flock to see the dead body, this spurs the audience to realize that there are bigger problems than rotten meat that affect their lives. The unification of the masses also supports the idea that people can come together to combat a single force. Therefore, the audience will be more likely to support a revolution.
In Battleship Potemkin, the rotten meat not only shows how the sailors as a whole are a commodification in the eyes of the Tsarist leaders, but also, helps ignite the revolution in Odessa, which helps the propaganda techniques of the film.