A suspect identified as Yegor Komarov, 23, has been arrested in Sortavala, Northern Russia, following a car accident on November 22, 2021, in which he crashed into a road safety barrier and a headless body fell out of his car boot, according to the news agency Tass.
Komarov and two other men fled into a nearby forest after the crash, leaving behind spades, ropes and sacks in the car boot.
After he was apprehended, Komarov admitted to being a cannibal and stated that he ‘likes killing people’. He confessed to stabbing and killing another man in a park in Sosnovka Park St Petersburg last year for the sole purpose of tasting human flesh, and said he had sliced off the tongue and fried it in butter before disposing of the body.
“When he died, I gutted his neck and tasted the blood and meat. However, because the knife was blunt, cutting the meat was difficult, and the taste of his veins was unpleasant. But I probably would have liked another part of the body.”
He said he regretted killing that victim:
“I killed that one in Sosnovka in vain, It turned out he was not tasty.”
A video of the court hearing was leaked to social media:
“I nibbled to just take a taste.” “Are you ready to eat a human again?” “Do you have some?”
Online media 47news reported that during the interrogation police took Komarov’s handcuffs off, and he screamed: “What are you doing, I can bite you to death!” “Police thanked Komarov for his confession, twisted his arms behind this time and put the handcuffs back on,” the report said.
Komarov is interested in ‘anarcho-primitivism,’ ‘elixirs of immortality,’ and psychedelic music, according to his social media profile on the Russian site VKontakte.
One comment on social media said:
“You walk on the streets, stroll in the parks without any clue that some pedestrian who looks like an ordinary man, could turn out to be a man eater”
Such is the nature of modern, domestic cannibalism. To the contemporary cannibal, humans are just one more animal, and if you are going to eat pigs or cows, why not add one more mammal to the menu? Fried in butter of course.
This website purports to sell leather goods: shoes, belts, coats, etc., all made from human body parts. And like many websites in this competitive time, they offer free shipping!
The campaign is from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and started back in June with a poster from celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz, who has photographed Kim Kardashian, Ricky Martin, Katy Perry, and Paris Hilton, as well as being a judge at America’s Next Top Model and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
PETA’s press release stated that leather production isn’t just cruel, but also contributes to the climate crisis, releasing hazardous chemicals. The World Bank has also cited cattle ranching as one of the largest drivers of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Farming, transporting and killing animals for meat and leather is responsible for a very large proportion of global greenhouse emissions.
Here’s the poster near Penn Station in New York.
On the Urban Outraged website, the items for “sale” reveal human faces, human teeth, and oozing blood. Each item is named after an individual who was “killed” for it and is “reviewed” by customers. (“I’m not really a boot person, but I’m glad Meg was, because these are the best boots I’ve ever worn.”). Users can even send a fake “gift card” to their friends’ emails using the form on the last page.
After the initial page, the website gets deadly serious and asks:
Why is it OK to raise sheep just to shear off their wool?
Why is it OK to kill a cow for leather?
Why aren’t you horrified by what’s already in your closet?
“While Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People (all owned by Urban Outfitters, Inc.) don’t actually kidnap, abuse, or kill humans or other animals for their products, they do sell skin and other animal-derived materials from farms and suppliers that exploit and kill animals. Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for wool, cashmere, leather, down, mohair, silk, and alpaca fleece production. Sheep are often beaten, stomped on, and kicked in the wool industry. Goats exploited for cashmere scream out in pain and terror as workers tear out their hair with sharp metal combs. Later, their throats are slit in slaughterhouses and they’re left to die in agony. And cows are routinely beaten and electroshocked for leather at some of the largest suppliers”
Many cannibal films featured in thecannibalguy depict not just the consumption of human flesh but the use of other body parts, particularly skin. Think of Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, wearing a mask made of human skin. Or Jame Gumb, “Buffalo Bill” from The Silence of the Lambs, making a woman suit because he is frustrated at being diagnosed as not a true transsexual. Both characters, as well as Norman Bates from Psycho, were based on the real-life “Butcher of Plainfield”Ed Gein, who did kill a couple of women but mostly sourced his body parts from gravesites, and produced a bewildering array of chairs, waste-baskets, bedposts, bowls, corsets, masks, belts and lampshades from human skin and bones.
The use of human skin, including for binding books, is known as anthropodermic bibliopegy. Human skin used as a medium goes back into prehistory, and was reportedly popular among the Assyrians, who would flay their prisoners alive and display their hides. Perhaps the best known modern examples were the lampshades of Nazi concentration camp guards, but it was also not uncommon among slave owners, who felt that, since they owned the slave, they could use his or her body as they wished.
People have expressed shock and outrage at PETA’s new website, but that really was the point. Such atrocities against humans were carried out by people who saw nothing particularly wrong with what they were doing. The workers who skin cows and sheep, minks, snakes and crocodiles, dogs and cats and so many other animals are just, they say, doing their job. But that acceptance of appalling suffering for the sake of meat or clothing brings us closer to the possibility of adding one more species to the list of edible, flayable animals.
You don’t often see Siberia in the news, particularly remote towns like Gaz-Sale. But this month (November 16, 2021 to be precise) it made a splash on news sites, with the sentencing of Vladimir Yadne for killing three people and eating their flesh, washed down with vodka.
The murders took place on March 6, 2021. The court heard that Yadne had gone out to buy some hard liquor when, on his way home, he saw a 51-year-old man and 59-year-old woman embracing. It is not clear if he knew them – the total population of the town is 1,800 so it is quite possible. At any rate, he got into an argument with them, and then stabbed them both to death.
Feeling hungry, perhaps from all the exertion, Yadne then cut pieces from the bodies and ate them raw, with his vodka, according to Inna Nosova, the head of the criminal justice department in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region.
“He came in with alcohol on him, and drank it as he was eating the meat.”
Apparently finding the taste to his liking, Yadne later that night stabbed to death another 52-year-old man and ate some of his flesh too. He then tried to dump the bodies (or what was left) but was arrested a few hours later, after police found them. He confessed to the murders and even helped police by recreating the crimes.
He underwent psychiatric evaluation, which determined that, at the time of committing the crimes, Yadne was ‘sane’.
The case has at least put Gaz-Sale on the map, with reports in the British tabloid press, US news services, Hindi Newstrack and even withinnigeria.com. One way to get famous I guess. The really fascinating question for me relates to the role of cannibalism in determining the newsworthiness of a story. A man who killed three people in northern Siberia would barely rate a mention in a Russian news outlet, let alone on websites all around the world. Take a bite of the corpses, though, with or without vodka, and everyone wants to know. The conclusion has to be that we are more interested in what happens to dead bodies than living ones.
Yadne has been sentenced to life in a very uncomfortable Siberian prison colony.
This new Showtime series (this first episode aired November 14 2021) crosses many genres. There’s the whole Mean Girls range of stories about the angst of going through puberty and surviving high school, where everyone else seems desperate to drag you down in order to lift themselves up. There’s the Lost genre of survival stories that started with Robinson Crusoe (first published in 1719) and its bastard child, Gilligan’s Island. There’s psychological thrillers and murder mysteries with a twist like Psycho. And, of course, there is cannibalism, the subject of this humble blog. Yellowjackets is all the above, with an ensemble cast.
Yellowjackets jumps between eras, with the main characters portrayed by teenage (or close) actors in 1996, and adult actors as them 25 years later – now. The pilot episode shows a terrified girl running barefoot through the snow before she plunges into a bear pit. Then we’re back in grungy 1996, surrounded by teenage angst and jealousy, following the girls in a champion New Jersey soccer team called the “Yellowjackets” as they prepare to fly from New Jersey to Seattle for a championship match. A yellowjacket is a predatory wasp who attends picnics and can get very antisocial very quickly. It’s a nice metaphor.
The plane crashes in a frozen Canadian wilderness; it’s one of those stories where our pretensions of human supremacy are stripped away by the fragility of our technology and the awesome and indifferent might of nature. Right away, we are thinking Alive, the story of the Uruguayan footballers who crashed in the Andes in 1972 and survived on the flesh of their dead teammates. The action moves back and forth from the pre-crash period to the present, as the survivors interact and relive their guilt and PTSD, which have been festering for 25 years. There is a deep, dark secret which is not fully revealed in the first episode (although it’s mentioned prominently in every review). We see that girl falling into the trap and being impaled on stakes, her bloody body being dragged through the snow then strung from a tree and sliced open.
We see her meat being cooked and served to a group of girls in animal furs and full savage garb, including the horned headdress that is the symbol of primitive cannibals in so many movies.
Later episodes will show that the girls didn’t sit about and discuss divinity like the Uruguayan footballers in Alive. We viewers are in on the secret – they split into warring, cannibalistic tribes and survived on human flesh, but not necessarily already dead bodies like Alive. These girls go hunting girls. And like many cannibal narratives, including most of the “evidence” presented by missionaries and explorers to demonstrate the savage nature of the people they were invading, the evidence is often more to do with the detritus left from the feast than the feast itself.
This is Alive meets Lord of the Flies, but with girls. Although the movies of Lord of the Flies did not offer any explicit cannibalism, Golding’s book made it pretty clear that the other boys intended to do to Ralph what they did to the pig they captured, i.e. a barbecue. This post-war (well justified) pessimism about the way our thin veneer of civilisation can so easily be stripped from us was the origin of both the misanthropic 1960s view of society and, later, reality TV; and the two are profoundly related.
Lord of the Flies showed us that boys will be boys (AKA vicious cannibals). Mean Girls showed us the hidden savagery in teenage girls. Yellowjackets puts these together and shows girls as cannibals, which makes it that much more sensational. We’ve seen cannibal girls in films like, well, Cannibal Girls, where the cannibalism derives from supernatural sources, and The Lure, which shows us the dangers of hooking up with human/fish hybrids, but this may be different, unless the producers decide to introduce some sort of entities driving the cannibal mayhem (please don’t). So far, Yellowjackets seems to be much more interesting than just another Wendigo story; it’s what Freud (in The Future of an Illusion) warned about when he spoke of the “instinctual wishes” for cannibalism, incest and murder that live in each of us, and are “born afresh with every child.” We are barely capable of civilised interactions in high school, so how are we going to relate to each other in a disaster? We are animals who deny our animality, and we normally consume each other in such polite, socially acceptable ways. Until we don’t.
The series was created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson (Narcos and Dispatches from Elsewhere), who were inspired to do the show when they saw the scorn social media keyboard warriors poured on the idea of a female Lord of the Flies. In a New York Times interview, Lyle recalls an on-line comment she read that inspired her to conceive Yellowjackets:
One man’s comment read, “What are they going to do? Collaborate to death?” Lyle recalled what she immediately thought in response: “You were never a teenage girl, sir.”
The first episode is directed by Karyn Kusama, who seems to specialise in movies about female rage, including the wonderful Jennifer’s Body.
With 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this is one to watch, and maybe keep watching.
In 2012, police in Garanhuns, Brazil, arrested for murder Jorge Beltrao Negromonte da Silveira, his wife, Isabel Pires, and his mistress, Bruna Cristina Oliveira, who all lived together in a group they called “The Cartel”. Residing with the Cartel was a small child named Vitória, who had been the daughter of their first victim. In 2018, all three adults were found guilty and sentenced to decades in prison.
However, the worldwide public interest in the crimes did not stem from their murder of three young mothers, but from the fact that the Cartel stripped the flesh from the victims and baked them into salgados, salty, deep-fried pastries, which were then sold to the unsuspecting public. To the disappointment of the media, the pictures of the perpetrators showed them as three ordinary Brazilian people, not the monsters the public had expected.
This case, one of about one hundred reported incidents involving cannibalism since the year 2000, is of particular interest because it incorporates many of the issues considered in this blog.
Reports of cannibals from earliest times almost invariably labelled them ‘monsters’, the same term the media used in this case to describe the members of the Cartel. Silveira muddied this even further by accusing his mistress Oliveira of being a witch, who had tortured him and Pires into taking parts in “purification” rituals.
Cannibalism has been a useful accusation against colonised peoples since the time of Columbus, and Brazil has been particularly singled out in the literature as offering indisputable examples of “savage” cannibalism. Gananath Obeyesekere, one of the foremost scholars of cannibalism, writes that he omitted a chapter on the Tupinamba of Brazil from his book Cannibal Talk, which casts significant doubt on the existence of systemic savage cannibalism, partly because of the passionate commitment of Brazilian scholars to the “empirical reality of conspicuous anthropophagy”.
Contemporary narratives of cannibalism, particularly since Jack the Ripper, assume that there are psychogenic bases for the act; de Silveira was found to have written a book called Revelações de um Esquizofrênico(Revelations of a Schizophrenic).
Unknowing cannibals are often described as “innocent” in that they are offered meat without recognising its provenance. The enduringly popular Sweeney Todd, the ‘demon barber of Fleet Street’, is supposed to have, in the late eighteenth century, murdered his customers and furnished their flesh to his accomplice, Margery Lovett, who turned them into meat pies for her unknowing but enthusiastic customers, just as the Cartel did with their salgados. In neither case were there any misgivings because, according to da Silveira, human meat tastes almost the same as beef.
Reports of cannibalism usually leave readers hungry for explanations – the motivation of the act. The Cartel chose its victims partly on the basis that they were tackling overpopulation by killing off single mothers who were unable to care for their children. The Cartel had its own methods of selecting victims, involving not just their unmarried maternity but a set of rules provided by “spiritual entities” which determined which women were evil and should be killed, based on the numbers on their identity cards adding up to 666.
At the heart of this case lies an ethical question: is there a fundamental difference between a salgado (salty) snack full of beef and one filled with human meat? The premise of arguments for such a difference is the concept of anthropocentrism, the belief that (some) humans can transcend their disowned yet undeniable animality, and attain a higher moral status than other animals, such that intentionally killing a human is ‘murder’ while killing other animals is considered commercial harvesting. This sometimes called “speciesism”, except that there has never existed a culture where humans honestly considered all other humans their equals, or sometimes just human narcissism.
Silveira was sentenced to 71 years in prison, while his wife received 68 years and his mistress 71 years and 10 months. This is on top of another conviction in 2014, where the trio were found guilty of killing Jéssica Camila da Silva Pereira. Silveira was sentenced to 23 years in prison for that murder, while his wife and mistress were each sentenced to 20 years.
New Zealand has produced some world class directors; think of Jane Campion, or Peter Jackson. Not a lot of cannibal movies unfortunately, considering the country’s reputation – Jackson’s first feature film Bad Taste had a lot of humans being eaten but, unfortunately for this blog, the eaters were space aliens, so not technically cannibals. Jackson’s Braindead was closer, involving zombies. Can you be a cannibal if you are undead? We’ll have to consider that question some time, perhaps when we run out of movies about living cannibals (probably about the time we get to net zero).
But Danny Mulheron gets right into freshly killed, cooked (and sometimes raw) human body parts in this film. Like Jackson’s Bad Taste, Fresh Meat was Mulheron’s first feature film, and it’s an impressive inception.
The plot involves a family of Maoris, recently converted cannibals, being taken hostage by some bumbling criminals. Rina (Hanna Tevita) is home from her lesbian explorations at “St Agnes Boarding School for Young Maori Ladies” when a bunch of criminals break in to her home to hide from the police, having killed some prison guards to free their boss from a prison van.
But that’s Rina’s second shock of the day; the first was finding her parents’ new eating regime in the fridge.
Turns out her Dad (Temuera Morrison from Once Were Warriors and The Mandalorian) is reviving an “eighteenth century post-colonial religion” – he has found the prophecies of Solomon Smith and become a “Solomonite”; he now believes that eating people (“taking their life-force”) will cause the family to flourish.
Yes, among the satire on Maori and Pakeha cultures, there is the odd dig at Christian transubstantiation.
Mum (Nicola Kawana) produces hugely popular cooking shows and books, she’s a Maori Nigella, into marinades, and she describes the meat she uses:
Rina is shocked that her brother (Kahn West) would agree to eat human flesh, until he tells her about the pork and rosemary pies that her family sent to her at school. It wasn’t a choice.
The subsequent bloody altercation with the criminals is set to fill the larder nicely. Dad tells the last living criminal, Gigi (Kate Elliott), who is hanging upside down ready for slaughter, that
“ritualistic cannibalism dates back to 1000BC to the Hun phase in Germany. The Bible itself refers to the siege of Samaria in which two women made a pact to eat their children. The Aztecs, the French, the Brits… Your ancestors probably did it. I know mine did.”
There is lots of Maori humour, and not all relating to cannibalism. Dad is an Associate Professor at the University, and blames white racism for his failure to be given tenure as full professor. When the cops knock at the door, he complains
Rina’s neighbour is a white boy who is in love with her. When he appears and is invited in (“we’ll have him for dinner” says Dad – yes, Hannibal lives), he points out that he is a vegetarian, but politely eats what turns out to be a human testicle, only getting suspicious when he spots something else on his plate.
Even when they have him tied up in the basement ready for slaughter, he politely tells them
Dad replies with the best line of the movie:
“Oh, we’re not Maori cannibals. We’re cannibals… that just happen to be Maori.”
But Dad has his own agenda: to become immortal:
“By eating the still-beating heart of my youngest son, I’m halfway towards immortality. But I still need to drink the blood of my virgin daughter.”
Doesn’t quite work out that way, Rina’s not a “virgin” after that scene in the shower with her girlfriend. Or does it?
What is it about virgins and blood sacrifices anyway? Are the rest of us not good enough to sanitise humanity’s sins with our polluted blood? We exploit the innocent and gentle ones, and then expect that, by slaughering them, we somehow clear our guilt at doing so. Remember the line from Leonard Cohen’s song Amen:
Tell me again When the filth of the butcher Is washed in the blood of the lamb…
Anyway, the takeaway from this movie is that Maoris, traditionally accused of cannibalism, can be Maoris and cannibals without being “Maori Cannibals”. The two identities can be separated, even as they coexist. There are other families of cannibals who are not defined by their race; consider the Mexican film Somos lo que hay or its American adaptation We are what we are.
In cannibal studies, it is not unusual to be buttonholed by someone who has become aware of your field of interest and told with great solemnity “the Maori were cannibals, you know.” I tend to politely thank the informant for sharing a “fact” that almost everyone “knows”. But if I am feeling feisty, or have had a few drinks, I might invite them to unpack that statement – which Maori, whom did they eat, and what evidence are you presenting for this?
The British invaders of New Zealand were keen on declaring that the indigenous peoples, of wherever they went, were cannibals – it made their job of invading, enlightening and/or exterminating the inconvenient locals so much easier. But there is some evidence that much of the talk of Maori cannibalism was either misinterpretation or just slander – imperialists in the age of expansion tended to use words like “savage”, “barbarian” or “cannibal” pretty interchangeably – if you had dark skin and didn’t speak English, you were probably a cannibal, with no evidence required other than some hearsay from conquistadors or missionaries. But if an alien civilisation invaded Earth and found a copy of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales in a bookshelf, they might well assume that it was a history book, and that we were all cannibals.
Ganath Obeyesekere’s excellent book on cannibalism in the South Seas makes clear that the oversimplification of Maori culture and mythology (and perhaps humour) probably led to often tragic misinterpretations of local customs. In fact, he says, it is likely that many Maori were convinced that the British were cannibals. And who could blame them? If those aliens mentioned above put down Grimm’s Fairy Tales and took a look inside our industrialised slaughter factories, where 135,000 farmed animals are killed every minute, they would assume we were far more bloodthirsty than they, or the Brothers Grimm, could have imagined. No wonder they don’t make contact.
It is interesting to consider the differing responses to cannibalism in the family of this film. Social Psychologist Melanie Joy calls the ideology surrounding and justifying the eating of meat, dairy and eggs “carnism” – a set of largely unconsidered beliefs in three beliefs that start with the letter N: that these products are “normal, natural and necessary“. We drink milk, eat meat, scramble eggs, based on the insouciant assumption that all these things are normal, necessary and natural (and, a fourth N, nice to taste). The family members reflect these views, but in relation to a different food source: Homo sapiens. Dad thinks eating humans is “necessary” in order to absorb the life force of the victims, and make himself immortal. Mother is a celebrated chef; for her, eating meat is “natural”, and where it comes from is not an issue, as long as it cooks well and tastes good. Rina’s brother finds the whole thing “normal” – his parents do it, and he wants to learn from them, and make them proud. Only Rina objects, although she was willing to eat the pies they sent her when she thought they were bits of a different animal. She’s like a vegan at a barbecue, heart-broken to see her family so unthinkingly accepting the death of animals, or at least, those that she can see and talk to.
If you don’t like gore and body parts (and violence and lesbian kissing) then you might want to skip this movie. But if you don’t mind all that, and like a rip-snorting plot, plenty of humour, a little suspense, and lots of intertextual winks to cultural foibles, some (perhaps unintentional) observations on the ideology of carnism, as well as some great acting and direction, then watch Fresh Meat. Recommended.
A tweet making waves the other day from film director James Gunn reminded me of the many hours I wasted spent as a child watching the seemingly endless travails of the seven castaways on the TV series Gilligan’s Island. Being shipwrecked on a desert island with Mary Ann and Ginger did not seem such an ordeal to my pubescent mind, except every now and the group would be threatened by the arrival of – yep – CANNIBALS!
English professor Priscilla Walton observes that her first encounter with cannibals was also on her television, watching the enormously popular show. The series ran from 1964-67 over some 98 episodes plus occasional reunion movies.
Gilligan’s Island (GI) was a clever reboot of the first English language novel, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (even mentioning that story in the closing song).
“No phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury. Like Robinson Crusoe, they’re primitive as can be.”
Unlike Defoe’s story, Gilligan (Bob Denver) was not a lone survivor of a shipwreck but the hapless “first mate” on a little cruise boat, The Minnow. Gilligan, his skipper (Alan Hale) and five tourists left a tropical port for a three-hour tour, and instead were marooned on an uncharted island, apparently interminably. Various commentators with too much time on their hands have suggested that the seven castaways represent the seven deadly sins (e.g. Ginger was lust and Mary Ann envy). I’m not going near that one, fascinating as it is, because this is a cannibal blog after all. And cannibalism is neither illegal, nor one of the seven deadly sins. It just misses out on all the gongs.
Robinson Crusoe worried ceaselessly about his lack of company, eventually adopting Friday, a local ‘savage’ whom he rescued from a tribe of cannibals. He also spent a lot of the book and some of the movies worried about what to eat, and nervous that Friday might eat him. Like those of us marooned on this planet rather than an island, major preoccupations are always fear and appetite. Appetite is all about food and sex. Fear is about being killed and perhaps eaten.
The obsessions of Gilligan and the other all-white islanders were the same. Of course, it was the sixties, so no sex could be shown except for the movie star, Ginger (Tina Louise) who used her flirty charms to inflame and coax the men into various (non-sexual) activities. But – what did the castaways eat? Well, it was an island, so presumably the would eat sea animals, as well as various plants (including some that grew from a box of radioactive seeds in one episode). There seemed to be a lot of coconut pies.
Then of course, like Crusoe, there were the natives who, like most depictions of indigenous peoples until fairly recently, were assumed to be primitive savages and so, ipso facto, cannibals. No evidence was presented, and no one was ever eaten. From the earliest days of the movie, and well before, indigenous peoples who were being dispossessed by European explorers were declared cannibals, with no evidence needed other than their lack of “civilisation.” Think of movies like Cannibal Holocaust and the various Italian movies of that period, or old classics like Windbag the Sailor, Be My King, or the early racist cartoons like Jungle Jitters.
Sheer Eurocentric racism of course, as I suppose was the choice of the Irish name “Gilligan” for the show’s clown, a boy/man who is usually responsible for thwarting their rescue through his clueless blunderings. The “natives” were invariably people of colour wearing grass skirts with bone piercings in ears, noses, etc and horns on their heads. This probably is the image that springs to mind even now when a cannibal scholar mentions cannibalism in polite company – primitive savages who threaten our safety and bodies if we fall into their clutches. Of course, as Walton points out, the island was the traditional home of the “natives” – it was Gilligan and the castaways who were the intruders, introducing baffling technology and probably a few new pandemics to the locals. There’s a comprehensive study of GI Natives on a Gilligan fandom page. Yes Virginia, there is a GI fandom site.
But the cannibal has moved on. From the outsider who was only sighted by explorers or conquistadors, the cannibal has firmly come home and, since the time of Jack the Ripper who boasted of eating the kidney of one of his victims, the vast majority of reports of cannibalism involve people in urban cities and communities eating their neighbours. Generally, they are dismissed as psychotic personalities who know not what they do. That discourse has become ever less convincing, with cannibals like Fritz Haarmann or Armin Meiwes or even Jeffrey Dahmer all seeming to know exactly what they were doing. The ultimate example of the civilised, enlightened, urbane cannibal is of course Hannibal Lecter, who simply sees eating inferior or rude humans as no worse than eating pigs or fish. Unlike the other examples, Hannibal is fictional, but perfectly represents the cultural trend toward the modern, domestic cannibal.
So, who would the cannibals have been in a re-booted Gilligan’s Island? There are clues. While the men seem largely asexual (Gilligan and the Skipper could perhaps be considered bunk-mates, while the Professor is married to science and Thurston Howell III to Lovey and therefore to asexual domesticity), the women are given standard feminine stereotypes of the virgin (Mary Ann), the whore (Ginger) and the symbolic mother (Lovey). Barbara Creed‘s “The Monstrous-Feminine” emphasises the importance of gender in the construction of female monsters, and so it is not totally surprising that when people turn their fantasies beyond the wholesome storyline of the series, it is the gentle, subservient Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) who becomes the knife-wielding cannibal.
The 2002 comic strip Cool Jerk (above) depicted Mary Ann, or maybe a look-alike, as a cannibal named Mary Annibal. The Silence of the Lambs had swept the Oscars in 1992, and the sequel, Hannibal, had come out in a blaze of publicity in 2001.
More recently, James Gunn, the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, Suicide Squad and many others (and a known provocateur with a wicked sense of humour) suggested that he and Charlie Kaufman had wanted to restart “Gilligan Kimishima” as a cannibal movie. He tweeted an image of his entry in a Twitter trend that asked people to “pitch a movie with two pictures, no captions.” He juxtaposed the GI tribe with Theodor de Bry’s 16th century engravings of the Tupinambá in Brazil, a series of engravings he based on the sensational accounts of Hans Staden and Jean de Léry, both of whom gave graphic descriptions of cannibalism (hey, it sells books).
Gunn went on to explain that this was a true story. He and Charlie Kaufman had pitched a movie version of Gilligan’s Island to Warner Bros. in which the starving castaways would kill and eat each other. Unfortunately, the creator of GI, Sherwood Schwartz (and later his estate) refused to let it go ahead.
Such a shame. Of course, most of the original GI actors are now dead (Dawn Wells sadly died from COVID-19 just before New Year), but with modern artificial intelligence and deepfake technology, who says we couldn’t have a cannibal feast on an avatar Gilligan’s Island? It would at least be white meat.
Bob’s Burgers is a hugely popular animated sitcom that has been running since 2011. It has been renewed for a 12th and 13th season, and has spun off a comic book series, a soundtrack album and a movie which, although delayed by the pandemic, is due for release in 2022. TV Guide ranked it among the sixty greatest TV cartoons. Bob and his family have even appeared in a “couch gag” in an episode of The Simpsons, a show that has had its own cannibal stories. This first episode, Human Flesh, aired on Fox on January 9 2011 and was viewed in 9.41 million homes in the US.
Bob’s Burgers is due to reopen after a series of disasters, staffed by his family – his wife Linda (John Roberts) and three kids. The Health Inspector arrives to investigate reports that Bob’s burgers are made out of human meat from the crematorium next door, a rumour started by youngest daughter Louise (Kristen Schaal from Flight of the Conchords and Last Man on Earth) at her school ‘show and tell’.
The Health Inspector is a jilted lover of Linda and tells Bob (H. Jon Benjamin):
“We’ll test your meat. If it contains human flesh anything above the four percent allowable by the FDA, then your restaurant will be closed, and you, sir, will be going to jail!”
The public response is to run screaming from the door, although one old lady says she’d try it, and at least there’s no waiting line.
An angry mob gathers outside the shop.
Bob addresses them, appealing to them to consider the living, rather than the dead.
“we mistreat the living and no one seems to care, but once that body’s dead, it’s ‘don’t mistreat the dead body, hey, don’t eat the dead body, that’s the ultimate crime, right? Murder, no big deal; cannibal? Whoaaa!”
The burger shop is saved when the “adventurous eaters’ club turns up wanting to try human flesh burgers, willing to pay $50 each. The health inspectors return to announce that their test showed “100% Grade A beef” but Bob shouts them down.
The restaurant is saved. But we never get the answer to Bob’s question. Why is it OK to mistreat each other (and the unfortunate animals who are made into his beef) but not eat the human dead, the only beings in this equation who cannot suffer?
The show’s creator, Loren Bouchard, told The Hollywood Reporter that the original concept of the show was a family of cannibals running a restaurant, but Fox talked him out of it.
Seems like a missed opportunity to me.
Here is the original concept cartoon, with Linda assuming that a ring on a corpse’s hand (from a pile about to go in the meat grinder) is her anniversary present from Bob.
Last week’s blog was not a film or TV story but a real event, the account of displaced people being kidnapped for ransom by Mexican cartels, and chopped up for their meat if the money was not found. This segues nicely into this week’s blog, in which a boy disappears and the parents suspect a cartel kidnapping, but in fact (spoiler alert) he has joined a group of feral cannibals.
The response to news of cartels, kidnapping and cannibalism is to shake our heads and ask how people can DO such things. The assumption behind such a question is that we have ‘progressed’ and, while cannibalism may have been a part of our savage past, it should have been left behind in today’s enlightened civilisation. Yet we are aware that cannibalism continues to exist, and that it can reappear when food is short, as in the siege of Leningrad, or for revenge like the man who killed and ate up to thirty women because he resented their rejection of him, or sexual attraction and desire to keep the person with us (or within us) like Jeffrey Dahmer and Armin Meiwes, or just for fun and profit, like Fritz Haarmann.
Sigmund Freud wrote of an ORAL SADISTIC or CANNIBALISTIC STAGE, which coincides with the time babies’ teeth start to erupt. We recognise our mother’s breast as external to us, and wish to retain ownership, by biting and swallowing it. At the same time, the aggression is tempered or sometimes instead magnified by anxiety at the potential loss of the other (mothers don’t like to be bitten) or fear that the much stronger parent will instead choose to devour the child. Our first instance of logical reasoning – if I can bite her, she can surely bite me harder. These early influences may sink into the sludge at the bottom of our unconscious minds as we grow up, but they remain there, and can reappear at any time in different forms.
It is tempting, therefore, to see acts of cannibalism as simply throwbacks – to our earlier social models (savagery) or to psychotic deviance dredged up from tortured unconscious memories. Civilisation, we think, can conquer such eruptions. But not always, and not in this episode of American Horror Stories, another episode of which we considered recently.
This one is set in, and against, nature. A man, woman and three-year-old boy are driving into Kern Canyon National Park in California for a camping trip. The father wants to return to nature, get them out of their comfort zone. The mother points out that “out of the comfort zone” is equivalent to “uncomfortable”, and the little boy wants a TV. A phone call on the way tells us that the father is a lawyer defending a “greedy-ass corporation” – the type that exploits and destroys the environment for profit. This is going to be about nature, red in tooth and claw, and revenge.
The boy, Jacob, disappears while camping with his family. Ten years later, his father, Jay, is approached by a hunter who tells him that he believes Jacob is alive, kidnapped by a drug cartel running pot farms in the park. The hunter leads Jay and Jacob’s mother, Addy, into the woods to look for him. The Park Ranger, who for some reason is Australian, warns then not to go, but of course they head off and, like last week’s Mexican abduction, it’s a trap.
Deep in the woods, they are attacked by wild, human-like creatures, who eat their abductor. Jay and Addy seek refuge at the Park Ranger’s station, where the Ranger tells them that the National Park Service was created by the government
“…to keep Americans from things that would kill and eat them.”
These are feral humans, he says, possibly descendants of Vikings, or of mountain men who never came down from the mountains, or maybe Civil War soldiers who never surrendered. Or people who just checked out, had enough of the world. In any case, they have gone back to nature, gone feral, and so are a threat to the civilised, cultured humans who use and abuse the natural world. The Ranger tells them there are are tribes of ferals in every National Park – over 2,000 people have vanished from the parks over the years. There are certainly people living off the grid in the wild areas of the world, but not necessarily feral cannibals. Why is it kept top secret?
“Governments need their citizens to believe they are in control. Plus, the National Parks generate billions of dollars in revenue every year. Capitalism, baby! If people knew there were feral cannibals running around, attendance might drop off.”
The Station is attacked by the feral cannibals, and the ranger is killed. Jay and Addy are taken to the leader of the creatures, seated on a throne of skulls, looking remarkably like a Renaissance Jesus.
Of course it is Jacob (speculation is already mounting that Jacob, the cannibal king, might get his own spin-off series). Jacob seems to recognise his parents, but when one of the creatures asks Jacob who they are he answers, “dinner“. Freud would have enjoyed the feast that follows: the “primal hordes” overthrowing and eating the father; Jacob, frozen in his infantile cannibalistic phase, tasting his parents’ blood.
This episode is also a study in what Georgio Agamben calls the “anthropological machine”, a paradigm that we use to separate ourselves from other animals. In the pre-modern machine, non-humans were depicted as human-like to draw the distinction – we spoke of werewolves, minotaurs and cyclops; in this episode they evoke Bigfoot or the Australian equivalent, the Yowie. But the modern anthropological machine instead declares certain humans to be less than human or else inhuman – race, ability, gender or social status may be used to divide us into human and “other”. The ferals are inhuman because they have regressed to savagery, chosen nature over civilisation. For hundreds of thousands of years, we existed in small clans, and anyone outside the immediate family was assumed inhuman. We need to fear, and sometimes eat, the outsider, because we evolved to do so.
We like to think that this is all ancient history. But our sanguine belief in social progress lulls us into supposing that that acts of cannibalism (as depicted in this blog thecannibalguy.com, for example), are simply aberrations, throwbacks to a savage past, or unfortunate outbursts by deranged or psychopathic individuals. What this confident diagnosis ignores is the inherent violence of the human species.
As sociologist Zygmunt Bauman points out, the civilising process has simply presented a “redeployment of violence”. Instead of hunting animals or, more recently, slaughtering them in the street in what used to be called “the shambles”, we now mass produce death in huge factories called abattoirs, which are placed away from residential areas and surrounded by high walls and sophisticated security systems. Violence against our fellow humans has been similarly redeployed, with drones and smart bombs replacing hand to hand conflict. Fear of social sanctions or maybe divine punishment keep us in control of our internalised aggressive drives against our fellow citizens, at least some of the time. But at any moment, for reasons usually unclear, we can loose this violence, together with the voracious appetite that characterises consumerism, and redeploy it against adversaries. Call it feral, as per this episode, or perhaps, instead, call it authentic, cannibalistic humanity.
The news serviceNoticias Telemundo recently reported a case of kidnapping, murder and cannibalism which, it seems, may not be so uncommon among refugees trying to cross Mexico into the United States.
Noticias Telemundo Investiga interviewed 32 migrants kidnapped from 2019 to 2021 in Mexico and the U.S. Their relatives were made to pay $1,500 to $5,000 as ransom to criminal gangs for the release of the kidnapped migrants.
The latest story follows the ordeal of a young man named David Sanabria and his little girl Ximena, who are from Honduras.
David Sanabria had arranged a coyote (smuggler) to escort them to the Texan border, where he planned to turn himself and his daughter in to U.S. immigration authorities and seek asylum. But when they reached Reynosa in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, the coyote turned them over to a cartel gang. David and other captives were repeatedly made to call relatives to ask for a ransom, and were beaten if the relative said they couldn’t afford it. The victims are not US citizens so relatives cannot ask for help from the FBI, and in many cases the local police in Mexico are in the pay of the cartels.
If the ransom was not paid by the deadline, the captives would be murdered. David said:
“With a machete they dismembered them, killed them, and the only thing I could do was cover my daughter’s eyes and ears so that she would not know what was happening, nor would she have those memories for her whole life.”
After that, the corpses were cooked and the surviving migrants were made to eat the human meat, “so that there would be no trace of anything — that’s what one had to eat.” The term “innocent cannibal” is usually reserved for those who are not aware that human meat is in their meal, but in this case, I think we can apply it to David and Ximena.
At night, the kidnappers performed satanic rituals. “They knelt down. They had images of the devil, of Santa Muerte. They made pleas. They made offerings. It was something horrible,” he said. Several survivors who spoke to Noticias Telemundo Investiga talked about the kidnappers’ “cult of death”.
David’s brother borrowed money from his co-workers, friends and relatives and even asked strangers for money on the streets of Nashville. He eventually raised the $7,500 ransom and David and Ximena were released. David waded across the Rio Grande with Ximena on his back. So they made it to the US border where they were detained for three days, but then were returned to Mexico. Under Title 42 to curb the spread of COVID-19, migrants who are detained at the border are returned to Mexico while their petitions for asylum are processed. This year, 100,000 migrants a month are being returned to Mexico.
In August, the U.S. granted David and Ximena humanitarian parole so they could enter the country and live with his brother in Tennessee while they await the results of their asylum petitions.
This is Ximena in the shelter.
The United Nations estimates there are over 82 million people in the world who have fled their homes, of whom 26 million are refugees, half of those under the age of eighteen. That means one in every ninety-five people on earth has fled their home as a result of conflict or persecution.
Imagine, if you can, being a refugee, anywhere in the world. You are fleeing from a place which doesn’t want you, and where people are possibly threatening to imprison or kill you, to another place that also does not want you and may send you back, and almost no one will support you en route. Men, women and children are helpless, easy prey for unscrupulous smugglers and criminal gangs. If you disappear, no one will find you, particularly if you have been eaten.
Migrant kidnappings happen all the time. Mexican authorities at the beginning of September 2021 reported a total of 697 migrants kidnapped and rescued in just 10 days. These are not statistics. They are people like David and Ximena, who may be robbed, kidnapped, beaten, killed, forced into cannibalism, and even eaten themselves, as the world ignores them. In a world where we capture, kill and eat some 350 million animals every hour of every day, is it really surprising that we sometimes do the same to members of our own species?