The IT Crowd is a British comedy series about a couple of socially inept geeks who are employed as computer support in a fancy corporation. They are Moss – Richard Ayoade (Travel Man) and Roy – Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, Girls), and their manager Jen – Katherine Parkinson (Doc Martin, Humans). It is a hilarious study of the absurdity of ‘normal’ interrelationships, portrayed through the eyes of the social outsiders. Moss and Roy are great with computers, but clueless with humans.
In Season 2 Episode 3, they realise their dependence on each other’s company has made them seem like ‘an old married couple’, so Moss decides to get out and see other people. He signs up for what he believes is a course of German cooking. But the cook is Johann (Philip Rham, who played a Death Eater in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Moss goes to see Johann, who is based on the Rotenburg Cannibal Armin Meiwes, who is hoping to cook him.
Johann has placed an ad saying “I want to cook with you.” This is roughly parallel to Armin Meiwes, who was a German computer technician and “vorephile” (a person with a sexual fetish for eating, or being eaten by, another human). He advertised in 2001 on a fetish website called The Cannibal Café for “a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”. The only reply that seemed sincere was from a man named Jürgen Brandes, whom he killed (or at least assisted to suicide) and then ate over several months. Like Meiwes, Johann wants a volunteer – he is into homicide, but not murder.
Moss is amused to discover the misunderstanding.
Johann is very disappointed, because he really wants a volunteer. This is exactly what happened with Armin Meiwes, who had interviewed several men before finally finding one who was actually willing to be killed and eaten. In one of the great lines from any cannibal show, Moss reflects
Roy is impressed with the story Moss tells at work next day.
Jen demands to know why Moss didn’t call the police, because
Moss is right; surprisingly it’s only illegal if it is done without consent in most jurisdictions. The legal problems arise with the slaughter before the eating. Then Roy decides he wants to consent, just so he can watch a pirated movie on Johann’s big-screen TV.
It’s a hilarious episode, particularly if you are an aficionado of cannibal studies. When the cops arrive, it’s not to arrest the cannibal, but to nab Roy and Moss for video piracy.
Cannibalism is usually classified as horror, but is often recategorised to comedy. The serial killers like Dahmer and Chikatilo are rarely considered humorous, although the light-hearted TV series Rake started off with its own interpretation of the Meiwes case. But the ‘savage’ with the grass skirt and the bone through his nose has been fair game for comedians since the earliest movies like Be My King (1928) and Windbag the Sailor (1936) as well as cartoons like Jungle Jitters and television shows like Gilligan’s Island. Cartoons are full of ‘savage’ cannibals, despite anthropologists having long since relinquished the colonial belief that all colonised peoples are people-eaters.
Cannibalism is useful as a humorous allegory for the limit of civil behaviour. When comedian Jon Stewart was asked by Late Show host Stephen Colbert to say something nice about President Donald Trump, he hesitated and eventually blurted “Donald Trump – is not – a cannibal”.
Colbert followed this up a year later suggesting Trump eats human flesh, but only “it’s very well done with some ketchup”. Essayist Katha Pollitt wrote in the subsequent election year that getting rid of Trump was so important that she would “vote for Joe Biden if he boiled babies and ate them”, a reference to the Sicilian tyrant Falaride who, Ateneo reported, “boiled babies and ate them” and even ate his own children, according to Aristotle. Cannibalism is an ideal hook for humour, because it is the extreme example of carnivorous virility and often encapsulates abuse of power.
What we find outrageous and therefore humorous about the Armin Meiwes case is not his appetite for human flesh, but the fact that his victim volunteered and even encouraged him to fulfil the agreement. But isn’t that what we all do when we cede our power to corrupt or inept leaders? Perhaps we are laughing at ourselves.