“It’s primitive as can be”: GILLIGAN’S ISLAND (1964-67)

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.

Cannibalism on a desert island (or in an inaccessible place like the Andes) is a long tradition, and a rich source of humour. Above is the cover of the Horror Society’s Summer 2015 issue. Can you spot the Cannibal Holocaust reference?

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.

Satanic rituals and forced cannibalism. How many refugees share this fate?

The news service Noticias 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.

They were put in a shelter by the National Migration Institute of Mexico, and Al Otro Lado, which provides free legal assistance to migrants from Baja California, helped David fill out an asylum application.

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?

It made me think of the last line of the film Cannibal Holocaust:

What’s your favourite cannibal movie?

Of all the (sometimes) wonderful cannibal movies and shows I have reviewed in this blog, my personal favourite is still The Silence of the Lambs with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal the Cannibal. It was the first film I reviewed on this blog (does that mean I liked the others less each time? Not at all), and interestingly, it does not actually feature any cannibalism, although we hear a lot about it.

Fun fact!

So I was pretty chuffed to find that The Silence of the Lambs is the favourite horror movie of the State of Utah, according to the Horrornews.net website. They used information from Rotten Tomatoes and Google Trends, and partnered with Mindnet Analytics, to analyse how interest in horror movies varied in each US state and the District of Columbia (DC). The results are presented on their website:

Best Horror Movies: Which Does Each US State Love Most?

This survey covers all horror, whereas in this blog we concentrate on the cannibal, so please let us know your favourite cannibal film (or TV show, but if it’s a series, your favourite episode) either in the comments at the bottom of the page (after a few suggestions) or at cannibalstudies@gmail.com. I’ll let you know the results.

Cannibal – the game (Deodato 2020)

You may remember the seminal cannibalism movie Cannibal Holocaust which I reviewed last year:

https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/07/21/cannibal-holocaust-deodato/

Well, yes, now there is going to be a game based on it, written by the Director, Ruggero Deodato. Set in Borneo, the Cannibal video game will allow players to take on the role of a variety of different characters. We don’t know who those characters will be yet, but more information will follow.

Based on the artwork, it seems as though Cannibal will attempt to replicate the found footage style of the movie, which is something that’s been done in games like Outlast and Resident Evil 7. With one of the innovators of the found footage genre at the helm, though, it will be interesting to see if Cannibal will be able to take this style of horror game to the next level.

Cannibal will launch in November for iOS, Android, PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One.