“I’m just gonna make you my zombie”: DAHMER: MONSTER – The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Murphy and Brennan, Netflix, 2022)

This new docudrama (I can’t believe that’s a word) is quite a big deal in the highly respected academic discipline of Cannibal Studies. While many people think of Hannibal Lecter when the subject of cannibalism arises, in terms of contemporary culture (and therefore putting aside the Donner Party for now), Jeffrey Dahmer, known as the “Milwaukee Cannibal”, is a crucial figure, not least because he really existed, we know a lot about him, and we have a good understanding of what he did. Dahmer typifies the modern cannibal in that he seems so unremarkable; we have seen, and perhaps remarked at, his cool demeanour and the fact that he seemed like just an ordinary, everyday boy next door.

There have been a few Dahmer movies and documentaries, including some interesting interviews with the man himself, arranged in jail, before a fellow prisoner caved his head in with a metal bar. This new one has a pedigree though. First of all because it is presented by Ian Brennan (Glee, Scream Queens, The Politician) and  Ryan Murphy, who signed a $300 million deal with Netflix in 2018 and who brought us such enormous and terrifying hits as Glee, Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story and American Horror Stories.

Monster – the Jeffrey Dahmer Story runs over ten episodes, released concurrently on September 21, 2022. The length alone (almost nine hours) makes it more comprehensive and immersive than the other treatments. It is also different to most serial killer / cannibal documentaries and films in that it is presented not from Dahmer’s point of view, but from that of those around him – the victims, but also the family and the neighbours (who had to put up with the appalling stench of death that always emanated from his rooms or apartments).

“We had one rule going into this from Ryan, that it would never be told from Dahmer’s point of view.”

The first episode drops us into the main event – Dahmer in his Milwaukee apartment, trolling gay bars and offering young men and boys money to come home with him for a photo session, where he drugs them and attempts to turn them into love zombies by drilling holes in their skulls and pouring acid into their brains. When this doesn’t work, he has sex with their corpses, and harvests their meat.

One man escapes and flags down the police, who arrest Dahmer. The series then turns back to his childhood, his parents’ messy divorce, and the isolation which left him free to hatch his murderous plots. Later, we meet some of his victims, and his neighbour Glenda Cleveland who repeatedly tried to notify the police and FBI of what she heard, saw and smelled, but was comprehensively ignored and even threatened for her interventions.

“What do you do in there? The smell, power tools going all hours of the night, I hear screaming coming from your apartment.”

Dahmer, threatened with eviction due to her complaints, offers her a sandwich, saying “I used to be a butcher. I made that just for you.” Glenda refuses to eat it, and we know why – it looks like a chicken sandwich (and probably is).

But our willing suspension of disbelief declares it human meat, which is not kosher in any religious tradition. He tells Glenda to “eat it!”

Most of this documentary is very true to the facts as we know them, but in any re-enactment, there will be gaps to fill in or characters that need to be heard, without filling the cast list with an unmanageable number of people to remember. So the sandwich was apparently a fact, but was not given to Glenda but to another neighbour, Pamela Bass, who thought he was a generous if shy young man, and admitted that she ended up eating it.

Glenda, played superbly by Niecy Nash (from Scream Queens and Claws), is a strong woman caught in one of those nightmares where you know there is horror, but no one will believe you.

She demands to know what is in the sandwich.

“It’s just meat… It’s like a, uh, pulled pork.”

This is a regular theme of cannibal texts: they remind us that humans are animals, and our flesh and organs are made of meat. It’s a popular meme on animal rights social media sites. This one shows the real Dahmer, in case you’ve forgotten what he looked like.

Dahmer was looking for love, but he was not willing to risk losing it, so he tried to conscript his victims as undead zombies or as corpses, skeletons, or just happy meals. He showed affection – he is seen lying with his corpses, holding their hands, preserving their body parts. He loved them in much the same way that farmers often claim to love their cattle, sheep, pigs, etc, just before putting them on the abattoir trucks.

Dahmer is played brilliantly by Evan Peters (American Horror Story, X-Men, Mare of Easttown), who looks a lot like Dahmer, but with a touch of the young Malcolm McDowell – imagine Clockwork Orange but with cannibalism. If you want to know what Dahmer might have looked like forty years after his arrest, check out McDowell in Antiviral.

Jeffrey Dahmer murdered and dismembered seventeen men and boys between 1978 and 1991, thirteen years during which the police had no clue about his serial murder spree and, some might say, didn’t care much, since most of the victims were people of colour. And this is the heart of this rendition of Dahmer’s story – he was protected by the racism and incompetence of the American justice system. Here was a clean-cut white man, and people of colour disappear without trace all the time, apparently, so the police did not bother him, while the judges treated him as just a naughty boy.  Glenda’s frantic calls were met with apathy or rudeness.

He kept getting away with everything – one of the most extraordinary moments is shown in flashback in episode 2. On May 27, 1991, Glenda Cleveland called the police to Dahmer’s apartment after her daughter, Sandra Smith, and her niece, Nicole Childress, found a bleeding, naked and incoherent boy on the street who was running from Dahmer. Dahmer appeared, white and polite, and told the police that the boy was his 19 years old boyfriend.

He said the boy was drunk and they had been in an argument, and so the cops helped him take the boy back to his apartment, had a quick look around, made homophobic remarks about AIDS, and left the boy there.

The boy was bleeding from a hole drilled in his skull. After the police left, he was dead within the hour. It was later discovered that the boy was 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone, Dahmer’s 13th victim. Incredibly, Dahmer was actually on parole for an earlier arrest for the molestation of another child, who was one of Konerak’s older brothers.

When Cleveland spotted Konerak’s photo in a missing person alert in the newspaper days later, she realised he was the young boy Dahmer had claimed was his boyfriend. She contacted the police and the FBI yet again, but they didn’t even return her call. Five of Dahmer’s seventeen murders, including that of Konerak, were carried out after Cleveland began contacting police. All but three of Dahmer’s victims were non-white.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a leader in the Civil Rights movement since the time of MLK, got involved in the case despite the urgings of some of his supporters, who didn’t think the movement should be linked to “a gay serial killer who eats people”. But as he says:

“I realised it was not just a gruesome horror show. It’s a metaphor for all the social ills that plague our nation. Bad policing, underserved communities, the low value we assign to our young Black and brown men, especially if they happen to be gay.”

The old profiling stereotypes no longer work, in fact never did. Dahmer was a serial killer who was ignored by the law for thirteen years, because he was white and male. In the Soviet Union at the same time, Andrei Chikatilo was killing and eating parts of over fifty women and children, ignored by the police force, because serial killing was considered impossible in the “workers’ paradise”. But those profiles still endure: a Black man on the street is instantly suspected of criminal intent, a white man, even Jeffrey Dahmer, is largely untouchable. In that sense, society dehumanises the poor, the coloured, the disabled, just as effectively as Dahmer did to his prey.

As the philosopher Michel Foucault observed, the world outside was a scary place filled with monsters up to the seventeeth century, and those monsters were thought to be probably criminals. But in modern times, the criminal is considered likely to be a monster. Ancient monsters were recognisable – usually grotesque and often hybrids of humans and other animals. But the contemporary monster looks, speaks and eats pretty much like the rest of us. Like Jeffrey Dahmer – the boy next door.

Cannibal News 2022: PUTIN SENDS A CANNIBAL TO FIGHT IN UKRAINE

The war in the Ukraine has been one of the dominant news stories of 2022. At the time of the invasion in February 2022, Russia, a supposed military superpower, was expected to crush the much smaller Ukrainian military and swallow up the country in a matter of days. Cannibalise it, one might say.

However, the reality, after months of fighting, was that Russia did not achieve a quick victory, and might not even keep the territory it has taken. In the meantime, both sides have suffered significant losses of fighters, equipment and infrastructure. The Ukrainians estimated in mid-September that over 50,000 Russian soldiers have been killed so far.

The news this month (September 2022) is that Russia has mobilised around 300,000 “reservists” – civilians who have completed their mandatory military service, but will now be dragged back into uniform. There are two million reservists in Russia, so this is only a partial mobilisation, but it shows a level of desperation in Putin’s war machine.

But it turns out that Russia has been boosting the number of soldiers for some time, by recruiting within its worst maximum-security prisons.

A mercenary army called The Wagner Group deployed to the Ukraine back in 2014 to help pro-Russian separatists fight Ukrainian forces. British military intelligence reports that there are 1,000 mercenaries fighting there. The group has also been active in Syria and Africa, and has repeatedly been accused of war crimes and human rights abuses. They are now fighting alongside Russian regular troops in the Donbas region.

A BBC investigation identified Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” – so-called because he rose from being a restaurateur and caterer for the Kremlin – as a key figure in the Wagner Group. Many of Mr Prigozhin’s companies are currently under US sanctions for what it calls his “malign political and economic influence around the globe”. He has denied any connection with the Wagner Group.

Now a leading expert in Russia’s prison system, Olga Romanova, in the media group “Vazhnye istorii” (Важные истории or Important Stories) has reported that prisoners from the jails around St. Petersburg are being recruited to go to war in Ukraine as part of the “Wagner” army. Romanova states that Prigozhin has been visiting Russian prison camps in order to enlist convicted criminals to fight in Ukraine, according to accounts from military analysts and videos that have emerged on Telegram from Russian prisons. Romanova told The Daily Beast website:

“Putin’s plan is to recruit at least 50,000 convicts and Prigozhin, who is an ex-convict himself, has already sent more than 3,000 [including] serial murderers, robbers and at least one cannibal.”

Relatives of the prisoners report that the inmates are being promised that if the “volunteer” dies, they will pay the family 5 million roubles. If they live for six months of “service”, they will receive a payment of 200,000 roubles and a full pardon. A chilling thought for the victims (and their relatives) of the crimes which caused them to be in the prison camps!

“In 1/2 a year you go home with a pardon… there’s no way you end up back in prison. Those who arrive on the first day and don’t like where they’ve ended up are considered deserters and get shot.”

In Ukraine, Prigozin’s army is often referred to as an “army of orcs and goblins,” a reference to Lord of the Rings. “They take everyone, no matter what they are in prison for,” said Romanova in a video on the “Popular Politics” YouTube channel, as translated by The New Voice of Ukraine.

“They took a maniac who, so to speak, has cannibalism in his portfolio. He was also sent to war.”

Now authoritative sources (Twitter) tells us that the cannibal who has been recruited by the Wagner Group for the war in Ukraine is none other than Yegor Komarov, about whom this blog reported in December 2021. Komarov had been arrested in the town of Sortavala (near the Finnish border) after running from his crashed car, from the boot of which had tumbled a headless corpse. 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 St Petersburg the previous year for the sole purpose of tasting human flesh, and said he had sliced off the tongue and fried it in butter.

He sounds like a perfect guest at a dinner party for Putin, catered of course by Prigozhin, “Putin’s chef”.

Is “true crime” really “true”? INDIAN PREDATOR: DIARY OF A SERIAL KILLER (Netflix, September 2022)

The world is so full of misinformation, disinformation and straight-out lies that it is not surprising that audiences crave some truth, and podcasts and documentaries investigating “true crimes” have become enormously popular.

The first series of Indian Predator, “The Butcher of Delhi” was screened earlier this year, and this new one, “Diary of a Serial Killer” involves a confessed cannibal, so of course The Cannibal Guy had to take a look. But did he kill all those people, and even if he did, did he also eat their brains? Truth is often the first victim of cannibalism.

Raja Kolander, real name Ram Niranjan, the husband of a local politician, was suspected of murdering a journalist in Allahabad in 2000. Dhirendra Singh was a reporter with a Hindi daily newspaper called Aaj, and his body was mutilated and discarded in a river and a jungle. His head and genitals had been removed.

Police tracked the journalist’s phone records and found a call to the suspect, Raja Kolander. Kolander and his brother-in-law were arrested, beaten up, and finally confessed to the murder of the journalist. The police claimed that the murder was to stop Singh reporting on their car-theft business. But during the subsequent investigation, officers found Kolander’s diary, which listed some fourteen victims in total, including that journalist.

Although he was arrested in 2001, Kolander was not charged with the murder for a decade. During his trial in 2012, the police testified that he had admitted to cannibalism, and to burying fourteen skulls in his home. Kolander, his brother-in-law and his wife were all given life sentences for three murders, although he has appealed those convictions. Claims of cannibalism were never proven, nor were the other eleven murders, and some of those interviewed say that a few of those so-called “victims” are still wandering around. There is also mention made that the “mining mafia” had it in for Dhirendra Singh for exposing some of their corrupt practices, but this is not really explored further in the documentary. We are told, however, that Uttar Pradesh is ranked top in number of murders in all of India.

The first episode interviews the police and family of the journalist, and presents fairly damning evidence of murder. But then, some of it is just silly, such as the chief investigator saying that criminals “stutter when faced with the police.”

The evidence against Kolander is presented as it was laid out by the police, and the events shown in the documentary are just recreations of the official version, with actors playing the main characters. How legit those are is a good question, as there are several mentions of duress during the police interrogation.

The police claim that Kolander was motivated by power, and sought to acquire it by cannibalism. One victim was from the Lala sub-caste. They are considered smart, even cunning, and often accused of taking advantage of the poor. The police claim that Kolander believed he could imbibe this cleverness through cannibalism, and so this victim was killed and Kolander then removed his brain:

Then drank it as a stew. Another victim claimed to be a hypnotist, and so his brain was consumed in the hope of gaining that skill. As the investigator asks

A question to which I, for one, urgently need an answer.

Kolander then allegedly cut open a Brahmin, a member of a caste known to eat well, to see if they have larger intestines than other people. He then had to cut open a lower caste person to compare. The results were apparently disappointing. We are all equal, at least in the width of our intestines.

The second and third episodes interview Kolander in jail, another decade after the trial. He maintains that he is innocent of the murders that took place some twenty years before. He insists that he is a victim of trial by media.

The question of why his supposed thirteen other crimes went without investigation until a respected journalist was killed sheds some interesting light on the social and caste divisions in Indian society. Like Albert Fish, who in 1920s New York preferred to kill and eat black children since he knew the police would not work too hard to look for them, the racist attitudes in India to other classes, religions, and communities seem to have resulted in not much work being done on finding the earlier victims.

But Kolander himself comes from a caste which is largely impoverished, and the times were ripe for revolt by the subaltern castes – there were dacoits (bandits) roaming the countryside, and lower castes were fighting to be represented in government of all levels. It is clear that Kolander’s caste, the Kol, were considered by the upper castes to be primitive savages, recently driven from the jungles by deforestation into the life of subsistence farming, but retaining their savage traditions. It was inconceivable to them that a person from this background could own two cars, as the police claimed.

Kolander insists that he is a highly spiritual Hindu, not concerned with worldly power, and even claims to be a vegetarian, which would make eating brains tricky, although others (including his daughter) cast doubt on that. But it is certainly true that the colonial story has embraced accusations of cannibalism since Columbus – those who are poor and deprived must be savages, eaters of human flesh. Nothing they do is therefore surprising, and anything they are accused of is probably true.

Is this “true crime” documentary true? It’s impossible to know. But there are lot of holes in the story, including the fact that police brutality seems to be a standard interrogation technique, the fact that it took a decade to bring him to trial and, after another decade, his conviction (for three murders, not fourteen) is still to be decided. Also, the charges of cannibalism, which kind of make this newsworthy, were never proven in a court of law. Kolander, with some justification, says that his case was tried not in court but in the media, which published pretty much any sensational story they could dream up.

Cannibalism is perhaps the perfect exemplar of the uncanny – Freud wrote that we are most disquieted by the familiar suddenly becoming strange (remember Jeffrey Dahmer’s step-mother Shari saying he was “a nice, kind boy”) and things that should be hidden instead being revealed (e.g. the Brahmin’s intestines). But the impossibility of determining the truth is in itself uncanny, even more disquieting because our certainties about truth and lies are torn apart. A few cannibals sit down and tell their stories (Dahmer did, and so did Meiwes and Sagawa), but often the cannibal either disappears into the night like Jack the Ripper or suicides like Chase or is executed like Chikatilo. Seeing the bodies, or what’s left of them, but never knowing what or who happened to them is uncanny, and even more so when, like Kolander, the apparent cannibal denies all culpability.

Hammers and cannibals: THE HOUSE OF HAMMER (Discovery+, 2022)

Is Armie Hammer (best known for The Social Network and Call Me by Your Name) a cannibal?

Hammer is a young American actor (in his thirties) who found fame with his 2008 portrayal of the evangelist Billy Graham in Billy, the Early Years for which he won a “Faith and Values Award” from Mediaguide, a Christian review organisation. Don’t you love irony?

Hammer went on to star in several movies (including some bombs like The Lone Ranger alongside Johnny Depp and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) but he is best known for playing Oliver in Call Me by Your Name in 2017. He was supposed to star in a sequel, based on the novel Find Me, when his world turned to shit. Because he was a cannibal. Or wasn’t.

Now, a new three-part documentary on Discovery+ has gone through the history of the Hammer family, and the way the Hammers seem to treat everyone as, well, nails. Narrated in part by Armie’s aunt, Casey Hammer, the documentary makes clear that the family tree is rotten with toxic masculinity, abuse and exploitation. If we were wondering how Armie got that way, this sheds plenty of light on the question.

Hammer’s family was, shall we say, a colourful one. His aunt Casey declared,

“I know my grandfather had a dark side, but I saw my father’s dark side first hand, and I’ve seen my brother’s dark side, and I’ve just heard about Armie’s dark side. But I believe it.”

The documentary goes through the dark deeds of these generations: the patriarch and oil tycoon Armand Hammer, his son Julian, his son (and Casey’s brother) Michael, and his son, Armie. Casey said of her brother Michael (Armie’s dad):

“That’s the sign of a true monster. You can look in the mirror and not see any fault or that you’re doing anything wrong. And that’s how deep it goes with my brother. And that’s why he’s so scary, because he has no conscience.”

The first episode is about Armie’s allegedly violent relationships with young women who were often so star-struck that they would often let him get away with tying them up and biting them, among other things. He made his appetite seem like love.

In early 2021, several of Armie’s girlfriends took to social media to describe Hammer as abusive, manipulative and violent. Screenshots of his text messages appeared to show him describing fantasies (or real events) of rape and cannibalism.

“I am 100% a cannibal…. Fuck. That’s scary to admit. I’ve never admitted that before. I’ve cut the heart out of a living animal before and eaten it while still warm. Totally raw. Still warm. ‘d eat your heart if i wasn’t stuck without you after.”

“I want to see your brain, your blood, your organs, every part of you. I would definitely bite it. 100%. Or try to fuck it. Not sure which. Probably both.”

“If I fucked you into a vegetative state id keep you, feed you, watch you, and keep fucking you…Till you are so sore and broken…. I can’t stop thinking of [fucking] your actual brain.”

“…cut a piece of your skin off and make you cook it for me…. Who’s slave/master relationship is the strongest? We’d win. When I tell you to slit your wrists and use the blood for anal.”

The documentary shows a clearly nervous Courtney Vucevovich describing Armie taking her to Sedona, tying her up, and doing whatever he wanted to her.

She shows texts on her phone, but also a note that he left at her home after he stalked her and found her address.

“Armie wanted total control of me, and absolute compliance, destroying any sense of bodily autonomy.”

Then he took her to meet his Mom! But, she said, “it was like a band-aid on a bullet wound.”

In early March, Armie’s ex-girlfriend Paige Lorenze, 24, said in an explosive interview with Vanity Fair that during their time together she felt “really unsafe and sick to her stomach.” The interview claimed that the celebrity’s ex-partners have “compared him to Ted Bundy” and said he was obsessed with shibari – a Japanese bondage art form where people are tied up in intricate patterns.

Lorenze was horrified to see the accusations of cannibalism,

“Because he would say things to me…weird stuff…like, ‘I want to eat your ribs’.”

She also claimed that Hammer had carved his initial into her pubic area and licked the wound, later bragging about it to friends, and that Hammer was fixated on biting her body, saying,

”If you did not tell me to stop I would eat a piece out of you.” And he was serious too. It was like he actually wanted to eat my flesh away.

The “A” that Armie allegedly carved into Paige

On their first night together, Lorenze said Hammer insisted: ‘You can either call me daddy or sir.’ She tells us in the documentary that

“He’s obsessed with meat. I brushed it off, but I do believe that he was serious.”

Another woman named Effie whom he dated for about five months in 2020 said that he had raped her for over four hours in Los Angeles. He told her he wanted to eat her flesh, and would suck or lick her wounds if she had “a little cut on my hand.”

Most of the documentary details allegations of non-consensual sex, AKA rape, for which Armie is being investigated by detectives from the Los Angeles sex crime division.

One such text read:

“I’m not going to lie… you cryin and crawling away while I stalked you down your halway was so exhilarating”

But on the subject of cannibalism (which is what this blog is about) let’s remember that Hammer has not been charged with acting on his cannibalistic fantasies — and in fact he has denied sending those texts. Courtney Vucevovich claims that her shoulder bears evidence of his cannibalistic ways, a wound that he suggested should be tattooed into her skin to make it permanent:

But texting and sex play, even bondage and sado-masochism (if consensual), are not illegal, and Hammer clearly enjoyed both.

But if he said these things and sent these texts, and if they were just fantasies, he picked the very worst time, the apex of the #MeToo movement, to send them. Hammer subsequently lost leading roles for which he had been preparing, including in the Jennifer Lopez film Shotgun Wedding, and his agency dropped him.

In March 2021, Effie, the woman who initially came forward with abuse allegations on Instagram, identified herself and accused Hammer of violently raping her in April 2017. The Los Angeles Police Department subsequently confirmed that he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation, which had been set in motion a month prior. Hammer has vehemently denied any wrongdoing via his lawyer, who stated that “all of his interactions with [Effie] – and every other sexual partner of his for that matter – have been completely consensual, discussed and agreed upon in advance, and mutually participatory.”

Hammer was unable to see his family during the pandemic lockdown, and his marriage fell apart. In June 2021, Hammer checked into a Florida treatment centre for drug, alcohol and sex issues.

Many, many people seem fascinated by cannibalism, and one artist is already turning Armie Hammer’s explicit DMs into NFT art (non-fungible tokens – it’s a long story).

The documentary outlines Armie’s fantasies and alleged assaults, and also goes into details of the corruption and violent activities of his forebears. So that raises the question, the one that Clarice asked Hannibal, “what happened to you?” Nothing happened, Hannibal answered. “I happenedLook at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I’m evil?”

WTF? Is there a curse of the Hammer family? An evil gene? An epigenetic generational trauma that makes each new generation a bit more abusive than the last? Of course, Hannibal has some philosophy about this as well:

when it comes to nature versus nurture I choose neither. We are built from a DNA blueprint and born into a world of scenario and circumstance we don’t control.

The Hammer family have for some generations been enormously wealthy, and with wealth comes privilege. That does not necessarily lead to cannibalism (although movies like The Cannibal Club suggest otherwise), and certainly poor people can also be cannibals, but it may make the wealthy feel insulated against consequences – that is one important theme of shows like Succession. Wealth, privilege and entitlement does lead to cannibalism (not clear whether real or imagined) in American Psycho, at least in the book, (the film lingered on the murders but wimped out a bit on the actual eating of body parts).

Cannibalism is an act of domination – there can be no greater conquest of another than converting them into a meal and eventually into excrement. Hammer revealed this need to dominate in wanting to be called ‘daddy or sir’. In wanting to tie these women up so they are helplessly compliant with his every desire. In the power of watching them cry and beg. In ownership of their bodies.

The massive wealth of the Hammers demonstrates Bataille’s concept of “the accursed share”. Excess energy – in this case, wealth from the exploitation of energy in the form of oil – is spent on luxury without any public benefit, in non-procreative sexuality, in pageants and grand buildings, or else in catastrophic ways like war or sacrifice. In other words, in social terms, it must be used, or wasted. Armie Hammer used his excess energy on finding ways to control women, ultimately tying them up for the purposes of eroticism. Whether this was consensual or forced, which is what most of the women allege, is up to the Los Angeles sex crime detectives to determine. But it seems clear that privilege, particularly multiplied over several generations,

“must necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically.”

Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share Vol 1, p.21.

Excess energy can be donated – billionaires such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have pledged to give away at least half of their wealth during their lifetimes or at their deaths. Or they can expend their excess energy (wealth) on fancy homes and cars and bending others to their will. Although they usually do this less publicly than Armie Hammer did, this is still metaphoric cannibalism.

Fun fact: Rotten Tomatoes critics gave the documentary a 67% “fresh” rating, but the “audience” rating is only 5%. Most reviews, and thousands of other social media posts, doubted the veracity of the women’s claims, saying that Hammer had suffered the loss of his career because he openly expressed his fantasies. Vucekovich, on the other hand, says that after the news came out about her relationship with Hammer, she received death threats and harassing messages from Armie’s “die-hard fans.” Out of fear, she relocated from an apartment to a house where she installed cameras. “The ‘Charmies’ made my life hell,” she says. At the same time, she fielded “thousands” of messages from women who had been through something similar.

Is Armie Hammer a cannibal? He is a rich and handsome movie star from a wealthy and privileged family, who built his career on playing men who can get away with anything. He is certainly a persuasive abuser of (often much) younger women, a form of exploitative consumption that is uncomfortably close to cannibalistic ingestion.

But is he a cannibal? Technically, almost certainly not. But in his mind, in the deep, dark fissures of his unconscious, he certainly is. According to Freud, we all are.

Cannibalism in the Ukraine: GHOUL (Petr Jákl, 2015)

Ghoul is a “found footage” movie, a postmodern affectation that pretends it is a documentary that has been ‘found’ after some gruesome disaster. The genre was popularised (although not originated) by the Blair Witch Project in 1999 which, like Ghoul, had young film-makers heading off to investigate the paranormal, and wishing they hadn’t. One of its most famous antecedents was Cannibal Holocaust in 1980, which was purportedly a documentary about missing documentary makers, and was (purportedly) believable enough to lead to a court case in which the actors had to be produced to prove they had not in fact been killed in some sort of snuff movie. This was of course great publicity for the film, as was the fact that it had been banned in several jurisdictions. The very first film in the genre was probably Punishment Park in 1971, in which anti-Vietnam War demonstrators are supposedly dropped in the desert and hunted by Nixon’s cops.

The main point of interest in this film (the found footage itself being unoriginal and totally preposterous) is the fact that it is set in The Ukraine which, at the time of writing, is again suffering from decisions taken in Moscow. The “Holodomor” (literally “murder by starvation”) was an event that took place in the Ukraine in 1932-3, during which the population was deliberately decimated by the collectivisation of the farms and seizure of food stores. As starvation set in, corpses began to disappear, and the government response was simply to put up signs saying, “Eating dead children is barbarism”. Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, the history of Nazi and Soviet mass murders between the wars, examines the incidents of cannibalism in the Ukraine and Poland, and concludes “With starvation will come cannibalism”. When there is no bread or other meat, human flesh becomes the currency. Snyder describes several reports, including an orphanage in Kharkiv where the older children began eating the youngest, who himself joined in, “tearing strips from himself and eating them, he ate as much as he could.”

Pretty difficult to invent a story worse than such a reality. So to add some spice, we have in Ghoul an amateur film crew from America who are fascinated by cannibalism (as, apparently, are very many people: this blog is currently receiving over 10,000 views per month – THANK YOU for reading!) They are researching evidence of cannibalism during the Holodomor, as part of a planned television series on cannibals of the twentieth century. They are conducting interviews in Kyiv of elderly survivors of that time, but they are also hoping to interview a man named Boris who was arrested rather more recently for eating a colleague, confessed to the crime under hypnosis, but then was released, as the body was never found. He said that he was made to do it. By whom, they wonder.

The crew are taken to a local psychic/witch, who tells them that paranormal entities were behind that murder. The crew dismisses this as superstition, getting drunk and getting her to perform a séance involving a pentagram, in which they mockingly summon the ghost of Andrei Chikatilo, a notorious serial killer and cannibal who killed and partially consumed dozens of women and children in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The next morning is full of strange and uncanny events, but the crew are unable to leave for help. The Ukrainian psychic tries but fails to evict Chikatilo’s presence, with no luck: he’s back now, and killing again. The idea is that Chikatilo forced Boris, their reluctant interviewee, to kill and eat his victim. He possesses (as in takes over the body of) a cat, then Boris, who proceeds to chase the young filmmakers, screaming, through various dark, gothic passages.

WTF? (Or що за біса as they say in The Ukraine). The film’s poster (below) says “INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS”. But where is the connection between Stalin’s attempted genocide in the 1930s and the ghost of a cannibal who had been active in Russia in the 1970s and 80s and was executed by a bullet behind his ear in 1994? Well, turns out Chikatilo had a brother that disappeared during the famine, and his ever-loving mummy told him the brother had been kidnapped and eaten. This may have just been to make him behave better (spoiler: didn’t work very well). So anyway, he decided to become a cannibal, specialising in small children. A real piece of work, and not one you’d want to reawaken from the dead.

I find hand-held filming annoying even in the hands of an expert, and this lot are supposed to be a bit sloppy, so the picture is jumping all over the place, to the point of seasickness. Reminds me of my dad’s Super-8 home movies (although he didn’t have a cannibal ghost to film, just bored kids). If you are patient enough to put up with the soundtrack (annoying bangs meant to scare you) and the shaky camera, the concept of a massacre being presented through the dispassionate eye of a video camera is interesting, in that it could be interpreted as the way the universe indifferently watches the suffering of its animals as they eat each other or, more immediately, the way the world watches as Russia tries to cannibalise Ukraine.

But besides the irritating camera work and the noisy things that go bump in the night, the plot is absurd – you have a historical tragedy, an imaginary murderer and the supposed ghost of a real murderer, who is somehow able to take over cats, people (including during sex) and of course kill people. The whole thing is frankly a bit of a yawn. It somehow managed to get to 22% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the LA Times critic summing it up well:

“Ghoul” can’t decide whether it should be about cannibals, serial killers, ghosts or demons. The found footage trivializes rather than reflects the horrific events that serve as the film’s basis.

According to IMDB, Ghoul was the highest grossing horror in Czech history. It also won the Vicious Cat Award at the Grossmann film and wine festival. Not sure if that will impress you or not.

The full movie was available on YouTube last time I checked, but all the dialog is in Czech and Ukrainian. Even if you speak both fluently, I wouldn’t bother.

“Our women can’t get pregnant” A BOY AND HIS DOG (L.Q. Jones, 1975)

“Dog eat dog” is an odd expression. Dogs generally don’t eat each other. The phrase is really a euphemism for the way humans will exploit and kill (and sometimes eat) each other. Accusing the dogs is more socially acceptable, but the phrase is more about our own predilection for devouring our own kind to satiate our various hungers, particularly in times of societal collapse.

This cannibalism blog has reviewed a number of post-apocalyptic films, the best known being Soylent Green, Delicatessen, The Bad Batch, Snowpiercer, 28 Days Later and The Road. Lesser known films include No Blade of Grass, We Are The Flesh, Cadaver, The Girl With All The Gifts, Tear Me Apart and of course several versions of the H.G. Wells classic, The Time Machine.

Clearly, we love bad things happening, preferably well into the future (800,000 years in The Time Machine), and to other people. It’s Greek tragedy but set in our future, warning us of the inevitable unwinding of society and, as we have found, often the eating of the most vulnerable. In most such movies, food is the obsession of both the protagonist and the various antagonists that must be overcome.

The protagonist of such movies is almost always male, and males, in most cultures, are conditioned to eat meat. If humans are the only meat available, that will often do just fine. Other appetites appear occasionally (there was a controversial rape scene in No Blade of Grass), but Freud’s insistence on the primacy of the sexual urges is put on the backburner (sorry) when it comes to eating.

Not this one though. The film is a post-apocalyptic black comedy (we see mushroom clouds at the start, and are told that World War 4 (in 2007) lasted five days – enough time to empty the missile silos). This film is set in 2024 (well, Soylent Green was set in 2022, so now seems like a good decade for disasters). The humans who survive work together in “rover packs” or else hunt alone as “solos”. There is an implication that the rover packs are happy to engage in a bit of cannibalism, as we see a small child carried, struggling, into a campsite.

The main character is a solo – his name is Vic, and he is played by Don Johnson, who a decade later would become a huge star and win a Golden Globe for his role in Miami Vice.

Did I say main character? Arguably, the star of this film is Blood, a shaggy dog.

Blood is smarter, better informed, has an advanced sense of humour and irony (he calls Vic “Albert”, after the rather more conventional dog stories of Albert Payson Terhune), has a superb sense of smell, and can converse telepathically with Vic. But the genetic modification that allowed this telepathy (designed for war of course) also removed his ability to hunt for food. So, Vic and Blood are symbiotes – Vic hunts for food, while Blood smells out women for the sexually voracious appetite of Vic.

In this ultimate extension of what Barbara Creed calls “aggressive phallicity”, the frontier of the rugged individual, the gun is king and women are purely there as rape targets. In the opening scene, Blood finds a woman, but a rover pack has arrived first, and they have knifed her after they have had their fun. Vic’s anger is purely selfish – that she could have been used a few more times. Blood mocks him “you’re so funny when you’re sexually frustrated.”

Later, Blood discovers a woman, Quilla (Susanne Benton) in disguise at the movies (there is one rover pack that exists as a sort of neutral space, putting on movies, running a brothel and selling popcorn). They put on old movies and cheesecake for lonely solos to beat off to. They watch Fistfull of Rawhide (it’s a real movie, from 1969) as Vic waits for the girl to leave and head someplace isolated where he can accost her.

They follow her to a deserted gymnasium, where she is getting changed from her male disguise, and he is enchanted by her youth, beauty and cleanliness.

Quilla comes from a different world, the “Downunder”, a series of underground cities where traditional American values rule – raised hats, marching bands, picket fences, apple pies, civility). Everyone is made up in white-face – everyone is Middle America is white, and seem to need confirmation. Quilla, it turns out, was “the cheese” – she came to the surface to tempt Vic, like Eve tempted Adam, so he would enter the underground world, and bring his sperm with him.

Yes, the solid citizens of the symbolic order or language and laws have become sterile. But Blood, she says, wouldn’t fit in there. Trouble in paradise. Blood, badly wounded defending Vic, who had refused to leave Quilla to a rover pack, waits at the portal as Vic descends like Orpheus in search of Quilla. They want Vic’s sperm, because being underground has made their men sterile, but it’s not going to be the orgiastic event Vic imagines – they strap him down and connect his member to an electro-ejaculation machine, just as modern agriculture does to prize-winning bulls and rams. Such a device is normally inserted into the rectum and positioned against the prostate, and an electric charge causes involuntary ejaculation. To the townsfolk, Vic is an animal to be milked of sperm and then killed when they are done with him.

The film is available on YouTube (at the time of writing) so I won’t give too many spoilers. It’s well acted, the dog is delightful, the plot is pretty faithful to the novella of the same name, which came from the brilliant mind of Harlan Ellison. Ellison published the story is a collection called The Beast That Shouted Love At The Heart Of The World, in the introduction to which he objected to the term “new wave science fiction”, and cast bitter scorn on the “clots” who called his work “sci-fi”. Ellison was known for his brilliant writing but also his outspoken, combative personality; the Los Angeles Times described him as “the 20th-century Lewis Carroll” while Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, called him “the only living organism I know whose natural habitat is hot water”. The story’s concept remains original and the narrative sparkling, even half a century after the book and film were made.

The genius of this story, captured in the film, is the deconstruction of some of the most basic assumptions of our (pre-world war IV) societies. One, Derrida tells us, is common to all philosophers up to now – that we look at animals, but assume they do not look back. It is the basis of anthropocentrism (human supremacism) to assume that only humans are aware, are subjects who think and observe. But in this film Vic is the dumb animal that only knows how to fight and fornicate, while the “rational animal” who keeps him alive, teaches him and cares for him, is Blood, the dog.

Then there is the myth of the hero, the man of action – men like Vic seem to be a dying breed. Vic is only interested in “getting laid” – and believes that is only possible through violent rape. But Quilla is smarter than Vic, manipulative and calculating, as well as having a stronger libido – “I’m the one who’s supposed to want it” he complains. Socially too the dominant male is an anachronism. Above ground, the solos are being recruited into rover packs or killed, while below ground, the patriarchal symbolic order that is trying to recreate America of the 1950s is dying out – the males infertile.

Finally, I need to address the question of cannibalism, because, hey, this is a cannibalism blog. There is an implication in the film that the rover packs are kidnapping children from other packs for dinner (we all know that babies taste best). That’s what happens after an apocalypse – check out the gangs in The Road. But there is an implication that the society below ground also eats meat, and the only animals we see are humans, plus one small white dog. Those who disobey “The Committee”, a triumvirate who rule the place, are sent to “the farm”, to be killed and perhaps eaten. That’s what farms do – provide food.

And what about Blood and the other dogs – dogs are scavengers, but they usually prefer meat. While Vic collects pre-war cans of food, and Blood is very pleased to eat popcorn at the movies, there are certainly a lot of bodies lying around. But we see no evidence of anyone, human or canine, eating (adult) humans, until, like most apocalypse movies, there is no choice.

Or rather there is a choice – sex or love.

There is a popular ethical question about whom you would save from a burning building – a human stranger, or your dog? I suspect most people who have dogs would feel required to answer “the human”, but sotto voce would answer “my dog of course”. When Vic emerges from the Downunder with Quilla, he finds Blood badly injured and starving. Quilla tells Vic she loves him, tells him to leave the dog and go live with her. There’s lust, and there’s love. What will a boy do for his dog?

“They’re not psycho killers, they’re small business owners” 100 BLOODY ACRES (Colin and Cameron Cairnes, 2012)

There just aren’t enough Aussie cannibalism films (IMHO), particularly since the earliest movie I could find showing (purported) cannibalism, The Devil’s Playground, was made in Australia, way back in 1928. What few have been made are pretty great, including movies like The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce (about a cannibal convict) and more recently Two Heads Creek, which saw immigrants to the Australian outback being cooked and eaten. There was also a movie made about the so-called Snowtown murders (most of which did not take place in the town of Snowtown) but it avoids mentioning the cannibalism of the last victim, for some reason.

Presenting country folk as hicks, rednecks, hillbillies, etc is certainly not exclusive to Australian films. In the US, such plots are usually presented as slasher horror, such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, and their endless sequels and prequels. In Italy during the “Cannibal Boom”, the primitives were tribes of savages, eating people for revenge, but also because they were yummy. But Australians love to see the humour, even (especially?) in a rapidly mounting body count and spurting arterial blood. 100 Bloody Acres is right in that tradition, filled with colourful rural characters who mispronounce words and aren’t that smart, taking it out on city slickers who stray into their territories.

This one stars two brothers, Reg (Damon Herriman, who (fun fact) played Charles Manson in both the Netflix series Mindhunter and in the Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Lindsay (Angus Sampson who was in Mad Max: Fury Road, Fargo and most recently The Lincoln Lawyer). The Morgan brothers own and operate a small blood and bone fertiliser business in South Australia, the motto of which is:

“We’ll fertilize ya!”

Their business has been booming in the area, we are told, where six Salvos (Salvation Army workers – everything in Aust. is abbrev’ed) have disappeared without trace – not hard to see where this plot is going. Reg is on his way to deliver blood and bone fertiliser when he sees a road accident, hauls out the body of a man and puts him into the back of his van, less a few fingers, due to his clumsiness in closing the doors. Meant to be shocking or hilarious? Subjective I guess. Reg then picks up a young woman and her two male companions whose car has died on the way to a music festival, because he fancies the woman. The men go in the back of the truck with the bags of fertiliser and the car crash victim, and predictably freak out when the body is revealed by the bumpy road. Reg takes the trio to the factory, where they are tied up and made to watch the car accident victim, who turns out to be alive, lowered into the meat grinder.

Reg tries to rescue him, but ends up covered in blood and holding just his legs and, perhaps the area between them that attracts his befuddled gaze. There is a theory that movies, particularly thrillers and horror stories, are aimed at 14-year-old boys, and I’m sure they would find this scene side-splitting.

Turns out that blood and bone made from humans is far better (as fertiliser) if they are alive and scared and in agony; it’s all in the hormones. This why torment is a crucial part of the dog-meat industry, and also not far from the way we treat other animals we confine and slaughter.

The older brother, Lindsay, tests the blood from the mixture and declares it “liquid gold”.

The rest of the movie is slapstick gore involving chases, more victims being killed or losing body parts, and other merriment. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 77% fresh rating, and Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com called it:

“a smartly written and acted and exceptionally well-directed movie.”

The Guardian’s Australian Editor, Lenore Taylor, was not so enthusiastic, declaring it,

“a splatterfest that abandons suspense in favour of sniggers.”

100 Bloody Acres is not nearly as shocking as it imagines itself to be (unless maybe I’ve watched too many cannibal movies) but it is entertaining, well made, stylishly directed, and the actors are top-notch. It hums along, and may even be seen as satirising the more strait-laced and dour cannibalism films from the USA and elsewhere. If you like black comedy and gore, this one may impress.

From the point of view of Cannibal Studies, it raises some interesting questions.

  • Is it still cannibalism is you kill someone not to eat, but to use, for example, as blood and bone (or for their skin and bones, like Ed Gein or Jame Gumb)? Does cannibalism require oral ingestion, or does any use of the human body count?
  • Is cannibalism of the dead less repugnant if the intended meal is already dead? In this film, the brothers collect dead bodies from road accident sites (human roadkill) and grind them up into blood and bone. While roadkill of wild animals is not a hugely popular source for food or other uses, it is actually more acceptable to some animal activists than confinement and slaughter, in that the animals may not have known what hit them, and in any case are killed without murderous intent. So why not human roadkill (maybe making sure they’re actually dead)? Is it really worse to eat (or otherwise utilise) a dead human, who can feel no pain, than a living, terrified cow or pig? Consider the outrage in Illinois when a satirical site claimed the local morgue assistant was using body parts from deceased men to help her win a spaghetti-cooking competition. It was a hoax, but there have been other cases, such as journalist William Seabrook, who purchased human flesh from a hospital and cooked it just to see what it tasted like. What exactly is the problem?
  • And most intriguingly, why do we stroll nonchalantly past the blood and bone bags in the hardware store, yet can be shocked at the thought of human blood and bone? As Shylock asked, “if you prick us, do we not bleed?”

We are all made of blood and bone.

“Embracing cannibalism”? THE NEW YORK TIMES July 2022 (and the backlash)

I guess it was only a matter of time before cannibalism became part of the culture wars. A light-hearted article in the New York Times July 23 by freelance writer Alex Beggs looked at the undeniable plethora of cannibalism narratives in contemporary movies, TV series, books and news reports, including the TV series Yellowjackets and the recent novel A Certain Hunger by Chelsea Summers, in which a (female) restaurant critic develops a taste for (male) human flesh. The article asserted:

“Turns out, cannibalism has a time and a place. In the pages of some recent stomach-churning books, and on television and film screens, Ms. Summers and others suggest that that time is now.”

Alex Begg has also written for Bon Appétit magazine, making her well qualified to write about food, of whatever provenance. Cooking shows are full of lumps of meat being baked and braised and broiled and smothered in sauces; why not add humans to the livestock list? There certainly are billions of us.

The appearance of cannibalism in secular culture reflects the fading of traditional morality. As Dostoevsky warned in The Brothers Karamazov, without a belief in “immortality” (implying divine judgement), “everything would be lawful, even cannibalism”. Our reflexive distaste for cannibalism (and our fascination with it) comes from the belief that humans are somehow not animals, or animals that have transcended animality – it all comes back to the Biblical statement that we are made in “the image of God”, whatever that means.

Such a belief, with or without support from on high, is called anthropocentrism, or sometimes speciesism, and is maintained by the practice of killing other animals in ever increasing numbers, to prove our superiority. Jacques Derrida called that “carnivorous virility”, but what happens when the lust to kill outruns the limits of anthropocentrism and is instead turned back on fellow humans? We have people who see humans as just another edible species, like Sawney Bean, Sweeney Todd, Albert Fish, Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer and of course Hannibal Lecter. Not all of those were real people, and not all the facts about the real ones are real facts, but one fact remains: humans are animals, and animals are made of meat. When a society reaches a point where the old ethical agreements are disintegrating, it can either forge new ones or dissolve into chaos, war and, yes, cannibalism. At a time when the news is full of pandemics, climate change, famine, school shootings and political turmoil, is it so surprising that cultural representations show us eating each other?

Did I mention culture wars? Those who despise the New York Times (a certain and fairly large section of America apparently) came out with their anti-cannibalism guns blazing (they like guns, love meat, don’t like cannibals – it does seem a little inconsistent.)

Rod Dreher, a senior editor of The American Conservative opined:

“It’s a sign that our culture and civilization has become so decadent, so enamored by sensation, that we actually fetishize eating death…. We now live in a Culture of Death, in which we regard books, television, and film drama about the eating of human beings as pleasurable, as exciting.”

On Twitter, reactions poured in such as that of writer Emmanuel Rincón:

Zack Kanter tweeted 

“A zero sum worldview, irrational fear of overpopulation, and hatred of success will inevitably lead NYT journos to the literal conclusion of ‘eat the rich.’”

Journalist Tom Fitton tweeted

“NY Times, taking a break from promoting the mass killing of the unborn through abortion, promotes cannibalism.”

Others linked the article back to the QAnon mythology of Democrats torturing and eating children (particularly Hillary).

American Thinker said (under the headline “Cannibal Communists Crave Kids”):

“maybe there was more to that Pizzagate conspiracy than I realized!”

Many had clearly not even bothered to read the article:

And a blessedly brief journalist, Sameera Khan, tweeted

“THIS IS SATANISM”

Greg Gutfeld on his high rating Fox talk show (if you haven’t seen him, imagine a fairy waved a wand and turned The Colbert Report into a real boy) took the opportunity to pack every cannibal pun imaginable (“it’s an ATE part series”) into a short segment, as well as several digs at other shows run by Liberals such as Samantha Bee, and their regular target, CNN. Gutfeld accuses comedian Tom Shillue (formerly of The Daily Show!) of thinking he would be delicious, because he is all white meat.

The gist of much of the criticism was that the Liberal elite are trying to normalise cannibalism, as a way to – what? Reduce overpopulation? Feed the hungry? The website Editorials 360 accuses a “globalist cabal” of planning to make us all eat insects and humans, and drink recycled sewage, a fiendish plot “to enslave, denigrate and dehumanize humanity.”

The website TMZ recalled that the movie Soylent Green was set in 2022, which was then fifty years in the future, but is now, well, now. Are we in fact normalising cannibalism, because it is the logical end-point of voracious consumerism?

Soylent Green is a good place to start the analysis of this “normalizing” phenomenon. Even after fifty years, it is still the movie many people name when cannibalism comes up in discussion (as it seems to do quite a lot whenever thecannibalguy is around). The movie [spoiler alert] was set in 2022 New York, which is portrayed as part of a failed state, in which overpopulation and global warming has led to a chronic shortage of food, leading the authorities (secretly) to grind up humans who have died (or agreed to be euthanised) and convert them into nutritious protein crackers called Soylent Green. Setting it in 2022 was a bit pessimistic, but let us remember that the world’s human population has almost doubled since the movie was made fifty years ago, and that CO2 concentration was 330 parts per million in 1973, compared to around 420 now. Are we entering a time when our voracious consumerism will so deplete the planet that, as Cormac McCarthy suggested, the only thing left to eat will be each other?

Chelsea Summers put it in a political context, relating cannibalism to capitalism:

“Cannibalism is about consumption and it’s about burning up from the inside in order to exist.”

The magazine Evie, which describes itself as “the sister you never had” explains the extraordinary growth of interest in cannibalism stories by referring to the quasi-religious conceits of anthropocentrism:

“Cannibalism is the extreme conclusion of the idea that humans – and their bodies – do not have inherent value that demands respect. American society has been traveling down this philosophical road for a while. It started with legalizing abortion: After Roe v. Wade in 1973, any baby born or killed was just a “choice” at the mercy of their parents. They were not recognized as having inherent value with rights to their body or their life. More recently were the mandatory lockdowns, mask wearing, and vaccinations for Covid-19. Again, a lack of respect for human bodies and for our ability to make decisions for ourselves occurred. The encroachment on human dignity could potentially continue to progress into cannibalism – where the bodies of others have no inherent meaning, value, or sacredness that separates them from the animals we do rightfully and naturally eat.”

Lots of problems with that explanation, not least no attempt to explain the “inherent value” of humans or the assumption that we can eat other animals “rightfully and naturally.” But it is a pretty good summation of the unexamined assumptions at the heart of most writings on cannibalism, or carnivorism, or vivisection, or hunting – the idea that humans are somehow more than animals, and less than edible, while every other species on the planet is stripped of all moral value.

However, talking about cannibalism can put people off the slaughter treadmill altogether. When fact checkers came to ask Chelsea Summers about the way the book’s anti-heroine gastronomically prepares her murdered lovers, their questions about the intricacies of human butchery so disturbed her that she went “full raw vegan for two weeks.” Tobe Hooper gave up meat while making The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, saying “the heart of the film was about meat; it’s about the chain of life and killing sentient beings”. He also claimed that Guillermo Del Toro, no shrinking violet himself in abject filmmaking, gave up meat after seeing it. Bryan Fuller, creator of Hannibal, gave up eating meat during filming of the first season, telling Entertainment Weekly he had been:

“writing about cannibalism for the last three years but also doing considerable research on the psychology of animals, and how sophisticated cows and pigs and the animals that we eat actually are.”

Shows like Hannibal and The Santa Clarita Diet show human flesh as “just meat.” But to do that, they have to (their legal departments insist) come up with ways of simulating the human flesh without actually killing people (or digging them up like Ed Gein). The Yellowjackets prop team chose to use venison (think Bambi). But, the showrunners warned,

“they’ll have to find an alternative for future episodes, because many in its cast are vegan.”

Portrayals of cannibalism, whether actual or fictional, can make some people hungry, and turn others against eating flesh.

Gutfeld points out that:

“In the mind of the NY Times, it’s probably more humane to eat a human being than an animal.”

By “animal”, Gutfeld presumably means every multicellular, eukaryotic organisms in the biological kingdom Animalia except one – Homo sapiens. We know we are a species of great ape, but spend much of our time pretending we don’t know that.

Being humane, being ethical, is largely about respect and consent. Which was precisely the defence offered by Armin Meiwes when arrested for eating a man who had made it very clear he wanted to be eaten. Cannibalism texts, in ever-increasing numbers, joyfully confound the human/animal divide, and show the human body as edible flesh. So it is not surprising that such questions will be raised, and that, as the NYT said, “that time is now.”

However, Ted Cruz, who likes cannibalism jokes as much as the next meal, came up with a brilliant two-word solution that will put people off human flesh for a considerable time:

Tomorrow I will cook him – “ARMIN MEIWES” (SKYND, 2022)

Seems to be the month for cannibal music videos. Last week we looked at the new song CANNIBAL by Marcus Mumford, directed by Steven Spielberg. A beautiful ballad about metaphoric cannibalism, the kind of cannibalism that relationships can turn into, particularly abusive ones. Mumford seems to be referring to child abuse, accusing his abuser of taking “the first slice of me and you ate it raw. Ripped it with your teeth and lips like a cannibal.”

This week’s video (the clip is at the top of this blog) is by the industrial/electronic music duo SKYND, who pioneered the true crime music genre, which presents stories based on murders and other crimes. They have previously written about the death of Elisa Lam whose body was found in a hotel cistern in LA, the manslaughter of Conrad Roy whose girlfriend sent text messages encouraging him to commit suicide, the mass suicide in Jonestown, the Columbine High School massacre, and killers such as Gary M. Heidnik and Katherine Knight.

Most of those songs weren’t about cannibals (Katherine Knight maybe, who killed and cooked her husband, although she didn’t eat him). But the song we are reviewing today retells poetically the story of one of the world’s most famous cannibals, Armin Meiwes, the German man who advertised for someone who wanted to be eaten, and then ate him.

The song starts with the repeated refrain

Let him be fat or lean, let him be fat or lean
Tomorrow I will kill him, tomorrow I will…
Let him be fat or lean, let him be fat or lean
Tomorrow I will cook him, tomorrow I will

This is a reference to the fairy tale Hänsel und Gretel, recorded by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. You may remember this one giving you nightmares when you were very small – two children are abandoned in a forest by their penurious parents and, on the verge of starvation, come across a gingerbread house which they proceed to chew on, only to be captured by the owner, a witch, who wishes to enslave Gretel and eat Hansel, be he fat or lean. The story was reimagined a couple of years ago as the splendid movie Gretel and Hansel.

You may also remember (at least, Fannibals will) that Hannibal Lecter referred to this fairy-tale when he was serving up dinner to Abel Gideon; Gideon’s own leg, smoked in candy apples and thyme, glazed, and served on a sugar cane quill.

Armin Meiwes 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, indeed eager, was from a man named Jürgen Brandes, who was not really well-built or 18-30, but Meiwes was a tolerant sort of bloke, or perhaps desperate for his first human-meat meal, so they got together and, after getting to know each other (which included slicing off Brandes’ penis and cooking it), Meiwes left his friend to bleed out in the bath, and then proceeded to butcher his carcass and eat the meat, in a variety of cuts:

Cutlets
Ham
Goulash
Steaks
Knuckles
Bacon
Portion by portion
Cator, you’re a part of me now

Forever

There is also a reference to Meiwes in the Hannibal episode “Digestivo”, when Mason Verger is planning on eating Hannibal and refers to Meiwes and Brandes eating the latter’s penis, even though it was radically overcooked.

If you want to know more about the case (for which Meiwes is still serving time), there are several excellent links on the Skynd case files website (these guys do their homework!).

Skynd said in an interview:

“When I investigated the case, I watched an interview with him. Meiwes didn’t seem like the typical beast you’d imagine when you think of a ‘cannibal.’ But then again, you might ask yourself, ‘What does a cannibal even look like?’ It’s a story that hasn’t left me for years and I feel like I have finally translated it into music.”

There are a lot of documentaries on this event, which mostly involve ominous music and hushed narratives and absurd comparisons to Hannibal Lecter. Also a movie in which their names were changed, and another one in which they weren’t given names at all.

Or you can just watch this video, which sums up the salient points rather succinctly.

Table set for tonight
Waited for this all my life
Candle lights shining bright
Pull the cork, pour the red wine
Long, big steak on my plate
Potatoes and sprouts on the side
I savor my first bite
Satisfied my appetite
.

But before the killing and eating, which Meiwes had wanted to do for most of his life (and which Brandes seemed to want just as much), there was the question of what the “livestock” industry likes to call “humane slaughter”, one of the great oxymorons of the modern world. Brandes apparently wanted to be eaten alive, feel teeth tear into his flesh, but Meiwes was more considerate – pain may be a fun sexual fantasy, but it can really hurt. So they stopped on the way home (Brandes had only bought a one-way train ticket) and bought cough medicine (BREToN, which according to Google is Tulobuterol Hydrochloride and is for “asthma exacerbation”, although the website does rather hilariously say:

Breton Syrup may also be used for purposes not listed here”

Two bottles of that, a fistful of sleeping tablets washed down with a bottle of schnapps, and Brandes was good to go. They collaboratively cut off his penis (again, it was supposed to be a tooth job, but it was too tough) and cooked it. It was inedible, and Meiwes threw it out (although an urban myth has developed that he fed it to a dog). Then Meiwes put Brandes in the bath to bleed to death and went off to read a Star Trek novel.

Pain killers, cough syrup
Sleeping pills, bottle of schnapps
Sink your teeth, chew it up
Take a knife, make a clean cut
Roast the flesh, medium heat
Add garlic, pepper and salt
Meat is too tough to eat
So I’ll feed it to the dog.

Waiting for him to bleed out
Reading Star Trek for three hours
Finally kiss him once and kill him then slaughter him like a piece of…
Like a piece of livestock
.

The clip ends with Father (the multi-instrumentalist other half of the duo) appearing as Meiwes, sitting down to have ‘an old friend for dinner’.

Of course, that is the point of this story. Farmers claim to love their animals and then send them off to a terrifying death, hung upside down with their throats cut. There is evidence that Meiwes probably witnessed the slaughter of pigs when he was a child, and found it arousing. In an interview, Meiwes said the butchering was simple:

“It was like cutting up a pig. Meat is meat.”

Meiwes was originally convicted of manslaughter, which caused an uproar in the media. His story was soon adapted in movies, and in the song Mein Tell” by Rammstein, who then faced the threat of being sued by the cannibal for plagiarism!

Meiwes’ verdict was later amended to murder, a strange decision – can you murder someone who wants to die? His simple claim in his defence was that, unlike pigs, sheep, cows, chickens and other animals, here was a willing victim who consented to, indeed demanded, his own slaughter and consumption. Is it not clearly more ethical to eat an animal who wants to be eaten, whatever the species, than one who does not?

Marcus Mumford and Steven Spielberg: CANNIBAL (2022)

Does Steven Spielberg make music videos? Well, not usually. But he whipped out his phone for this recording of a new single from Marcus Mumford (of Mumford & Sons) – his first solo venture, and the first song from his soon to be released (September 16) album called (Self-Titled). The album is produced by Blake Mills and featuring Brandie Carlile, Phoebe Bridgers, Clairo and Monica Martin.

Fans of Mumford & Sons have been perturbed to hear about Marcus’ solo album, wondering if it denotes the end of a great band, particularly considering that founding member Winston Marshall left the band in 2021 after calling controversial journalist Andy Ngo’s book Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy “brave”. But Marcus has confirmed that the band will not be disbanding and he will not be leaving, saying his solo album has the “full blessing and permission of the band”, who wrote on Instagram that:

“We are excited about the next chapter of Mumford & Sons, we’re working on what that looks like, but for now we hope you can enjoy this person, our friend, being a human being.”

Anyhow, the first song we have seen from the album is called CANNIBAL (the clip is at the top of this blog) which is lucky, as otherwise I would have had no excuse to crap on about it on this cannibalism blog. Marcus stated on his Instagram account that he had faced and danced with “demons” for a long time during COVID-19 isolation, and wrote “Cannibal” in January 21.

Rolling Stone wrote that the video was shot on July 3 in a high school gym in New York. Steven Spielberg “directed his first music video, in one shot, on his phone”.

Abby Jones on the Consequence website describes the song:

“Cannibal is a somber, rootsy tune that feels a bit like a pared-down version of Mumford & Sons’ arena-sized folk rock — that is, until around the three-minute mark, when the song transforms from an acoustic ballad into a rousing barnburner.”

The song is about the cannibalistic nature of relationships. The one described in the song appears to be complicated and toxic, arousing love and hate. For example,

I can still taste you and it kills me
That there’s still some sick part of it that thrills me
That my own body keeps betraying me
There is such power that it may destroy me, but it compels me

Camille Paglia in her controversial book Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson describes the sparagmos rite of the Dionysian cult in which the body of a god, or the animal (human or other) representing it, was torn apart and eaten raw, otherwise known as omophagy. Rending the body of the god and spreading the parts acted to inseminate the earth, so was an act of love, and Paglia suggests that oral sex retains a suggestion of omophagy – raw cannibalism.

What is this connection between love and cannibalism? Hannibal Lecter of course has an answer, pointing out (in the episode where everyone is sleeping with everyone) that

“farmers who hand-raise lambs can love them and still send them to slaughter.”

Metaphoric cannibalism, particularly in terms of affectionate or sexual imagery, is a vast topic that cannot be adequately covered here. Suffice it to quote Italo Calvino in his book Under the Jaguar Sun perfectly summed up what he called “universal cannibalism”:

“…our teeth began to move slowly, with equal rhythm, and our eyes stared into each other’s with the intensity of serpents’ — serpents concentrated in the ecstasy of swallowing each other in turn, as we were aware, in our turn, of being swallowed by the serpent that digests us all, assimilated ceaselessly in the process of ingestion and digestion, in the universal cannibalism that leaves its imprint on every amorous relationship.”

CANNIBALcould be about the challenge of living and continuing to love someone during interminable COVID isolation. But at least one review suggests it is about childhood trauma and abuse, and posts a trigger warning. If that is one of your triggers, approach with caution. Such truths are hard, sometimes impossible to talk about: “when I began to tell, it became thе hardest thing I ever said out loud. Thе words got locked in my throat.”

I can still taste you, and I hate it
That wasn’t a choice in the mind of a child and you knew it
You took the first slice of me and you ate it raw
Ripped it in with your teeth and your lips like a cannibal
You fucking animal!

Sigmund Freud wrote that the two original prohibitions of humankind are incest and cannibalism, and it sounds a lot like Marcus Mumford has definitively linked them in this piece. The song finishes with a cry of pain: “Help me know how to begin again!”