Eating Kramer – SEINFELD S09E01 “The Butter Shave”

“The Butter Shave” was the 157th episode of Seinfeld and the first of the ninth and final season, which aired in 1997.

We don’t find a lot of cannibal content in sitcoms as a rule, and Seinfeld does not often stray from that rule. But if anyone is going to be a cannibal, it would have to be Newman (Wayne Knight), with his voracious appetite.

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In this episode, Kramer (Michael Richards) discovers that butter works better than shaving cream, leaving his skin so soft that he decides to spread it all over his body. Unfortunately, he falls asleep in the sun, and begins to cook.

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Newman, who is reading Alive, a book about a true case of cannibalism, finds the smell of a buttered Kramer irresistible. Disturbed and muttering (see the clip above), Newman sees Kramer’s head on a turkey in Monk’s, panics, and runs out screaming as “Kramer” waves a wing at him.

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Later, Kramer accidentally has oregano and Parmesan spilled on him, so Newman attempts to eat him.

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There is also a cannibal reference two episodes later, when Lloyd Braun tells George that the phrase “serenity now”, which is supposed to reduce stress, just results in bottling up the anger so it explodes later.

George: I heard they found a family in your freezer.
Lloyd: Serenity now; insanity later.

 Seinfeld is streamed on Stan in Australia, and TVNZ in New Zealand.

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The last CANNIBAL on Earth — (“Last Man on Earth” Season 4, episodes 9-11, Will Forte)

The Last Man on Earth was a four-season American post-apocalyptic comedy series that showed on Fox from 2015-17. The protagonist (Will Forte, who also created the series) is Phil (or Tandy as everyone calls him – long story). Phil believes he is the only survivor of a mysterious virus (not coronavirus, but hard not to think about it while watching) that has killed off humanity and most other animals. He travels around the USA leaving signs on billboards asking other survivors to contact him in Tucson, but gradually goes crazy from loneliness.

Then he starts meeting other humans. As it’s a comedy, they are (nearly) all nice, friendly, peaceable people, who bicker but generally don’t bite. Until season 4, when he meets Karl (Fred Armisen), a serial-killer cannibal. In a flashback to before the virus, Karl is being socially inept, disgusting his dinner date with recollections of a boil he had just had lanced.

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The art of cannibalism stories is to disgust the viewer. Otherwise, where’s the conflict?

Karl’s modus operandi is to invite his prospective victim in for a sitting where he paints their portrait (a skill in which he is almost as deficient as his romantic conversation), then reach for his

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When his model goes looking for a refreshing drink in the fridge, Karl has to run.

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He flees to Mexico and sets up the same artistic practice, but is soon arrested and sent to a maximum-security prison, where he starts painting the other inmates, with designs to convert them into his next meal.

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Karl is also somehow immune to the virus, but has been unable to escape the prison in which he was confined for the four years after everyone else died. Karl has killed the only other virus survivor, a guard, and is wearing his uniform, to hide his status as prisoner/cannibal. Karl is nice too. Except for being a serial killer cannibal.

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Karl has an unexplained compulsion to eat human flesh, and is powerless to defy it, despite his desperate efforts to do so.

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He is obsessively drawn to a used Band-Aid, which is stained with the flesh of a burnt finger.

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He is unmasked when he is followed to a cemetery, where he hopes to satiate his longings with some well-rotted corpse-flesh, much to the disgust of the observers.

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What makes a cannibal? We have looked in this blog at several motivations such as savageism, starvation, revenge, psychopathy and entrepreneurship, and particularly at the figure of the wendigo, the mythical Algonquin spirit that inhabits the lost and drives them to an ever-escalating hunger for human flesh. Bryan Fuller implies in Hannibal that the good doctor Lecter is such a spirit, appearing as a figure with antlers, often disturbingly dressed in suit and tie. Traditionally, the cannibal required no explanation. In Classical stories, he (and cannibals were usually male) was a super-human or else hybrid figure, monstrous in appearance and easily identified as an ‘other’. In colonial times, they were tribes of savages, whose ignorance of the morals of Europe required the intervention of the conquistadors to ensure they were re-educated, which would usually involve the appropriation of their lands and the enslavement or extermination of the ‘cannibals’.

The contemporary cannibal is often typified by his inconspicuousness – acquaintances of cannibals like Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert Fish or Armin Meiwes often spoke of how normal and prosaic they seemed. Karl fits exactly into this model of the contemporary cannibal – the others like him, and can hardly believe it, even when he admits to his addiction, as if it was an AA meeting.

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There are many ethical issues raised in this apparently light-hearted comedy. Everything in the world before the virus was about voracious appetite and power, and things have not changed that much. Now of course there is no money, and the stores are full of whatever you could want, but it’s all starting to go bad, even the tins. The few animals they have found alive have usually come to a sticky end – the cow whose milk they took died, her calf was left behind when they left for Mexico, the bull was killed and eaten. They found crickets and ate them. They catch a fish with a hook, much to their surprise. Phil threatens to eat a little dog’s butt at one point. Anthropocentrism, sometimes called speciesism or human narcissism, is now the supreme ideology, even though it has apparently led to the extermination of almost all life on Earth.

The main question of this brave new world, then, is: are there any ethical constants? The survivors are mostly besotted with the idea of having babies and repopulating the world with humans: is that a great idea? And while they are satisfied to smash down shop doors and take whatever they need, they are shocked at the cannibal doing the same. To Karl, to all of us, morality is simply relative to his immediate needs. Certainly not a view confined to cannibals.

Karl suggests they all go to bed, and discuss the problem in the morning. They will have questions for him. He will have questions for them too! His morality is straight out of Trump at Charlottesville:vlcsnap-00031.jpg

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As Dostoevsky said in the Brothers Karamazov:

“…there was no law of nature that man should love mankind, and that, if there had been any love on earth hitherto, it was not owing to a natural law, but simply because men have believed in immortality…. if you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful. even cannibalism.”

Karl exemplifies what Aristotle called the “rational principle”.

T-E-A-M spells MEAT “Corporate Animals” (Patrick Brice, 2019)

“There’s no “I” in TEAM. But if you swap the letters around, it spells MEAT”

Last week’s blog was a psychotic serial killer based on the case of a real psychotic serial killer, so maybe a bit of comedy to lighten the mood this week? Cannibal comedy of course. This is a cannibal blog.

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Corporate Animals opened at Sundance in January 2019 and in selected cinemas in September, so it’s right up to date, both in its release and its message. When you google “cannibalism”, you will get lots of flesh-eaters, but also lots of stories about businesses swallowing competitors or smaller subsidiaries – which is often described as “corporate cannibalism”. To Marxists, of course, the relations of capital to its workers has always implied a type of cannibalism – production is supplied by the labourer but owned by the corporation, and surplus value is syphoned off, consumed, before payday.

Corporate Animals is a story about a rapacious business owner, Lucy (a wonderful performance by Demi Moore), whose main product is edible cutlery.

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Lucy wants to revive her failing company by taking the staff on a team-building expedition, caving in New Mexico. Team building is about conquering fear, and so she takes them on an extreme caving expedition, despite their fears.

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A “geological incident” (an earthquake and rock fall) kills their guide Brandon (Ed Helms from The Daily Show and The Office) and leaves them stranded in the cave. A perfect opportunity for team building and positive thinking.

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Instead, they can only think about imminent death, which makes them both hungry and, as Jess (Jessica Williams from The Daily Show and 2 Dope Queens) points out, also super-horny. Lucy takes charge here too

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Which leads to a discussion of power and exploitation and the coining of a wonderful word

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The heart of the film (I’m trying to avoid the cannibal puns, but it’s hard to resist) is the debate. As they get to day five without food or water, they start to discuss the elephant in the room, which is the dead guide.

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Lucy expresses disgust, and they all agree.

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The debate is a spoof on a few cannibal films, most notably Alive! In which Ethan Hawke’s character suggests eating the pilots of their plane who were killed in the crash which left the others in the snow on top of the Andes.

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There is also (I presume) a reference to Snowpiercer, when Lucy suggests that they are hungry enough to eat someone, it’s

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Then they get this idea mixed up with the movie 127 Hours

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Nah, James Franco, had to cut off his own arm to escape a large boulder that had trapped him, but he didn’t eat it. In Snowpiercer, lots of people eat their own arms. It’s kind of a badge of honour to be lop-sided.

In Alive! Ethan Hawke wanted to eat the pilot, remember, for crashing the plane. Jess points out that in Alive! the bodies were conveniently frozen until required by the high altitude snow, but in the cave

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Now we get to the key question of cannibalism. Who gets et? Ethan Hawke was the one to suggest cannibalism in Alive!, but only agreed to join in if the others could assure him that he wasn’t actually eating his sister. In the cave, they are consoled by the thought that at least Brandon wasn’t part of their company.

It wouldn’t be like we’re eating a colleague.

So it’s OK to eat a stranger, just not your mom?

I’m not saying it’s OK to eat anyone. But yes, I’d rather eat a guy I just met who I thought was an asshole, than my mom.

Lucy objects to cannibalism, first on the basis that they are making individual decisions during a team building exercise, using her usual inspirational jargon, but Derek (Isiah Whitlock Jr) has the line of the movie.

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But then Lucy moves to the ontological question, the key question of cannibal studies – does cannibalism define or exclude humanity?

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They take a vote, and decide to eat him, but find he is already missing one arm. Who took Brandon’s arm? Yep, it’s Lucy, objecting to cannibalism per se, but not to assuage her own hunger.

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They decide to eat the rest of Brandon, and Jess volunteers to start.

 

Does it taste like chicken?

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Before long, Brandon is all gone.

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Jess asks Freddie (Karan Soni from Deadpool) how he feels after eating a fellow human?

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Brandon comes back to Freddie in a hallucination, and now we are referencing the Eucharist

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So then, having reduced Brandon to a memory (and a meat god), the question becomes: who is next? Each person’s ailments, and the likelihood of mortality from them, become of huge interest to the rest of the group. Aidan (Calum Worthy) has a weeping wound which could turn gangrenous and require amputation.

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Gloria (Martha Kelly) has Lupus, and could have a seizure (they kind of hope).

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So this is the debate over what William Irvine calls active vs passive cannibalism. Even though both are usually considered repugnant, eating someone who has died is passive, but killing them to do so, active cannibalism, is considered far worse. In this case, they are willing to eat a corpse with no hesitation, but killing someone to harvest that corpse? As Lucy says

“Not everyone has balls big enough to make the hard decisions.”

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So cannibalism, traditionally ascribed to the non-white, non-European, the “savage”, is now the white man’s burden in this looking-glass world (which, to keep the Alice reference going, is down a rabbit-hole).

The active/passive debate goes on after rescue. At first, they claimed they survived by eating the edible cutlery, then Jess admits

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The apologia of he carnivore: I don’t eat much meat; I only eat humanely killed meat. But when there’s nothing else to eat, no other species available, murder is still murder, but cannibalism is just a handy meal.

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Next week: Episode 1 of SEASON 3 of HANNIBAL