Butchering vegans: SOME LIKE IT RARE – Barbaque (Eboué, 2021)

The French are sticklers for correct grammar. Bien sûr! Grammar, and particularly syntax, are importants! For example, there is a tendency in animal rights literature for people to declare: “I am vegan.” Simply untrue – you are made of meat, comrade, red meat to be precise, as this film sets out to demonstrate, and at some length.

The correct syntax is “I am A vegan”, that is, a person who tries to avoid eating the flesh of, or otherwise exploiting, any animal. This is usually for ethical reasons to do with the undoubted suffering caused by the modern industrial animal businesses, but sometimes for health reasons (e.g. Bill Clinton) or the environment, because the animal industries cause massive amounts of greenhouse emissions, use absurd amounts of land and water, and are the main cause of deforestation, particularly in the Amazon.

But none of these arguments are likely to persuade the protagonists of this quirky French comedy Barbaque released, for those of us outside of France, under the title Some Like it Rare. Husband-and-wife Vincent (Fabrice Éboué who also wrote and directed the film) and Sophie (Marina Foïs, who managed to make three other movies in that same year) are running a failing butcher shop called Pascal Boucherie, assailed by vegan activists who throw blood (I guess red paint) around their store in protest at their bloody business.

When they see the man who threw the paint riding his bike on the road (of course he rides a bike – this is satire), they stop their van suddenly and reverse, unintentionally (perhaps) causing him to crash into their vehicle and die.

What to do with the corpse? They can’t call the police, because Vincent has already reported the damage done to his store by the dead vegan activist, and it would be assumed to be a revenge murder. But alors, they run a butcher shop, so they have all the tools to dispose of the evidence. Sophie is watching true crime documentaries on TV (aren’t we all?) and tells Vincent to chop the body up and dump the pieces in the garbage. Vincent starts chopping, watched by his dog, who eagerly gobbles up a piece of the vegan that falls onto the floor. Vincent gives the dog an ear, then realises – hey, humans are made of meat!

Chopping up bodies is easy for a butcher, but then Sophie, thinking he has already thrown out the body parts, puts the meat on the shelves. Turns out the flesh of vegans is delicious (grain fed?) and there is a rush of customers seeking what Vincent decides to call “Iranian pork”. With enthusiastic customers in the store, Vincent does not stop Sophie tasting it. Afterwards, she asks

“Vegan” says Vincent.

It’s the perfect crime, the evidence is not just eaten but, as Sophie says, “shat out” afterwards. There are lots of cannibalism jokes, such as the local policeman promising to catch the vegans who attacked the store,

It’s not exactly a new idea. Mads Mikkelsen had the same problem and the same solution (after accidentally locking their electrician in the meat freezer) in the Danish movie The Green Butchers, together with a haircut that would have shocked the normally unshockable fans who loved him in Hannibal. And let us not forget the many variants of the Sweeney Todd story which saw the “demon barber of Fleet St” feeding meat pies filled with his hairdressing clients to the grateful populace of nineteenth century London, as well as a classic of kinky Hollywood cannibalism, Eating Raoul. Butchering people for meat has appeared in several other movies including the much-underrated film The Butchers and the animal revenge movie The Farm.

At first glance, this is a satire on veganism, but then there are all the references to how delicious their flesh tastes.

The only really dislikeable character in the film is their extremely carnivorous and insufferable friend who owns a chain of butcher shops and makes a fortune selling inferior and tainted cuts of meat. He is racist, sexist, and talks only about money. When Vincent has a scuffle with him and bites his ear off, he says “you taste disgusting – you should eat more veg.” Eating meat, Vincent has discovered, makes you taste bad. Maybe that’s why we don’t eat lions.

Vincent and Sophie discuss the logistics of their new business, in the same way other meat and dairy executives talk about the “growing” and “finishing” of the victim animals, as production units. They could farm vegans, they say, and she could milk them. Vincent points out that the best meat comes from castrated steers, he wants to find

There are references to Hitler being a vegetarian (it’s not true) and still being a butcher. Sophie tells how the rabbit she loves when she was little was turned into a stew by her father, and

“although I loved Thumper more than anything in the world, I loved him more as stew.”

They then proceed to kill a plump vegan who they’ve tied up in a bathtub. Most of the film’s action is slapstick hunting sequences as Vincent and Sophie stalk and kill vegans for their shop, interspersed with discussions about hunting a black woman, from which Vincent recoils, until Sophie tells him

They both spot a plump young boy, but Vincent draws the line at killing children, with Sophie complaining

It’s easy to see it as a commentary on the commercial meat corporations, which kill most animals when they are still little more than juveniles or (for veal) babies, and exploit female animals twice – for the production of their young (and sometimes their milk) and then for their flesh when they are worn out – what Carol Adams calls “feminized protein”. All Sophie wants to do (or wants Vincent to do) is apply the same methods to human meat.

The film currently has an unbeatable 100% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Guardian critic Cath Clarke saying:

“Some Like It Rare is a tasty treat for herbivores and carnivores alike, and it honestly doesn’t feel like an anti-vegan film.”

Martin Unsworth in the Starburst magazine said:

Some Like it Rare is a non-meat eater’s idea of extreme horror, and if you’re upset by the sight of meat being prepared, you should avoid it at all costs.”

Yes, but that’s not really true. I know plenty of meat-eaters who scrupulously avoid knowing the source of their main course. That’s why animals are butchered in remote slaughterhouses with high walls and maximum security, by anonymous, minimum-wage workers. On the other hand, it is the vegans who climb those high walls and take videos (YouTube is full of them). So while they don’t like what’s going on, the “extreme horror” is probably more applicable to those who are assailed with the cognitive dissonance of knowing they support corporations that do what Vincent and Sophie do, albeit to other species (as far as we know).

If you don’t mind subtitles (or are fluent in French) this is well worth a viewing. Let me know what you think the message is.

“An army of pissed-off man-hating feminist cannibals” DOGHOUSE (Jake West, 2009)

Doghouse is a British slapstick / splatter movie. The danger of mixing genres like that is that sometimes neither one will work, and this is a good example of just that. A bunch of young men head off for a weekend to cheer up one of their friends who has just been divorced. The film introduces them one by one with a placard showing their name (hoping vainly that we will thereafter remember them). They are all being verbally abused by their partners for leaving them, a condition sometimes known as being “in the doghouse”. They diagnose their situation as suffering from what they call “social gender anxiety” and plan to do male things like, you know, drink and smoke a piss on trees. They think they are recapturing their animal essences, whereas in fact they are just being dicks.

They head for a little town where, they have heard, the women outnumber the men four to one. Their minibus driver tells them that it is the middle of nowhere, and hey, there are worse things than divorce.

They are expecting

“an entire village of man-hungry women, waiting to jump the first band of desperadoes rolling up from London.”

Turns out that’s exactly what they get (yes, such subtle irony) because the women have all been infected with a virus in a biological warfare trial intended to turn one half of an enemy population against the other, and isn’t that a decent summary of human history? This virus turns them into what these guys call

“an army of pissed-off man-hating feminist cannibals”

Each woman is a caricature of her womanly role – a bride, a hairdresser, a grandma, etc.

While this is a remarkably silly film, it does illustrate quite nicely the themes of abjection and the monstrous feminine. Monsters are by definition outsiders, but more so when their appearance and violent activities are in a female form, because we are reminded of the archaic mother – the authority figure of early childhood who toilet trained us, dominated us, exemplified adult sexuality and offered us both nurturing and the threat of Oedipal competition with the father and ultimately castration or reabsorption. Just so, the women of the town represent female roles: the crone (one of the men’s gran), the bride (in virginal white), the hairdresser, the barmaid, the traffic warden. Freud might have enjoyed this film – the women carry castrating weapons – knives, scissors, axes, teeth, a dental drill. Even stilettos. One woman represents voracious appetite and therefore body dysmorphia (obesity) – she has an electric carving knife and kneels in front of her victim in a recreation of every fellatio-gone-wrong castration nightmare, cutting off his, well, his finger. But you know, symbolism.

In case the symbolism is still not clear, the local shop, with a mummified penis in the display case, is called

The men plan a violent exit, declaring “Today is not the day to stop objectifying women”. This gives the film an excuse to answer the women’s cannibalistic violence against the men with some very nasty misogynistic attacks by the surviving men, the ones who were the most obdurate male chauvinists, using ‘male’ weapons like fire and vehicles and sporting equipment, resulting in women being variously burnt, having their teeth knocked out, beheaded and beaten to death with golf clubs. At the climax, one of the surviving men growls “give me a wood” – yeah, you get the picture. There would be a certain section of the audience cheering those scenes, I suspect.

The movie managed to stumble to a surprising 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the Guardian reviewer summing it up as:

“misogyny and creative bankruptcy in Jake West’s Brit gender-wars comedy horror about a bunch of hen-pecked blokes stuck in a village of cannibalistic women”

If I still haven’t dissuaded you, the full movie can be watched (when I last checked) on YouTube.

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