Bon Appétit

Welcome to Fearful carnivores, a mini-series about the changing culture surrounding meat consumption. Despite the growing pressure to give up meat, many Americans aren’t quite succeeding — but are getting weirder about the way they eat it.

In the penultimate episode of The last of usThe protagonist Ellie is at the mercy of the leader of a religious community that is on the verge of starvation. As the leader’s monstrosity is revealed, we learn that the meat they all (barely) survive on is not venison, but the meat of their dead. And season two of Yellow jackets has confirmed the promise of season one – that the titular girls’ soccer team must endure the brutal conditions of the Canadian winter wilderness through cannibalism. In bones and all (2022) two teenage cannibals fall in love. Fresh (2022), dahmer (2022) and, going back a few years, Raw (2016), The neon demon (2016) and of course Hannibal (2013-2015) – Hollywood can’t get enough of this this ghastly horror trope.

Cannibalism has always fascinated us – its long and spooky history older than modern humans – but what does that say about this particular point in time when cannibalism is (excuse me) back on the cultural menu? Cannibalism is, after all, one of our oldest stories. And right now, it seems to be told in two haunting ways, at least on the screen (big and small).

The first: hunger for human flesh as a metaphor for financial excesses. think of Fresh, in which the cannibalistic villain kidnaps and slaughters young women for wealthy buyers. What do you get for the man who has everything? Apparently the buttocks of a beautiful woman. In these decadent tales, lush and stylish imagery doesn’t look out of place. In one Fresh In this scene, a slice of (human) breast is arranged like a plate in an upscale diner, glazed with a silky nut-brown sauce and garnished with microgreens. And people couldn’t get enough of it Hannibal‘s food stylist Janice Poon and her macabre is-it-or-isn’t-it dishes – such as human tongues sticking out to dinner guests at Dr. Hannibal presented as lamb tongues and artfully embedded in an origami lotus flower. They were arranged in artistic table landscapes Dutch still life. (“Hannibal is a real one GQ Man, apart from the cannibalism,” she also said said, uh, GQ.)

These narratives question the ethics of consumption. Meat becomes a literal metaphor: who is at the top of the food chain and who is at the bottom; Who can eat who? The game is about gender, class and appetites of all kinds – men eat women, the rich eat the poor. (Let’s also not forget the phrase “eat the rich.”) For some, consuming others has become a part of their identity — how Hannibalis the eponymous gentleman sadist who takes great pride in the beauty of his murderous deeds. For others, the practice can be terrifying — most obviously for the victims.

Stories of cannibalism challenge us to grapple with the thorny question of what it means to eat the things we eat or what it means to destroy something like ourselves in our own service. It is an issue that cannot be detached from our human desire to consume or the vulnerabilities that make it easy for us to be consumed. In her essay on cannibalism as a metaphor for capitalism and feminism, Chelsea G. Summers – author of her own brilliant cannibal novel, A certain hunger– writes about the way the idea infected our language: “We don’t just win; we devour. We not only defeat; We roast our rivals and eat them for breakfast. We go to bars called meat markets looking for a piece of ass and when we find a lover we nibble, we seduce and swallow him whole.” Cannibalism is one way of phrasing the capitalist urge to conquer ; how the upper hand always goes straight to the mouth, so to speak.

In this mode, fictional cannibalism can be campy or even comical as it shows how we are daily humbled by the ridiculous rituals and demands of modern life. In Santa Clarita Diet, a suburban woman, mother, and real estate agent is turned into a zombie who craves the flesh of her neighbors, and her family must simply come to terms with the accompanying drama. Readers how I laughed at every scary episode! And Fresh begins as a romance with a sweet meeting between the victim and his captor at a grocery store; ultimately a satire on the nightmare of dating.

But especially the second type of narrative confuses me when they appear in series like … The last of us And Yellow jackets: Stories of desperation and survival, breaking an unthinkable taboo in the face of certain death. This reflects the most real examples of cannibalism closest to home. think of the Uruguayan rugby team that survived in the Andes for two months in 1972 by eating their dead and comparing it to Holy Communion. Or the Thunder Party. There are some subtleties here, in both fiction and nonfiction – is killing a person to eat them just as bad as eating someone who has already died of other causes? – but sometimes the difference is irrelevant. Anyone who eats his own kind will inevitably become inhuman. Consider the fact that The last of us’ The vicious cannibal preacher is also a pedophile. Or the Wendigo, a monster from real indigenous tradition which – in some of these traditions – arises when a human consumes human flesh.

Here the genre is often robbed of its camp. Viewers embark on a different path of terror — one that seems particularly recognizable post-pandemic and on the brink of recession, amidst today’s social, political and environmental fears and injustices, when life already feels maddeningly precarious for many of us . It’s the horror that demands answers about what we are on the fringes of things. Horror that begs a question that might haunt you in this current apocalyptic moment: What – or who – are you willing to consume to survive??

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