It’s a strange irony that cannibalism is seen as one of the worst, most heinously irredeemable acts a human being could ever engage in, when it’s everywhere. It is all around us, and it makes hypocrites of us all. It makes sycophants and self-indulgents of us, too.
Let's start with religion. Isn't that always where it leads back to, anyway? The Catholic Church, whose institution is still to many one of the most important, pure, morally good pillars of our society, deals in cannibalism. The Sacrament of the Eucharist, in no uncertain terms, is an exercise in consuming our Gods, to become closer to the Divine. We consume each other, too.
In a capitalist society we are designed to be pumped full but never stuffed, our whole beings crafted into a bottomless vessel for incessant consumption. Constantly having new sights, tastes, smells, sounds, experiences thrust upon us, in the name of living life to the fullest. Some of us consume ourselves before anyone else can, out of self-defense. Only if one peels back the layers like a clementine can they get close. Trite, but true.
We want to consume those we care for, out of fear of losing them. Why else do we call our lovers names like sweetheart, sugar, honey? We want to consume our friends; their interests, their personalities, their turns of phrase, in an effort to bond with them. What better way to get closer to someone, than to swallow them whole and keep them inside of yourself? Where a piece of someone else can become yours to own, to master and control, or can merge with yourself until you are one and the same and there is no difference between the two of you.
What greater act of love, or desire, are we shown in our society, than consumption? Certainly not sacrifice. Certainly not patience, or forgiveness, or any other virtue. Cannibalism is perhaps the most exhulted act in Western society, despite the revulsion and shame that accompanies it. Perhaps because of it. The Catholics love their suffering, after all.
Paradoxically, to be a cannibal is to defy everything that the world has told us since we were old enough to understand it. It is an act of relinquishing the fear of judgement or punishment, to act on selfish impulse, and on the basest of human desire; the law of the natural world. To eat, and to be eaten- perhaps even to devour. To employ the theme of cannibalism in media as an exaggeration, a horror, or an instrument for shock value, illustrates a grave misunderstanding of the subject, yet occurs all too often. Cannibalism does not solely exist within the domain of the macabre, the sexual, or the fantastical. It is a topic worthy of examination in itself, not a tool to be used to gesture at something else, to titillate or disturb your viewer. When artists approach the subject in this way, they frequently end up watering down their message at best, and offending viewers at worst. The Neon Demon (2016), Jack and Diane (2013), and even Showtime's Yellowjackets wrestled with their cannibals, and fell short in varying degrees.
We are all of us cannibals. None of us escape the instinct to bite. Perhaps this is why we continue to be equally fascinated and repulsed by the concept. Many of our monsters– witches, vampires, and werewolves–all contain elements of cannibalism. We spend centuries writing about the horrors of it, and we are not yet sick of it, in an effort to reckon with the cannibal that lives inside all of us.
There are no comments for this story
Be the first to respond and start the conversation.