If it seems like people-eating people have been a bit everywhere lately, you’re not wrong.
There’s the cannibal romance bones and all, starring Timothée Chalamet, which is already in theaters. Another current movie, the dark comedic thriller The menu, flirts with the theme by pairing food and death. Netflix recently had record viewership for the month of September. Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. In January we had the acclaimed cannibal horror film New. Also, in recent years there were Hulu’s yellow jackets and the independent break Rawamong others.
So while you’re enjoying a feast with your family and friends this holiday weekend, we caught up with Long Island University biology professor Bill Schutt, author of the acclaimed book Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History Y Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Eating Creatures. Together we devour the subject of cannibalism and entertainment, and what makes the greatest Western taboo so tempting.
I guess we’re biologically driven to be repulsed by the idea of cannibalism. But is that accurate?
I would say not. I believe culture is king. It came as a surprise when I started writing a book on cannibalism, which was so widespread in nature. I’m talking about hundreds and thousands of species, from invertebrates to apes, that consume their young for reasons unknown to us until recently. The party line was always that the only reason you see cannibalism in the animal kingdom is if there were famine conditions or you put the creatures in captive conditions that were stressful, except for a few creatures like black widow spiders and mantises. religious.
Scientists began to realize that this was not the case. There are all kinds of reasons why cannibalism occurs, such as parental care or unpredictable environmental conditions or sexual selection. For example, if you’re a cod and you lay 5 million eggs, it’s not like Tony and Tina are there. You are looking at the equivalent of raisins. They are nutritious. There is no danger of consuming them. Probably more fish are cannibalistic than not.
But humans are not cod. You’d think that even if there are some human cultures that do this, there would be something innate to finding it wrong, like how we innately find incest wrong, even if it still happens.
With incest, you’re limiting the gene pool, which is the problem. With cannibalism, there are diseases that are related to human consumption: there was a disease in New Guinea, but I don’t think it spreads throughout the world.
Culturally, once you get involved with humans, we’re the ones who decide if it’s okay to consume grandma after she dies because it pays homage to her in some way, or if that’s disgusting and you think she needs to be buried.
In Western culture, from the time of the Greeks and then to the Romans and everyone else, there was this idea that cannibalism was the worst thing to do. It is related to the idea of the Other. If you’re a good old Greek, you’re not eating bodies. But those other guys are, so they’re not even human. A lot of people jumped on that bandwagon in the West. Arguably, it became the number one Western taboo. If other cultures were practicing cannibalism when Westerners appeared, they insisted that this behavior was not going to be enough.
So, in a world dominated by Western culture, any vestige of cannibalism as a ritual disappeared. The guys handing out the T-shirts weren’t going to stand for it. But there were cultures that didn’t have that Western influence where cannibalism took place until relatively recently for things like burial rights. There were South American groups that were scared to hear from Western anthropologists that we buried our dead. So I don’t think there’s something evolutionary, or there’s a gene, that prevents us from cannibalism. I think it’s cultural.
Interesting. You noticed that it is the number one western taboo. Putting taboos on the cinema is as old as the cinema itself. But I don’t remember that there have been so many projects that refer to this topic in such a short time.
Yes. I have a hypothesis about that. Let’s just say cannibalism is taboo number one. Now you add food to that and you have a fascination. It has this kind of gory look that is attractive to people when they look at it through a fictional filter, or these stories about crazy murderers, and you have an attraction. Twenty years ago, it was Hannibal Lecter; he is now Timothée Chalamet.
Why, if I had to guess, do you think there’s been a flurry of projects around this lately? Why here and now?
We are really insensitive to violence on the screen, especially when you can put a fictionalization filter on it. Now you can have the blood and guts and gore that people get turned on, but you can also have this idea of food. There may be another reason, but to me that is the explanation why this is so popular.
I suspect, and this kind of cross-pollinates a bit with what you said, that it’s also a content maximization issue. There are regularly over 400 scripted shows per year, plus many movies. We are running out of taboos to be taboo.
I think it started with Bonnie and Clyde, the 1968 movie, when you could splatter blood everywhere. We have become desensitized to extreme gore and violence. Also, there is a built-in attraction when you hear the word. You have a knee-jerk reaction when I say the word “cannibalism.” So whether you’re writing a news article or writing fiction, you’ve got a built-in hook.
True in the case of this story, too. This feels awkward to ask, but I’m thinking romantic thriller. bones and alland, to a lesser extent, projects such as New: Is there something sexy about cannibalism?
Good question. He would say that cannibalism is just as exciting as vampirism has ever been, although the former is even more extreme. And once again, these themes only produce that effect if they can be seen through a filter of fictionalization. Food, which is often considered sexy, plus taboo equals fascination.
There was also the Armie Hammer scandal. The idea of cannibalism as a real life fetish is disturbing. How common is that?
I am not a criminal psychologist, so I am not a person who is comfortable talking about this spectrum of crime. There were many disorders that can lead to that kind of behavior. I think it may seem frequent because it jumps off the page. If you hear that someone was stabbed to death, then it’s not in the papers. But if you hear that someone killed and consumed someone, then the whole world is hearing about it on the news.
Have you been surprised by the number of projects on this, the amount of interest?
I am not. There was a fascination with the Donner Party and survival cannibalism stories in the 1970s and with the book Live – which became a very poorly made movie.
Instead of LiveAre there any movies or shows that tackle this topic that you thought were particularly, uh, well done?
There is a lot of good work still being done in the Donner Party, which is arguably the most famous example of cannibalism in US history. The silence of the lambs it was a great thriller for many reasons. I don’t think it’s over [as a project with] Aspects of cannibalism.
Was there anything I didn’t ask about cannibalism and pop culture that you think our readers would be interested in knowing?
People often ask me what were the two most impressive things I got from writing the book. The first was how widespread cannibalism was in the wild. But the second was that given the Western taboo on cannibalism, how widespread it was for hundreds of years in Europe. There was medicinal cannibalism, in which almost every part of the human body was used to “cure” all kinds of illnesses or psychological ailments. Parts of the body were prepared and powdered or drunk. And this lasted until the beginning of the 20th century. It was even in the Merck Index, the great drug encyclopedia. Then it just disappeared from the history books. They just deleted it.
The last vestiges of that are now people consuming their placentas after giving birth. Those are the remnants of medicinal cannibalism. It has fallen into alternative medicine under the idea that if you consume your placenta, you are replacing hormones that might have been lost after birth. That is not something that is widespread throughout the world today. They are mostly Americans who started in the 1970s.
And with that, I hope readers enjoy their cranberry sauce today.
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