There’s an old joke that always makes me giggle: “They say you are what you eat. If that is true, is Hannibal Lecter more human than any of us?”
It aways gets me, especially in that twisted, funny spot in the side of my brain that has special, sewn-in pockets where I keep my morbid humor and my fascination with things not likely to be brought up at, say, a charity dinner. Amongst these pouches of the strange or weird is a well-worn metaphorical shoe box devoted to Cannibalism. It dates back, as far as I can tell, to my 5th or 6th grade year, my last, rebellious days as the only non-Catholic at the Sacred Heart School. I was at my babysitter’s place, an institution that came very inexpensive to my single mother. It was known as “The Public Library.” I happened upon a “Time Life” series called “True Crime.” They were large, leather bound tomes that described a different flavor of violent crime in each separate book. There was a book for “Crimes of Passion.” One for “The Mafia.” “Serial Killers” and the like. Amazed by the gruesome photos of crime scenes as I flipped through them (I think I stared at the famous shot of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre for an obscene amount of time) I found myself engrossed, incredulous that such things happened in the world. Quietly, my small town reality melted off of me on to the carpet of that library floor where I sat. When it was time for my mom to pick me up I left it there, dehydrating away in vapors, never to be seen again. And thus began a strange interest in so many macabre aspects of crime and death, that any parents other than my own, would have been truly concerned. Instead they educated me. Films, tv shows, books. I have cool parents, what can I say?
The first time I saw “Silence of the Lambs” I was transfixed. I had heard that the film was so terrifying but strangely I found romanticism in the relationship between Hannibal and Clarice, a feeling totally vindicated by the author himself in his literary sequel. I liked the idea of this guy going around, eating assholes….well not literal assholes, you understand…eating “the rude.” Of course the idea of actually having to kill and butcher someone made my tummy remind me why I did not ride rollercoasters, but there was this sort of snarky glint in my eye, when someone, for instance, bullied one of my friends for being gay, or a nerd or whatever. I would just turn to them and say “Don’t worry! Hannibal will just eat so-and-so.” In a strange way, my teenage brain just accepted Hannibal Lecter as having “an alternative lifestyle.”
It wasn’t until I read about the Donner Party and saw the slightly absurd film “Ravenous,” that I thought about the idea that there could be more to it than just the compulsion to kill and eat. That maybe there is something to the myth that once you taste human flesh, you become addicted, that nothing ever satisfies your hunger again. Not having eaten any human flesh other than the hangnails I tend to neurotically chew at, when I am deep in thought, I really had, nor have, any idea about the validity of this theory. To me it is like heroin. I KNOW people SAY it’s better than sex, the best feeling on earth, but I will take their word for it. There are limits to my bohemian spirit.
This concept of cannibalism as addiction leads me to this fabulous episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” entitled “Specialty of the House,” which I happened across on Youtube the other night. Based on a story by Stanley Ellin, it is the story of a posh English businessman who takes his young protege to his exclusive dining club called Spirro’s and pontificates about the exquisite…you guessed it….specialty of the house. Below is the link to the 20 minute episode. Have a gander before reading further if you get pissed off by spoilers.
This film struck me as terribly amusing and bridging an interesting gap between the elitist lore of Hannibal’s fine cuisine, with the mythology of the addictive, demanding obsessions of the other side of the cannibal coin. You must be upper crust to be part of this club, but watch out for the other members or you will be baked IN the crust.
What one must really knead their mind around is the real cannibals in the world and what, in particular, is their ideology that allows them a moral reality where eating a fellow human being is not just for survival but a delicacy and privilege. Or even something deeper, like in the case of German celebrity cannibal, Armin Meiwes.