Two suited guys at a candle-light dinner nibbling on each other’s flesh for a television show does not denote cannibalism. If placed in a larger landscape, it could be seen as a microcosmic interpretation of contemporary socio-political mores. The ‘noble savage’ transported into an Orwellian version of Noah’s Ark is a devious mirror of excoriating glass.
Dennis Storm and Valerio Zeno are in their mid-20s, which by today’s standards is considered seasoned. They are Dutch TV hosts. Both went under the surgeon’s knife; Zeno had a length of muscle removed from his abdomen and Storm opted to give a part of his buttock. The chef presented them the meat to sniff, after which it was cooked in a pan with sunflower oil without any seasoning. Then, before a studio audience, they pierced the fork into each other’s flesh. The motive ostensibly was, according to Storm, to answer “a stupid question”. He admitted that it was “weird to look into the eyes of a friend when you are chewing on his belly” but “we wanted to find out how human flesh tasted. It was just a few centimetres of meat and now I have a good story about that scar.”
There will be the valid queries about legality, ethics, and good taste (never mind the pun).
This is where we must make that leap onto the big stage and the bigger questions, irrespective of the duo’s motives. It might help if we kept in mind that the show is called Proefkonijnen, which means ‘Guinea Pigs’. It exposes the expediency of experimentation to its bare bones.
Replace this ‘stunt’ with the stunted studio wars, the cameras on the battlefields of Operations and Revolutions, following soldiers and cops, zooming in on dead bodies, the anchors lying flat, mimicking the dead, even as the microphones – the ultimate symbol of pop potency – is ‘eaten’. When we chew such news and digest it, we are in effect committing cannibalism by default.
Besides, the nature of news becoming stale and dead would also allude to necrophilia. There is power in such revivification of the dead.
Salvation and Survival
While the need to survive is basic, latter-day salvationists resort to reductionism in the moral sphere they seek to uphold. Time magazine’s Person of the Year is an un-named, undefined, unrecognisable Protestor. With a few rare voices that question the dissident’s management of the System – recent examples being Hitchens and Havel – potential hagiographers continue to feast on the morsels of the maverick mafia. It shows us just how the process of natural selection has changed to create shrines for survival of the niftiest.
What appears to be a gratifying validation of dissent is, in fact, a slot-machine caricature that grabs all the coins of common leverage. This individual representing a herd needs to be shepherded, or slaughtered. More importantly, the Protestor has been made into an assembly-line product lacking individuality and armed with the stereotypical designer wear that does not demarcate between the masked terrorist and the masked victim. The covered mouth is also a mouth that can be silenced; hunger is transferred to the gaze. The close-up of the head is much like the trophy brought back by head-hunters or warlords.
Salvaging honour is survival.
Noah on the eve of another year in the 21st century has no assurance that there will not be another flood. The continuum of retribution is to step down from the mountain and flow with the tide. What was to be a test of human endeavour has become a commercial proposition. Who will sponsor the exile and the damned? What happens to all that wood?
In the innards of Africa, certain western countries now run the timber trade. A research team found that as a consequence not only are the forests taken over, but it also whets the appetite of the intruders for primate meat. A few steps away from where we have come as human beings.
When American activist Abbie Hoffman said, “I believe in compulsory cannibalism. If people were forced to eat what they killed, there would be no more wars”, he did not take into account that wars are drama. You do not see the audience when you perform. Drones, missiles, firing across fences from a distance – these cause salivation and the urge to get closer to blood. The primacy of the primal supersedes any strategic manouevres. Sophisticated weapons have only sharpened the urge for rudimentary knives to experience the valour of real work. It is not restricted to professional soldiers. Warriors are created to justify borders and niche markets.
The culture of the guinea pig only allows for bits and pieces. In the Dutch television show, we got just such samples. The reason they were not marinated or garnished is that as modern societies when we pay tribute to any ancient ritual or tradition such as the masquerade, the street festivals, the public mourning, there is also a lot of skin show. In what may look like a letting down of inhibitions or a spiritual submergence, we are being devoured. Collective catharsis results in a collective burp of satiation from the senses. Abstinence is also a form of cannibalism for the sheer metaphysical breadth of its self-destructiveness. It is a bit like eating oneself.
Body parts are targeted, whether it is for marketing purposes or as cultural embodiments. Ironically, if religious sacrifice replaced the human with the animal, today animalism is more than an idea. Human emotions are represented in what segment of the body inspires or reviles another. The mechanism of building on such aspects becomes part of civil society’s identity. All it takes is a flash mob to ignite such thoughts, the rest gathers momentum as we go along from one open square to another, one TV debate to another, one election to another, one morally-sanctioned war to another, one withdrawal of troops to another. Often, it turns the philosophical dimension of being and becoming on its head when we become what we just ingested.
However much a Snowball might prompt, “Four legs good, two legs bad” to the sheep, the Squealers will have a reply in “Four legs good, two legs better”. Neither might believe it, but it makes the discourse easy, as George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ so stunningly expressed. Legs are not people or animals. They just follow the trail of the road most trod upon. With time, it becomes a stampede.
When we talk about parts, it also objectifies people. Ideological butchery seems to be the intent. Skin colour, shade of hair, shape of nose, girth, demeanour, all reveal differences. Flesh is not just flesh, but fetishised in a cultural kiln. The captured man and the ‘loose’ woman are beaten up for what their bodies expose about them. They are faceless and nameless, but they are not The Protestor. Their resistance is the inadvertent actualisation of their origins.
People are auctioned even today. Bonded labour exists. Forced prostitution exists. There is a physical aspect to these that are as devouring of flesh as is cannibalism.
Our lack of spine in the social construct is taking us away from the fine-tuned art of the gourmand to a basic need for the raw. Such instant aggressive gratification has numbed memories. The squealer and the protestor might indeed share table for the last stupor. They are both products of a phantasmagoric resurrected reality.
Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based writer. She can be reached at http://farzana-versey.blogspot.com/