Tuesday, April 8, 2008

American Cannibal

Yesterday I pointed to cannibalism in Africa as a sign of America’s cultural superiority, but it just so happens a friend e-mailed me yesterday to tell of his own small indulgence in cannibalism here in the U.S., which came to have certain spiritual overtones, much like the African cannibalism.

Apparently, during couples therapy, his wife used “against” him the fact that one of his weird habits was picking scabs off their baby and eating them, to which he responded that she ostensibly ate her God’s flesh in church every week, and no one called her crazy (well, I would call her crazy just for thinking there’s a God, but we went through all that in my February blog entries).

Of course, friends of mine versed in history and biology would leap to point out the primal instinct for delousing loved ones (You see chimps doing it all the time — and then they eat the lice! Gross!) or, for perhaps totally unrelated hormonal reasons, finding loved ones “scrumptious” (especially babies, for some people — not me, of course, the useless little shriekers).

Ali Kokmen — not the scab-eater in question, I assure you — then happened to e-mail me about a new book called Thank God for Evolution, by writers interested in reconciling evolutionary theory and religion, thereby defusing the old conflict, and I’m sure the book is chock full of parallels like the delousing/eat-of-my-flesh one above (though I’d prefer sticking to the biology, of course, rather than pat religion on the head for stumbling onto an accurate metaphor once every few centuries).

Cannibalism remains a fascinating and taboo subject that has a way of making us confront scary, important boundaries (I noted in an article for Metaphilm.com that the book Buried Soul makes a persuasive archaeological argument that cannibalism was a pervasive means of disposing of the dead in prehistoric times and thus became closely bound up with our ideas about the afterlife and the undead).

In purely secular/political terms, I think that case several years ago of the German who volunteered to be eaten by another German raised interesting questions about the limits of personal autonomy. Legally, I suppose, libertarians would say let the guy be eaten if he insists on being eaten (ultimately, if he won’t listen to advice not to do it) — and on a more practical level, would rightly point out that as with suicide in general, anyone determined to do it is unlikely to be stopped by concern about what the law says (though at least some libertarians might say the man who wants to be eaten was insane and thus forfeits some degree of his autonomy).

This in turn brings us back to the familiar question, What is wrong with German people? And this is a timely question, given that news reports yesterday said that the head official of European motorcross competitions, Max Moseley, is at the center of a scandal over his participation in a Nazi-themed sado-masochistic orgy (an incident made slightly more disturbing by the fact he’s descended from actual Nazis). But you know, that could happen to anyone. A friend of mine once tried to go to what she thought was going to be a New Wave-themed night at the old Meatpacking District club called Mother, only to find that she had wandered into “Nazi fetish night.” And are the two really so different?

People cold and robotic enough to be “boundary violators” often come back to the same activities again and again: mass murder, cannibalism, rape, transcendent human sacrifices. Humanity has a limited imagination and there are only so many extremes, absent use of a dirtbike — but then again, given the motorcross guy’s combination of interests, maybe I shouldn’t talk about dirtbikes or racecars as if they’re a separate phenomenon. Was he ever tempted to have sex while in pain, dressed as a Nazi, and driving, you have to wonder?


Byrne said...

“People cold and robotic enough to be “boundary violators” often come back to the same activities again and again: mass murder, cannibalism, rape, transcendent human sacrifices. Humanity has a limited imagination and there are only so many extremes”

The rise of porn has actually made these extremes more extreme — Deep Throat cost $22,500 to make and grossed $100 million, but the same material now is free (or, given the popularity of spam and popups, intermittently compulsory). So people who want to make shocking porn have to try harder. People who want to be really shocking can’t just do the stuff you can pay to see, so they’re forced to get even more perverse, too.

jenny said...

i’m trying to decide if i’m relieved or disturbed that annie lennox is illustrating the new wave/nazi portion of the post rather than the cannibalism portion.