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Our Cannibals, Ourselves

Our Cannibals, Ourselves

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Our Cannibals, Ourselves
    Book Description:

    Why does Western culture remain fascinated with and saturated by cannibalism? Moving from the idea of the dangerous Other, Priscilla L. Walton's Our Cannibals, Ourselves shows us how modern-day cannibalism has been recaptured as in the vampire story, resurrected into the human blood stream, and mutated into the theory of germs through AIDS, Ebola, and the like. At the same time, it has expanded to encompass the workings of entire economic systems (such as in "consumer cannnibalism"). _x000B__x000B_Our Cannibals, Ourselves is an interdisciplinary study of cannibalism in contemporary culture. It demonstrates how what we take for today's ordinary culture is imaginatively and historically rooted in very powerful processes of the encounter between our own and different, often "threatening," cultures from around the world. Walton shows that the taboo on cannibalism is heavily reinforced only partly out of fear of cannibals themselves; instead, cannibalism is evoked in order to use fear for other purposes, including the sale of fear entertainment. _x000B__x000B_Ranging from literature to popular journalism, film, television, and discourses on disease, Our Cannibals, Ourselves provides an all-encompassing, insightful meditation on what happens to popular culture when it goes global.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09278-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Like many other 1960s children, I saw my first “cannibal” on television. As a regular viewer of the TV program “Gilligan’s Island,” each week I watched the trials of the protagonists, who were stranded on a desert island where they were periodically visited by cannibalistic headhunters. Thinking back, I note that the headhunters of “Gilligan’s Island” presented an intriguing spectacle: People of color, they wore grass skirts, bones through their noses and ears, strings of shell beads, and hats that curiously resembled beaver busbies, with the addition of goatlike horns attached on either side. In other words, their characterization was...

  5. 1. “Donner, Party of Fifty!”
    (pp. 9-34)

    In cannibal narratives, de Certeau’s spatializing operation is manifested in a form of circular mapping that moves from Europe to the colonies and back to the West (in its contemporary formulations). Such stories effect a temporal and discursive circle, which discernibly shifts and changes over time, depending on religious movements, social customs, and global expansion. Indeed, as the projectory of cannibalism returns to its originary home in the West, it exemplifies the displacement of cultural boundaries of which de Certeau speaks because the borders between the familiar and the strange are established on constructions of anthropophagy. That is, although flesh-eating...

  6. 2. The Body Politic
    (pp. 35-63)

    InWhiteness Visible,Valerie Babb argues that North American colonialist logic alters over the centuries, as follows: “The Christian/heathen distinction changes to a civilized/savage and, subsequently, to a white/nonwhite distinction” (21). In a similar fashion, the historical boundaries delimiting cannibalistic cultural fields shift: from early Christian divisions between sanctified and heathen to Renaissance prioritizations of revenge cannibalism over cannibalism for food. In the New World, ritualistic anthropophagy was privileged over basic flesh-eating until the nineteenth century, when demarcations were established between “civilized” and “savage.” Shortly after these demarcations were initiated, however, they began to collapse as cannibalism came “home” from...

  7. 3. “I Want to Bite Your Neck”
    (pp. 64-84)

    David B. Morris observes inIllness and Culture in the Postmodern Age(2000) that “eerily, the period famous for inventing systems thinking in electronics and communications now finds itself vulnerable to an infectious disease [AIDS] that attacks a crucial and complex human system” (60). Just as the computer viruses (both fictive and virtual) discussed in chapter 2 consume the inner workings of a computer, so AIDS devours the immune system. As I have argued throughout, disease containment and cannibalism intertwine, and a brief history of perceptions of harm—be they immunological, physical, or national—demonstrates how often those perceptions are...

  8. 4. Dog Eat Dog: Mad Cow Disease
    (pp. 85-104)

    Although consumers may be attracted to vampiric characteristics, the same cannot be said for cannibalistic products. Indeed, far from dramatizing the seductive lure of the flesh-eater, many popular films flag cultural repugnance for various types of “food,” including the 1973 featureSoylent Green, which focuses on a future wherein population growth exceeds food supply, and humanity must consume itself.Soylent Greenfollows the investigation of a police officer, named Simonson (played by Charlton Heston), into a widely distributed “miracle food” called “soylent green.” When Simonson breaks into a food plant, he discovers that the source of “soylent green” is dead...

  9. 5. Diet Disorders
    (pp. 105-120)

    Antonia Bird’s 1999 film,Ravenous, offers an alternative view of meat and its consumption. Rather than mirroring the warnings embedded in mad cow narratives, Bird’s film suggests that flesh, especially human flesh, is the ultimate food. Indeed,Ravenous,replete with graphic ingestion scenes, led Robert Horton, film reviewer for, to quip that “this movie has cannibalism likeTitanichad an iceberg.”Ravenousis a strange blend of the western and horror genres, set in a mid–nineteenth-century military outpost in California. When the outpost’s inhabitants are alerted to a foundering wagon train, they are also introduced to the extraordinary...

  10. 6. “If You Love Someone, Hunt Them Down and Kill Them”
    (pp. 121-140)

    I have argued throughout this study that whereas non-Western cannibalism still remains largely a myth, Western cannibalism is becoming more common. This is particularly evident in the cannibalistic behavior of serial killers, both historical and fictional. As I outline the histories of flesheating murderers in the following pages, I will focus on the ways they have been constructed in narrative. That is, real killers, like their fictive counterparts, are knowable to most people only through the accounts written about them.¹ This is not to suggest that historical killers have had the same effect as those that are fictional; the consequences...

  11. 7. Cannibal Culture
    (pp. 141-154)

    Expanding on the theme of the killer next door in the 1980s, a decade synonymous with junk bonds, savings and loan scandals, and business mergers and takeovers (all of which foregrounded an economy that seemed to be cannibalizing itself), a small-budget, independent film appeared and, according to Nick Martin and Marsha Porter, offered an “inventive but rather bizarre solution to the recession” (319). Viewed in this light, Paul Bartel’s 1982Eating Raoulembodies a microcosm of the political macrocosm, a small-time response to a big-time movement, a movement that figuratively cannibalizes the weak to fortify the strong.

    Eating Raoul,a...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 155-160)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 161-170)
  14. Index
    (pp. 171-172)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 173-174)