Cannibalism is having its cool moment as humanity goes belly-up

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      By Angela Vannatter

      Like many, I have been avidly consuming Yellowjackets this year. Loosely inspired by the events of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, the Showtime series documents a high school soccer team whose plane crashes in the wilderness. Finding themselves in the dead of winter in the North American woods (filmed right here in Vancouver, in reality), the teammates turn to cannibalism in order to survive.

      From the opening scene of the pilot depicting a young girl being hunted for food by her teammates, I was instantly hooked. It was shocking—the idea that your own friends would consider eating you, let alone murdering you—yet I couldn’t get enough. And clearly, I wasn’t the only one.

      Let’s get to the meat of it. After the first season of Yellowjackets came Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, causing international uproar about abominable (and real-life) cannibalistic subject matter. But that didn’t stop Evan Peters, who played the title role, from taking home a Golden Globe. Kourtney Kardashian even popularized eating her placenta back in 2013, bringing the concept of eating your own protein to the mainstream.

      The question keeps coming up: why are we so fascinated with cannibalism? And why is the thought of eating each other so prevalent in pop culture right now?

      It seems cannibalism doesn’t cross the mind unless we’re talking about humanity going belly-up.

      We find ourselves in an era where anxieties about our present and future intrude on our thoughts every day. From climate change and housing to polarizing politics, it feels like we’re constantly in a state of conflict. Yellowjackets articulates this well, showcasing a group of girls who have to prove their value to each other so they don’t run the risk of being the next fear-driven feast.

      In fact, Hozier’s latest single, “Eat Your Young,” touches on just that. As he sings, “Skinning the children for a war drum/Putting food on the table selling bombs and guns/It’s quicker and easier to eat your young,” the Irish musician offers a commentary on how our decisions cause us to devour each other.

      There is an existential dread that follows millennials and gen-Zers as we look around at what we’ve inherited—trying to balance living responsibly with feeling alive. Amidst these daunting concerns for the world ahead, we’re also experiencing a reckoning of our own religious, familial, and physical traumas, navigating how to be functional humans who not only survive, but actually thrive.

      If you were in the Christian school system vortex, you might remember being told as a kid that the “body of Christ is broken for you” and the “blood of Christ is shed for you.” Though the heart of this statement is more symbolic, the hint of cannibalism is something to chew on. If Jesus gave more than an arm and a leg for us to live fruitful lives, why do we keep hurting each other and our planet? Is transubstantiation the ground zero of our current cannibalism content kick?

      Religion and cannibalism go hand-in-hand, even today. In The Last of Us, viewers watched Ellie try to escape a religious cult beginning to eat each other. Fed by the text of Revelation, and their own dead, the group chants, “When we are in need, He shall provide,” and boy did they bite right in.

      On the other hand, singer-songwriter Ethel Cain created quite the name for herself in the alternative/indie scene for centring her debut album, Preacher’s Daughter, on love, growing up, and—you guessed it— cannibalism. The record tells the tale of a girl who falls into a religious cult after leaving a toxic boyfriend. She escapes, only to be recaptured by her lover and eventually eaten by him. The album ends with the track “Stranger,” where Cain implores, “If I’m turning in your stomach, am I making you feel sick?” What a crescendo.

      Let’s return to the main course. While we may not legitimately be under the threat of having to eat each other (yet), societal structures and oppressive ideologies sure do kill our spirits, gnawing away at our lust for life. Just like we’re gutted by the gore in Yellowjackets, my stomach also turns thinking about what might lie ahead.

      While film, television, and music often dish up entertainment so you can escape your daily life, an appetite for cannibalism content is brewing, and we keep digging in. The act itself is unthinkable, just like many realities we face today.

      Yellowjackets depicts a relationship among survivors. Though this soccer team may be stranded in the woods, we’re similarly in the trenches of the problems we, ourselves, have created right here at home—with the cost of living skyrocketing, an unregulated drug crisis murdering our neighbours, and the oft-dismissed climate emergency looming. We’re all starving for change.

      With all this in mind, one thing is certain. In pop culture, cannibalism is cool—and, just like the trajectory of our future, it’s a lot to digest. 


      (IDEAS is for writers and other creatives to explore ideas in essay form that exist outside the news cycle. It can be anything—microcosmic, intergalactic, funny, esoteric, whatever. As long it has heart, has something to say, and is you being you.)