Chelsea G. Summers had a vision: a guy who was accidentally hit by a car, quick work with a corkscrew and liver served Tuscan-style, on toast.
This figment of her warped imagination led Ms. Summers to write a novel, True Hunger, about a restaurant critic who loves the (male) human body.
It turns out that cannibalism has its time and place. In the pages of some recently released stomach-churning books, TV and movie screens, Ms. Summers and others say that time is now.
There’s The Yellow Jackets, a Showtime series about a high school girls’ soccer team stranded in the woods for months, which premiered in November. Fresh, released on Hulu in March, is about the underground trade in human flesh for the wealthy.
Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel Lapvona, published in June, depicts cannibalism a medieval village beset by plague and drought. in 2020 in English and in 2017 Agustina Bazterrica’s Spanish-language book Tender Is the Flesh imagines a future society where people are raised like cattle. Also in 2017 The film “Green” by director and screenwriter Julia Ducournau, which came out, tells the story of a vegetarian veterinary student whose taste for meat gets worse after eating raw offal.
Still waiting for “Bones and All,“ starring Timothée Chalamet. The film, about young love turning into human consumption, is expected to be released later this year or early next year. Its director Luca Guadagnino called the story “very romantic”.
Can you handle it?
The fascination with cannibalism can, perhaps unsurprisingly, be very intense, as Ms. Summers discovered while writing “A Certain Hunger.”
When fact-checkers called in about the frenetic scenes in which the book’s anti-heroine grotesquely, epicureanly prepares her murdered lovers, their inquiries about the intricacies of human slaughter disturbed Ms. Summers so much that she went “completely raw vegan” for two weeks. The creator was horrified by her own monster.
Publishers could also be. When in 2018 Ms. Summers, who uses a pseudonym, bought the book, it was rejected more than 20 times before Audible and Unnamed Press made offers.
If she were selling A Certain Hunger today, Ms. Summers, who is 59 and lives in New York and Stockholm, thinks it would be easier. “God bless the Yellowjackets,” she said during a Zoom interview that was later interrupted by her dog, Bob, vomiting in the background.
in 2020 Her book, released in December, started to take off on social media, with actress Anya Taylor-Joy posting it on Instagram and garnering a lot of praise on the TikTok corner known as BookTok, about a year later, around the time Yellowjackets debuted on Showtime. .
The pilot episode of Yellowjackets shows a teenage girl trapped, bled like a deer and served on a plate in a gruesome ritual. Bloodthirsty fans continue to explore the scene on Reddit, where a subreddit message board dedicated to the series has more than 51,000 members.
The show’s tension comes from knowing that cannibalism is coming, but when? And why?
Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, Los Angeles-based creators of Yellowjackets, say they wanted the plot to suggest that human consumption isn’t just for the characters to survive. Not only does it add spine-tingling creepiness to an already dark story about a football team stranded in the desert, it separates it from the true story of 1972. A Uruguayan rugby team stuck in the Andes, whose members resorted to cannibalism. to survive (That event was later dramatized in the 1993 film Alive,“ starring Ethan Hawke.)
“I think we’re often attracted to the things that repel us the most,” Lyle, 42, said. Mr Nickerson, 43, said: “But I keep coming back to this idea, how much of our aversion to these things is fear of their ecstasy?
Nor is Ms. Moshfegh’s “Lapvona” overtly cannibalistic; Unlike A Certain Hunger, there is no stew with bouquets. But one scene involving a toenail is chilling.
Known for his disturbing, dark stories, including Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Ms. Moshfegh, 41, who lives in Los Angeles, wrote “Lapvon” in 2020. in spring, in the first days of the pandemic. “I wrote it in such complete isolation that I felt an incredible freedom to go wherever I was led,” she said.
A character who eats another human being, the ultimate sin in his religiously vegetarian village, does so out of “depraved desperation,” said Ms. Moshfegh, herself a vegetarian.
Tales as old as time
Bill Schutt, author of Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, says fictional stories about cannibalism are as old as literature itself.
“When you take something so horrific and put it through this fantasy lens,” he said, “we blame it, but we know we’re safe.” At least most of the time: Dr. Schutt only made it through half of Hulu’s Fresh before having to stop filming. “It was almost too well done,” he said.
But as his book documents, cannibalism has occurred all over the world throughout history, giving these fanciful tales a heavy air.what if“
The book provides historical examples: “mumia,” a popular practice in 17th-century Western Europe of using ground mummified bones to treat various ailments; the infamous Donner Party pioneers stranded in the Sierra Nevada in 1846; ritual cannibalism in Papua New Guinea until the 1950s; and famine-induced cannibalism in China in the 1960s.
Dr. Schutt’s book also tells the story of a so-called cannibal cop, a former NYPD officer who was arrested in 2013 for participating in fetish forums that fantasized about cannibalizing women, and was later acquitted. The New York Post published more than 30 articles about the case, including one that suggested a Halloween costume — a policeman’s uniform with a severed arm on a plate.
Flavors of this saga can be found in more recent allegations of sexual and physical abuse against actor Armie Hammer, which included allegedly sending cannibalistic messages to a romantic partner. Mr. Hammer denied the allegations and declined to comment for this article through his lawyer.
After the allegations became public, he was dropped by his agency, checked into rehab and is now selling timeshares in the Cayman Islands, Variety reports. Coincidentally, Mr. Hammer worked with Mr. Chalamet and Mr. Guadagnino on Call Me By Your Name.
Speaking about what might be driving the desire for cannibalism stories today, Ms Lyle, the creator of Yellowjacket, said: “I think we’re obviously living in a very strange moment.” She cited the pandemic, climate change, school shootings and years of political cacophony as possible factors.
“I think the unthinkable has become thinkable,” said Ms. Lyle, “and cannibalism is very much about the unthinkable.”
According to Ms. Summers, cannibalism is always symbolic. For the heroine of her novel, eating human flesh can be seen as a way to maintain a broken relationship. For Mrs. Summers herself, the plot of “A Certain Hunger” cannot be separated “from my personal experiences with disordered eating, with the suppression of female appetites, with the way the media chews up and spits out writers, the consumption of the bougie. – and bougie lady use,” she said.
More generally, Ms. Summers believes that the recent spate of cannibalistic plots could also be a commentary on capitalism. “Cannibalism is consuming and burning from the inside out to exist,” she said. “Burnout is basically over-consuming yourself, your energy, your will to survive, your sleep schedule, your eating schedule, your body.
Ms Moshfegh said her theory was that “this could be an antidote to the real horror of what is happening on the planet”. Like Ms. Summers, Ms. Moshfegh was at times unable to resist her work, describing the process of writing about cannibalism in Lapvona as “a little unsettling.”
“I had to think about what part of the body would be an interesting place to start,” she said, “and what it would feel like to hold someone’s severed arm in your own.”
The Yellowjackets props team had the similarly daunting task of deciding what to use as an artificial human body in the show’s pilot episode.
Should it be the lab-grown human steak made from stem cells that caused outrage at a London museum? The animal-free alternatives to chicken, beef, salmon and dairy that some companies are creating using similar technology?
Finally, the prop team left with the venison.
But they will have to find an alternative for future episodes, said Ms. Lyle and Mr. Nickerson because many of its participants are vegan.