The Short Report

Cannibalism‚ an extreme form of Banting? What’s the consensus?

23 August 2017 - 12:45
Of course cannibalism is abhorrent (we tell ourselves) but‚ wait‚ is it? What’s the current consensus on Twitter?
Of course cannibalism is abhorrent (we tell ourselves) but‚ wait‚ is it? What’s the current consensus on Twitter?
Image: iStock

On Friday‚ a man walked into a police station in Estcourt and said‚ “I’m tired of eating human flesh.”

Two days later‚ he and two others were in custody‚ charged with the illegal possession of human remains. I assume they were given separate cells and plastic cutlery‚ but I digress.

The story‚ like a cautious butcher‚ made a small splash. But things escalated dramatically on Tuesday‚ when the Ladysmith Gazette claimed that “hundreds” of people in Estcourt and Ladysmith had admitted at a community meeting that they‚ too‚ had been engaging in some light social cannibalism.

Three grave-robbers is one thing‚ but nobody expects the cannibal apocalypse to sit politely on rows of plastic chairs and be brought to order by a chair-cannibal. The story reached the BBC and the New York Post within hours‚ and back at home it dominated the country’s largest news site.

On Tuesday night‚ the three most-read stories on News24 were “Hundreds confess to eating human flesh”‚ “’I’m tired of eating humans’” and‚ rather sinisterly given the context‚ “’I’m tired of sex with my husband’”.

But here’s where things get odd. Well‚ odder. Because‚ despite all the clicks over at News24 and a few horrified comments on social media‚ the predominant response to the story has been a strange kind of awkwardness.

Christians pretend to do it every Sunday‚ so is the problem the idea or just the execution?

No doubt there are good reasons for this. We’ve started becoming more suspicious of the news‚ suspecting fakery around every corner. This story also didn’t fit comfortably into any of the current media narratives. It wasn’t about Zuma or Trump or Putin. Although‚ come to think of it‚ all three of those live off human beings‚ so perhaps we’ve already grown tired of cannibalism stories.

But I also wonder if the muted reaction of the commentary machine reflects a fear of treading on toes in a morally relativistic world. Of course cannibalism is abhorrent (we tell ourselves) but‚ wait‚ is it? What’s the current consensus on Twitter? What if those people had a religious or cultural motive? Is it discriminatory to object to religious cannibalism? I mean‚ Christians pretend to do it every Sunday‚ so is the problem the idea or just the execution? Isn’t this just some sort of extreme Banting?

Perhaps picking up on these sensitivities‚ News24 ran a helpful article titled “5 Questions about cannibalism answered”‚ as if there are thousands of awkward teenaged cannibals out there‚ fighting disturbing urges in the lunch queue‚ who just need a good chat with Mom: “You’re going through some changes‚ my darling…” (One of the questions was “Is it socially acceptable to eat human flesh?” I didn’t go to a finishing school but I’m guessing the answer is “Probably not on a first date”.)

Strange‚ strange days.


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