Bizarro cannibalism

The Bizarro strip from 5/30, which reminds us of the bizarre in Bizarro:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

A grotesque pun that turns on the ambiguity between the common noun peanuts (referring to a food item commonly offered as a snack by airlines) and the proper noun Peanuts (referring to the Charles Schulz cartoon and the characters in it). Instead of honey-roasted peanuts, the attendants are offering honey-roasted Peanuts — Lucy, Charlie Brown, Linus, and so on.

Now, Charlie Brown and the gang are only cartoon children, but they are children, and #1 is a cartoon with human characters, which makes the scene look a lot like cannibalism, in fact cannibalism to satisfy routine snack hunger, not even cannibalism to avoid starvation, or as part of a cultural ritual — so that it inspires revulsion. And some very uneasy laughter.

Digression: the book Peyote Cowboy. Being read by a passenger on the plane. You probably haven’t heard of it, and it’s in no way important to the cartoon, so it’s an Easter egg allusion. From my 6/6/21 posting “Pandering to the bass”, noting that one element in a cartoon under analysis there

adds nothing to our understanding of the cartoon; it’s just a little gift for some viewers — the visual counterpart to what I’ve called Easter egg quotations.

But Peyote Cowboy is personally significant to the cartoonist, though not to the rest of us.  From the website for the book:

Diego Piraro is the pen name of Dan Piraro, who is best known as the cartoonist responsible for the widely-syndicated newspaper cartoon Bizarro.

After moving to Mexico with his wife, Christy, in late 2016, he began work on a massive graphic novel project called Peyote Cowboy under the name Diego Piraro, in honor of the art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

When the manuscript was finished, he began the monumental task of illustrating this sweeping story of a cowboy in the Old West who, while searching for his long-lost son, finds himself grappling with a world he can barely make sense of.

The story will be published serially online and supported by Patreon subscribers, who get access not only to the latest installments but also to special related content like early sketches, character backstories, experimental and extra art, and videos of Dan describing his process and experiences with writing and illustrating this story.

Background on honey roasted peanuts. As airline snack food. From the Serious Eats site, “Make Honey Roasted Peanuts at Home” by Lee Zalben on 8/10/18:

When they’re good, honey roasted peanuts are a magnificent symphony of sweet and savory flavors with nutty and floral notes, and a crunch and munchability that’s second to none. When they’re bad, it’s like eating a mouthful of dried peas dipped in sugar and salt. Blech.

Why are they bad so often? For starters, the name “honey roasted” can be a misnomer. Let’s start with the “roasted” part. To roast something would suggest that you’re cooking it, and if the word “honey” is before it, you’d think the honey is somehow part of this cooking process. This is not always true, hence so many bad nuts out there.

After reviewing a few of the peanut patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, it’s quite evident that very few of the honey roasted peanuts we’re buying in supermarkets are actually raw peanuts roasted in honey. More likely the case, the peanuts are first dry-roasted then sprayed or tumbled with some blend of sugar and salt, a bit of honey, and a lot of flavor enhancers.

Some honey roasted peanuts are dry-roasted then “candied” by glazing the peanuts in a hot mixture of honey, sugar, and more flavor enhancers. This is probably the closest thing to “honey roasting” we’ll find in stores, but results really vary by manufacturer and oftentimes many preservatives are added. “Honey roasted” has really just become a term we use to describe anything with honey in it.

[There follows] a recipe for making honey roasted peanuts, or perhaps “honey glazed” is more accurate of a term. The results are more rustic-looking than the perfectly coated peanuts you’d buy at the store.

And then, briefly, honey roasted peanuts as an airplane snack. From the Spoon University site, “The 20 Airlines With the Best In-Flight Snacks, Ranked: Because free food is all that matters”, by Renee Spillane”:

[#6: Delta] Why fix what’s not broken? Delta offers several classic airline snacks for free on every flight. Your in-flight options include honey roasted peanuts, pretzels, yogurt granola bars, and those amazing Biscoff cookies you always sneak into your bag for later.

Background on human cannibalism. Wikipedia manages to assert the occurrence of the practice as a cultural routine in many parts of the world, then to cast doubt on that claim:

Human cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh or internal organs of other human beings. … The Island Carib people of the Lesser Antilles, from whom the word “cannibalism” is derived, acquired a long-standing reputation as cannibals after their legends were recorded in the 17th century. Some controversy exists over the accuracy of these legends and the prevalence of actual cannibalism in the culture. … Cannibalism has been well documented in much of the world, including Fiji, the Amazon Basin, the Congo, and the Māori people of New Zealand. … Cannibalism has been said to test the bounds of cultural relativism because it challenges anthropologists “to define what is or is not beyond the pale of acceptable human behavior”. [But] Some scholars argue that no firm evidence exists that cannibalism has ever been a socially acceptable practice anywhere in the world, at any time in history, although this has been consistently debated against.

Another Bizarro. With more grotesque cannibalism. The strip of 11/13/97 (yes, 1997):

(#2) Two worlds intersect: the real world of fancy restaurants; the fantasy world of cannibalism, in which the diners judge the waiters by how tasty they are to eat

#2 also introduces a bit of language play, involving the uses of the famously multi-functional adjective good in English (as well as other generalized evaluative adjectives, like excellent and terrible), where they are understood as conveying ‘having / not having the qualities required for a particular role’, where the role in  question is determined by context. In the case of #2, one understanding is supplied in the linguistic context: The waiter was / wasn’t good can always be understood as conveying ‘good / not good as a waiter’. Other understandings can come from the non-linguistic context: in the case of the restaurant Chez Cannibal in #2, the waiter serves not only as a waiter but also as the main, or meat, course, so that The waiter was / wasn’t good can also be understood as conveying ‘tasty / not tasty’. In still other contexts it could have other understandings: in a restaurant Chez La Queue serving a gay male clientele, with waiters who serve not only as bringers of food but also as providers of their penises for sexual purposes, The waiter was / wasn’t good can also be understood as conveying ‘sexually satisfying / not satisfying’.

In any case, in addition to the ‘having the qualities required for a particular role’ sense, the adjective good also famously (at least in philosophical circles) has the sense ‘possessing or displaying moral virtue’ that isn’t context-dependent. So it’s conceivable, though unlikely, that the couple in #2 are complaining that the waiter — though he performed well as a waiter and indeed was delicious to eat — was intemperate, say by being given to excess in his spending on clothing, as evidenced in the extravagance of his attire while serving as a waiter and meat course.

Point of view. A further note: both cartoons — and in fact, discussions of cannibalism in general — take the viewpoint of the cannibals, and what they gain from consuming human flesh (as sustenance, in symbol value, and so on).  But there’s also the viewpoint of the cannibalized, and what they gain from offering their flesh for consumption (as a sacrifice for the needs of others, as a service to others, and so on). Here we have the literary exploration of their viewpoint in Douglas Adams’s The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  From the relevant Hitchhiker’s fandom wiki:

The Ameglian Major Cow (also referred to as the Dish of the Day) was one example of a race of artificially created, sentient creatures which were bred to want to be eaten. It appeared in the television adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in the second novel, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and in the sixth novel, And Another Thing….

In the second book, the Major Cow was the Dish of the Day at Milliways, which arrived when Zaphod Beeblebrox (accompanied by Arthur, Ford, and Trillian) requested to ‘meet the meat’. It was described as a large dairy animal, a “large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type.” It was said to have large watery eyes, as well as small horns and what might have been an ingratiating smile on its lips. The creature seems peaceful and at ease, and at one point is described to have “mooed.”

The creature offers Zaphod and his party his shoulder, braised in a white wine sauce, then goes on to offer other parts of its body, having worked hard to fatten itself up through force-feeding itself for months. Eventually, after Arthur and Trillian have expressed their shock and Ford has expressed his disinterest, Zaphod requests four rare steaks and the Dish of the Day goes off to shoot himself, telling Arthur not to worry, as he says “I’ll be very humane.”

Cannibal cartoons. Cannibals play a number of roles in popular culture, but a very special one in animated cartoons (and a fair number of print cartoons, like #2 above, and some coarse jokes), where a set of comic conventions grew up around a hundred years ago.

Cannibals first become prominent as conventional cartoon figures in the 20s and 30s: they were a combination of stereotypes of South Sea Islanders and Black Africans, both assumed to be primitives who were given to childish pleasures (like singing and dancing) and to savagery (like cannibalism). They were Darkies with deep black skin and big lips, surely intended to evoke not only these exotics but also African Americans. But certainly exotics, in a world with a big black pot of boiling water to cook missionaries and others in, grass skirts, spears, and bones in their noses.

Of the rich assortment of animated shorts from this period and up through, roughly, World War II, the generally recognized masterwork is the 1930 Silly Symphony “Cannibal Capers” from the Disney studio:


You can watch the cartoon here:

(#4) A notable exemplar of the Cannibal cartoon meme

From the Wikipedia page, two reviews from the time:

The Film Daily (July 13, 1930): “One of Walt Disney’s best Silly Symphonies to date. After the little band of cannibals have disported awhile in highly amusing fashion, a ferocious lion turns up and the whole gang takes to its heels. The cannibals’ intended victim, however, jumps out of the boiling pot and gives the lion the run-around, winding up by getting hold of the lion’s false teeth and using them to scare the jungle beast out of his skin.”

Billboard (July 19, 1930): “Plenty of laughs to this animated cartoon of the Walt Disney Silly Symphony series. The conveying of numerous byplays sparkling with originality and cleverness, is a big factor in mirth producing, tho there’s no overlooking the skillful animation… Strongest risibility tickler is the battle between a lion and the cannibals. Lion first chases the black-skin around, but the worm turns and the fellow has the battle won. Book this to give your audience laughs.”

The conventional stereotyping makes me very uncomfortable indeed, in much the same way as minstrel shows do — though you can find plenty of enthusiastic commenters willing to label this discomfort as political correctness.


2 Responses to “Bizarro cannibalism”

  1. Gahan Wilson | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] A blog mostly about language « Bizarro cannibalism […]

  2. Stewart Kramer Says:

    Speaking of ambiguity puns, I just noticed a headline in The Onion:

    Pfizer Announces Breakthrough Medication That Will Treat Executives To New Chalet In Swiss Alps

    (Medications are expected to treat people for some ailment, but the idea is subverted by the sense of being treated to something nice. It’s a well-constructed example of a garden path sentence, setting up a natural interpretation before the humorous twist, without seeming too contrived or awkward.)

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