Liane Al Ghusain

Cannibalism, Consumerism and Crocodile Tears.

Cannibalism, Consumerism and Crocodile Tears.

Tagged: Crocodilians, Occupy Wall St., Bourgeoisie, Jonathan Swift, Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx, René Lacoste, Larissa Sansour, Ahmed Abdel Fatah, T.Rex, Tick-Tock the Croc, Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunter, Krokodil, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sarcasm. 

Cold-blooded. That's the ideal capitalist, right? Warming up to the needs of the people only insofar as he can live off of them. When he cries? Crocodile tears. Made of crystal, compressed in China. The free market is a lot like a meat market, and a truly free meat market should arguably contain all available delicacies, including human flesh. If we are to take a brief look at the history of cannibalism, we see that it is predators at the top of the food chain (and animal mothers, apparently) that are most guilty of eating their own kind—cannibalistic species have historically included humans, alligators, Komodo dragons, and the boss of all bosses, the Tyrannosaurus Rex. To what extent do living humans both consciously and sub-consciously align themselves with sources of pre-historic power? And at what point does popular taste turn in to feed on itself, i.e. is cultural consumption inherently cannibalistic?

Satire and Capitalist Cannibals

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels portrayed capitalist society to be "more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other—bourgeoisie and proletariat." Recently, protestors in the Occupy Wall Street Movement addressed this polarized social schema by equating capitalism with cannibalism, portraying the business practices of the wealthy “1%” as tantamount to making a meal of the economically disabled remaining “99%”— a handful of protesters have even suggested the exceptionally hungry should be consuming bankers. Yum.

Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, participated in a similar form of satire when he makes "A Modest Proposal" that the rich might as well eat “a beggar’s child,” having been "assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl before twelve years old is no salable commodity;" …[unable to earn] the charge of [their own] nutriment and rags." He proposes that one-year olds would make “a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome…fricassee or a ragout.” Uh..puke. Such a suggestion definitely leaves my biological clock wanting to go back in time. 

Dramatic “solutions” such as those of the bloodthirsty Occupy protestors and of Jonathan Swift who “humbly…hope[s] will not be liable to the least objection,” (*eyeroll*), are appropriately rooted in the etymological history of the word “sarcasm.” Sarcasm comes from sarkazein which is the word used by the Greek to describe the “tearing of flesh and gnashing of teeth” (Oxford American Dictionary). A sophisticated example of such literal snark comes from Egyptian artist Ahmed Abdel Fatah, whose work “Edible” presents body parts from a man including a face, thigh, and as a garnish—edible fingers for exhibition viewers to eat, set out on a dining table set for one. The solo diner is a metonym for the occupying “1%,” whose pretense of refinement leads the wealthy to trade in true altruism for self-indulgent fine dining. Put that in your pipe and smoke it after the next time you insist on a Zagat-rated dinner.

Crocodilians as Totem Cannibals

Like the T.Rex, there is solid evidence that animals such as alligators (who are direct descendents of dinosaurs) eat one another. Crocodilians’ slinky demeanor, creepy smile and totally self-serving tears have served as fodder for plenty a villainous character (see: Tick-Tock the Croc in Peter Pan) and tenacious marketing team (see: Steve Irwin, crocodile hunter RIP). We can go back to the Soviets for promotional usage of the word “Krokodil” and to the “free world” for the smarmiest capitalist crocodile ever. 

Krokodil was a satirical magazine founded in 1922. Having its homebase in the USSR meant targeting “safe” subjects such as the alcoholism of Soviet workers and the overall ridiculousness of capitalist countries. The name Krokodil led to other Soviet magazines with a “sting” such the Azerbaijani Hedgehog. I found this periodical name game to be a sweet form of animism, a subtle alternative to the almost obligatory atheism that comes with being a Communist…Until a rather rocknroll friend of mine brought to my attention:—contemporaneously in Russia, the word Krokodil refers to a masochistic drug, whereby a cheap form of heroin is made by cutting so many corners that the result is often a gangrenous falling away of flesh. The results are gruesomely graphic, and make me feel like we are at war with ourselves. Why has everything become so hardcore? 

If we look to continental crocodiles, the story of French tennis player René Lacoste is the ultimate example of a predatorial figure who capitalized on his success by retailing smarmy consumer goods to the masses. Lacoste got nicknamed “The Crocodile” from ‘killing’ other players on the court, in one case winning a bet and receiving an alligator-skin suitcase, which ultimately led to Lacoste’s own crocodile-encrusted clothing brand. As if the flocks of douchy double-popped collar masses weren’t enough, we also have the Lacoste organization to thank for perhaps the most offensive art world decision of 2012 (the Sharjah Art Foundation took it home in 2011). 

If you ask me, we are not aware enough of how linked capitalism and cannibalism are, consistently excusing the former whilst hypocritically sensationalizing the latter (shh, is that the silence of the lambs I hear?) Consumption has become extreme and self-indulgent. Yes, there is an outbreak of people eating other people’s faces, but there are also blind albino alligators living off human waste in the sewers of New York (Alligators: the new cockroach) and teenagers in Russia eating away at their own skin.