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A still from Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Apparently, the 2006 film was a parable about class, power and food behaviors. (AP)

The Politics Of Cannibalism. Or, Crazy Things Academics Write About

by Dan Charles
Nov 9, 2011

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Dan Charles

We don't just eat food these days. We think about it. Deeply. Thanks to Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), we cannot look at a pork chop any more without contemplating its cultural and historical significance.

This goes double for the young and well-educated. University students are flocking to courses on the sociology and politics of food.

And once intellectuals get rolling down the food aisle, who knows where they'll end up. One just ended up in a really dark corner. Here's his latest contribution: Cannibalism, Class and Power: A Foodways Analysis of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Series. The article appears in a recent issue of the journal Food, Culture, and Society.

No, it's not a joke. Not intentionally, anyway. "Foodways," it turns out, refers to all the traditions that surround food — how it's harvested and prepared; who gets to eat it; who cleans up afterward. From reading the paper, I gather that there are some peculiar food practices in these movies which involve eating, well, people. Studying how this happens "offers a productive lens through which to analyze how these films negotiate issues of class and power."

Translation? The author, Mark Bernard, in the theatre and film department at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, explains that cannibalism in the original film is a kind of working-class revolt; in later films, it's an entrepreneurial venture and, in a film released during the American "war on terror," a metaphor for "American militarism and imperialism."

Bernard confesses that he wasn't originally all that interested in the food angle on film. He just always loved horror and cult movies. But a colleague who's working on a book about food films, especially documentaries, persuaded him to take a fresh look at his favorite genre. Now he's hooked. "I want to do an essay about food in the film version of American Psycho," he tells The Salt.

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