I start my morning in frustration, because I could have sworn that Curt over at Groovy Age of Horror had posted a rumination on why he's avoiding Italian cannibal films (including a flick that tops my Must-Avoid List, "Cannibal Holocaust"), and now I can't find his post. You'll have to take it as an article of faith that Curt did, indeed, write such an essay, and that I've found myself knocking his ideas around in my head ever since I encountered it.* Curt wrote that he was particularly repulsed by cannibal films because they take something that is so essential to human existence--eating--and invert it, making it scatological and repulsive. This kind of bio-horror is especially grotesque because the audience can't escape its connection to the acts being committed on-screen. Where a zombie film provides a comfortable distance between the audience and the flesh-eater (it looks like a person, but it's a ghoul, and therefore Other-ed enough to provide a comfortable amount of mental space), cannibal films allow for no such buffer. The flesh-eater is a fellow human being, one who is portrayed as abased, primal, and dangerous.
*Let's keep in mind while reading this that I live with a man who is exists somewhere between "Extremely Fastidious" and "Posthuman" in his relationship with his biological functions, so I spend a lot of time NOT making shit jokes--biology is top-of-mind as a result of this avoidance. That "Human Centipede" movie that everybody's buzzing about is a strictly verboten subject in the Tenebrous Household. Although it is pretty funny to watch Baron XIII get so upset at the very idea of a film. I kind of want to shake Tom Six's hand.
As deeply personal as this kind of horror-reaction might be--I've heard of folks watching splatter films while eating pizza, which is something I consciously avoid--I believe that finding material funny is equally as personal and equally deep-seated in the psyche of the viewer. Slapstick is a source of laughs because human beings all have bodies, and watching those bodies perform wild pratfalls is meant to elicit laughter. This "body weirdness" is the same axis on which the horror of the cannibal film turns. The jury's out on whether or not a bit of comedy succeeds in making a specific viewer laugh--that humor may not resonate with that individual. What's curious to me is how viewers *do* tend to recognize material as "trying to be funny" (even if it's not, to him or her) in the same way a viewer recognizes a horror movie as "trying to be scary."
Two paragraphs (three if you read the footnote), and you're probably wondering what I'm on about, and why I opened this post with a photo of comedian with knife-wielding puppets. There's a point to this, I assure thee! All that babble brings me to the topic at hand: I want to talk about the genius of "Food Party," a comedy show on IFC that is the most perfect distillation of Dadaist anti-art currently on television. Billed as a "non-reality cooking show," "Food Party" is hosted by the show's creator Thu Tran (pictured throughout this post), who adopts a children's show host's perky naivete as she interacts with costumed characters and puppets in a low-fi kitchen set. The show's humor is drawn from somewhere deeper, darker, and stickier than a simple parody of kids' teevee--it's derived from an instinct-level reaction to food and not-food. That's right--Curt's horror of cannibalism is at the center of a bizarrely hilarious comedy show. The premise is incredibly simple: each 15-minute episode revolves around Thu making a meal by combining easily-recognizable edible items (pizza, turkey, chips) with far more disturbing ingredients.
How disturbing, could these other ingredients be? This week's episodes revolved around the eating of blood ("Nosferathu") and the eating of shit ("Poopisode"). Rather than existing just to repulse, "Food Party" forces its audience to consider its cavalcade of disgusting images in the context of goofy, dream-like humor. In the "Turkey's" episode, Thu blithely kills one of her companion puppets and uses his body as turkey stuffing--it's a scene that manages to be both hilarious and gross.
There's more going on in "Food Party" than the interplay between cute and icky. Thu Tran navigates the murky waters of the post-hipster culture (one in which "irony" has locked "satire" in a closet, where it's slowly starving to death) by creating a show whose subversive humor primarly hinges on the act of eating, not on the sending up of children's teevee shows. There's also some sly commentary on what different cultures view as acceptable food. Ms. Tran is of Vietnamese descent, and having been raised in Cleveland, the tension between the food of her native culture and the food of her adopted culture likely had an impact on her childhood. If eating is a biological act that all humans must engage in to keep body and soul together, then judgements surrounding food hit close to the core of one's personhood.**
**This is why I'm infuriated to what's probably an unreasonably tooth-gnashing degree by fussy motherfuckers in the office who bitch about the very presence of certain foods in their proximity. Seriously--grow the fuck up. You don't live in a bubble, you precious goddamn snowflake.
Food is a driving force of the id. While artists in the surrealist tradition and its many offshoots have explored primal sexual urges in a spectrum of manners ranging from plushy inviting to squishily repugnant to jaggedly dangerous, food and eating are far less popular subjects. Well-known works like Kenny Scharf's glossy donuts and Claes Oldenburg's "Pastry Case" cast a humorous eye on the fetishization of food, and "Food Party" is the next outrageous step in this tradition of shameless id-sploration.