Elbowing its way through last week’s COVID/incursion/ COVID/impeachment news stream, was the completely outrageous ‘what in the weird’ story alleging that Armie Hammer is a cannibal.
Indeed. But let’s rewind a bit. Armie Hammer is the heir to the Armand Hammer oil dynasty. Armie played Oliver in the lovely Call Me By Your Name and both Winklevoss twins in The Social Network. And in recent days women have branded him a cannibal based on their exchanges with him on social media. Not a cannibal in the emotional vampire way it should be noted, but an actual human flesh gnawer. One anecdote has him wanting to remove a woman’s rib and barbecue it.
Today, I’ll defend the perversions of this strapping squillionaire. Not because I’ve ever spent a millisecond thinking about Armie Hammer’s turn-ons before, but rather, because the complexities of desire are absolutely in my wheelhouse and cannibalism is a delectable vehicle for exploration.
In a week where I’ve given commentary about unsolicited dick pics, and have been working on a chapter about the online abuse of women, it’s incumbent that I discuss consent before things get messy. I don’t mean consent to being filleted of course—after all, that’s not really what’s going on here—but consent to being part of dialogue that’s confronting and, by some measures, violent. Kinky or not, if any sex act is on the table, even if it’s just dirty talk, all participants need to be enthusiastically on board. So if the idea of Armie Hammer suckling at your marrow prompts the bad kind of shudder, he needs to respect your limits or you need to flee.
An additional disclaimer here is that Armie asserts no interest in any of this palaver. His lady pen pals say he’s a cannibal, he says he’s not, and—to further complicate matters—many of the articles divulging all of this salaciousness have been published in venues notorious for kink-shaming. Facts are unclear. My defence, therefore, must be of erotic cannibalism as a concept rather than Armie as a man.
Years ago I wrote a book about sexual perversion and in it reflected on a time a man suggested something to me during sex that shocked me out of my arousal. And because I have no poker face, I looked suitably appalled. Only in writing that book, only in thinking about that incident many times after, did I realise it wasn’t actually a proposition so much as a spoken fantasy. In researching for that book, in replaying that incident and others like it—including, it should be noted, times when the alarmingly debauched stuff actually worked wonders—I was forced to think about words, and maybe even words alone, as a means to enjoy a perversion.
In that book I proposed we think about engagement with kinks on a spectrum. For many of us, there’s an abundance of taboos which make us wet, which make us hard, but which we won’t ever physically participate in. Sometimes we won’t act because doing so would cross a psychological barrier that’s a tad too confronting. For some taboos doing anything other than thinking and masturbating about them would be outright bloody illegal. Cannibalism is a perfect example. Incest fits here too, ditto bestiality: i.e., fantasies that won’t ever be made palatable or commercial through a 50 Shades of Grey-esque pop culture makeover.
While some folks will spend a lifetime actively quashing their turn-ons—who might seek out counselling, ritual and repentance, alternatively join conservatives in vocal denunciations—for others they’ll move along the spectrum opting for different degrees of involvement. Depending on their kink, a small number of people will throw caution to the wind and choose full immersion: cannibals have, afterall, faced legal consequences for acting on their… appetites. But most enthusiasts will only ever dabble. Porn is an obvious outlet, providing a way to voyeuristically and maybe even vicariously partake without the mess of physical participation. For others, the fantasy will be channelled into words. By talking it through, writing or reading about it, or through role-play, it’s a way to experience the kink without the calamities.
While the law or the mess or the lack of kitchen space might all be barriers to action, equally so is yen or lack thereof: not everyone wants to live out their fantasy, regardless of feasibility. For some their imaginings will always be sexier than action. For others, the kink will just be one item on their long-list of turn-ons and certainly no reason to hire a spit roaster.
The vast majority of this recent flesh-eating chatter positions Armie as a cannibal, not just that he merely has cannibalistic fantasies. Such a frame overlooks the reality that talking through an idea in no way constitutes a plan. If merely rabbiting on about something was more than wish-casting we’d have a whole lot more guitarists, novelists and New Year’s resolution success stories.
Also overlooked here is the thorough normalness of extreme expressions of love (or horniness) that get voiced when we’re all mad and damp. For those who’ve been lucky enough to be in a dalliance where a fabulous faculties-takeover has transpired, there’s something erotically familiar about want manifesting in metaphors and fantasies centred on consuming and being consumed, devouring and being devoured. Condiments optional, of course.
And even outside of infatuation, nods to cannibalism are easily detected in our dialogue of love and sex. Fat little babies could be eaten right up. The phrase I want to eat you is far more common—and arguably far sexier—than the proposition of an evening of cunnilingus. And oh-oh, here she comes, she’s a maneater!
Unless human gristle turns up on one of the Hammer properties and the dreadful details get packaged up for a Netflix six-parter, my hunch is that this commotion is little more than the thought police out to dictate the good and bad of imagination, and ever more evidence of personal taste and individual offence once again justifying public shaming.
Lauren Rosewarne is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne. Her latest book—Why We Remake: The Politics, Economics and Emotions of Film and TV Remakes—was released in 2020.