Symbolically, cannibals already represent several more mundane horrors. In “What Libertarianism Is,” John Hospers offers another meaning for them. In writing of “moral cannibalism” (his emphasis), he argues:
A cannibal in the physical sense is a person who lives off the flesh of other human beings. A moral [again, Hospers’ emphasis] cannibal is one who believes he has a right to live off the “spirit” of other human beings--who believes that he has a moral claim on the productive capacity, time, and effort expended by others.There is no free lunch (pathetic pun intended), however, and moral cannibals’ appetites for the results of others’ hard work must be borne, Hospers points out, by those whom these cannibals devour:
It has become fashionable to claim virtually everything that one needs or desires as one’s right. Thus, many people claim that they have a right to a job, the right to free medical care, to free food and clothing, to a decent home, and so on. Now if one asks, apart from any specific context, whether it would be desirable if everyone had these things, one might well say yes. But there is a gimmick attached to each of them: At whose expense? [Italics are Hospers’.]In a politically correct period, Hospers’ argument might not go down well with some. Indeed, many might find his assertions a bit hard to swallow--which is why, in fiction (and, in this case, since we’re talking cannibals, most likely horror fiction, at that) often uses fantastic creatures as metaphors for more mundane (and possibly more horrible) threats, dangers, risks, and menaces.
The entitlement mentality is alive and well and living in a neighborhood near yours. However, powerful social and political forces have a vested interest in muddying debate about how much, if any, of one’s time and resources should be taken from one person, a producer (or host), and given to another, a consumer (or parasite). Therefore, fiction creates a sort of straw man, upon whom the painful truth can be unleashed.
Sure, a cannibal may want to eat someone else out of house and home (and heart and brain), but, in depicting such monsters, authors of horror stories are talking about rarities among men and women, not the reader’s friend, neighbor, or brother-in-law (or, for that matter, the reader him- or herself). After all, it’s one thing to want to devour another person’s entrails and quite another to want “a job. . . free medical care. . . free food and clothing. . . a decent home, and so on.” Right?
In times past, the “all-licensed fool,” as Shakespeare calls the court jester in King Lear, could speak freely of matters that, were others to mention them, would cost their heads, under the pretense that, as a fool, the jester was speaking nonsense, after all. Today, our modern fools, the comedians, likewise enjoy fairly wide leeway (although not as wide as that which his or her medieval counterpart was afforded). In addition, writers and other artists, once believed to be madmen and women, possessed of wild muses, or daemons, were granted similar privileges, or “license.” To some extent, they still are, largely because they have, quite wisely, adopted the stratagem of creating the straw man--or the straw bogeyman--as a surrogate for their real targets, whether these targets are those with an entitlement mentality or otherwise.
By unmasking the monster, reader and critic alike are, more often than not, likely to come face to face with a protected minority, attitude, value, or bias of the ruling class or, in America, the reigning political party of the moment. The entitlement mentality, as represented by the “moral cannibal” of whom Hospers speaks, is a conservative bogeyman.
Liberals have their own versions and counterparts, one of which is the ecological philistine who not only refuses to believe in global warming but who also persists in driving gas-guzzlers; in setting the temperature to a comfortable level, regardless of the amount of fuel that is required to maintain such comfort; in championing drilling for oil; and even in displaying the unmitigated audacity of believing that human beings have--or should have--as much a right to the land as the least snail darter. Such threats appear in such movies as Godzilla, Toxic Avenger, and The Happening and such novels as Bentley Little’s The Vanishing and Stephen King’s Under the Dome, about which King declares:
From the very beginning, I saw it as a chance to write about the serious ecological problems that we face in the world today. The fact is we all live under the dome. We have this little blue world that we've all seen from outer space, and it appears like that's about all there is. It's a natural allegorical situation, without whamming the reader over the head with it. I don't like books where everything stands for everything else. It works with Animal Farm: You can be a child and read it as a story about animals, but when you're older, you realize it's about communism, capitalism, fascism. That's the genius of Orwell. But I love the idea about isolating these people, addressing the questions that we face. We're a blue planet in a corner of the galaxy, and for all the satellites and probes and Hubble pictures, we haven't seen evidence of anyone else. There's nothing like ours. We have to conclude we're on our own, and we have to deal with it. We're under the dome. All of us.There are plenty of bogeymen for both the left and the right ends of the socioeconomic-political continuum, but, in an age of intolerant political correctness, in which freedom of speech (and the freedom of thought which it expresses) is threatened on all sides, in lieu of the medieval fool whose time has come and gone, writers, especially of horror, must disguise the real horrors about which they write by dressing these fiends in the teeth and nails of cannibals or the hidebound fur of ecological cavemen. That way, readers on both ends of the political spectrum can pretend that the movies and novels with which they disagree are really just about fiends who eat the flesh of their own kind (and not men and women possessed of an entitlement mentality) or are about nothing more than subhuman barbarians (and not traitors to the environment).
Democrats, however, know the truth about Republicans. Likewise, no Democrat can pull the wool over a Republican’s eyes. Both parties know which is beast and which is hero. The monsters in the movies they watch in the dark and about which they read in novels, long past midnight, tell them. In doing so, such stories both confirm their worst fears and validate their favorite biases.