cannibalism: Eating ourselves for Entertainment
have become so good at imitating reality that we will take the
fake version over the real one every single time,” Michael
Nigro, the co-director of American
Cannibal, told me.
man may be right.
savor the jpeg of Hillary Clinton in front of a backcloth of the
White House, crave the video clip of Karl
Rove rapping for journalists, relish the digitally enhanced 30-second
spot of Lou
Gehrig addressing an empty Yankee Stadium for Alcatel, damn near
salivate over the YouTube of Tony
Snow warning “we may be out of touch with reality because
we sit around and we look at fractional pictures on the screen.” Yummylicios,
those pseudo-event are lip-smacking good simulacra. Bush in
a codpiece on an aircraft carrier? Make that two to go.
imagine my imaginary amazement when, on the same week Nigro’s
documentary about reality TV and a report noting a sharp rise in pathological
narcissism were released, French philosopher Jean
Baudrillard died. The prophet humorist of hyperreality, Baudrillard
knew all about taking the fake version over the real one. He understood
our place in the virtual vacuum where what is real is what was once
Cannibal was filmed on location in that virtual vacuum.
Nigro, with his co-director Perry Grebin, initially set out to
document the sausage-making process of creating entertainment by
filming TV writers Gil Ripley and Dave Roberts pitching sitcoms
to producers. Ripley and Roberts soon discovered that fictional
sitcom didn’t sell. Reality TV, however, did. After a brief
episode of soul-searching, the writers took the premise of Survivor, added
steroids and begin pitching a reality TV show that featured contestants
convinced they were eating the remains of other contestants. Believe
it or not, Ripley and Roberts found a taker for their idea, Kevin
Blatt, the promoter behind the Paris Hilton sex tape. Filming soon
began on the faux-cannibal reality TV pilot, The
Ultimate Ultimate Challenge.
back at the documentary, Nigro and Grebin were following Ripley’s
and Robert’s ultimately disastrous path, which, in turn, became
a lesson in the anthropologist
version of Heisenberg’s Principal of Uncertainty: You can’t
measure a system without changing it.
turn the camera this way or that way and you've changed reality,” Grebin
told me. “The events themselves actually become different.”
is what makes American Cannibal such a hauntingly hyperreal
documentary romp. Imagine Baudrillard and his pop contemporaries,
Daniel Boorstin, Guy DeBord et al, hovering just outside
the camera lens while Nigro and Grebin, aiming their camera to steer
the narrative, plunge balls out into a reality TV fishing expedition
brings us to the man who the hocked the Paris Hilton sex tape, Kevin
Blatt — or as he likes to call himself, The PT Barnum of Pussy.
is definitely a shameless and sleazy promoter,” Grebin said. “People
find him repulsive. He's also really honest and he's also really
good documentary. He fills the bill.”
a camera at a sleazy promoter and what do you get? Sleaze. At one
point ringmaster Blatt fills the bill by throwing a splendiferously
sordid party. Grebin, Nigro, Ripley and Roberts are invited.
would never have had that party if we weren't involved,” Nigro
said, suggesting that Blatt was well-aware of Heisenberg’s
you’re wondering what happens when you throw a party for a
documentary crew and a porn posse, go see American Cannibal. The
vibe is pure spectacle. The music pulsates. The egos, among other
things, inflate. Cue the strobes and lasers. A woman starts to strip.
She’s down to her tampon string, before Grebin, confronted
with his own simulacra, shouts to Nigro, "What movie are we
movie, indeed. American Cannibal is ultimately a copy of
a copy of a copy, so degenerate in its relation to the original (reality
TV porn) that it can no longer be said to be a copy. The simulacrum,
in this case American Cannibal, stands on its own — a
copy without a model — literally. The
Ultimate Ultimate Challenge ultimately never made it to
TV due to a contestant's injury and unforeseen circumstances.
were times when Grebin and Nigro might have thought they swallowed
the red pill and dropped into The Matrix — that cavalier
attempt to bring Baudrillard's real and hyperreal to the big screen. “The
Matrix is surely the kind of film about the matrix that the
matrix would have been able to produce," Baudrillard said about
the Wachowski brothers Keanu Reeves vehicle.
naive illusion about the media is that they are used by those in
power to manipulate, seduce and alienate the masses. A vulgar interpretation,” Baudrillard
once wrote. “The more subtle version, the ironic version is
precisely the opposite. It is that, through the media, it is the
masses who manipulate those in power.”
other words, Karl Rove, we’ve got your number. We’re
the manipulators. We’re the media. It’s our movie and
the message is pure effigy: It’s not who we are, it’s
what our images — digital and otherwise — say we are.
Between MySpace, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, YouTube, American
Cannibal, and the Alternate Reality Gaming Network the possibilities
are deceivingly infinite, as well as infinitely deceiving.
movie of the masses, however, may not have a happy ending. Those
researchers who wrote about pathological narcissism in a report entitled Egos
Inflating Over Time warned that our self-contained world
could cause serious personal and social problems in the future. People
with an overblown sense of self (read: those inclined to take the
fake version over the real one every single time) tend to be disinterested
in intimacy — lashing out if they’re rejected or insulted.
don't feel redeemed, or validated, or even useful unless a camera
is aimed at them,” Grebin said. “This has become so important
to the younger generation that if they don’t go out at night
and get photographed, they feel that they've misspent their evening.”
The inhabitants of that global village can’t say no to meaning,
no matter how superficial. Photoshop it. Drop in the green screen.
Post it on YouTube. And after they’re flamed, what to do? How
about a little ultra-violence?
we should chill out, kick back and enjoy our self-contained predicament — stop
being alarmists and relax on the skillet. Who needs violence, when
you have the culinary arts? Rare, medium or well-done, we’ll
eat ourselves, the TV image we make about ourselves, and the documentary
we make about that.
Here’s the menu: American Cannibal, American Idol, Anna
Nicole Smith, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Fear Factor, Paulina
Porizkova, Project Runway, Simon Cowell, Donald Trump, Funk
Master Flex, Sanjaya Malakar, Britney’s bald head, George Bush’s
empty one — there is no end. And it's all deliciously described
and delineated by the late great philosopher clown Jean Baudrillard.
he rest in simulated peace.
Callahan, March 29, 2007