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Into the Hive Mind: The Fannibals Would Like To Have You For Dinner

Christine Bancroft |
October 22, 2013 | 5:13 p.m. PDT


Stop that. (via jebmin.tumblr.com)
Stop that. (via jebmin.tumblr.com)
The 1991 Academy Award-winning film "Silence of the Lambs" is considered one of the scariest movies all time. It doesn't feature gore, or ghosts, or demons, or creepy children, or anything popping out at you. 

The monsters in this film are men. Specifically, the film centers around the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter, psychiatrist/serial killer/cannibal (which is quite an impressive résumé, if you ask me). He's been a featuring character in other works, but he is the original character of author Thomas Harris, who first wrote about the not-so-good doctor in his 1981 novel "Red Dragon." 

In 2013, Lecter reappears, portrayed by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (you may recognize him from "Casino Royale," the first Bond film featuring Daniel Craig as the titular agent), opposite Hugh Dancy as Will Graham. 

Subject: "Hannibal," NBC

"This is my design."

Despite the title of the show, the main character of "Hannibal" is actually Agent Will Graham (Dancy), a consultant for the FBI and teacher at the FBI Academy. We see the world through his eyes—characters included. 

Graham is called in by Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne, "The Matrix," "CSI") to help the FBI find a serial killer dubbed "the Minnesota Shrike" (a shrike being a type of bird with a sharp, hooked beak known for impaling its prey. It is also called the "butcherbird"), who has killed young women along the Mississippi River, leaving them impaled on deer antlers, often with organs removed. 

This is his design. (Art by Jasmine Grant on commission, 2013).
This is his design. (Art by Jasmine Grant on commission, 2013).
Graham has an unusual gift for empathy, and is able to recreate crime scenes from the killer's point of view. "This is my design," he says, standing at a crime scene and watching as the death and decay are removed to leave the clearest picture of the killer's actions. This makes him valuable to the FBI, but it also leaves his own emotional state compromised, and due to mental instability, he is sent to a psychiatrist under Crawford's advisement. This psychiatrist is Hannibal Lecter, a well-dressed, cultured and elegant man of indistinct European origins (although Mikkelsen is Danish, Lecter is described as Lithuanian in the novels). 

"Hannibal" is the work of cult show darling Bryan Fuller. Fuller is not one to shy away from the heady topic of death—he was also showrunner for short-lived shows "Pushing Daisies" and "Dead Like Me," both of which deal with death and the undead. But while these shows are uniquely saccharine and darkly funny takes on mortality, "Hannibal" takes on the subject with a sense of respectful artistry. 

The show itself is beautiful—every shot is uniquely framed so the show is more like a painting in motion rather than a network television show. It's not a police procedural, although there are "baddies of the week," and I'm honestly surprised, sometimes, that the show is even on a broadcast channel like NBC (although Fuller's "Heroes" was on NBC, so he has a relationship without he network).

It is as brutal as it is beautiful, but it does not fetishize the violence. The violence is not glamorized; even though one of the main characters is a serial killer (heads up: Hannibal is a cannibalistic murderer, which isn't a spoiler unless you've been under a rock for the past 25 years), it is somber, serious and realistic in its relationship between violence and its consequences. The show broaches the topic of mental illness carefully and in-depth, particularly the stigmas surrounding mental illness in society, and how that affects those afflicted with them. The show also refuses to sexualize the characters or the violence; at the San Diego Comic-Con, Fuller said that rape and sexual violence was out of bounds and, in an interview with Den of Geek, Fuller called the show "elegant horror" rather than "exploitation horror."

The show isn't for everybody. Those who are squeamish (my mom) or easily frightened (MOM.) should take caution. I wouldn't recommend, necessarily, watching the show while eating. 

Alternatively, you can do as I do, and get inspired to cook after watching the show and refer to it colloquially as "Dinner Time." (There's a running joke in fandom that "Hannibal" is a cooking show.) 


Fandom: The Fannibals

Like "Night Vale's" fandom, the Fannibals sort of appeared out of nowhere, suddenly, and took over. It was first noted on Tumblr, where suddenly, a whole lot of fans showed up and started making references, in-jokes and commentaries apparently overnight. (Actually, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor of "Night Vale" attribute some of the show's sudden spike in popularity in July to the "Hannibal" fandom, which they believe shares some overlapping interests with their podcast. Take that how you will.) 

The show has a small but avid and active fanbase—with numbers hovering around 4-5 million viewers per episode, the show was at risk of cancellation after its initial 13-episode run, but due to the Fannibals' outrage, it was brought back for a second season, which is currently in production. 

The fans are predominantly found on Tumblr and Twitter; Bryan Fuller and NBC have made good use of the social media resources available to them. Fuller frequently interacts with or retweets contributions by fans and NBC has created an active and well-maintained Tumblr (one that commonly interacts with other NBC official blogs, such as the ones for "Parks and Recreation" and its new "Sleepy Hollow.") Fuller live-tweeted the first three episodes, and when "Hannibal's" fourth episode "Oeuf" was cancelled, he took to Twitter to explain. 

"Oeuf" in Fuller's opinion, was too reminiscent of the recent mass violence, particularly the shooting at Newtown Elementary School in Connecticut, as well as the Boston Marathon bombings the week of the originally slated airdate. Because of this, the episode was pulled from broadcast and, in its place, they showed the fifth episode "Coquilles" instead. 

In my opinion, NBC has done a remarkable job of interacting with and appealing to fan communities, rather than regarding them as a smaller, very weird, subset of a larger audience. The fact is that fandoms engage in and consume media in a very different way than the casual viewer, and NBC recognizes and applauds this. (The BBC has done very well with this as well, on the other side of the Pond.) 

Fandom activity: Puns, dark humor, cosplay, flower crowning, poorly concealed cannibalism jokes and general oddity

You stop that right now. (via Bryan Fuller's Twitter)
You stop that right now. (via Bryan Fuller's Twitter)
Fandom is inherently a creative machine—its community is inspired by the media it consumes, and produces in response. "Hannibal" has had an incredible output of creative material, largely art and writing, produced by the Fannibals. Bryan Fuller celebrates this production, and will occasionally retweet materials brought to his attention. 

The fact that fandom is not regarded as the zany, weird or off-putting neighbor from down the street but rather as the target of the show's efforts is refreshing. So often are fans (especially female fans) branded as "crazy" or "obsessive" for indulging time and effort in media and creative pursuits surrounding their interests, that to be indulged and applauded for efforts is a comforting and welcome change. 

One of the most notable examples of fandom and creator intersection is the fact that Bryan Fuller has been flowercrowning cast and crewmembers ever since Comic-Con, when a fan presented him with flower-crowns and he, Mikkelsen and Dancy wore them throughout the panel. Since then, the NBC Hannibal Tumblr has kept a running record of which cast members have been photographed wearing them (including Heidi the dog, who plays Winston, one of Graham's many rescued dogs and is ostensibly most tragic character in the show.)

(I am very upset that the Tumblr URL "winstagraham" and variations thereof have already been taken, because I thought myself quite clever when I came up with the pun.)  

Granted, that doesn't necessarily mean that the fans are normal by any means. I mean, the Fannibals spend a huge amount of their time following the activities of a cannibal and happily discussing murder, violence and the consumption of human body parts. (But don't excuse this activity because one of the main characters is a cannibal. Hannibal is not a nice guy. He is evil. He kills people and eats them because he considers them "rude." That's not a very nice thing to do, even if they people he kills are irritating or unkind. Granted, the series is also viewed through Will Graham's eyes, so we're kind of lead to trust Hannibal because Will Graham trusts Hannibal.) 

Fannibals are probably the most civilized loons I've ever met. In the same conversation, they can have in-depth discussions of portrayals of mental illness and the complex recurring visual metaphors showing within the series and then immediately go on to making poorly masked, unsubtle cannibal jokes. 

Then again, we're never actually shown shots of Hannibal taking human body parts from the body and then cooking it and eating it, so it's entirely possible (read: not at all possible) that Hannibal Lecter is an extremely misunderstood epicurean who simply makes poorly timed jokes that are misunderstood as potentially revealing puns.

I, myself, am related to one of the members of the Donner Party, so I consider watching "Hannibal" as an educational activity looking into the lifestyles of one of my ancestors. 

(I am often told that I should not bring up that tidbit of family history, but I don't much hold to societal conventions of normality or appropriateness.) 

Fan resources:

If you can stomach it (get it? GET IT? I'm simply sidesplittingly hilarious sometimes), watch the show. It's not only beautiful, but it will let you in on many of the in-jokes of the fandom. The jokes are great, but just experience the show's generally stunning visual aesthetic. It's available on DVD, and it includes "Oeuf," the episode that was held from broadcast. 

You can check out the official site, Twitter and blog, and follow Bryan Fuller online. Winston Graham (yes, the dog) has a fan-run Twitter that is not spoiler-free, but it's still fantastic. 

If you want some fanblogs, my personal favorite is lecterings, who is fandom famous for her series "What if Hannibal told lame jokes instead of implying cannibalism?," which exactly as stupidly funny as it sounds. As for art, most of the fanartists are multi-fandom, especially for "Sherlock" and "Night Vale." 

Tips and tidbits: 

Some common phrases within fandom include "Eat the rude," "This is my design" and "Somebody help Will Graham," all of which are actually taglines for various episodes given by the creators. My personal favorite is, "Somebody help Will Graham—no, not you, Hannibal, you little shit." 

(It's a quote, so I can say it!)

(I am constantly attempting to subvert Neon Tommy's standards and practices of avoiding profanity in its articles, because, frankly, I don't give a damn. Also, self-censorship is difficult.)

There is a recurring visual motif of stags and deers, often a visual metaphor for mental instability. As [A VERY IMPORTANT CHARACTER'S] mental stability is compromised, he hallucinates stags, especially a huge, black feathered stag. It has been called "Raven-Stag" by the fans, or, more informally, as "Swiggity Swag the Nightmare Stag." 

Don't be alarmed if, after watching the show, you have an undying urge to cook or eat. It's okay. You're not alone. Hannibal is a fantastic cook in-universe, in spite of his ingredient choices. "Hannibal" features a culinary consultant that makes the food look as good as possible. It's supposed to be appetizing. It's probably also supposed to make you feel conflicted. 

If you see something that could possibly be construed as an oblique reference to cannibalism, maneating or rudeness, make the reference. Or simply add a picture of Mads Mikkelsen's face looking smug. 

Mads Mikkelsen's name is pronounced "Mes Mick-el-son". He is Danish. I am Norwegian. You can hear Wikimedia telling you how to pronounce it here. The "d" is silent.

Again, it's a spooky show. It's okay if you don't feel up to watching it at night, or at all. You're not a wimp; you simply have different tastes. For whatever reason, I can't watch "Supernatural" but I can watch "Hannibal" and no one should have to explain themselves or feel pressured to watch something. That said, try giving it a chance.

You'll have plenty of time to watch during the hiatus. Or, perhaps, the he-ate-us.

Just remember, when in doubt, if someone is eating, it's probably people. Everything is people.


Next week's column topic is…a mystery. I forgot how many Wednesdays there were in this month. So I didn't plan another spooky topic. If you have suggestions, please tell me. I am all about that spooky life. Except not really.

You can reach Columnist Christine Bancroft here or follow her on Twitter here to read the stupid things she Tweets (or doesn't Tweet, as is more often the case). On her off-hours, she enjoys waking the dead and baking pies made out of humans DEFINITELY NOT MADE OUT OF HUMANS. Thank you to Jasmine Grant for supplying artwork. Her blog can be found here.



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