The feminine appeal of Hannibal (spoilers)


The tv adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novels ‘Hannibal’ , which I have written about before, has become known for it’s devout cult audience (hi!) known as ‘Fannibals’. Known for their supremely silly sense of humour, at odds with the show’s dark aesthetic, their intelligence and their close link with the show’s creators, they keep the show afloat and preach it’s message and merits to others. Something that has been written about before is the female domination of the Hannibal fandom. A crime show stuffed with gore with two male leads doesn’t scream “female audience” to promoters, but the show has appealed to smart young women and worked it’s way into their hearts and fanfictions. Showrunner Bryan Fuller described in an interview his joy at finding “well read bright young women” love the show. As a fannibal and, I hope,  A “well read bright young woman”, I thought I’d explain why the show appeals to women, at least from my perspective.

What makes the show unique in a sea of murder-solving boxsets is its emotion. The writers care more about keeping the psychological and emotional reality of the story than cold, hard details and intricate logic. Visual metaphor, dream sequences and borderline supernatural plot points create a dream like atmosphere where we see what people are feeling and the pursuit of beauty and insight trumps the “gritty” reality of crime. One scene involves a live bird flying out of a corpse mid autopsy. It was placed in her ribcage to emulate a heartbeat. To say this is near impossible is to miss the point. Hannibal isn’t out for realism. In a sea of macho gritty crime shows Like True Detective and cold, emotionless characters like Sherlock Holmes it is refreshing to see a show where logic isn’t king. Since civilisation began women have been held back by assumptions that they are over emotional, illogical and weak. Even of you are a woman who can’t be described as highly emotional or empathetic, it feels like a breath of fresh air to see such qualities celebrated and prioritised for once over ‘masculine’ qualities we are both chastised for not displaying and accused of abandoning our femininity if we do. In a genre were coldness is glamourised and having heart is seen as the ultimate weakness we finally have a crime show driven by ‘feminine’ qualities.

Take the lead protagonist Will Graham. On the surface, a typical guy. He wears check shirts, goes ice fishing with homemade fishing gear and repairs boats. He is called in to help the FBI because he suffers from an empathy disorder. He can feel what killers feel and unpick their motivation, a great cost to his mental stability. There are a million wonder detectives with oddly wired brains in pop culture, Will Graham sticks out because of his empathy. He doesn’t join the dots and work out the clues with his super logical wonder brain, he relates to killers on an emotional and psychological level. He’s not a “high functioning sociopath” He’s an empath. Emotion, imagination and empathy are presented as highly valuable qualities, superpowers even. As an emotional, empathetic and imaginative person myself (I cried at a dog food advert) I can relate to his character and love seeing my so called weaknesses shown as brilliant strengths. Compare him to Sherlock Holmes, the aforementioned high functioning sociopath. We are constantly reminded of how cold and hard and brilliant he is. His antisocial coldness is sometimes chastised but more often used to separate him from the sentimental idiots around him and mock anyone who tries to get close to him. The treatment of Irene Adler in series two was a classic example. A brilliant woman nearly brings Sherlock Holmes down with her flirting and sharpness but is defeated by her girly crush on him. Sherlock has a large female fanbase too, but showrunner Stephen Moffat sees them as silly little obsessives lost in Benedict Cumberbatch’s piercing eyes and deep voice who are too smitten to realise he will break their hearts. Bryan Fuller celebrates his female fans, rather than mocks them. He rejoices in homoerotic fanart and fanfiction rather than laughing at it. He understands the power of geeky women rather than scratching his head at the female appeal of his macho supermen characters;

” It’s been wonderful and unexpected. I was surprised at the demographic that the show was reaching. A significant portion was young, smart, well-read women; they really responded to this show and I typically relate to young, bright ladies [laughs]. It was nice to see how enthusiastic and passionate they were. And, also, happy in the face of the dark material. They found joy and hope in something that is arguably quite bleak. I found that really rewarding and as somebody who is a fan of many things myself, I appreciate and relate to being enthusiastic about a show you love. I think it’s wonderful”

One of the main draws of the series is its title character, Hannibal Lecter. Here he is a respected psychiatrist and secret murderous cannibal. Not exactly a Carrie or Miranda, but still has a lot of female fans. True he wears fabulous outfits, lives in a flawlessly designed mansion and drinks fine wines but it goes deeper than that. Tumblr use axmxz has eloquently explained a lot of his appeal here;

He’s not a gangster or a pimp or a drug lord. He’s a brilliant man and a respectable professional who kills people when they offend him and arranges them into beautiful dishes which he serves with fine wine and classical music.He’s the bad guy you can’t help but respect, he’s intelligent and well presented and he always gets his way. He quotes philosophers and composes on the harpsichord. He’s restrained, cool headed and attractive, he’s not a violent masochist filled with masculine rage and a desire for the physical upper hand. He fights with his mind and he’s not afraid to make friends along the way, particularly with Will Graham and his collection of adorable stray dogs. Actor Mads Mikkelsen regularly describes him as a passionate man and a perfectionist who wants everything to be beautiful and interesting. His motivation is not power, it’s passion. His invitation he assist the FBI is an irresistible and fascinating offer. He loves Will and his imagination and he’s not afraid to admit it. He doesn’t look down on emotional characters or see everyone else as an idiot, he invites them to dinner and offers them friendship, even if his own needs come first.

The most obvious appeal is the dedication to diversity and the respectful treatment of female characters. Characters which appear as male in the book, Freddie Lounds and Alan bloom, are genderswapped and brought to the front of the story. Female characters which only get a brief mention are given complex personalities and story arcs. Characters traditionally played as white are racebent as well, Laurence Fishbourne is excellent as Jack Crawford. There is a deliberate effort to create diversity and include people. Bryan Fuller has also spoken about his effort to exclude sexual violence towards women. A common problem in gritty crime shows is the ubiquity of sexual violence, which is excused as a reflection of reality. For once women have a dark and horror driven show which does not remind them of everything they fear when they have to walk home alone at night. The violence is horrific but it is almost never gendered, female dead bodies are not sexualised and do not outnumber male victims. This shouldn’t be a standout feature of crime shows but unfortunately Hannibal is unique. Female characters are not violently punished for their flaws either. Jack Crawford’s wife Bella cheats on her husband while struggling with illness and is treated sensitively and understood rather than chastised. Alana Bloom is a romantic interest of Will Graham’s but turns him down, saying as a psychologist she would only examine him f they were in a relationship. Will accepts this. She even begins a relationship with Hannibal Lecter, the same man who framed him for murder and his respect for her does not wane, he even praises her professionalism. Female characters in Hannibal do not exist to look pretty and provide a love interest for the male heroes. They are complex, flawed and strong and essential to the plot. They are not throwaway sexy one dimensional lady shaped characters, or damsels in distress, or over the top flirty “strong” women who fall for the hero. They are people, which is what we’ve been asking for!


Quorn again


So I thought I’d do a post on vegetarian living and the weird stuff we have to put up with.

I haven’t eaten meat in around five years. After a lifetime of being able to separate the living, breathing animal with the edible thing on my plate it just didn’t click any more. I have always loved animals and been opposed to hunting and cruelty, and it got to a point where I could no longer justify eating meat. I stopped seeing food and started seeing the lump of cooked flesh that had once belonged to a living being killed specifically for me to eat. I had alternatives and I knew what I was doing, so I gave it up. I phased it out for a while before stopping altogether. And yes, Mum, it was partly Morrissey’s fault.

These days I know I couldn’t stand to eat meat, no matter how tasty it is. It grosses me out. I worked in a cafe for a year and the smell of bacon did not tempt me to leap over the counter and snatch the full english breakfast from a customer’s hand and declare I could no longer stand a life without it, it made me feel sick. Seriously, why do people talk about bacon like it’s the second coming? It smells like burning pig flesh! Even when I did eat meat I never got the bacon hype. “How can you life without bacon!” relax, it’s a thin strip of pig meat, not wifi access. I particularly hated having to handle raw meat. I did a trial in a coffee shop that sold breakfast sandwiches and found myself in a situation where the bacon was burning in the oven and neither me nor my Muslim co-worker wanted to take it out. Meat freaks me out. Having to pick up something from the butchers for my boss was like walking into a nightmare sequence. And they took FOREVER to get whatever carcass lump I went in there for. If I accidentally eat something with gelatine or some other animal product in it (WHY THE HELL DOES YOGHURT NEED GELATINE?) I feel it sitting uncomfortably in my stomach for hours.

Being vegetarian isn’t easy. It’s a huge inconvenience. Vegetarians don’t open a menu and marvel at the many delicious sounding options and weigh up which one is the best, we scan though pages of inedible options to find the two half arsed veggie options and decide which sounds the least boring. You know what sucks? Being a vegetarian who doesn’t like mushrooms. Welcome to mushroom city. Also cheese city, but that’s pretty good. Many restaurants simply don’t put enough thought into vegetarian options. It’s usually something just thrown in there to keep us quiet and is usually much less substantial and appetising than the rest of the options. On a school trip to London we ended up in a place where the one vegetarian option was the only one that didn’t come with chips. I was starving for the rest of the night. There seems to be an idea that veggies have smaller appetites, we like “rabbit food”. The options are usually salad, vegetable lasagne, boring veggie ‘burger’ or… no that’s it I have genuinely run out of examples. For some reason huge fast food companies who would knock down old people’s homes or screw up the entire rainforest for profit seem fine with ignoring the veggie market and putting almost nothing on the menu for them. Not that I ever would set foot in a mcdonalds out of choice, but when I’m dragged in there by a friend I would like to get something besides their nasty cardboard fries and weird milkshakes (those probably aren’t suitable for vegetarians either). I am a British northerner and I like stodgy comfort food and big portions. It’s no fun to be poking at your individual vegetable lasagne with a who cares? salad while your family happily enjoy huge roast dinners. Of course you can’t complain, because you chose to be vegetarian, as everyone reminds you when you ask why the hell we are in kfc when there’s a lovely vegetarian place a ten minute walk from there.

The worst part about being vegetarian is having to deal with carnivores. I don’t hate meat eaters, don’t get me wrong, I don’t sit opposite people and scoff while they eat ribs. I silently wonder WHAT THE HELL HOW CAN YOU EAT THAT IT STILL HAS BONES IN IT but I don’t say anything. I ate meat for years, defiantly. I was one of those “I could never be vegetarian!” people, it seems hypocritical to act like I’m St Francis now I swapped chicken for Linda McCartney . It’s just that people can be very antagonistic when you sheepishly tell them that no you can’t have a fry up to cure your hangover, you don’t actually eat meat. The same questions come up over and over again. “Do you eat fish?” is something I have heard hundreds of times. No I don’t eat fish. I miss it way more than anything else and I stare longingly at chip shop fish, but no. I have an iron will. If it’s dead I won’t eat it. “Is this just because you don’t like meat or is it like a….moral thing?” people want you to say that it isn’t a moral thing, because that makes them feel like I’m judging them. It is in my case, but like I said I don’t hate meat eaters. “Ok if you were on a desert island with only a chicken and it was a choice between eating a chicken or dying…” Please just stop. People can also get annoying and jokey. “Hahaha meat is murder! Tasty tasty murder!” or “haha plants have feelings too you monster haha!”. Hilarious. People seemed threatened by it, as if you plan to shove it down their throats. That’s another thing, people say “I’m fine with vegetarians, just not the ones who try and convert you or have a go at you for eating meat”. Where are these vegetarians? I have never met these people. More often than not I have to put up with obnoxious carnivores trying to convince me to go back to bacon. “Uhm, actually humans are evolved to eat meat” I don’t care. “Look at it! Look at the chicken! don’t you want some mmmm!” get it away from me. “You know farmers rely on meat for their income” what about tofu manufacturers? “It’s just the circle of life” Yawn. “Animals are bread for meat, if we didn’t eat them it would mess up the whole system” So? I haven’t eaten meat in five years, the smell of bacon makes me want to gag. My mind is made up and you aren’t going to convert me. I don’t try and convert you so leave me to my goat’s cheese salad and Smiths albums. It’s the same kind of people that have to argue for atheism every time someone says they’re religious, it’s just to try and prove how clever they are and get the upper hand. The most annoying thing is when carnivores find out they quite like the vegetarian thing at a buffet or barbecue or any food sharing thing and hog it for themselves. Every time I am home Mum buys these southern fried quorn burgers which are amazing and every time my carnivorous siblings eat them. When I complain I get told it was my choice to go veggie and it doesn’t give me a right to hog food everyone else likes. The problem they aren’t seeing is they have other options. They don’t HAVE to eat the quorn burger, they can have the cold chicken in the fridge. Or the beef burgers, or the fish fingers, or the bolognese. I JUST have the quorn burgers. Tasty as they are, they’re my only option and it’s hugely frustrating when the same people who irritatingly waft sausages in my face are happy to ride the veggie bandwagon when it turns out we have some pretty nice food. If you go out for tapas with a veggie for God’s sake don’t take all the patatas bravas. They may be tasty but that’s all we have. It’s also disheartening when family or flatmates decide to cook a big meal and leave you out. I ask what’s for dinner, I get the reply “WE’RE having chilli. You can eat…eggs or something I don’t know.”

There are some perks to vegetarianism. I used to be a picky eater but I’ve discovered some incredible food I would have otherwise avoided for a good reliable burger. Goat’s cheese is my favourite thing ever, and I have recipes in my arsenal and cooking skills I would have otherwise not bothered with. Vegetarian food comes with a lower risk of food poisoning and apparently plenty of other health problems, like heart disease and high cholesterol. Didn’t cook your veggie burger properly? it won’t taste as good but it won’t kill you! You get a smug sense of superiority when a story about contaminated meat or a new disease contracted from eating a certain animal makes the news. The horse meat scandal was hilarious. Just fantastic. And the best part is you can interact with animals knowing you aren’t part of a system that hurts them. I mean just look at their little faces, how can you eat that?!