WINNER: SCU student Desmond Bellamy was awarded the university medal for his first class honours thesis.
WINNER: SCU student Desmond Bellamy was awarded the university medal for his first class honours thesis. Marc Stapelberg

Why is cannibalism so horrifying? Thesis seeks the truth

CHILLING horror movie character Hannibal the Cannibal might just the thing Desmond Bellamy needs to convince you to stop eating meat.

Mr Bellamy, of Byron Bay, has spent hundreds of hours sifting through more than 100 movies with cannabalism as their central theme as part of his honours thesis, "Having an old friend for dinner: cannibalism goes to the movies", which has been awarded this year's Southern Cross University Medal, one of the highest honours the university can bestow on one of its students.

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The thesis borrows its title from one of cannibal Hannibal Lecter's lines in Silence of the Lambs and Mr Bellamy said it was written in an attempt to get to the heart of why people find the consumption of human flesh such a travesty, yet readily eat the flesh of other animals.

The movies Mr Bellamy studied make no attempt to explore the moral philosophy around cannibalism, but the fact they make money at the box office told us something about people, he said.

To begin with he had to sift through more than 100 movies with human eating as the major theme, before narrowing the choice down to just eight.

"I couldn't believe how many there were, and that was just English language films," he said.

Silence of the Lambs, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alive, Robinson Crusoe, Sweeney Todd and Soylent Green were some of the films he focused on for the thesis.

Mr Bellamy said the revulsion people had for cannibalism came from an artificial belief that we were not like other animals.

There was a long philosophical tradition of treating humans as deities, as though they were superior to animals, he said.

When people treat humans just like they are a piece of meat this illusion was lost.

"People find it shocking," he said.

In many of the movies Mr Bellamy studied, people were only eaten if they were thought of as somehow different.

For example, in Alive, the survivors of an airplane crash in the Andes eat the dead to stay alive, but only after they rationalise those people had lost their souls, and are therefore different, and edible.

In films such as Silence of the Lambs, it is the the people eaters that are portrayed as pure deviants, he said.

Mr Bellamy's thesis topic was related to his work with animal liberation group PETA, where he is a special project coordinator.

He said people cared and developed feelings for pets, treating them as one of the family and even giving them names.

However, cows and lambs were treated differently. They were seen as production units and therefore easier to eat.

"It is much harder to eat something you have given a name to," he said.

Mr Bellamy was awarded a Bachelor of Media with first class honours when he and 185 other SCU students graduated at the end of May.

Dr Lisa Milner, who supervised Mr Bellamy's work, said it was a fascinating thesis which received the best examiner's report she had ever read.

Mr Bellamy was grateful for receiving the university medal.

"But for me, the true measure of success will be my ability to use what I've learned to help people see other animals not as meals, but as the individuals that they are," he said.

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