By Sunny Castiglioni
If there’s a trope that’s going remain permanent in any kind of horror media, it’s cannibalism. I have to guess that’s a fear ingrained in our DNA from our evolutionary years of being at the bottom of the food chain. I went through a phase of being absolutely terrified of being eaten, in my adolescence, and to put my fears to rest, I did some research on it.
What I discovered is that modern-day cannibalism comes in two flavors:
Grief/mourning cannibalism practiced in some third world cultures, which are actually very heartfelt ceremonies that serve to honor the deceased, and
Sexual/fetish cannibalism- a far more psychologically interesting phenomenon.
Paraphilias, in general, are a fascinating topic. The brain makes a lot of connections between seemingly unrelated things. Cannibalism, however, is especially interesting to consider because the brain doesn’t really have to take any extra steps to get there. Food and sex are already connected. Sometimes, this just means whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Sometimes…we end up with a case like that of Armin Meiwes.
If you’re a seasoned true crime researcher, you may have heard of him already. He is a German cannibal who notoriously invited a man he met in a dark web forum over for a date and recorded some nineteen hours of footage in which he butchered the man and dined on him. The footage has never been released to the public and is considered so disturbing that only four minutes of the tape was revealed as part of the case proceedings.
Now, as you might imagine, this was a delicate case for the German courts. For one thing, “cannibalism” wasn’t technically against the law in Germany at the time- but what really makes this case difficult is the fact that “victim” Bernd Brandes consented to be killed and eaten as part of a sex act. His consent is made very clear on tape, and I can find no evidence that he ever withdrew his consent at any time. This was as much a fantasy of Brandes’ as it was of Miewes, and I personally find it a shame that his psychology hasn’t been explored in more depth- granted, it’s hard to explore the mind of a dead man, and I suppose investigating his personal items after he was killed and consumed might feel like sacrilege.
Consent is a powerful thing. If you take your friend’s car with their permission, you’ve borrowed it. Without permission, it’s grand theft auto. Consent is the difference between rape and sex, and between BDSM and abuse. That’s why I have to look at this case and wonder: was any wrong actually committed, here? Is it still ‘murder’ if the victim consents?
Armin Miewes was subject to a strange, possibly “twisted” fantasy of eating another human being- from the age of eight is when he can most clearly identify having those fantasies. However, the fact remains that he wanted a consensual partner. Bernd Brandes was not lured in by false charm or deception, nor was he in any way physically forced into the situation. He joined the Cannibal Cafe to indulge his own cannibalistic tendencies and found exactly what he was looking for. In this translation of a conversation, provided by Harper Magazine, you can see a somewhat flirtatious conversation between the two men: https://harpers.org/archive/2008/01/my-dinner-with-antrophagus/. I’m not sure about you, but I’d think this was a pretty cute conversation if not for the murder and dismemberment. To be more specific, what I read in this conversation feels like “excited for my first date” energy.
A note on paraphilias: when you think about fetishes that are inherently dangerous to human life, like cannibalism, you probably only think of the “dominant” partner- that being the person, well, eating the other person. The truth is, a “submissive” side exists; there are people who get off on the thought of being cannibalised.
It’s true, there really is someone out there for everyone.
And yet, somehow, I’m still single.
It’s safe to say that Brandes’ fetish wasn’t new. He asked at least one of his former sex partners to bite off his penis, even offering him an amount of 10,000 Deutschlaps (German dollars; this figure converts to about $5,600 in US dollars) to do it. Obviously, he declined the offer.
Miewes was initially convicted of Manslaughter, which seems to hold about the same meaning for the German legal system as American- when you have been responsible for ending someone’s life, but “murder” isn’t an accurate description. However, he was re-tried and convicted of Murder. He will serve a life sentence, instead of the original eight and a half years he would have served under the charge of Manslaughter.
Personally, I think manslaughter is a better and much more fair description of this crime- if I do think of it as a crime. His victim wholeheartedly and enthusiastically consented, and Armin purposely made sure he had consent before proceeding, so in my mind, this isn’t murder. It’s just an unconventional and dangerous sex act. The only reason the law even needed to be involved is because there was a loss of life and to not take any punitive action on the basis of consent could have much more far-reaching conclusions- for example, if you can consent to end your life, what can we do about suicide attempts? Assisted suicide?
It’s a case that really makes you think.
Bio: Sunny Castiglioni is a dedicated True Crime writer.
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