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Offbeat – 07 February 2014

There is still some validity in the presence of that fear in our deep brain structures. Dogs bite. We are not entirely removed from predators, as occasional news stories about unwary tourists tell us. Even wading in the ocean can bring on the fear of sharks.

I wanted to write something about birds this week, and the way we humans relate to them as companions. The idea of a creature that lives in a two dimensional space forming a symbiotic relationship with a creature that lives in a three dimensional space is interesting. Unfortunately time caught up with me and I don’t have the hours I need to think about it.
Maybe I’ll write about birds as pets the week after next, because next week is Valentine, and I will probably want to write something about that. For now, I’ll write about the horror genre and eating, both of which are abiding passions.  
The Facebook post that sparks this is an early Valentine’s meme from my horror readers writers’ circle of friends, a photo of a knife, a raw heart and a horseshoe, in that order. ‘I love you’. The caption says “If she doesn’t scare you a little, she’s not the one…”
I don’t agree much with the caption at this point. It’s a thing of personal tastes in how people are aroused, and romance depends on the moment and the two participants at a point in time. People are very variable, and right now I’m not sure I want that sort of implied bloodiness in my life.
The memory that the photo did arouse in me was baked kudu hearts stuffed with rice and mint, an interesting feature on my childhood menus for a couple of weeks. Does that sound outlandish? Poverty is the mother of culinary invention, and those hearts did taste good in the absence of more expensive conventional shop-bought meat that we couldn’t afford. I seem to remember that they could be a bit tough if they weren’t baked long enough.
The image of that heart on Facebook, separated from its body is a very visceral prompt. It reminds me of eating, and as I thought about it, I remembered an older strand, that half of horror has at its root the fear of teeth, biting and being consumed.  The primal fear of being bitten or eaten is obvious if you think about it. Vampires bite and suck. Werewolves and zombies tear at flesh and consume it. There is little that is more disturbing than the sight of a human mouth rimmed with blood below a pair of malevolent eyes. These are the horror genre’s most successful tropes.
The real roots of the terror are fairly obvious. Imagine some primal ancestors watching one of their number being ripped apart and eaten by a large predator. I think it is hardwired into our neurological structures, a genetic memory that we and other creatures share as a prerequisite for survival in addition to our current understanding of how to survive.
There is still some validity in the presence of that fear in our deep brain structures. Dogs bite. We are not entirely removed from predators, as occasional news stories about unwary tourists tell us. Even wading in the ocean can bring on the fear of sharks. In the real world children bite and can be scary for that. And although they are repulsive, items on cannibal serial killers who eat other people make compulsive reading in the news, even though they are almost always completely irrelevant to the reader. One interesting thing about the meme, and the association with eating that the knife and the heart form in my mind, is the way that love and the fear of being ingested combine. Aside from the purely sexual connotation of being ‘eaten’, a parent will talk about wanting to ‘eat a beloved child all up’, there is the concept of being ‘consumed by love’ and the phenomenon of the ‘love bite’. The idea of ingestion as a form of religious sacrament is less direct in its relationship but equally interesting. So is the ancient practice of a warrior ingesting parts of a slain opponent to absorb that person’s admired quality.
Nowadays, the horror genre is revamping itself. Vampires are bloodless, zombies are featuring in twisted romance and the werewolf is becoming as cuddly as Fido. Perhaps it is a sign that humanity is revising what it should fear.
It’s probably not entirely smart. There are still things with teeth out there.

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