The Pitiful Princedom of Hannibal

hannibal

At First Things, Alexi Sargeant  has an interesting take on the kind of evil on display in the tv show Hannibal.  (Note: I don’t watch the show — too brutal — so my experience of it is mostly gifsets shared on tumblr; I do love the showrunner’s previous show Pushing Daisies). So, I recommend the essay as a whole, but I’m just going to riff on one particular part of it.

In Sargeant’s view, Hannibal is a Lucifer-like figure, but not the kind that tries to overthrow all rules and pretends to set people free:

But on some level it seems wrong to identify the character with the Great Rebel. Hannibal inhabits a rigidly hierarchical world—the camera lovingly shows off his tastes for expensively tailored suits and classical, if macabre, paintings. But his hierarchy is perverse. At the bottom are the “rude,” his human victims, whom he considers lower than animals, and, therefore, fair game: “It’s only cannibalism if we are equals,” he confides to one captive. These uncouth souls he elevates to the state of civilization by cooking them into elaborate meals. (“A word of warning,” he tells his unsuspecting, wealthy guests as he lays out a lavish feast, “Nothing here is vegetarian.”) Here is Satan, then, not as the original anarchist, but as the Prince of this World. The only order that matters is the order his tastes impose.

There’s something bizarre about Hannibal being cast as a prince over the people he sees as lower than animals.  I think almost none of us see ourselves as reigning over the chicken cutlets (or the chickens that they once were) when we go grocery shopping.  And if I went through a slow, beautiful preparation for laying down ant traps, the scene wouldn’t be one of puissance but of absurdity.

Paul Muad’dib may be right that “he who can destroy a thing, controls a thing,” but control is still something different than kingship.  Royalty is relational.

That’s not possible for a Hannibal, who believes, or has chosen to believe, that he is unique and therefore alone.  His sort of glamour of evil looks a lot like a kid playing with toys, just with far better cinematography.  It deserves the answer that G.K. Chesterton gives it in Orthodoxy:

If we said what we felt, we should say, “So you are the Creator and Redeemer of the world: but what a small world it must be! What a little heaven you must inhabit, with angels no bigger than butterflies! How sad it must be to be God; and an inadequate God! Is there really no life fuller and no love more marvellous than yours; and is it really in your small and painful pity that all flesh must put its faith? How much happier you would be, how much more of you there would be, if the hammer of a higher God could smash your small cosmos, scattering the stars like spangles, and leave you in the open, free like other men to look up as well as down!”

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