Eat Human Flesh

("Celebrity Idolatry" show by Perry Webb/Mark Flood, at Commerce Street Artists Warehouse, summer 1989)

This caused a local media furor, when the Fox TV affiliate briefly thought it had uncovered a local Satanic drug ring. But first, a little background.

Celebrity Idolatry explored the literally totemic power of even minor TV and pop celebrities, along with its possible practical applications. Around this time, Webb had been devouring celebrity biographies along with The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes. Jaynes claimed that what we know as consciousness is fairly recent, and that humans up to 2500 years ago considered their thoughts to come from gods and kings speaking to and through them. They internalized and obeyed the voices of their rulers as if they were physically present, speking directly to them. Jaynes thought that idols, especially portable ones, "recharged" the internal voices when people were out of the presence of their kings and/or gods. These voices addressed almost every aspect of life, from farming to trade to personal conduct. The voices weakened over time as kings died and as cities grew and life became more complex. Some cities were abandoned when they became too big for the "gods" to control. In later centuries, the priests resorted to special effects like talking and bleeding statues and larger idols with larger eyes.

For evidence Jaynes cites his work with schizophrenics who were directed by irresistible voices that spoke from behind and to the left (as also reported by Aleister Crowley, apparently, when he claims his Holy Guardian Angel Aiwass dictated the Book of the Law to him in 1905). He backs that up with ancient texts and examples of religious art.

Jaynes' evidence is at best circumstantial, and his thesis is further weakened by reliance on the outdated left-brain/right-brain model (which also weakened Marshall McLuhan's arguments), so it's not really very useful.

As creative inspiration, though, Origin has paid off handsomely. Neal Stephenson featured it in his first novel The Big U, and used it to much better effect in Snow Crash, his third. Perry Webb reaped something entirely different.

The works in Celebrity Idolatry were simply photos of celebrities juxtaposed with imperatives. Michael Jackson, for example, commanded you to "HAVE FUN." However, Ricky Schroeder, star of early 1980s sitcom Silver Spoons, ordered you to "EAT HUMAN FLESH."


Meanwhile, southern Texas was abuzz with a lurid drug murder case. In mid-April, a pre-med student named Mark Kilroy, from Santa Fe (between Houston and Galveston), who had gone missing in the border town of Matamoros, turned up dead with 14 others outside of town. The killers were marijuana smugglers whose leader, along with his girlfriend, mutilated their victims in order to gain magical protection from the cops. Apparently, a LAW STAY AWAY candle wasn't enough. The girlfriend, Sara Maria Aldrete Villarreal, was an anthropology student at a city college in Brownsville. She'd researched religions like Santeria and Palo Mayombe, which both used animal sacrifices to gain divine favor, but are practiced respectably throughout the Americas. Human sacrifice, which included boiling brains and other organs, was her own innovation, and even that may have been ripped off from the 1987 howler The Believers, also a huge influence on the pair. As the gang were rolled up, Costanzo holed up in town and had another gang member shoot him as the police closed in. Aldrete was captured, tried and convicted, and was still in a Mexico City jail as of 1998. Kilroy's mother founded an anti-drug organization called Make A Responsible Kommitment. Various opportunistic authorities tried to cite this as a direct link between drugs and satanism, but that was met the indifference it deserved. Houston band The Pain Teens wrote the song "Sacrificial Shack" about it.


The Houston connection came with a sort of drug bust a few days before the opening of Perry Webb's show. There was a house on the edge of Freedman's Town, a general party hangout where the usual drugs were consumed--nothing serious. Apparently a 16-year old girl spent time there, much to her parents' dismay. The neighbors complained too. The cops staked the place out and then raided it about 6pm, with a Fox TV news reporter in tow. While the cops arrested the two residents and one female visitor, the reporter and cameraman filmed the inside of the house. The reporter thought she'd died and gone to Sweeps Week heaven. The camera played lovingly over the walls, lingering on a Residents poster (from their Houston show with the late Snakefinger) and a Butthole Surfers poster (also from a Houston show). Also discovered were a pet rat and a few pet spiders, but the capper was an Eat Human Flesh print.

The reporter brought her mike forward and aimed the camera at one the arrestees, who kept his head down to avoid being on TV. "'Eat Human Flesh,; you call that art?" asked the blonde Twinkie. "Well, different standards of art mean different things to different people," came the answer. Fox tried to make a connection between the house and its residents and the horrific Matamoros murders, but it quickly became obvious there was none. I understand the arrestees were let go, and even managed to evade a charge for the sheet of LSD that was found, because the raid was such a circus.

Perry's show was due to open a few days later, so he had time to run off posters of EAT HUMAN FLESH for $100, and to set up a TV with a VCR continuously running the TV reports of the raid, in which the poster featured prominently.

Will update these later