Tag Archives: maggots

Food Things: People as Food

The whole notion of people as “things” is paradoxical at a most basic level, yet in the struggle between the proletarian and bourgeoisie classes, it is a common form of classification. Kobayashi Takiji’s The Factory Ship illustrates how people can be treated as lifeless, inanimate and (as is often the case with Kobayashi) grotesque “things”. His story describes the unrelenting life of laborers turned sailors on-board the Hakko Maru, a Japanese factory ship of the coast of Kamchatka. Kobayashi uses food related metaphors and images to intensify the thingification of people, thus helping him convey the inequality of Japanese society at the time.

Kobayashi often uses repulsive metaphors when referring to the laborers. A commonly used and vivid metaphor is seen when mentioning the factory hands. These young men who are living under absurd conditions were described by the narrator as “rotting, fly covered corpses infested with maggots” (43). Such a metaphor links the image of food; in particular, rotting meat. This image is very accurate; for like rotting meat, the laborers are not totally worthless, but they will end up rotten anyway. Yet this is of very little importance to the capitalists who are profiting of the dying laborers. The bourgeoisie “don’t think of any of you as human beings” (24), one laborer complains, and this is the essential dilemma they face. Laborers, in the opinion of capitalists, are expendable pieces of rotting meat, which will inevitably be replaced as they rot into oblivion.

Kobayashi also uses food to help dramatize the violent environment laborers faced on a day-to-day basis on-board the factory ship. The laborer’s hands are described as “raw and red as crab claws” (11). This image portrays the workers struggle and hardship, as the comparison to crab claws reveals a sense of suffering that can be perceived in the laborer’s hands. In addition, the use of words such as “raw” and “red” alludes to the blood laborer’s lose as they are forced to work. Kobayashi does not stop there, and describes the flesh being “torn from the workers’ bodies like filets of fish” (40). This image is a sort of continuation of the previous one, but the toll the factory ship has taken is now evident in the workers’ bodies. Nonetheless, this struggle was justified because it was for the “sake of the nation” (40), but no one believed that in the end, especially those who stood at the very top.

Kobayashi used food to help dramatize the thingification of the laborers on board the Hakko Maru. The images he chose to use were those of despair, lifelessness and deterioration. These images help reader’s understand how laborers were seen by the capitalists in charge. Consequently, the underlying propaganda used to motivate the worker’s reveals itself. The laborers were told to work for the empire and its people, only to find out this was a facade the bourgeoisie employed for personal gain. In conclusion, it was the proletarian realization of unity that would overcome abuse, thus making laborers more than just things.

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A Maggoty Mess

Battleship Potemkin is a film depicting a run-down mistreated crew aboard a Russian battleship during the Russo-Japanese war. The squalid conditions under which the crew works is revealed to the audience and the sailors through the quality of their food. In the first sequence of the film “Men and Maggots” the men are given a rotting maggot-ridden piece of meat.

The men receive maggot-ridden meat

“The meat could crawl overboard on it’s own!” the men shout in outrage. After inspection the captain instructs them to eat the meat anyway. The image of the meat crawling with maggots is a very powerful image. The maggots swarm and wriggle through the meat much as the men move about the ship. There are many of them in tight quarters and so they are skilled at maneuvering about packed areas. The contrast of texture between the captain’s smooth clean skin and the raw ragged meat emphasizes the difference in life styles between the commanders and the crew. The captain’s hand is iridescent and plump with perfectly shaped fingernails, not a callous in sight. This is the hand of a healthy man who has not labored a day in his life. Whereas the maggots are lean and pale, the color of sickly skin, crawling along the scraggly surface of the meat. The men are underfed, overworked and live in squalor compared to their commanders.

Through the captain’s eyeglass we can see how he perceives his crew: beneath him, inhuman, undistinguishable. He doesn’t know the crewmembers personally or even know their names. He doesn’t even see the crew as a group of individuals, instead they are one mass that he must direct: one mass of indistinguishable bodies at his bidding.  This condescending perception allows him to mistreat the crew without it affecting his conscience.

The men are singled out for execution

Ironically, the captain’s perception of the crewmembers as one mass also brings them together in solidarity. When the men refuse to eat the meat the captain summons them all to the deck and singles out a small group for execution. He does not handpick the individuals, he merely condemns the slowest moving of the crew. He seeks to cripple the uncooperative organism that is the crew by killing part of it and reasserting his dominance.  The men realize the absurdity of the punishment and shout “Brothers! Who are you shooting at?” This is the turning point of the crew’s identity. They realized that they are all in the same situation and have joined in solidarity, a crew with a single consciousness. Much as the maggots took over the crew’s raw meat, the crew swarms the ship and claims control. With their white caps the crew even resembles a swarm of maggots from an aerial view. The imagery of maggots throughout this film plays a crucial role in emphasizing the dehumanization and solidarity of the Potemkin crew.

Between the Meat Hides the Carcasses of Flies

Battleship Potemkin, a silent movie created by Sergei Eistentein back in 1925, became a critically acclaimed giant piece of propaganda that depicts a fight between two opposing classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariats. A distinct rift between the two classes is felt as the movie continues, one that relies on various symbolic references and events in order to provide such a feeling. Although there is an initial disunity amongst the proletariats an eventual rise of solidarity brings what can be deemed as the “lower class” together against the officers or bourgeoisie. This solidarity though extends farther than just those amongst the ship, but even to those at the bay and at the end even to those who are at the onset opposing the rising mutiny on the Potemkin. Overall the silent movie through the use of symbolic food is able to help audiences empathize with the proletariats thus making Battleship Potemkin such amazing propaganda.

The silent movie is split into multiple “sections”, of which the first is titled “The Men and the Maggots.” A title that foreshadows the plot sequence, the men of the Potemkin find maggots in their meat. The disgusting sight disgruntles the sailors of the ship who then complain to their officers, the bourgeoisie. A doctor is eventually consulted who tells the sailors that the meat is not rotten and that the maggots can just be washed out with brine. The maggots themselves are symbolic of the sailors in the sense that their complains and needs are easily washed away by the authority of the high ranking officials on board like how the maggots can be washed out by the brine. The joint struggle in trying to obtain better food brings solidarity to the group.

Another scene of solidarity is when the sailors are washing dishes and find a plate inscribed with the words “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”. A religious reference, the verse reminds the sailors of their dilemma, one that preoccupied their minds. In a struggle the sailor who had found the dish slams it down, shattering the dish reflecting how the fragmentation of the ship’s members. The audience witnesses said fragmentation in the scene where the officers try to have marines execute those who refused to eat the soup made with the rotten meat. The lower class rise up and toss the officers into the sea, coming full circle in the sense that the officers instead of the sailors were washed away with the brine.

The scenes of food bring together yet divide the ship’s members at the same time. The scenes push the proletariats, the sailors, against the bourgeoisie, the officers, in a battle over authority and justice. The movie uses these two groups as propaganda in order to have the working class unite under one flag. As one sailor puts it in the beginning, “We the sailors of the Potemkin must support our brothers the workers,” fulfilling the need of solidarity amongst the lower class.

The maggots that are easily washed away reflect not only the wants of the proletariat by the fall of the bourgeoisie.

“Give us this day our daily bread” a saying that sparks outrage amongst the sailors.

The Battleship Potemkin: Food as a Metaphor and Justification for Revolution

The Battleship Potemkin, a 1925 Russian silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein, dramatizes the story of the 1905 mutiny of the sailors onboard the Russian battleship Potemkin. The film follows the story of the soldiers who rise up against their tsarist navy leaders, the murder of the revolters’ leader, Vakulinchuk, and the sailors’ subsequent attempts to get the citizens of the town of Odessa involved in the fight.
Regardless of the actual reason for revolting in the 1905 event, the 1925 film shows the Potemkin sailors’ main complaint as being with the food on board the ship. The sailors protest at having to eat rotten meat and the ship’s doctor, Smirnov, is called over to inspect the meat. Upon inspection, the audience is shown that the meat is indeed crawling with maggots. Although the doctor dismisses it since maggots are not as invasive as worms are, the sailors are incredibly upset with their treatment, claiming that Russian soldiers captured by Japanese as prisoners of war are fed better than they are. The close up on the maggots serves to show the audience that there is something seriously wrong with the meat and with the way the soldiers are being treated in general. It is important that the sailors’ grievances are with the food because food is one of the basic necessities of life, and if that is compromised, so is one’s life. Depriving one of food is just as effective of a weapon in the murder of a human life as a gun or a cannon.

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The camera focuses on the maggots crawling over the meat to emphasize the mistreatment of the sailors

While later talking to Smirnov and the other tsarist leaders of the ship, the sailors stand next to the meat, with it almost taking on the characteristics of a protesting sailor. The camera angle is positioned so that the meat appears as approximately the same height as the men on the ship. If one was to only look quickly, one might think the meat was a sailor itself. The men stand in solidarity around the meat, effectively becoming like the meat, riddled with an infection of maggots (the totalitarian government officials). Even though there are more men than leaders (just as there is more meat than maggots), the leaders have complete control over the men and aggressive measures must be taken in order to rid of them. In other words, to get rid of the maggots, the men must revolt.

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The men stand in solidarity around the meat, which appears in a similar fashion to the men themselves during this camera shot

Lastly, the music playing during the maggot scene is melancholy and desperate and gets progressively louder and angrier. This acts to mimic the audience’s feelings of despair for the men, for without food, they cannot live, and their feelings of enmity for the sailors’ leaders. The fact that the tsarist leaders are depriving the men of even the most basic necessities shows how atrocious their practices must be.

In conclusion, the sailors on the Potemkin in Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin are likened to maggot-infested meat in order to justify their revolution against their leaders. Food also serves to manipulate the audience into feeling that the sailors are living particularly unjust lives onboard their ship since they do not even have access to something necessary to continue living.

Battleship Potemkin: A Unification and Solidarity Through Food

Sergei Eisenstein’s silent film, Battleship Potemkin, is a dramatized flashback of the mutiny that took place in the early 1900’s. Eisenstein utilizes the Russian crewmen’s rebellion against the officers of the Tsarist regime to encourage a proletariat revolution against the communist Soviet Union. Throughout the film, Eisenstein uses food as a mechanism to bring together the proletariat and to establish a sense of collectivity and solidarity.

Smimov inspects the maggot-infested meat.

At the opening of the film, the audience discovers the sailors’ frustration towards the superiors as Vakulinkchuk delivers a manifesto that unites the workers to rebel against authority. The crewmen’s frustration from being fed maggot-infested meat provides a commonality between them and thus ignites their unification. While the dissatisfaction of food establishes solidarity, the film also visually depicts the workers as a collective group. In this first screenshot, to correspond to the worker’s heightened anger the orchestral music becomes more dramatic as the superior examines the mass of maggots feeding on the meat. Here, the maggots are clustered together, which parallels the workingmen who are viewed as a uniform group, unlike the distinct superiors in black uniforms.

The crewmen gather on the ship deck. They are seen as a collective mass dressed in all white.

These two screenshots visually depict the similarity between the men and maggots as they are both viewed as a collective: the men aredressed in the same clothing and are hardly distinguishable just as the maggots are viewed as a clustered group rather than individually. As these maggots infest the meat, Eisenstein provides a parallelism to the crewmen’s deepening desire to “infest” the superiors and execute their rebellion. In both shots, the camera angle looks down on the mass of maggots as well as the workingmen. This downward angle illustrates the inferiority the men feel to their superiors and their longing for more equality.

The bubbling and boiling hot soup representing the crewmen's brewing anger.

As an act of defiance the sailors refuse to eat their soup. This screen shot depicts the parallelism between the boiling hot soup and the men’s intensified anger due to the unfair treatment they receive. Eisenstein zooms in on the bubbling and steaming soup with the purpose of visually portraying the men’s discontent. Here, food is utilized to correspond to the men’s brewing emotions as well as their solidarity.

The uneaten and untouched bowls of soup.

Once again, there is a parallel between the soup and the crewmen as the pots in this screenshot are positioned in a group-like, uniform manner. The untouched soup illuminates the sailors’ unity and overall group effort to rebel. These isolated and indistinguishable dishes represent the absent workers who are executing their first act of mutiny. The scene’s emphasis of the pots swinging back and forth relates to a ticking grandfather clock, which demonstrates that it is only a matter of time until the workers execute their greater plan of rebellion.

Intertitle that demonstrates the proletariat unity.

After the crewmen take over the Potemkin, the working class of Odessa supports their rebellion and is inspired to rebel against the upper class. As a variety of people join together to display their reverence to the sailors, this idea of collectivity is present yet again. The people of Odessa unify and bring fresh food to the crewmen as a symbol of their support. Once again, food is utilized to bring together individuals. Although unfamiliar with one another, food unifies the workers on the Potemkin and the people of Odessa into one working class group. Their desire for equal rights and the abandonment of upper-class oppression ignites their unification. The intertile, “Mothers, sisters brothers! Let nothing divide us!” additionally displays and solidifies the proletariat group unity. Similarly, as the screenshot of the rhythmic passing along of food resembles an assembly line, it highlights their joint efforts and overall solidarity.

Working together to bring food on the ship.

Clearly then, Eisenstein’s use of food emphasizes the unity of the working class. Throughout the film, he demonstrates how food creates an unbreakable cohesion between others. This relationship between food and unity illustrates how a powerful bond can ignite a group to revolt and bring about change.

Battleship Potemkin: A Significant Onboard Food Quality Battle

Battleship Potemkin, a silent film by Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein serves as a propaganda ploy; promoting equality for all men serving in the military. The right to fight for equitable treatment by the sailors to receive adequate food provisions, comparable to the food provisions given to the onboard officers is reasonable and understandable. The theme of the uprising and revolt of the onboard sailors was over the horrific lack of the quality of the food that they were being served-up to eat.

     This clearly shows that if provoked beyond one’s tolerance level, sailors expressed their dissatisfaction, to gain attention to their plight. Their plight was to correct the substandard and spoiled food being served to the sailors. The onboard senior officers have never been subjected to having to consume spoiled and maggot infested food.

     When squirming maggots are visibly present upon the hanging slabs of meat that are being prepared for the nightly dinner of the onboard sailors, the onboard sailors collectively and in force, refused to accept this food as being consumable. A subsequent scene shows the sailors pushing the hanging slabs of meat around from side-to-side; showing how utterly unacceptably maggot-infested this meat is, and incomprehensible for human daily food consumption. The film unequivocally portrays food as a necessary requirement for the sustenance of life. Without an adequate food supply, survival is impossible.

     Although the ship’s doctor examined the meat and dismisses the maggot filth as being able to be washed away with brine, the sailors thus conclude that the doctor is forced to side with the officers onboard. The sailors are now intolerable of continually being served rotten meat. A revolutionary sentiment engulfs all sailors and their revolution has officially begun. One sailor states about the food, that “its not fit for pigs”! Another states that “the meat could crawl overboard on its own” and another sailor states that “Russian POWs in Japan are fed better” than we are. The scene depicting the empty bowls of soup are illustrative of their protest.

Typical Onboard Sailor Food

     The sailors are infuriated by their daily inedible food supply. From the maggot infested meat to the grimily thickened, germ infested soup, their physical well-beings and personal self-esteem is sinking metaphorically, to the depths of the sea on which they sail. They will no longer be tolerable of substandard provisions. The sailors have a dismal outlook on their futures especially after the ship’s captain threatens to hang the sailors who refused to eat their soup.

      One evening the sailors, who are not individually identifiable because they are all dressed in white uniforms and wearing similar white hats, are washing their dinner plates. One sailor stops and observes the writing on the plate. The writing around the perimeter of the plate states “give us this day our daily bread”. The climax of the film is about food and the inadequacy of the food they have been receiving. The demonstrative breaking of that plate signifies the severity of their situation and their uphill battle against it.

What Is Our Daily Bread?

Battleship Potemkin: The Rebellion for Food

The Russian Revolution, the rise of the Proletariats, may have started from something truly trivial. In Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, the start of the Russian revolution and the red fever was over a simple piece of meat. The crew on the battleship Potemkin were getting tired of eating rotten meat everyday and decided to do something about it. The crew decided rebel against the terrible rations and not eat the meat soup. The officers of the ship were furious and decided to execute those who had rebelled against them, triggering the whole crew to rebel.

The rotten meat that started the rebellion

Disobeying the orders of a superior and refusing to eat highlights the important role that food takes on. While eating rotten meat may not kill the men, good food is something worth fighting for. The crew’s resentment stems from unfair treatment by the officers. If everyone were eating the same type of food, there would be no reason to complain. However, the doctor and the officers are getting better treatment than the rest of the crew. The crew simply wants to eat the same food as everyone else. Beyond the notion of equality of food is the notion of equality of status. By rebelling on the pretense of fighting against eating rotten meat, the crew inherently wants the same status as everyone else.

The jump from equality of food to equality of status is not too hard to make. Food is something that relieves the body, a comfort essential to everyday life. It is something very personal. The officers have no right to deprive the crew of their precious everyday comfort; the crew is essentially what runs the ship and the crew believes that they deserve good treatment. The first mention of status is when someone mentions that even the prisoners of war get better food than what they are serving on the ship.  Why should the crew, fighting for their country, eat worse food than prisoners? While the members of the crew had put up with the unfair treatment for so long, their patience snaps when the officers expect the crew to eat maggot infected meat. The officers expected the crew to eat the same meat that the maggots eat. In effect, the officers are telling the crew that they are on the same level as maggots. The crew is enraged at the blatant superiority shown by the officers and rebels for the sake of equality.

Uneaten Soup Pots shows the Crew’s Indignation

The actions of the crew on the battleship are not so surprising when considering the meaning behind the men behind the food. The rotten meat symbolizes blatant maltreatment that places the crew on the same level as squirming maggots. Rebellion against injustice is only natural once the men realized that they truly held the power. The rebellion for the sake of better food and the rebellion for the sake of equality are one and the same.