Conspicuous Consumption: The Socioeconomics of Hannibal

Overthinking TV’s current hot serial killer. Hey, somebody’s got to do it:

hannibal-posterby Shana Mlawski

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

—Adam Smith

Is there a figure in today’s pop culture landscape that personifies conspicuous consumption like Hannibal Lecter? The Kardashians, possibly, or any of the Real Housewives, but to my knowledge none of them eat human flesh or look as good in three-piece suits, so point Lecter.

In most respects, the not-so-good doctor represents the perfect specimen of thehomo consumericus. I won’t belabor this point, ’cause it’s obvious. Hannibal lives in an unnecessarily large and immaculately furnished house in the middle of Baltimore, a.k.a. The Wire Central. He drives a Bentley. He wears a $180,000 watch. Let me repeat that last one. He wears a $180,000 watch.

Frequent readers of Overthinking It know I’m a chart nut, so let’s start a little chart, shall we? Bullet point #1: Hannibal Lecter = the platonic Consumer:

Hannibal's World: The World of the Consumer

The point isn’t that Hannibal consumes – although, did you see that poster? – but that he does so conspicuously. As our pal Veblen once said, conspicuous consumption of valuable goods, such as art, is a means to reputability, and that reputability lets Hannibal get away with murder. It’s not for nothing that Lecter is constantly feeding schmancy meals to FBI honcho Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne). To paraphrase Chomsky, if you can’t beat the FBI by force, distract them with the consumption of fancily-prepared human viscera!

So, to update the chart:

Read it all