Culinary Horror and the Aesthetics of the Purgatorial in ATHF

Curator's Note

Aqua Teen Hunger Force, exemplar of the oddities of Adult Swim, features three anthropomorphic fast-food objects who experience many bizarre adventures. In "Broodwich," the trio encounters a paranormal sandwich that sends its consumer to a purgatorial space. Described by a disembodied voice, the sandwich was "forged in darkness from wheat harvested in hell’s half acre, baked by Beelzebub, slathered with mayonnaise beaten from the evil eggs of dark chicken forces into sauce by the hands of a one-eyed madman, cheese boiled from the rancid teat of a fanged cow, layered with six hundred and sixty six separate meats from an animal which has maggots for blood." The sandwich, broken into its parts, points to the absurdity of its construction: to craft artfully is to generate evil, each component more sinister than the last. Where deconstructing a joke renders it null, the end result of deconstructing horror is the inverse: comedy. Note the description of the sandwich and the lengths to which the underworld goes to construct something so diabolical. The overly-deliberate intent makes the sandwich comedic. Pair this with the fact that the Broodwich has a devil tail, horns, and a devilish red bun. Crafted sensitively aware of the fine culinary arts, this sandwich is overkill. Further, "[t]he Broodwich cannot be taken apart or disassembled" - this is eternal law. Nevertheless, Shake removes the sundried tomatoes from it, and the irritated voice insists he replace them. Again, it is the insistence that creates comedy here: the voice is desperate to maintain wholeness because the sandwich must remain complete to claim its “victim.” Shake remains unconvinced as the voice continues in hopes that he’ll eat the tomatoes: “Look, they’re good!” The horrific is dispelled into comedy as the back-and-forth banter delves into irritation on both parties’ parts. The voice’s desperation heightens the fact that horror is an intricate artistic process. As the process derails, the deconstruction of the sandwich itself (and horror by proxy) generates comedy.

Comments

John Roberts's picture

Michael, your analysis of the

Michael, your analysis of the Broodwich seems to me to resonate with Dylan’s post about dismemberment from earlier in the week. Although Dylan’s post focused on the slapstick and horror of disintegration of personal identity, both of your posts seem to hit on the comedic aspect of partitioning. and especially the scrutiny of parts. This ATHF episode is almost like a reductio ad absurdum of the property of evil: if the sandwich is devilish, then its constituent parts should be too and must be accounted for, and for me, the humor comes in part from this logical extension of the property if evil from the whole to its parts. In accounting so precisely for the diabolical nature of the sandwich’s bread, cheese, meat, and condiments, the episode actually raises (even if only, as Dylan noted earlier, symptomatically) interesting questions about the nature of the property of that evil.

I’m imagining the extrapolation of this partitioning to evil objects in more serious horror films: the video tape in The Ring for instance. If the tape as a whole is cursed, does that curse then also apply to the parts (the reels, the magnetic tape itself)? Is the curse transmissible by watching a digital rip of the tape, or does it have to involve a VCR? Of course, pondering these kinds of questions is an exercise in nitpicking that gets the point of the curse backwards (the combination of parts to make a whole isn’t what produces the curse in the first place), but I think these kinds of questions are regularly debated and theorized, half seriously and half in jest, by fans, and are a part of horror movie culture.

Michael Frazer's picture

Interesting. Certainly the

Interesting. Certainly the parts in this episode are evil in themselves. The episode ends with Shake being lobotomized and forced to eat the sundried tomatoes, which send him to the purgatorial space. Meatwad eats one at some point with the same result, which shows that the sandwich’s parts work individually. Like you say, it’s the partitioning that makes for humor. I think part of it as well is the sense of the mundane: a sandwich isn’t generally something we consider evil. But, then again, we have films like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes that further point to humor when horror is drawn from something unexpected.

Dewey Musante's picture

Purgatory and Comedy

Great Post Michael. I definitely think ATHF draws on the aesthetic of the purgatorial to generate its comedy. Even the larger lens of the gang being stuck in a purgatorial suburb generates both comedy and horror from the stagnant nature of mid-twenties life and a sort of “in-between” time; not an kid anymore and not an adult.

To take a quick left turn, though, one of the funniest and interesting characters in Dante’s Divine Comedy is found in Purgatory. Belacqua, from Canto IV of Purgatorio, is believed to be a friend of Dante who just doesn’t see the point in rushing to the top of the mountain of redemption in purgatory. His thoughts align with a sort of Gen X, “what’s the point, I have eternity to do it, attitude.” So, even in Dante, the “in-between-ness” of a place, a character, or even a genre inherently flirts with both horror and comedy; but does so with a sort of wary eye to the “importance” of it all.

Purgatory, then, seems like a perfect place to mix both horror and comedy as it already entails a sort of “middle-ground” between them. Sorry, sort of rambling, but I think this spot on Michael.

Michael Frazer's picture

Thanks, Dewey. There is

Thanks, Dewey. There is definitely a sense of the purgatorial in their neighbourhood. The repeated deaths, the excessive violence, &c. are all cyclical. When a character dies, he is back in the next episode. I think your use of “in-between” time to describe their age range and its experiences also applies well to the alinear qualities of time in the series: it’s further fragmentation.

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