One of MeatCanyon’s mildest videos is titled “Breakfast on a Wednesday,” and at first, the short cartoon seems inoffensive, if sad. “It’s hard losing weight. It’s an everyday struggle,” a narrator says. “You tell yourself, ‘I’ll start tomorrow, I’ll start tomorrow.’ But you have to take action to make change. This time I can change. I know I c…”
Then, in the background, you see the warped silhouette of a large cat, standing on two legs. It’s Tony the Tiger, of Frosted Flakes fame. His features are distorted in bizarre ways, with beady eyes tucked into overgrown jowls. “Forgetting something, Joshua?” Tony says.
What ensues is a gut-wrenching 90-second negotiation as Tony walks up behind Joshua, begins massaging his shoulders and quietly convinces the young man to ditch his grapefruit half and pour out a big bowl of sugary cereal instead. “You want this sweet treat,” Tony says.
“Who’s your, uh, who’s your tiger?” he continues in a whisper.
“You are,” Joshua mutters back.
“Yes, that’s right. Now, who’s my little piggy?” Tony the Tiger continues.
“I am,” Joshua says, defeated.
“Breakfast on a Wednesday” is one of a number of parody animation videos made by MeatCanyon, aka Hunter Hancock, a YouTuber who has grown an audience of 3.64 million subscribers thanks to a dizzying array of disturbing but addictive short cartoons. He’s carved out a niche in a social media landscape full of amateur artists and performers, blending body horror and grotesque humor into surreal parables on the human condition.
Watching a MeatCanyon animation feels akin to witnessing a high-speed car crash: You think you should be looking away, but the violence is entrancing.
Tony the Tiger grooming someone in an abusive relationship is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the subject material of Hancock’s most popular works. My favorite may be “Jawbreaker,” a send-up of the classic 2000s cartoon Ed, Edd n Eddy that imagines the titular boys not as goofy, incompetent schemers, but a Lovecraftian entity that subsumes other children. There are also riffs on Peppa Pig, SpongBob SquarePants and Garfield, each revolving around different horror tropes.
All of these videos are full of nightmare fuel, both in the animation style and the voiceovers used. At first glance, it can seem like Hancock’s just rehashing a formula based on childhood shows and edgy violence: Sexual assault, emotional abuse, abduction and torture, depicted in a short plot featuring a “parody” version of famous animated characters. Certainly, he’s never shied from pushing the limits of credulity, either; I cannot unsee “Wabbit Season,” a video which depicts Bugs Bunny as a serial rapist, who is eventually confronted by his father and forced to reckon with his sins.
The irony of it is that, for Hancock, these videos serve as real reflection and catharsis on the world around us. The “Breakfast on a Wednesday” video is directly inspired by his struggle with weight loss, as he explained in a 2020 interview with Double Toasted. He also noted mental struggles like “depression, anxiety [and] existential dread” as being formative themes for many of his parody animations, which convey a sense of terror in the mundane.
“I chose children’s properties because I feel like we were conditioned now to want reboots and remakes and all sorts of stuff, and I think that people like to point at things that they have a preconceived notion of and be like, ‘I know what that is.’ Being able to flip the switch on that is pretty exciting,” he said.
It’s fairly easy to imagine how a fan of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft would want to twist childhood nostalgia into vignettes on the perils of growing up, as well as the violence we enact in pursuit of our fate. But it’s also striking that so many MeatCanyon fans find meaningful commentary, not just titillating disgust, in these videos.
I’m one of those fans, and I can’t help but return to Hancock’s content, no matter how repulsive I find it. His surreal worlds serve as a critique of the cartoon lessons we were fed as kids, contrasted against the brutal realities of the world around us. To gaze at that dichotomy is to peer into the grotesque — a concept that has long been a fascination of artists, including Quentin Massys and Francisco de Goya. It’s art that, as the critic and writer Tim Smith-Laing puts it, is “not just ugly, but wrong; not just wrong, but threatening in its destabilization and recombination of forms.”
How threatening? Threatening enough that Hancock’s “Wabbit Season” cartoon was taken down in a copyright strike by Warner Bros. Pictures, which has inspired a running gag among the MeatCanyon fandom: That it is officially Looney Tunes canon for Bugs to a serial rapist. And when Space Jam: A New Legacy came out earlier this year, Hancock was ready for it, whipping up a new video that brings back Bugs Bunny but traps him in a bizarre bit of deja vu, making him relive the events of “Wabbit Season” to a cheering audience.
Is it meta-commentary on the nature of our gaze toward the grotesque? A middle-finger dare to Warner Bros. to strike down another video with millions and millions of views? Maybe it’s both.
The French critic and theorist Remí Astruc has argued that the grotesque is a fundamental existential experience — a way for us to peer into the subconscious and grapple with its most extreme creations. It is, as he writes, “the place where the impossible finds an actual occurrence” — a device used to explain and symbolize the “otherness” we feel in the world. Dali’s cannibal creatures, Goya’s naked man impaled on a tree, Bellmer’s disfigured dolls: All have been used to depict and criticize the nature of man and his place in the world.
That explains the essential draw of Hancock’s videos, which meld a skin-crawling aesthetic with simple plots that worm into, and stay, in your head. When considering the legacy of the grotesque, MeatCanyon’s work fits right in.