You, too, can assuage your white guilt by purchasing diapers. The disposable lifestyle that is destroying the environment, that demands disposable products made at disposable prices with disposable labor, is masked by a sense of charity. Let’s break down the implications of this purchase: I, urban sophisticate, White Person, American, wrap my child in plastic and cotton diapers, so that her designer sweatshop clothes might not be soiled; I discard the diapers, so that I might avoid dealing with the reality of feces; I pay for this refuse to be placed in a truck and shipped somewhere far away, so that I might make a clean break with the dirty realities of human existence; and, after doing all of this, I can spare a nickel for a tetanus vaccine for some poor, helpless native, who could not even afford to avoid lockjaw without my largesse.
I was listening to an episode of the Smithsonian Folkways podcast on my way to class today, and was suddenly floored when I heard this song:
The people held their breath
When they heard of Jesse’s death
And wondered how he ever came to die.
It was one of the gang called little Robert Ford
He shot poor Jesse on the sly.
Poor Jesse had a wife to mourn for his life,
Three children, they were brave;
But that dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard
Has laid poor Jesse in his grave.
Jesse James, Traditional
The reason that I was so taken was that I recognized the tune – and, I soon realized, the lyrics, as well. I hadn’t heard the song before, though; what I had heard was this Woody Guthrie tune:
Jesus was a man, a carpenter by hand;
Carpenter true and brave;
And a dirty little coward called Judas Iscariot
Laid Jesus Christ in His grave.
The people of the land took Jesus by the hand,
They followed Him far and wide;
“I come not to bring you peace, but a sword”,
So they killed Jesus Christ on the sly.
Woody Guthrie, Jesus Christ
While I’ve long loved this song, it takes on many new undertones when heard as an appropriation of the outlaw ballad – not just a stylistically similar piece, but actually a re-presentation of an existing myth.
(originally posted at Take the Flower, Curse the Thorn)
I hope to write something on the subject soon, but for now, as summer approaches, some choice selections on that most American of drinks:
When I say a bottle of Coca Cola…, I mean it as an outward and visible sign of something inward and spiritual, I mean it as if each Coca Cola bottle contained a djinn, and as if that djinn was our great American civilization ready to spring out of each bottle and cover the whole global universe with its great wide wings. That is what I mean.– a character from Nancy Mitford’s The Blessing. (Quoted from Eugene McCarraher’s excellent paper The Enchantments of Mammon: Notes Toward a Theological History of Capitalism).
I want to begin with Coca-cola. It’s no surprise that Coca-cola was first introduced as a medicine. Its strange taste seems to provide no particular satisfaction. It is not directly pleasing, however, it is as such, as transcending any use–value, like water, beer or wine, which definitely do quench our thirst, that Coke functions as the direct embodiment of “IT”, the pure surplus of enjoyment over standard satisfactions. It is the mysterious and elusive X we are all after in our compulsive consumption. The unexpected result of this is not that, since Coke doesn’t satisfy any concrete need we drink it only as supplement, after some other drink has satisfied our substantial need — it is rather this very superfluous character that makes our thirst for Coke all the more insatiable. Coke has the paradoxical quality that the more you drink it, the more you get thirsty. So, when the slogan for Coke was “Coke is it!”, we should see in it some ambuigity — it’s “it” precisely insofar as it’s never IT, precisely insofar as every consumption opens up the desire for more. The paradox is thus that Coke is not an ordinary commodity, but a commodity whose very peculiar use–value itself is already a direct embodiment of the auratic, ineffable surplus. This process is brought to its conclusion in the case of caffeine–free diet Coke. We drink a drink for two reasons: for its nutritional value and for its taste. In the case of caffeine–free diet Coke, its nutritional value is suspended and the caffeine as the key ingredient of its taste is also taken away. All that remains is pure semblance, an artificial promise of a substance which never materialized. Is it not that in the case of caffeine–free diet Coke that we almost literally drink nothing in the guise of something?– Slavoj Žižek, “The Superego and the Act.“
Some people drink Pepsi, some people drink Coke; the wacky morning DJ says democracy’s a joke.– Cake, “Comfort Eagle.”
(originally posted at Take the Flower, Curse the Thorn)
Corporate Barons rule the city with an iron-fist, but a thirst for change is in the air. As a “Seeker,” you have the chance to return choice to the people. To do so you must embrace adventure, face your destiny, and help create the next Mountain Dew.
Starting November, 2007, you are invited on a mythic journey through interactive Chambers of adventure that, once entered, will let you vote on new features for the next Mountain Dew: flavor, color, name, logo, label and tag line.
To succeed, you will need all of your cunning and strength. Each Chamber is blocked by a Guardian and ruled by a Master, epic creatures of adventure and deception. There are enemies to fight, lessons to learn, and tools to earn – like a 2-sided battle axe or a coral divining rod to point the way. And there are points to be scored. The more points you win, the greater your fame in the fellowship of Seekers everywhere.
Upon your return to the city for a final showdown with the Authorities, the people will be set free to vote on which elixir shall pour across the land – the People’s Dew. Your destiny will become clear. Choice and creative freedom will become the rule. And the next Mountain Dew will become reality.
Even advertising acknowledges the captivity in which we are held by corporatist capitalism, and exploits the desire to be liberated from that captivity in order to increase sales. How do you escape corporatist hegemony? Buy Mountain Dew, of course! This is the new advent – we do not, in this advent, await the enfleshment of our God, but the unveiling of a new sort of soda, created (uniquely!) by the purchasing masses – a new union of Consumer and Product that claims to destabilize the relationship between the two, and so bring redemption. In reality, of course, (as Thomas Frank has shown), this new advent, rather than bringing freedom by destabilization of the reigning ontology, actually calcifies our captivity to the ruling hegemony.
So next time there’s a WTO protest in Chicago, will everyone from PepsiCo downtown be rushing out to join in? I doubt it.