Thank you for this post, Carlnita. You make a keen point that these highly aestheticized images of food catalyze and express our fantasies, not only about food, but about the lives—or lifestyles—for which they serve as metonyms. In this light, Helle’s image of Tantalus strikes me as an apt one for the experience that they promote. I do wonder if the only result of these images is to create, as you put it, “perpetual longing.” It also seems to me that all of us who are snapping pics of lunch and uploading them to Twitter might be fulfilling desires, for a fuller and more aestheticized experience of eating, one that involves multiple forms of attention and pleasure, or for entering into a creative act among other creators. I appreciate the power of calling such images “food porn,” but I also wonder what might get revealed if we compare them to other genres, such as 19th century watercolors, in which both professionals and hobbyists participated in a creative practice that involved registering their lived experience in and through art. In that light, maybe these images let Tantalus take a drink.
A fascinating post, thank you. It reminds me of the Danish media scholar, Mads Julius Elf’s theory about “the Tantalus effect”. (The book, “Tantaluskvaler” is as far as I know only in Danish). Elf argues that the Greek myth of Tantalus is a good analogy through which to understand our relationship with (the representation of) food and appetite. It’s, in a word: tantalizing. ‘In reach’ and ‘out of reach’ at the very same time.
Tantalus, in the myth, is being punished by the Gods: he is surrounded by delicious food and fresh water. But he cannot eat or drink. This is how Tantalus is described in the Odyssee - which seems so appropriate to your post and arguments about the excess of food porn:
“And I saw Tantalus too, bearing endless torture. He stood erect in a pool as the water lapped - parched, he tried to drink he tried to drink, but he could not reach the surface. no, time and again, the old man stooped, craving a sip, time and again the water vanished, swallowed down, laying bear the caked black earth at his feet - some spirit drank it dry. And over his head leafy trees from high aloft, pomegranates and pears, and apples glowing red, succulent figs and olives swelling sleek and dark, but as soon as the old man would strain to clutch them fast a gust would toss them up to the lowering black clouds.”
Thank you for such an inspiring post. I completely agree with you and the commentors above. The image is also a reminder of the weirdly fine line between the beauty and disgust of the science fictiony artificiality that you mention. The thought of having to eat that -also completely decontextualized- version of what used to be actual, mass-produced animals is disturbing. The image shows us the unmistakenly disgusting side of that artificiality, something that so many other images (and clinical discourses surrounding food) fall just short of. What’s most revolting about that picture is the sadly familiar ideas and values it mirrors.
Sarah this photo is permanently burned into the consciousness of so many and while I hadn’t thought about it before you’re exactly right that the disconnected and static nature of the image makes it ever more anxiety-provoking. We wonder and worry about what is going on all around it, and where that elephant-poo grossness is bound. One thing that I found to be a positive about the whole pink-slime debate was how many parents I know - parents who generally stand on the sidelines of the great food debates - were drawn in to speculating about how horrific the products being passed off as ‘food’ for kids really could be. Perhaps it’s because of the staticness of this static image; it became something on which to pin disgust, an easily shared and easily understood (to be awful) image that spurred more conversation on the soccer sidelines that any of the longer-form (and ostensibly more horrifying) recent reveals about the meat industry have done.
Thanks, Sarah, for starting the week off with your fine insights on such a provocatively revolting image. I think you’re right that these sorts of images stoke a cultural wide anxiety about what we can’t see happening in our food production systems and that what *is* happening is far worse than we could possibly imagine. But, of course, as you point out, these sorts of images do enlist our imaginations, especially when we encounter them without any explanatory context. It’s much easier to imagine we’re eating pink elephant poo (or worse) when we don’t know—and know we don’t know—what we’re eating. Funny to consider that the push by industrial food producers to keep their work out of the public eye actually provokes the worst of suspicions rather than, as is the intended aim, allaying them.
The video of Lonely Island’s original song, “Spring Break Anthem” creatively argues a juxtaposition of college students during springbreak and the idea of same sex marriage. It honestly took me a couple times to watch the video to connect the juxtaposition standpoint between young adults partying and gay marriage. I found it surprising that the two situations would ever have something in common. Like Aaron was stating, visual arguments have a larger influence over non-visual arguments in a way that viewers interpretations will change. When I saw the opening party scene with students drinking and talking about getting “chicks” during spring break, I thought the author’s intentions would consist of the careless actions young people commit. Then scenes of marriage between two men appeared. I contemplated about what the producer of the video intended his audience to drawback from the video. After watching the video a couple times, I then realized that society views the college partying situation relatively normal and not presented as such a big issue. On the other hand, society can argue about what is right or wrong with people being able to marry those of the same gender, even though under age students consuming alcohol and trashing hotel rooms are seen as acceptable. During spring break the idea of chaos is intended to happen; people do not enforce the consequences of partying as much any more because it has happened so often that it is useless to tell a young adult to do something and expect them to obey. People of the same sex marriage to this day are judged for being together when ultimately this act is not as atrocious as getting drunk and partying like the college students. The fact that these two situations linked together in someway caught my attention to try to comprehend on what the similarities were.
I’ve been seeing this shift in a lot of programs. Strong women are rare, and when they do appear they are somehow disciplined by the series, or portrayed as repellant. There are exceptions, but even many of those need a man’s help or are pursuing a man. TV in the last five years or so is harkening back to the 50s, but is also worse in that it maintains a guise of “feminism.”
So interesting to think about…if you knew the world was ending, but it hadn’t yet, what would you do? Or, more personally, if one knows one is dying, what does one do? A bucket list, or cling to the ordinary?
I’d be interesting to know if there is a morality difference between those who choose to save the NPC and those who don’t, or if these exercises in morality affect morality in the “real world.”
Megan I just wanted to drop in here, months later, and let you know that I’m still thinking about this line from your comment: “cooking engenders not only independence but also choice. … By encouraging creativity, I think cooking allows us to live within our means (both financially and ecologically).” I just love that point. And your quesadilla sounds like it could be chopped-worthy … (Or at least could be a contender if you sprinkled on some of those wholefood, hipster worms Signe mentions?) And while everyone needn’t be a food critic, I’m in the camp that thinks we would all be better off if we all thought more critically about our food (system) and the way we interact with it.