Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Lays brings back cannibal Potato Heads to remind us Xmas joy of wealthy often comes at expense of others

By Marc Jampole

About 18 months ago, Frito-Lay introduced a TV ad in which animated versions of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head eat potato chips, knowing full well that it is a form of cannibalism but reveling in the guilty sin.

In the original spot, Mr. Potato Head gets home from work and can’t find his wife anywhere. He hears a strange crackle and then another. He follows the sounds until he sees his wife hiding in a room with a bag of Lay’s potato chips, munching away. She is suitably embarrassed at what amounts to an act of cannibalism, but the commercial explains that the chips are so delicious that they are irresistible. The last shot shows Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head snacking on the chips with a look of mischievous glee on their faces—they know they are doing a naughty thing, but it just doesn’t matter.

Frito-Lay is flooding the airwaves with the Potato Head cannibal spots for the holiday season. More recent spots include one in which Mr. Potato Head dons a disguise to buy enough potato chips to satisfy everyone at Times Square on New Year’s Eve and another in which the Potato Head couple hides in the bushes.

All these spots remind me of Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece, “Weekend,” at the end of which the main female character sucks on a bone from a stew prepared by the revolutionary who has forcibly made her his concubine. “What is it we’re eating?” she asks, to which the punky gangster answers, “Your husband.” She has the last line of the movie: “Not bad…” and then keeps gnawing on the bone.

In all the Potato Head commercials, at one point the Mrs. slowly and erotically pulls a chip from the bag, brings it to her lips and suggestively swallows it. This simple action conveys the type of irresistible sexuality that often informs transgressive acts. Moreover, it suggests that the potato chip is an upscale product to be savored like expensive dark chocolate. The sexual overtone underscores the ad’s attempt to add value to the potato chip, since the audience is used to seeing sex sell luxury products. Note, too, that the slow, sensual approach to potato-chip eating modeled by Mrs. Potato Head does not correspond to the non-stop nibbling people usually associate with the chip.

The real transgressive act committed by avid consumers of potato chips is against their own bodies. The chips have almost no nutritional value and are loaded down with salt. The ease at which one can consume a large number of chips while watching a game, or playing one, helps to implicate chips of all sorts in the obesity crisis faced by the United States and the rest of the industrialized world.

That cannibalism would serve as the stand-in to overeating junk food says a lot about the values of current American society.  Eating another being of your own species is generally considered to be an abomination. Although the Potato Heads are not humans, they are stand-ins for humans with human emotions and aspirations, just like the various mice, ducks, rabbits, dogs, foxes, lions and other animals we have anthropomorphized since the beginning of recorded history. From Aesop and Wu Cheng’en to Orwell and Disney, authors have frequently used animals as stand-ins for humans in fairy tales, satires and children’s literature.

So when Mrs. Potato Head eats a potato, it’s an overt representation of cannibalism—humans eating other humans.

The advertiser is trying to make fun of transgression, to diminish the guilt that many on a diet or watching their weight might feel noshing on potato chips.

But behind the jokiness of a potato eating a potato chip stands more than the idea that it’s okay for humans to snack on chips. The implication in having a potato playing at human eating other potatoes is that we are allowed to do anything transgressive, even cannibalism—everything is okay, as long as it leads to our own pleasure.  The end-game of such thinking is that our sole moral compass should be our own desires.

Thus the Lay’s Potato Head commercial expresses an extreme form of the politics of selfishness, the Reaganistic dictate that everyone should be allowed to pursue his or her own best interests without the constraint of society. Like the image of the vampire living on the blood of humans or of the “Purge” series of movies in which people are allowed any violent action one night a year, the Potato Head family eating other potatoes that have first been dried, processed, bathed in chemicals, extruded and baked symbolizes and justifies what the 1% continues to do to the rest of the population.
And it’s a happy message, too!  We don’t get the sense that it’s a “dog-eat-dog world in which you have to eat or be eaten.” No, Lay’s presents the gentle Reagan version: you can do anything you like to fill your selfish desires (no matter whom it hurts).

The Mr. Potato Head cannibalism commercial offers a fable about the relationship between the haves and the have-nots, or in this case—those who eat and those who are eaten. The fabulist is interested in selling products and making consumers feel good about the process of consumption, even when it is transgressive.  Some may call it an overturning of traditional morality. I call it business as usual in a post-industrial consumer society.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Did Trump reveal a secret fetish when he called Hillary’s debate pit stop “disgusting?”

By Marc Jampole

What I would like to ask Donald Trump is what was so disgusting about Hillary Clinton having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the debate Saturday evening?

His statement—part of a vulgar excoriation of Hillary—marks another new low in a campaign of new lows that Republicans have hit in the 2016 race for their party’s nomination for the presidency.

Does Trump find natural functions to be disgusting? Or is it just the thought of a woman pulling down her pantyhose and squatting on a toilet seat that disgusts him?  Or maybe it makes him feel some kind of inner guilt? Or does he find the length of time she spent relieving herself to be unseemly?

Maybe Trump believes that Clinton—and by extension all candidates—should wear diapers so they can withstand the rigors of campaigning without taking a break?  Maybe that strange smile we sometimes see on Trump’s face, when he pauses, seemingly to consider his thoughts, is just a natural expression of relief, similar to the first smile we see on infants?

I have often thought that my experience interacting with megalomaniacal entrepreneurs and real estate developers gives me insight into Trump’s mind, and his potty comment convinces me of it. There exists an archetypal business bully who tries to get his (and much less frequently, her) way through intimidation. This type—let’s call it the “Trump”—often think that the world revolves around him. The Trump believes he can browbeat everyone else at the negotiating table. The Trump frequently calls three-hour meetings at 5:00 pm and provides no food and keeps the discussion moving so quickly, there’s no time to ask for a bathroom break. He’ll concede no point, hoping that hunger and an overflowing bladder will make his adversaries give in. A Trump tries to be a man’s man, loves to smoke cigars and wears beautifully styled conservative standard business attire. Even in a casual leather jacket, he retains the tie. The Trumps tend to make a lot of sexist comments and treat women in sexist ways, but always pride themselves on their extreme heterosexuality. All industries have these types, but real estate development in particular attracts the Trumps.

My own experience with Trump types includes the current chairman of the board of a generic pharmaceuticals company when he was running an independent financial planning firm that had engaged my PR agency to design and write a capabilities brochure. My designer was a whiz at creating asymmetrical symmetry, which means that the composition is in balance, but without the two halves (horizontal or vertical) being exactly the same. Asymmetrical symmetry injects movement and dynamism into a composition and has been a key strategy in the visual arts since the cave paintings. We were two hours into a 4:00 pm meeting that didn’t start until 5:00 pm in which this client and his brother detailed changes, all of which involved moving objects in the design to make it more symmetrically boring. Suddenly, he walked over to me with the same angry frown that I see on Trump’s face in virtually every televised appearance, leaned over, his hands pulling out the suspenders on his pants and got as close to me as possible, swelled out his chest and said, “I understand you’re prissy and we hired you for your prissiness.”

Notice that he wanted to get under my skin by feminizing me.

I think of that incident every single time I see Donald Trump speak on TV, and especially when he has made his frequent sexist comments, e.g., about Fiorina’s looks and Megyn Kelly’s menstruation. I smile and say to myself, “Yes, I recognize this type of sexist, bullying behavior.” No one will ever know what lurks inside anyone else’s head, but I suspect that we know more about Donald Trump’s thought processes than most, since his speeches often appear to be the unedited ramblings of his mind spouted at the moment they occur to him,  without consideration of the thought or the words used to express it. I imagine, though, the following to be how Trump’s trashy imagination produced the word “disgusting” to describe Hillary’s need to relieve herself:
  1.  One is supposed to hold it in at a meeting.
  2.  A man can hold it in longer than a woman (he thinks).
  3.  Not to hold it in is to behave like a woman, that is, the frail sex and not a macho man.
  4.  Not to behave like a man at a meeting is disgusting.
In short, I believe calling Hillary “disgusting” was another sexist remark by Trump, another instance of his revealing his inherent feelings of superiority to women. That his remark involved an intimate bodily function isn’t even a new low in vulgarity, since you can’t get any lower than speaking explicitly about menstruation. At the very least, this latest vulgarism confirmed Trump’s sexism, but a darker interpretation might conclude that he has a fetish focused on either bathrooms or one or more bodily functions.

Trump’s vulgarity is not presidential, not to be confused with the homespun good-old-boy charm cultivated by Johnson, Reagan, Carter, Bush II and Clinton. It has no place in political discourse. His grandiosity and gruff attack style will please many Americans even as it fails as a negotiating style with other nations.

Rachel Maddow reported that someone figured out that every Republican with as much of a lead in the polls as Trump has at this time in the race went on to win the nomination. Impossible to imagine, but every day the possibility increases that a major party will nominate a vulgar, blustering, know-nothing hothead who lies through his teeth and has no experience in elected office or negotiating with equals. We’ve had a number of know-nothing liars in the Oval Office, including Bush II, Reagan and Nixon, so that’s nothing new. The vulgarity will end up embarrassing the United States on a weekly basis and lead to the fraying of relationships with other leaders, here and abroad. The blustering hothead, however, is what scares me the most, because it could get us into a major war and keep us there for as long as the vain, bullying president desires.