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click opera - Sliced, diced, pickled and boxed
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Tue, Oct. 20th, 2009 12:00 am
Sliced, diced, pickled and boxed

Yo ho ho, life's little piracy-ironies! The same day I blogged about a dastardly plan to rewrite the archives of my old New York Times column The Post-Materialist and hand the results over to Dexter Sinister to be printed in a pirate broadsheet produced directly opposite the New York Times building, the New York Times itself (the real one... I think!) published a contribution by me in a Room For Debate article called Beauty and the Bento Box!



Since the article was sliced, diced, pickled and boxed editorially (which had the nice result of making it universally liked in the comments section, but a bit more wishy-washy and apolitical than I'd intended), I thought I'd post here the piece as originally written, full-flavour. The difference between this and the text that appeared in the Times yesterday is another form of the "doubling" or "ghosting" that so much interests those Dexter Sinister fellows.

Beauty in Fast Food

As a Scot who's lived in the US, Europe and Japan, my experiences convince me that Japan is far ahead when it comes to the aesthetics of everyday life, and that America lags well behind.

Of course, the cultural relativist in me balks at that, objecting that American, European and Japanese ways of doing things are simply "different". And an alarm is also set off by my preference for the older cultures' way of doing things; might I simply be a romantic conservative, preferring the traditional to the modern?

My understanding of American culture is rooted in my understanding of my own Scottish culture. I see US culture as an amplification and modernization of some not-so-positive Scottish traits, namely our Protestant puritanism, pragmatism and meanness. Calvinist Protestantism -- and I agree with sociologist Max Weber about its deep cultural influence on modern capitalism -- values efficiency, thrift and convenience over beauty, pleasure and elegance (seen as suspiciously Catholic values).

When you put this Protestant puritanism together with the untrammeled, merciless mega-capitalism of mergers and acquisitions and a consumer base whose motto seems to be "Give me convenience or give me death!", the result is the stereotypical American landscape of today; thousands of miles of drive-ins and strip malls featuring blanded, branded, standardized food made with corn starch and refined white sugar.

Where time is money, sandwiches are food. This is axiomatic for rushed Anglo-Saxons raised in bread-based, pragmatic cultures. But other cultures have different solutions to the problem of lunch. In Japan they have the bento box, an ancient and elegant way to pack the maximum amount of portable, pre-prepared protein -- picked vegetables, cold chicken or fish, rice -- into a space the size of a screenless laptop.



Although the bento is a fast food delivery system, aesthetics are important; an ekiben, for instance, is a bento box sold in a train station, usually wrapped in a gorgeous traditional patterned paper cover somewhat akin to a summer kimono. It's a far cry from a Burger King box, and the food inside leaves your body in better shape too.

Of course, if American political priorities were slightly different -- but no, it's wider than that, it's really cultural habitus which would have to change -- the national diet could be improved.

France considers its art and food "cultural exceptions" and protects them, ensuring that small food producers aren't run out of business by multi-national corporations owned by tobacco companies. The Japanese government also supports and protects the small neighborhood businesses which account for 70% of all Japanese employment, offering them interest-free loans.

The irony is that American convenience culture isn't, finally, very convenient. Life expectancy at birth -- an important measure of national well-being -- is currently a full four years shorter in the US than it is in Japan. Maybe that motto ought to run: "Give me convenience and give me death!"


Now, I don't reproach the Times for turning my spicy bento into a bland lunchbox. The piece wouldn't have existed at all without them asking me to produce it. I signed off on the text as published. And even the version I've just given you is somewhat "collectively" written, since the editor asked me to add the bits about the bento boxes.

The Times also added a promotional bio advertising my books and records rather than let me witter on too much about capitalism being evil, which is certainly kinder to the capitalists publishing my books. And to me, in the end. If I have things to say, after all, I'm free to put them here on Click Opera, or in books, or records, or the ghost newspapers swishing about during Performa.

23CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 19th, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
manufacturing consent

sounds like a fair amount of hypocrisy and double standards all around.

also reminds me of the chomsky book/documentary Manufacturing Consent; available on youtube everywhere. there's a great part where they show how an article on the east timor genocide is systematically carved up by different news sources (NYT included) and essentially whitewashed the damning bits (read: the parts that would alarm the state dept. and white house)...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Oct. 19th, 2009 10:50 pm (UTC)
Re: manufacturing consent

From my point of view, almost all the most interesting bits have gone in the published version -- not just the political points (life expectancy in the US being lower, cigarette companies controlling food companies, the US failing to support small companies the way Japan and France do) or the intellectual references (Max Weber falls by the wayside) but also the finest phrases, on a purely literary level: the bento box as a "screenless laptop", the provocation of the final suggested motto "Give me convenience and give me death!"

It may be that these are the sorts of things you can really only say in the New York Review of Books. It's worth trying to place them elsewhere, anyway.


ReplyThread Parent
pay_option07
pay_option07
Tue, Oct. 20th, 2009 12:44 am (UTC)
Re: manufacturing Give me

It's an obvious disregard for the traditional which is the viral component of all that America exports.
It's all about being big and franchised which in itself becomes a sort of assimilation tool. The small corner pizzeria which we all know was the best converted to a "Give Me".
I think Obama broke that tradition by eating chocolate chip cookies and pizza from small hometown biz. Maybe there is hope!


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Oct. 23rd, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
Re: manufacturing Give me / Hope? Nope!

sorry, he's continuing two wars (this in the midst of a nobel "peace" prize), giving massive handouts to wall street and big pharma, backing down on health care and dragging his feet on just about everything else. looks like business as usual, folks!


ReplyThread Parent
lana_sv
lana_sv
lana_sv
Mon, Oct. 19th, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)

it's impossible to see it during lunch time ...
just want eat ...


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pulled-up.blogspot.com
pulled-up.blogspot.com
Mon, Oct. 19th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC)

Have you seen the Oishinbo (http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_ss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=oishinbo&x=0&y=0) manga series? I was looking at them in the comic shop by Weinmeisterstr U the other week.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 19th, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)
meme time

you're officially an 'artist and author' now, step lively and see you on Wednesday. x


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st_ranger
st_ranger
Palimpsests of a Secret Whistler
Mon, Oct. 19th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)

I dunno, I'm content to be a Californian living in the redwoods and pastures of Humboldt County, Northern California, eating bento, and maybe still missing out on those four extra years or maybe enjoying them, (but who really cares, my life is slow) instead of being Japanese and living in a supercompact megalopolis teeming with hierarchical collectivized conformity. (As long as we're going to use stereotypes, might as well pull em all out, right?)


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 21st, 2009 06:24 am (UTC)
grass is not always greener

yes, but you've got your own problems; rampant health care costs, racist hillbillies (and not just the police dept), you have to drive everywhere and your governor is one generation removed from being a goddamn nazi; that on top of being a hollywood square. (pun intended).

japan, too, has its pluses and minuses...


ReplyThread Parent
st_ranger
st_ranger
Palimpsests of a Secret Whistler
Wed, Oct. 21st, 2009 07:04 am (UTC)
Re: grass is not always greener

Those problems dont feel like my problems since I have Medicare, I don't associate with racists (most people I meet aren't hillbillies... not cityfolk sure, but I moved here to escape the them anyway), I take the bus everwhere, and the governor is out in a year!


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 21st, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
Re: grass is not always greener

sounds like a nice place to keep your head in the sand, then. "not my problems..."

i wasn't only talking about YOU, but the problems of the collective you vs. the collective them in japan.


ReplyThread Parent
almostalready
almostalready
Mon, Oct. 19th, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC)

those look so good!


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 19th, 2009 11:58 pm (UTC)

Your well-written article wasn't eviscerated for lack of space. I've seen far longer articles in the room for debate section. It's a shame it was whitewashed. Perhaps the NYT is more conservative than I previously imagined. Then again, when the nuanced, ugly truth is spoken too plainly in an unreflective democracy the speaker is quickly shuffled away or shouted down. A bit of CYA in the NYT.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Oct. 20th, 2009 07:39 am (UTC)

The Protestant/Catholic divide is a bit of a myth. There's a cultural divide in Europe but it's not religious, it's more Latin vs non-Latin. Because non-Latin regions that are predominantly Catholic - Poland, Flanders, Austria, Bavaria etc. - don't really share those supposed Catholic values of beauty, elegance and pleasure. They're a better fit with the supposed Protestant values.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Oct. 20th, 2009 09:00 am (UTC)

At the same time you also have to think of how government changed countries after the Protestant/Catholic divide -- Scandinavian countries, largely Protestant, appreciate aesthetic in a non-grandiose way. The aesthetic is still arguably Protestant, however, in its simplicity and practicality. Poland may have been influenced by having been taken over by other countries, and, most recently, a socialist mentality which frowns upon extravegance. Bavaria in much the same way by being the economic center of Germany. It's really the interaction between religion and state that seem to change these values, not just one or the other.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Tue, Oct. 20th, 2009 09:29 am (UTC)

Yeah, it's complicated. And I think there's another factor which is the north/south divide. Because in most Latin countries - France, Italy, Spain, Portugal come to mind in any case - there are stereotypes about northerners, which fit stereotypes about protestant cultures - ie they work harder, they're less flamboyant, harder to befriend, binge drink...


ReplyThread Parent
viceanglais
viceanglais
Tue, Oct. 20th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)

Anglicans become Catholics (Calvanist suspicions confirmed.) Charles crowned "Puppet of Rome".


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Tue, Oct. 20th, 2009 12:56 pm (UTC)
vanilla ice cream white bread bento box

Well the editorial process made sure the paper got what it wanted but the result is eviscerated and bland, thanks for presenting the ghostly double

from the post-industrial swamps of new jersey

HW


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Wed, Oct. 21st, 2009 06:25 am (UTC)
haha



Momus, I honestly like the edited one better... considering where it is being printed. The edited version's subject is specific and doesnt ramble into territory that might seem random. Its the nytimes. And the nytimes has a very specific style. so, even momus must be edited to fit that. I find it still having a momus flavor...

I have to admit its very cute to see the two versions. One is full, FULL, of your very in depth and edgy thought proces, the other, a cheerful, cheeky and quirky Scott artist.
Of course the other 'full' version is more fun... but... you know...
__________________________________________________

BUT I HAVE A VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION!!!!!!!
SO FAR NO ONE HAS DENOUNCED RAPE OF UNDER AGED GIRLS!!!!
NO ONE HAS MORALS ANYMORE????????

I just want to make up for that.
to rape an underage girl is wrong and it should be punished.
(of course age of consent varies from place to place... as well as who does what sort of punishing... )


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 21st, 2009 06:30 am (UTC)
Re: haha

C'mon. You're not for real. People who are apologists for the NYfuckingTimes are not concerned about children being drugged and raped, that's for sure.


ReplyThread Parent
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Wed, Oct. 21st, 2009 06:51 am (UTC)
Re: haha

woaw that was fast. were you just waiting for me to post that?
Glad I'm not a deer during hunting session.

ok. I've learned my lesson. hot buttons are hot buttons.

but hey... let's remember lest we forget... MICHEAL FUCK"N USA JACKSON also, maybe, drugged and raped children...
and he moonwalked backwards and disfigured his only begotten face so that you too might have a shot at nactural emittions... without sin.

but whatever. no I'm not real. I'm fake.




ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 21st, 2009 07:10 am (UTC)

There is hope yet for our brutal, uncultured Puritan souls. (http://kaossoak.com/?p=177)


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 21st, 2009 08:21 am (UTC)

MOMUS WE AWAIT YOUR CORRUSCATING REPORT ON DEGRADED YOB SELLOUT STATE OF LONDON CULTURE TODAY EXCEPT FOR SHOPS SELLING JAPANESE MAGAZINES

OR MAYBE YOU WILL BE UPBEAT AND REPORT THAT LONDON HAS IMPROVED THANKS TO RECESSION AND RECENT INCREASED UK REPORTING OF MOMUS

ALSO WILL YOU BE VISITING POSTCODE DISTRICT WC1 PLEASE INFORM YOUR READERSHIP

WILL AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTION


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