Saturday, September 24, 2011

Homer Simpson, Coke and consumerism

In one of the earlier Simpson's episodes, Marge, who is desperately trying to make a case for the glory of love, tells her family to "ask what your heart what its fondest desire is". This gets Homer started on one of his usual reveries: a lengthy musing upon all the things his heart desires, and love doesn't seem to be one of them. Finally, bewildered by the list of things he desires, he simply concludes, "Mmmm — something". This, as Chris Turner in his book Planet Simpson explains, is "one of the most succinct summations anywhere of the insatiable desire lodged in the sclerotic aorta of the consumer ethos".

Homer — the quintessential, contradictory, blue-collar everyman — has never had enough. At any all-you-can-eat special, he's the one with a bottomless stomach. In another episode of the Simpsons, the devil tries to feed Homer doughnuts in the hope that he will, at some point, beg for mercy. But he never does. Despite swelling up well beyond his usual size, he keeps demanding more. Mmmm — doughnuts. Of course, one way to see this consumerist exercise is to assume that the consumer is never satisfied: he or she is greedy beyond belief. And, while this makes some sense, another way of seeing it is that consumers aren't satisfied precisely because 'consumer goods' (a name loaded with mocking irony) can never satisfy.

Take Coke Zero for example, not just as a drink but as a symbol. There are a few reasons why you'd want to drink anything: for its taste, for its thirst-quenching properties, for its nutritional value and perhaps (like beer) for its mind-numbing side-effects. But Coke Zero doesn't taste that great, it makes you thirstier the more you drink, has no real nutritional value, and provides very few pleasant side-effects. Sure, there's caffeine in it, but there really are more pleasant, more nutritious sources of caffeine out there. Coke Zero, then, promises Coke (The real thing, apparently, because 'Coke is it') but delivers nothing: that is, it is an idea without the proper substance. It promises satisfaction and delivers dissatisfaction.

If Coke Zero is taken as a symbol of what consumerism is, one may argue that it is simply another name for nihilism. Consumerism never satisfies because it is simply another name for the Big Nothing — it is a philosophy without doctrines, mist and thin air disguised as a materialist essentialism. The more you eat, the hungrier you get; the more you drink, the thirstier you get; the more you consume, the more you are consumed. Consumerism is Rene Magritte's C'est ne pas une pipe: semblance without substance.When asked for bread, it offers a stone.

No comments:

Post a Comment