21 March 2013

Cartoon Food

The first time that I can remember experiencing an insatiable desire for an item of cartoon food was watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was probably 4 or 5. I felt it again every time I read an Archie comic and saw Jughead wolfing down a platter of (thankfully plain) burgers. Is this what Plato meant by Forms? Ugh! If only I had cultivated an intimate relationship with an Ancient Philosophy scholar! Otherwise my knowledge of Plato’s notion of Forms is limited to the veritable onslaught of vague references that undergraduate English students are bound to make whenever the words “shadow,” “cave,” or “dark” pop up in a text. (If there’s anyone out there interested in getting a BA, but they don’t know what in, I suggest English literature. It is always enough to say that something reminds you of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and go no further.) Regardless of my limited understanding of the term, I will nevertheless go forth and claim that cartoon food functions as an ideal Form of food, and that no doubt Plato had the Ninja Turtles in mind when he developed his theory.

Perhaps it is a bit problematic that cartoon food necessarily followed the material objects of pizza and burgers, but because I came into consciousness after these cartoon forms had already been established, and because I have made no effort to actually understand what Plato’s theory of Forms actually entails, and because I care for no one’s relationship to food but my own, I am going to grant myself some wiggle room here. And if Plato is arguing that we only ever see the shadows on the wall and never the real thing, let me just point out that Plato (probably) did not have access to TV or Archie comics—despite my previous claim that Plato wrote The Republic during the commercial breaks of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

For me, the pizzas of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Jughead’s burgers are not simply representations of pre-existing food that we physically ingest. They are perhaps modeled on those physical foods, but in their production and through cultural dissemination, they have been transformed into the ideal (or idea) of that food, and it is precisely through their artificiality that they become an unattainable promise of reality that we must always strive towards and inevitably fall short of. It is for this reason that pizzas and burgers have never tasted as sweet on my tongue as they do in my head (or my “brain-tongue,” if you want to be scientific).

So you can imagine my delight when a Müller superstore opened up in downtown Budapest with at least a quarter of one floor devoted entirely to German candies, mostly Haribo and its cheaper cousin, Trolli. And what does Trolli make? GUMMY BURGERS THAT LOOK AS IF THEY WERE TAKEN STRAIGHT OUT OF A CARTOON. It was like stumbling out of a dark cave where I had been munching on tasteless chimeras and into a ray of light to become the Philosopher Queen I always knew myself to be.

Although either Hairbo or Trolli also makes gummy pizzas (and gummy eggs, which are somewhat appealing to me), they are too small to actually capture the form of a cartoon pizza. It’s difficult to say what exactly is so great about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ pizza beyond saying that it looks like pizza: it’s sloppy and droopy and looks delicious. The gummy pizzas, on the other hand, are little more than pink, globular, semi-triangles.

It is perhaps easier to explain what I mean through a collection of curated TMNT pictures taken from the original cartoon, the live-action movies, and a toy.

Here we have an image from the late-80s to mid-90s Turtle era.What is remarkable about this cartoon pizza is 1) its uniformity -- all pizzas in the animated series look more or less like this one; and 2) the lack of detail -- there is no effort to try and portray the different shades of cheese or pepperoni, which we all know to be part & parcel of a real pizza. The nondescript pizza allows enough blank space (this is especially true of the slightly yellow-ish cheese entirely free of shade) for us to project our own desires onto that pizza; the form is open enough to accommodate within itself our own ideal pizza. If this is pizza at its highest point of artificiality, it is also pizza at its highest point of desirability. It perhaps bears mentioning for any turtle fans that Donatello is kindly offering his slice of pizza to the viewer (or at the very least making a cheers gesture), while Michelangelo has already begun to scarf his down.

In this image we begin to see the transition from the cartoon pizza to one that retains its cartoon qualities, but is nevertheless tangible and touchable in real life. While we could no doubt hold this small plastic disc in our hands, we cannot actually eat it,* which is, of course, the main goal. Although these toy pizzas of the TMNT franchise serve as an interesting bridge of the gap between the real and the artificial, they nevertheless remain as elusive and as illusory as the pizzas on the tv screen. If anything, these pizzas might increase our frustration at the impossibility of ever actually reaching the ideal form.

Finally, here is a still from one of the live-action TMNT films and we can see how these ideal pizzas cannot be sustained in physical reality, and ultimately break down. The pizzas in these movies are no more desirable than any pizza we can acquire in real life, and ultimately probably less so since I assume that they had probably entirely cooled off during filming.

In closing, here is a series of images that was once a gif, but I don't know what gifs are, and I certainly don't know how to post them here. I think that a series of stills is actually more useful to our purposes here since we can walk through these images one by one.

In the first three panels, notice Michelangelo's infectious (to the viewer, obviously not to Donatello) joy at the anticipation of consuming this slice of pizza, which surely can only be amplified by the promise of many more (there are three pizzas in front of him).

In the fourth and fifth panels you can see him begin to unhinge his jaw like a snake so as to be able to fit the entire slice in his mouth at one time. His lower jaw juts outwards not only in a snake-like unhinging, but also somewhat like a bib to catch the dripping cheese. The liquid quality of the cheese, especially apparent in the second piece that he holds in his other hand, indicates both that the pizza is obviously still hot and fresh, but also that the cheese is appropriately greasy.

In the final panel we can see Michelangelo's total bliss at having just consumed that piece of pizza, and we are assured that it was just as delicious as he had anticipated it to be in the first panel. Given that he ate it in a single gulp, we can be sure that his ravenous appetite can more than account for the remaining pizza, and based on our knowledge of Michelangelo's character, we can be certain that he will enjoy the remaining slices with the same relish as the first. Unfortunately for the viewer, because we will never be able to eat of this pizza, we will never experience this bliss first hand. Our disappointment is only augmented by it being acted out in front of our very eyes.

* Choking hazard! 

Art, as we know, doesn't represent the real,
But illustrates instead the impossible ideal.
 And our attempts to mimic the Form found in cartoon
Inevitably ends in an embarrassing culinary lampoon. 

20 March 2013

The Scone

Everyone: prepare for disappointment. Scones are not cream horns. Am I the only person that didn’t know this? I would keep hearing scones mentioned—on TV, in real life, on the internet—and I would think, “Oh my god, I would love to eat a scone right now!”

Do other people actually know what scones are and still eat them? You know they’re not cream horns, right? Cream horns are those delicious things made of puff pastry shaped into a horn and then piped full of whipped cream; scones are like a sweet bun but aren’t because they don’t have yeast or something. I don’t know. I do know why they’re not delicious though: because they’re not puff-pastry-horns-filled-with-whipped-cream.

Having recently achieved my goal of being accepted into a
Masters program at U of T, all that is left for me now is to
burrow into a giant cream horn and forget about the outside world.
But now that I know what scones are only by knowing what they’re not, I can say with absolute certainty that I do not want to eat one. I’m afraid that they would be much too dense or perhaps not sweet enough. A cursory google image search has led me to the conclusion that scones must be eaten with jam, and I don’t like the idea of needing to eat any of my foods with jam just so that they will be sweet enough for me to enjoy. Total dependency on a condiment is a sign of weakness.

Until just now, I assumed that the word “ensconce” was somehow related to “scone,” like to envelope oneself in a scone. But now I have learned that “sconce” means fortress and is not related to scones at all! And because I thought scones were cream horns, I thought it had something to do with living in a cream horn in the same way that a hermit crab lives in a shell. And now the only thing that is saving the world from being an ugly and inhospitable place is making very rudimentary splicings of hermit crabs in cream horns.

Learn from my mistakes and do not be hasty:
The scone is not a cream-filled horn-shaped puff pastry. 
And unlike the cream-horn, the scone
Will serve neither as a suitable nor portable home.