(Repost from 20 May 2007)
So I was driving home from the hospital today, and I got behind this white Civic. We were sitting at a traffic light, and I noticed something odd: there were three of those dangly pine tree air fresheners hanging in the car. One from the rear view mirror and one each from the clothes hangers that they put above the doors in the back seat.
I find this odd. I mean, one I can understand. I wouldn't put it in my car, but I can understand it. One really has got to be the threshold of normalcy for a dangly air freshener. Two is pushing it. Three is way, way too much.
By passing the one-freshener threshold, I think you may be conveying some fairly unflattering information about yourself or your car. You're saying that either you or your car stank--not just a little funk, but actual stank. You're also saying that you would rather spend your money on fake-pine-scented cardboard than taking steps to actually clean and/or remove the source of the offensive odor. Perhaps removing the remnants of the old fries from under the seat, cleaning the splattered Mochaccino off the door frame, or steam cleaning the crumbs from dozens of Doritos that you repeatedly ground into the seat would help.
I guess I'm a little sensitive to the ubiquitous American-style handling of problems. Bigger, newer, more is what we want, and it's also how we solve lots of our issues. (I know that others before me have noted and railed against the consumerism rampant in America, but it's my blog and I can produce whatever kinds of hackneyed drivel I want. And I will...oh, I will.)
Lane County, where I live, lost its funding from the federal government (we were getting money because a lot of our land is bound up in parks so we can't develop it), and the county's first response was to try to institute a 1.1% income tax to keep "vital systems" running. Why? I want a good police force, too (because we've got a lot of tweakers here), but I'm not paying a county income tax on top of my federal and state taxes so they can continue to waste money in other areas of local government. I've passed utility workers four times this week, and on each side of the work site, they pay a guy to hold a sign that says "Slow." That's all they do. Those guys make good money, and I'm not sure I see the value of it. Trim some fat off before asking me to dig deeper into my pocket. Damn.
I've experienced it in the medical world, too. Western medicine is really, really good at covering up symptoms but sometimes really bad at finding the root causes of those symptoms. They'll throw morphine, demerol, fentanyl, and oxycontin at you until you feel better (or sometimes until you end up with vertigo for a day and nausea for three), but at times don't seem all that concerned about the root cause for the need of narcotics in the first place. Maybe if my doctors and nurses weren't so focused on that particular aspect, I wouldn't have gotten so sick (and wouldn't be a a virtual junkie right now). Maybe I would have. I don't know. I'm not complaining that they worked to make me comfortable because I needed it and am appreciative of it, but I just wish someone, somewhere along the way had taken an interest in what was causing this before it got bad enough to put me in the hospital for three weeks.
And since I'm on the subject: God help us if we continue to eat like we do in this country. Take, for instance, KFC. What the hell happened to just regular fried chicken? It's been around for a long time. People have apparently enjoyed it. So why does KFC need to invent a bowl that consists of reconstituted mashed potato flakes, cheese product, chicken bits, and corn? We survived for centuries in this country with regular fried chicken; why do we need a chicken bowl? And the thing is big, too--more than anyone really needs at one sitting. Again, bigger, newer, more. Same thing with Pizza Hut or Papa John's or whatever chain is stuffing the crust with cheese or making it into garlic bread that pulls off or whatever. It's all a big song and dance to cover up for the fact that the food is substandard fare.
23 October 2007 UPDATE: We now have Oreo dessert pizza, which is, I think, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse; I'll need to check the verses to be sure.
But let me clarify: there's nothing wrong with novelty in the food world. Fusion cuisine has produced some of the most wonderful dishes I've ever had, but the eateries that make fusion dishes also typically don't fall into the bigger, newer, more category. They--and other non-fusion but creative places--are experimenting and innovating to see what they can actually do, not attempting to make it easier to eat ever-greater amounts of crap-tastic food or to make it possible to eat without the need of even a spork. It's the difference between a place like Noodlism in Austin, TX and Panda Express. Hell it's even the difference between California Pizza Kitchen and Pizza Hut or CiCi's. Essentially, it's the difference between innovation for the love of food and innovation to sell more "units."
I seem to see it in almost everything now that I've conceptualized what I think the problem is. Bigger cars, newer cellphones, more food. Flashing lights, Powerpoint presentations, and snappy soundtracks to cover up the lack of real content. I guess you could say that it's the Vegas-izing of America. Bigger, more, new to cover up the lack of original thought (which explains the Paris and Luxor hotels there).
I even see it in my students' writing. They tend to want to include four or five different supporting reasons in their four- to five-page essays. Instead of including less and actually thinking about what they're saying, they'd rather throw more information, quotations, or points into the paper and think about them less. It drives me nuts. And it's so obvious to me because I used to do the same thing. If there were pictures, tables, or graphs in one of my papers, you could be sure that I had no idea what I was saying or that I didn't say it very well. And I knew it. That's why I put that crap in there. Those bells and whistles were nothing more than an overabundance of pine-scented-cardboard to cover up my lack of effort.