Empty calories AND signifiers!

People aren’t stupid. But also, people are terribly stupid.

We all know “pumpkin spice” flavored everything has nothing to do with pumpkin or spice, and that the flavor is some unpalatable (intellectually), delectable (to the dumb monkey brain) mix of natural and artificial chemicals. “_____ flavor” on the ingredient list, natural and/or artificial (I mean really, how is it often both?), is never a good sign. And it is, in semiotics terms, very much a sign. It signifies something.

In this diverting article, Eugene Wolters argues that “pumpkin spice” is like the sound and fury of life, signifying nothing except itself, with itself, of course, being nothing. There is no “pumpkin spice” in reality to which the thing refers. It is, as Wolters points out using Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation framework, three or four steps removed from any real thing.

So why are we so absurdly invested in such artifice? Maybe it evokes vague feelings of fall and change and seasons (which are themselves impoverished categories to represent nature’s chaotic fluidity), or maybe we just like displacing the very real taste of piss with the perceived taste of “pumpkin spice,” which is a feat of marketing inception genius; then again, this is likely the case for all our bizarre, mediated/socialized tastes and desires. Me “liking” Mountain Dew when I was younger was just my strange (obsessive) approval of an elaborate corporate fantasy. It’s not like I was tasting the dew of a mountain, nor was I tasting “the rainbow” when I ate Skittles.

Only in retrospect does this underscore the incredibly unnatural taste of processed food. We are so far removed from nature in our consumptive habits, it’s incredible that we still function; how is our evolved biology so easily duped? My child’s brain could never hope to read and understand the chemical information of all this lab produced shit, except to trigger some unsettling combination of addictive receptors. All I knew was that I wanted more. Of what exactly? Nothing.

Even more frustrating is that after I read the “pumpkin spice” critique, I started salivating like Pavlov’s dog. And when I next saw pumpkin spice products lining the stores (and online advertisements), I was desperately tempted. Fortunately, I resisted. My reason interfered with my dumb, trained desire. I shook off the emptiness, and yet, I still feel empty.

What does this signify?

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