Sunday, September 2, 2012

I Can Believe It’s Not Butter

One thing that depresses me about the future, as depicted by SF and dystopian writers, is the state of the food. A lot of the time in these worlds, people are stuck eating these super practical protein-pellet sorts of things. It’s like, now we’ve perfected nutrition, and it comes in this little blue square, so bon appetite. Like all of a sudden human beings are going to say, oh, you mean cheeseburgers are bad for me? How silly of me! Hand me that blue pellet at once!

In Matched, for example, I personally thought it was less depressing that the government chose your mate for you than the fact that they also selected (and measured) your food for you. Every day. The Matched world is sort of like what would happen if eHarmony took over the government, which, as dictators go, doesn’t seem like the worst possible choice. I mean, they match you up based on all your preferences and personality quirks! It’s almost thoughtful. Of course, if two people were matched based on their love of French cuisine, say, they’d both still end up with the blue pellets at the end of the day (so I guess they’d both be equally disappointed and they could bond over that).

I think the idea of taking away the day-to-day little choice of what to pull out of the fridge or order from a waiter could really wear on a person.  I also think we all realize, on some level, that these authors are probably right. If the government ever does turn into one big, micro-managing parent—they’re coming for our bacon first. And of course the real butter.

I’ve had a roommate who’s stocked that butter substitute in my fridge for years, but I’ve eaten it about twice. If butter were outlawed, I’d actually rather just eat the muffin dry and remember butter how it used to be, in better days. I am not fooled by the name—or the taste. It doesn’t really matter to me if the real thing's not good for me. I like it; I’ll eat it. Because it’s my choice, and because I can.

We want the ability to make our own bad choices. As Aldous Huxley wrote in Brave New World, one of my favorite books (another world of protein-pellet dining): "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin." My favorite pop-culture version of this manifesto comes from the movie Demolition Man. Denis Leary’s Edgar Friendly rebels against the perfect future world he lives in, because he wants the freedom to do the wrong thing:

I'm the enemy, 'cause I like to think; I like to read. I'm into freedom of
speech and freedom of choice. I'm the kind of guy who likes to sit in a
greasy spoon and wonder, "Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the
jumbo rack of barbecued ribs with the side order of gravy fries?" I
WANT high cholesterol. I wanna eat bacon and butter and BUCKETS
of cheese, okay?

I love this movie (mostly) because of how much I love this speech. In the Demolition future, all restaurants have become Taco Bell, which also seems like the kind of dystopian corporate world we are probably heading toward. Even though the movie is silly at times (see: Sylvester Stallone’s beret, and all his dialogue), the story essentially depicts a perfect world and shows how human beings are just not going to live in it for long. The urge to reclaim free will is just too strong.

I realized as an English major in college that every story was, in some way, about the Garden and man’s choice to fall. I got a lot of mileage out of this observation in all my lit classes. I know the tree was labeled KNOWLEDGE and all, but what the snake was really selling was the ability to decide, hey, I think I’ll eat that thing I’m not supposed to. Because I choose it. And because I can.


  1. You are so right. The depcition of food in futuristic movies/books and dystopian societies is really, really sad. What has the world come to when we can't even decide we want to eat a Big Mac and some greasy fries. And your post is seriously making me want to eat something w/ butter on it, while I still can :0)

  2. Yep, definitely craving fries right now--but that's almost always true. ;) I think the food thing is part of the whole perfect future trope--like how in Start Trek future everyone on Earth gets along and they don't even need money anymore. I think there will always be some form of money--that idea's just about as unrealistic as the blue-pellets.
    Thanks again for the RT!

  3. The upshot is that Denis didn't have to act for that dialogue. Judging by a specific (unmentionable) song of his, those are his real feelings on the subject. This post also happened to lead me to a new song on his website, so extra kudos for you! (And toast, also toast.)

  4. That performance was awfully good...makes sense that he was just being Denis!