Re: Obesity epidemic

From: Dace (
Date: Tue 06 Jul 2004 - 21:28:39 GMT

  • Next message: Dace: "Re: Obesity epidemic"

    > From: Chris Taylor <>
    > Nice analysis (although I think you're maybe reaching a little with the
    > 'meme' prohibiting analysis of capitalism). I think the film Cube
    > (hooray for the Canadian Film Board) was a very nice allegorical tale in
    > lots of ways, but one of the most poignant was how the vicious,
    > pointless machine they were all caught up in came to exist -- as the
    > result of lots of little people who worked on little projects more or
    > less in ignorance of each other to produce something noone wanted that
    > was in effect 'alive' in its own right as a project, within the
    > administrative/requisitions (complex, driven) system of some bit of the
    > US government.
    > Capitalism _is_ alive in the Lovelockian/Gaian sense (work with me here
    > a bit) in that it alters its environment to further its own aims (in a
    > completely unconcious way -- good old anthropomorphisisation shorthand).

    It's interesting that capitalism does this in two contradictory ways. In concentrating wealth, it leaves many people impoverished and desperate for any work at any pay. But at the same time, it perpetuates itself by generating desire through marketing, which, of course, assumes that people have "disposable income." Under capitalism people cease to exist as such, becoming bifurcated between laborers and consumers. The best laborer is poor, while the best consumer is rich. I think this tension between the need to exploit and the need to sell explains the schizophrenic flipflopping between liberal/labor policies and conservative/tory policies in capitalist countries.

    There's a great example of the marketing imperative at work in the June 28 issue of Time, which is in part a follow-up to their series on obesity. In his article, "Pitching it to kids," Daren Fonda describes the latest trend in advertising. In Neopia, a sort of cyberspace utopia, children become owners of virtual pets, which they have to care for against a variety of obstacles. If your pet gets sick, for instance, you have to visit the Neopian pharmacy, which can be a bit pricey. In order to earn the points necessary to buy medicine, you have the option of hunting for images in a virtual McDonald's or playing the Lucky Charms Super Search game or watching ads in the General Mills theater, etc.

    Even marketing executives are disgusted by this new form of memetic engineering. A Harris Interactive poll found that 91% of "youth marketers" conceded that kids are being pitched to in ways they're not even aware of. 61% believe it's unethical. Mind you, these are professionals who do this for a living. Yet they are no more able to follow their conscious beliefs than the children they're manipulating. Ultimately, it's capitalism and its band of memes that's in charge.

    Of course, Fonda never mentions the word "capitalism" in his article and never calls into question a system that continually forces citizens to try to fight the tide. This is the system's greatest trick, its cloak of invisibility. We're simply not allowed to talk about it. Taboo. A negative-image meme.

    > It is composed of lots of selfish memes in the Dawkinsian sense (I'm
    > just Mr Neology today...) that have ended up 'cooperating' (i.e. not
    > screwing each other up) in a thoroughly unconcious way. That's not to
    > say people don't have lots of grubby little conspiracies etc. but they
    > are like the cleaner wrasses / pick-a-parasite of the economic world.
    > Nature red in tooth and claw -- capitalism is just another pattern
    > replicating because it can, composed of lots of little ones replicating
    > still, because they did before.

    I wonder if part of the allure of capitalism is that it's "natural." After all, it's just the application of the "law of the jungle" to human society.

    > Tackling it is another matter entirely. You'll never do it head on
    > without a war with aliens that allows us to redefine ourselves a la
    > Watchmen; just lots of little plans like Ted says -- be aware and plan
    > accordingly (all you government types that lurk herein); although fat
    > people (in mind and/or body) don't rebel so easily I think. Hmm.

    I'm not quite sure what you mean by aliens, but yeah, you can't fight it head on. It's got too much momentum. The memes are too deeply ingrained. You try to force a new set of memes, and pretty soon the old ones pop up again, as in Russia. Capitalism itself shows how it has to be done. It's not as if the Italian "mercators" tried to launch a frontal assault on the medieval order. They just established little islands of capitalism, also known as "towns," in which an alternative society could emerge and ultimately displace the old. All the while, they were just trying to make a life for themselves, never knowing the forces they were unleashing.


    > Cheers, Chris.
    > Dace wrote:
    > > According to the June 7 issue of Time magazine, the US is afflicted with
    > > "obesity epidemic." Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and
    > > are obese. In his article, "How We Grew So Big," Michael D. Lemonick
    > > explains the mechanics that have given rise to this crisis. In a
    > > our bodies are habituated by millions of years of evolution to expect
    > > instabilities in the food supply. Thus we crave fats-- as well as
    > > that can easily be converted into fat-- so as to survive the long winter
    > > still anticipate in our guts. As a result of modern technology, not
    only do
    > > we have all the food we want year round, we don't have to exert
    > > much to obtain it. If we go on a crash diet, the body reacts by slowing
    > > down metabolism so as to restore fat levels. As the public becomes
    > > increasingly aware of the crisis, we're beginning to hear calls for an
    > > "anti-obesity campaign."
    > >
    > > I see four memes implicit in this analysis.
    > >
    > > First, the very notion of an "obesity epidemic" is memetic. Barring an
    > > actual virus that makes us fat, the "virus" is in our minds. Not
    > > gets fat in these conditions, and those who do are mimicking others who
    > > out foods high in fat and sugar. These so-called comfort foods operate
    > > a drug, providing momentary pleasure which is followed by a let-down
    > > can only be alleviated by more comfort food. If your family and friends
    > > hooked on the food drug, you're a lot more likely to get hooked as well.
    > >
    > > Second, fad diets are memes that exploit our desire to believe that a
    > > miracle cure can quickly eliminate the problem without the need for any
    > > longterm adjustment.
    > >
    > > Third, if fad diets are pathological memes, then the anti-obesity
    > > is a logical meme. Aside from the recognition that individuals must
    > > long-term adjustments in how they eat, we're seeing public movements
    > > better labeling of food, elimination of soda vending machines in schools
    > > along with improved cafeteria menus, and urban planning geared toward
    > > getting people out of their cars and onto their feet.
    > >
    > > Finally, a meme conspicuous only by its absence. Like any mainstream,
    > > publication, Time magazine avoids mentioning capitalism as much as
    > > Yet the problem is not simply industrial technology, as Lemonick
    > > but the use of technology for profit. Processed foods are in such
    > > because they're cheaper to make and therefore carry a higher profit
    > > These foods are consumed at such a high rate, in part, because they're
    > > aggressively marketed, especially to kids. The only thing capitalism
    > > generates as efficiently as wealth is poverty, and it's the poor who
    > > themselves unable to afford anything but the fattiest, most sugar-laden
    > > foods. The stresses that lead people to seek out comfort food are in
    > > measure the result of the capitalist imperative to get ahead and its
    > > concommitant destruction of community. That we're not supposed to
    > > our economic system as a causal factor in our social problems is itself
    > > meme.
    > >
    > > This leads to a general point about the relationship of memes to money.
    > > Just as memes are self-reproducing ideas, capital is self-reproducing
    > > In a capitalist society, the circulation of memes is often merely the
    > > of the circulation of money. The obesity epidemic is no exception, and
    > > neither is our response to it. As Lemonick points out, "more and more
    > > foodmakers are beginning to see increased awareness of the obesity
    > > not as a threat but as a business opportunity." It seems that whether
    > > gaining pounds or shedding them, capital keeps getting fatter.
    > >
    > > Ted Dace

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