Tuesday, June 18

Extinction and the Giant Meatball

Is it me, or is there something bizarre about the way in which the most absurd displays of excess seem to coexist with the direst warnings of ‘what is to come’ unless we learn to scale back on our consumption, and yes, I am looking at you, Buzzfeed.

Of course, if I were to be completely honest here, I would have to admit that Buzzfeed may be what triggered this particular rant, but it is not where it started, or even what this is all about… but maybe I should begin by explaining what this is all about.

It all began when I clicked on a link to a video in one of their series called ‘Making It Big’, and then shifted from the viewer on their site to watching it on YouTube. Anyway, the video itself was about the making of a giant plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Some fifty pound monstrosity that was actually made to scale, though the series seems to include giant versions of all kinds of dishes. It was weirdly fascinating, but I couldn’t help but to wonder what was the point. Well, I do realize that I am not part of Buzzfeed’s target demographics, so I figured that had something to do with it. The real rabbit hole, however, turned out to be on some of the videos YouTube chose to recommend alongside it, namely a series of challenges of people eating ridiculous amounts of food, to the point of making themselves sick, and filming themselves in the process for our amusement. I guess it’s better than eating Tide pods?

Anyway those videos showed people eating ten or twenty thousand calories in a single day, and I couldn’t help but to wonder how is this something that is worth celebrating. A few weeks ago all the headlines were about global demonstrations against climate change, and about how the world seems to finally, finally, be growing a conscience about the need to better manage our limited resources… so much for that particular hope.

Yes, I know humans are not a monolithic block. For better or for worse we are more than seven billion individual beings, each trying to make it out alive –which is itself more than a little ridiculous because if there is one thing we will never do is make it out of here alive, but I digress– and making dumb choices has always been an integral part of growing up, but the thing is that we can’t have a culture that celebrates excess, and promotes sustainability at the same time. It just doesn’t make sense.

It is also, to my mind as someone who has seen enough of the world to know what real poverty looks like, deeply offensive.

Oh, I get it that the key to consumer capitalism is to be found in consumerism, that thrift is so nineteenth century. We simply can’t afford not to waste. From the day we are born we are taught to be good consumers. It is seen almost as a sacred duty, it’s what keeps the economy going, and the key to our own prosperity, but at the same time we are constantly reminded of the fact that we have to preserve the planet’s limited resources, that we have to be mindful, and so on. Failure to do so will lead to our doom. Um, sure, that makes perfect sense. The question then becomes how do we reconcile those two perspectives, and the answer is that we can’t, that those two contradictory needs cannot be met simultaneously, and yet we are not in a position to give either of them up, not without utterly upending our way of life, and that is not something most of us are willing to do.

Okay, so that’s not exactly breaking news. We are not just at the edge of the cliff, we are already way past the blasted thing, so cutting down on consumption now wouldn’t really do us much good. On a rational level I know that, but at the same time… well, at the same time I can’t help but to feel a deep sense of disgust when confronted with those videos of ridiculous excess, though I do realize that at the end of the day they are themselves more a symptom than a disease.

The Buzzfeed videos are professionally produced, and pretty slick, while the eat-a-gazillion-calories-a-day, for the most part are not. Those are created by kids in their bedrooms, and it is precisely because they lack the polish of their more professional counterparts that they come across as revolting rather than aspirational. Yes, both represent an equally ridiculous display of conspicuous consumption, of the wealth and waste that defines the American way, but while the giant versions of food may be excessive, I have to admit that there is something appealing to them, a tongue in cheek attitude that helps make them more palatable, the more amateurish videos… they just seem like a bad idea, like a car crash you just can’t look away from.

Now, I get that while YouTubers like to think of themselves as trendsetters, they are mostly slavish trend followers, trying to outdo the outrageous stunts of those that came before them, to the point of literally killing themselves in the process in some rare instances, so the eat ten thousand calories a day challenges eventually gave way to the eat twenty thousand calories a day, and so on. I admit there was a limit to how far I was willing to go. I saw a link to one about a 100,000 calorie challenge but I didn’t watch it. I assume it was either a fake, or a challenge that exceeded the twenty-four hour mark because biology says that eating 100,000 calories in a single day is not physically possible. Fat has roughly nine calories per gram, so, in order to consume 100,000 calories, and eating nothing but lard, you would have to down more than eleven kilograms (which translates into more than twenty-four pounds) of the stuff. At four calories per gram both carbs and proteins would more than double that figure… and most food stuffs contain at least some water, so add a couple more kilograms to that particular number. It was just too insane. Besides, for me ten thousand calories were gross enough.

Excess consumption is one of the things that has brought us to the edge of the cliff in terms of our future prospects as a species, it is also what has enabled our current lifestyles to come into being. Maybe that is why it is not only contradictory, but also incredibly appropriate that Buzzfeed would feature their ‘Making It Big’ videos side by side with its dire warnings about the threats of climate change… and two dozen ‘articles’ about how they bet you you can’t make it through this post without spending X amount of money, articles that are nothing but lists of affiliate links which at the end of the day are what enables them to keep the lights on at the site’s headquarters. This is the world we live in, a world that is teetering on the edge, but in which we still have to pay the bills, one in which we are encouraged to consume more and more, even as the planet suffocates beneath our feet, lest the economy come crashing down, taking our jobs, our livelihoods, and our comfortable lifestyles with it.

Well, as long as we keep our priorities straight…

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