Intentionality and Nice Things

I had been meaning for a while to say more about Tom Dibblee’s LARB review of a history of Anheuser-Busch, which is pretty sweet, and ends up functioning mostly as a meditation on the author’s personal relationship with Bud Light Lime and a summary of the parts of Anheuser-Busch’s corporate history most relevant to this personal relationship.  I really admire the craft, and I am especially pleased that the first comment on the piece is some poor hipster oaf (apparently) earnestly trying to convince the author that he should, if he likes BLL so much, consider trying an objectively better craft beer in the same style.  This is classic lifemanship, but the commenter is apparently insufficiently on top of things to understand that the old “heartfelt recommendation of better craft beers” gambit, while possibly useful in some circumstances, is an automatic fail when used in response to a long essay about the authentic love one feels for deeply inauthentic engineered products.

When I was chatting about the essay with a friend, he mentioned that he had recently been at what sounded like a deeply authentically crafty party, at which, at one point, the conversation had revolved around the way that most of the participants had totally gorged on Fruit Loops when they arrived at college and first had the agency to totally gorge themselves on Fruit Loops.  The friend suggested that the lesson here has to do with “the real pleasure created by foods that have been carefully designed by deep-pocketed corporations to give real pleasure.”  He gave Doritos and McGriddles as other examples of this working in practice.

I don’t know about this, because to me that stuff is obvious poison, and I can’t get into it.  There was a thing on Kottke a while ago (incidentally more or less contemporaneous with the LARB piece) that touched incidentally on the similarity between “McDonald’s super-processed food and molecular gastronomy,” (actual phrase from a piece in The Awl that Kottke was linking to) trying to use the comparison to elevate fast food, but to me this comparison mostly works to demonstrate the inherent vapidity of molecular gastronomy. Nevertheless, I don’t think that authenticity in itself (or “soul” as Dibblee has it) is a very useful marker.  We like a decently-raised pig from up the hill because it tastes better and isn’t bringing a lot of hideous unpriced externalities with it, not because it is ye olde pigge in the classic style.  I am as nonplussed as anyone by long menu notes about sourcing, but a lot of the things you get at those restaurants are pretty nice.  And I like a good straightforwardly hopped up beer like Two-Hearted Ale because that is the kind of beer I like.

I do, though, think that there is a significant difference between trying to be good and trying to be liked, and that this difference, when you can pin it down, is pretty useful.  This is not to say that I would encourage excessive sincerity or whatever, but I think there might be something here to help sort out what is and is not worthwhile.  Anyway, I strongly recommend reading that essay.