The Holy Trio: Romanticism + Addiction Engineering + Personal Responsibility

It’s all this Fat Pride, Gay Pride, and Single Pride that’s the cause of all our modern misery

– Some Conservative activist, somewhere

Idealism, the language of our age, is a good thing, right? It motivates us to strive for better and better things, right?

In theory, yes, this must only be a good thing.

Though, anyone who has studied Art History knows that this is not a new debate – romanticism was followed by realism. Romanticism being the movement that argues for beauty, and exaggeration of natural qualities to a higher, more dramatic ideal. Realism, on the other hand was a direct response to this movement, attempting to bring more ‘ordinary’ and ‘mundane’ aspects of everyday life into full artistic celebration.

A similar theme lives on – Romantic imagery today is Photoshop imagery.

The perfectly symmetrical face, the smooth, blemish free skin, and the cellulite free thighs, are not ‘realistic’ images, they are manufactured ideas – they are romantic art.

Is it a useful idea, though, that we should chase after these images, and their computerised, unreachable ideals of ‘perfection’ just because, as the old saying goes ‘better to set your goals too high and fall short, than too low, and reach them’. Perhaps.

But this argument is too narrow.

You see, the idealised imagery that – contrary to some conservative activist’s claims that ‘fat pride’ is the new norm – dominates newspaper magazines, with the majority of magazines photoshopping almost everything, is not existing in isolation.

It exists as part of a trio.

The first part sets the landscape of ideal chasing: It does this by manufacturing increasingly artificial, wealthy and beautiful celebrities, and treating them as ‘brands’ (note that Marilyn Monroe never called herself a brand, this is a relatively new phenomena). These stars create and manage a perfected idea of beauty, with the beauty and diet industry sponsorships to match, and they utilise social media to give the image of ‘real, everyday’ lifestyles. IE: This is attainable, both in terms of ‘image’, and actual, liveable experience.

OK – This could be a useful thing in and of itself, ignoring the economic inequalities between producer and audience for a moment, but here’s the cultural contradiction…

Part Two: Food Manufacturing and Diet Culture

We’re all OK, so far, as our Ivory tower society where people simply chase ideals in isolation holds up – we’re chasing better stuff, and we’re just getting it. Great.

Not so much.

Here’s where the second reality of living in a consumerist society comes in….Businesses need to make more and more money, to stay in business. (See: Grow or Die Principle).

In order for this to work, they need to engineer their products for increasing ‘addictability’.

Junk food manufacturers are the most obvious example of this system – with the industry spending billions of dollars in research in order to scientifically study how to make food ‘more addictive’.

Food scientists have recently discovered a specific formula of ‘fat, sugar and salt’ that makes food highly addictive. Pringles are an example of this formula perfected. They even boasted about their accomplishment, with the slogan ‘once you pop, you just can’t stop’.

OK – So at this stage we’re living inside a society that preaches increasingly beautified ideals of slimmed, toned bodies, and we walk through a society populated by junk food retailers who have specifically engineered their foods in cooperation with scientists, in order to make them tough to resist. Baffled, but with me, so far?

Here comes the final kicker: The Personal Responsibility Narrative.

This is how they get you.

Personal responsibility is a pretty universal ideal in and of itself – we live in an individualistic age, for better or worse, and see ourselves as unique and special individuals (I believe the term is ‘Snowflakes’, right?). So, it makes sense that we would want to take absolute personal responsibility for our lives, and not ‘play victim’ or point the finger of blame. Again, this is a good idea, and an entirely useful argument, but it misses its own contradictions.

The SYSTEM that is our society is sending conflicting dominant messages – 1. We WANT you to be thin, thin, thin (oh, and ‘here’s the product for that’) and 2. EAT MORE. EAT MORE. EAT MORE.

How do we resolve those two conflicting messages?

We do what the third dominant narrative says – We take personal responsibility. We blame ourselves.

And, there’s the final nail in the coffin.

When you want that delicious sugary snack you can’t stop thinking about from yesterday, you look at the airbrushed model on the magazine on your desk and you kick yourself, ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ you say to yourself, and resist, feeling a temporary sense of pride and inner strength of your personal accomplishment. Or, you lean across the desk and grab for the nearest box of Pringles and get munching (‘It’s OK, they’re the diet version’). This also makes you feel better, temporarily.

Either way, you end up in a psychological whirlwind of confused messages of ideal striving, that never seems to get ‘quenched’, and guilt over your own thinking, or inability to control your urge to eat that additive food product, even just that one time.

We live in a world that encourages desire, yet blames the individual for not being able to control it in the face of a system engineered to encourage more and more and more, and with all this talk of personal responsibility, the only people let off the idealised responsibility hook are the very engineers who put us here.

Of course we are more miserable than ever. But it’s not the fault of modern ‘pro diversity’ or even outright ‘pro fat’ messages, rather, it’s the sheer nature of a system designed to create confusion and conflict at every turn.

Author The Sex Researcher

Researcher looking at our bodies, relationships, and sex lives in the digital age.

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