Tuesday, 20 January 2009

A box of chocloates

The “Eden” selection from Thorntons the posh (but not too posh) chocolatier. There is a gold fig leaf. There is artwork (is it cartoonish or is it imitating medieval illustration?) depicting Adam and Eve and a serpent in an arboreal environment. The box is a cube, substantial and black, cradled in some luxuriously soft and eye-achingly pink material with (of all things) bells on. I was half-expecting knobs, to be quite honest.

As such, it is hardly the worst appropriation of Christian symbolism by the advertising or marketing professions – either in the sense of the most offensive, or even the most confused. However, it is substantially coloured by both faults, and serves as paradigmatic for the parasitic relationship in which twenty-first century consumerism’s ‘creative’ arm stands with respect to everything else in the discourse(s) of our society, old and new.

In this rant I am very far from suggesting that ‘originality’ is what advertisers should be aiming for (as if, in its purest sense, such a thing were possible) or that they ought to steer clear of material drawn from cherished religious traditions. Rather, I am suggesting that that the packaging of this box of chocolates represents a particularly shallow and tasteless take on the early chapters of Genesis. It should be noted right from the start that this is not the same species as the crucified Santa that adorned a Japanese shopping centre this Christmas. That was an essentially meaningless, and even slightly amusing in a sad sort of a way, confusion, easily explicable on the grounds of ignorance. What it might say about the poverty of research and historical knowledge among Japanese advertising executives, or possibly on the audacity of someone trying to exploit a putative insularity with respect to that island, is of course nothing compared to what it says about the mess of Western (presumably North American) culture – that bits of it would be susceptible to such a robbery and recombination for commercial purposes! The mind truly boggles. But here it would be hard to imagine that ignorance could be a defence for whoever designed this product: these chocolates and all that comes with them are far too arch for that…

We’ve already seen most of what the packaging is: let’s now examine what it relies on. It relies on a connection between chocolate and sex (pop science preaches similar results in the brain). It relies on black and pink being the cultural colours of forbidden sexual fun. It relies on the idea that something that is bad is actually good – that transgression is to be pursued, especially for the sake of physical pleasure. It relies on the notion that pleasure is foreign to the Christian faith. Most troublingly, it relies on the idea that in the Garden of Eden it was sex that was prohibited. Of course its imaginary narratives can’t be sustained. On the one hand liberation from that prohibition is a good thing – after all, we can get these chocolates now, which are basically like sex. On the other hand, since the product is called Eden and all the artwork depicts Eden, were chocolates and sex freely available there? If so, what has happened to their putative prohibition? If no prohibition, then no need for all the thoughts of transgression and secret pleasure, which bring the allure to the product. But if prohibition after all, then since expulsion from the garden followed the transgression and we could no longer run around naked eating chocolates with whoever we pleased, Eden was hardly a great place to be. So, simultaneously, it seems to rely on the idea that being in Eden was great and that it wasn’t. Or maybe we are being asked just to look at Eden (nudity is always fun, eh) as a stage in our development to true chocolate freedom and maturity. It’s self-conscious and smug while being crass and confused: a most embarrassing combination, if only those who created it had the wit or the shame to be embarrassed. And it all rests on perpetuating a hackneyed and warped version of the Christian faith, of the original relationship between humans and God, of the proper and actual joy of physical createdness and sex, of what sin really is, and much more…

Here endeth the rant.

[Most of that post was written years ago when I was a grumpy old man. It has languished in a Word document. I notice that the chocolate range is still available, looking less tasteless on the Web, to be fair, but clearly muddled in the marketing. "Divinely sinful" and "paradise in a box"... even the miniscule quotes on the webpage reflect the theological confusion. Ho hum.]