Candy and the Simulacrum

October 19, 2011 at 4:36 pm 4 comments

Did you read the piece in the NYTimes Sunday Book Review by Steven Johnson about studying semiotics at Brown? I wasn’t at Brown, but that was basically my intellectual formation too.

In the spirit of semiotics, then, I offer this candy-related thought, dedicated to my fond memory of grad school in the late 1980s. Here it is, the missing link between Theory and Candy, with a shout-out to Baudrillard:

Processed food is an imitation that promises to surpass the real or original: Swanson’s Chicken Pot Pie will be so much better than Grandma’s.

Candy, too, is processed food, but processed food with out reference to any original. Candy is the pure simulacrum, copy without origin.

As Baudrillard learned from Derrida, there is no “real” or “original,” only always already a copy. Grandma’s pot pie was an attempt to re-create the one she had at the Roadhouse Restaurant back in 1942, which was a version of the owner’s mother’s recipe, which was… No real food, always copies.

Candy as simulacrum cuts loose from the chain of origins and descent. It’s fake, and unashamed of its fakeness and therefore not in need of connecting itself to some legitimating narrative of ancestry and origin.

So candy as fake food is more true than food that disguises its fakery. Candy, perfect post-modern food.  Make that “food.”

Got all that? Hmm. Not sure I miss those 1980s so much.

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Drunken Gummy Bears Fruit Snacks on Trial

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Amanda  |  October 20, 2011 at 10:15 am

    In the last few decades, candy perhaps more than any other food has been employed as a way to create simulacra of other foods. Gummi sushi (heck, gummi just-about-anything) or bubble-gum hamburgers, anyone?

    Reply
    • 2. Candy Professor  |  October 20, 2011 at 10:25 am

      Yes, fantastic! And not just for pretend: candy as vitamins, candy as meal (those 39 gram protein meal bars in flavors like “s’mores” and “chocolate peanutbutter”)

      Reply
  • 3. GretchenJoanna  |  October 20, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Good, honest candy! I like it even more now. :-)

    Reply
  • 4. Lori S.  |  October 21, 2011 at 2:09 am

    Enjoyed this post! This immediately made me think of the whole very modern chocophile movement: beans to bars, single origin. Any ingredient other than white sugar and real vanilla (including brown sugar or honey) is a “flavoring.” Minimal processing. All about being “authentic.” Don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy this stuff! But it all very self-consciously is in contrast to

    Candy, perfect post-modern food. Make that “food.”

    On another note – so, OK, I was very much “an analytical” in grad school in the 80′s, not po-mo at all (reflecting, in part, my departmental style). But what is the difference between saying “everything we make is an imitation” and “humans are social creatures who transmit culture through imitative learning”? Is that just the po-mo vs. analytical phrasing? The first sounds rather “deeper” than the fairly obvious second, but I am not sure they are different…. Just sayin’.

    Reply

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

Samira Kawash, PhD
Professor Emerita,
Rutgers University

(C) Samira Kawash

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