It isn't just potatoes but potatoes will serve to make the point as well as anything else.
There are two types of potato. One type is the new potatoes that traditionally appear in spring. They are yellowish-waxy and they need to be boiled for 17 minutes, then drained, salted, minted, buttered, buttered again, allowed to cool for eight minutes in warm weather (10 in cool), re-tossed in the melted, minted, salted, double butter and served as a warm dish without accompaniment to anyone whom you wish to seduce.
Though while you are distracted with seduction beware the fingers of gods that will descend through the clouded ceiling to filch your buttered new potatoes because they can't get tucker that good on Mount Olympus (or wherever it is that the gods live - I've always been a bit vague on the home addresses of gods.)
The other type of potato is, well, the potato-potato. The potato-potato can be red-skinned or brown-skinned or pale-skinned. Its flesh can be yellowish or whiteish. The potato-potato can be boiled, fried, deep-fried, baked, roasted, mashed, dauphinoised (with cream, garlic, salt, pepper and butter until it becomes a confection that will tempt those same gods back out of hiding, only now they'll bring their friends) stored in a cupboard for weeks without deteriorating and, when finally it sprouts its tuberous fleshy feelers, planted in soil of almost any quality whereupon it will set about reproducing itself in quite prodigious numbers.
Kids like potatoes. Adults like potatoes. No one seems to be allergic to potatoes which in these days of hyper-sensitivity seems like a miracle. And the potato also has a range of non-culinary uses from printing to warfare that I do not have time to outline here. In short, the potato is a wonder in every way. And I went to buy some.
Now is not the season for the new spuds so I reached for potato-potatoes, which, as I have said, are effectively indistinguishable one from another. But on seizing the packet I discovered that my potato-potatoes had a name. Not a varietal name - they were as it happens of the variety Agria - but a name that they had been given, a baptismal name as it were. It was printed on the packet in funky lettering. My potatoes were called - are you sitting comfortably now? - Dig Me.
I know, I know. I hear you. This may not be the end of civilisation, but boy, can you see it from here. Dig Me. Ha.
The name began, I presume, as a pun on dig meaning to enjoy or appreciate, a meaning that went out of common usage around 1973. At the same time the verb alludes to the undeniable truth that potatoes need to be dug from the soil, but not to the equally undeniable truth that these potatoes, washed, bagged and offered for sale at the supermarket, had already been dug.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
But it's the personification that sings. Listen up, says the name on the bag, this is your potato speaking, me, the vegetable with a voice, the tuber that talks. I am addressing you.
And my question is, how old do they think we are? How old do the people who are selling the potatoes think the people who are buying the potatoes are? Do they think we are children? No they don't. They know children don't buy raw potatoes.
Nevertheless, they treat us, you and me, autonomous potato-buying adults, as if we were children to be amused, children to be beguiled, children to be tickled, children to be looked down on as credulous manipulable dupes. Oh look, mummy, it's a talking potato. Let's buy it.
It isn't just potatoes of course, as I said at the beginning. There's a plague of infantilising stuff about. Just wander the unlovely overlit aisles of the supermarket and you'll find cows promoting yoghurt, you'll find Mr Muscle cleaning products, you'll find cartoon chickens plugging the edibility of their own flesh.
For it is the goal of corporate marketing with its infantile fictions to suppress adult discrimination, to lower societal intelligence, to fling us all back into an infancy of want want want.
At the same time it blinds us to the reality of the world we inhabit where detergent is just detergent, cows don't choose to be milked or chickens to be slaughtered and the potato needs no embellishment because it's already a wonder.