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Oct 03

CHEAP FOOD WE LOVE: Supplementary (Crisps, Post-Colonial Theory and)

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 1,349 views

CHEAP FOOD WE LOVE: Supplementary (Crisps, Post-Colonial Theory and): I’ve been trying to pin down the recent branding shift in Phileas Fogg snacks, and I can’t do it, I don’t think, without invoking the late great Edward Said: I think when you look at Phileas Fogg then and now, you can trace the successes AND failures of his pioneering 1978 work Orientalism over a quarter of a century. In 1985, PFC took Jules Verne’s gentle mockery of Empire English fascination with anything not-English and added extra jokey layers. Verne scouted the margins of the collective Euro-bourgeois dreamspace, inventing a comedy Englishman with a (to the French) exotic and amusing name. PFC took the idea, of Empire trade as a friendly round-the-world jaunt fuelled by the curiosity of a footloose oddball, and ran ads which barked “Pay attention!” at the start, and ended “Made in Medomsley Road, Consett.” (a drily suburban touch to deflate lurking pretensions…) (With its own secret pffft-to-globalism barb, maybe: Consett is actually in County Durham, a world away from the clipped Home Counties accent invoking it, PFC being the brainchild of people rendered suddenly post-industrially jobless with the steelyards began closing.) Anyway, the Marketing High Concept was NICE IMPERIALISM: with the BAD kind so long over, surely we can revel in shared positives = good food and good humour (and besides, the actual 80s range was really NOT all that Imperial, unless France counts as a colony…)

Well, snack technology is 20 years advanced, it’s no longer enough for novelty crisps simply to ring changes on the snob-vs-yob dialectic, and besides (and here’s where the impact of Orientalism perhaps does maybe tells) isn’t it a bit embarrassing these multicultural days to play Colonialism as if it were nothing but a bit of jolly fun. Enter United Biscuits, a global conglomerate named with seemingly world-historical ambition (think United States/Nations), eager to drag a still-bouyant line into a much-changed market: byebye Mr Fogg with his Dundreary Weepers, hullo the MODERN FREE-MARKET WORLD. I must admit, when I first saw the new packets, with their ravishing high-res photography (and lovely contents), I laughed, in ribald and shameful fashion. Honi soit qui mal y pense, obv, but I looked at the pink baldy feller looming in over the sari’d trader in Udaipur (see back of Poppadums packet) and thought SEX TOURIST. Of course what UB and PFC are thinking is thus: “We are all equal in a post-modern world, a seller and a buyer, two democratic units in a trans-global exchange hurrah!” And yes, the trader has an engaging grin and the front of the packet shows her busy blur of hands, her hard work and expertise IS basic to our enjoyment.

BUT. You see, the PFC feller is named (he’s called “Pat”, we’re told), but the Spice Trader isn’t. He looks like “us”; she looks like “India” (gorgeous colours, but purely generic, nothing to confuse or surprise the Tourist of Becalmed Stereotype). The problem, as Said used to argue, is that the West’s depiction of the East entirely muffled the East’s depiction of itself: this is the lesson it’s been hard to learn. The complicated joke at the back of the earlier PFC campaign, in its Flashman-esque way, was clumsier, designwise, but also not quite so pleased with itself (the concept of NICE IMPERIALISM at least acknowledges there is another kind…)

On the other hand, the new Lemongrass and Coconut Flavour Crackers are a marvel.

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