Consumero ex nihilo: ‘Air is part of the Recipe’

Jacques Lacan at the start of his seminar on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis states that desire ‘is always desire in the second degree, desire of desire.’ He then discusses how ‘the value of a thing is [in] its desirability[;] the point is to know if it is worthy of being desired, if it is desirable for one to desire it.’ He here locates this valuative assessment on the plane of the imaginary order, meaning that this kind of desire – dictating taste, valuation and judgement – takes place in the imaginary (or, in our imaginations). Our imaginaries in this respect are of course fed by consumerism, by the stories that are told to us about the products that our sold to us: in the case of the ‘grande super skinny latte with an extra shot and sugar-free vanilla’, discussed below, we see two dichotomous views of the body – as craving excess and seeking to preserve itself as a temple – satisfied in one consumerist combinatory.

The ideological stories that we symbolically receive through consumerism – and the ideological images that shape our imaginaries in response to it – are craftily connived to make us desire desires that are not only constantly changing (to keep us constantly craving the new), but that are beneficial to consumerism itself in more direct and inflationary ways. Note how the narrative has changed since the 1990s in terms of our diet soda drinks; the excitement that came with the introduction of Pepsi Max in 1995 was brought on by its association with maximalisation: its lack – containing minimal calories and being sugar-free – was positivised as a maximum, the max of taste, energy, possibility, and joie de vivre, as it was depicted in its adverts.

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Ten years later we have the introduction of Coke Zero, also low on calories, but now touting a different message: less is more; it’s zero, but you want it… it’s zero, and that’s why you want it. Originally designed to promote a diet brand to a more masculine audience (as Diet Coke was apparently associated by men with women), it is nonetheless portentous that this branding came about in the build-up to the burst of the maximal bubble. 7Up Free came along a little later (after the credit crunch) and continued this narrative of ‘less is more’, willing and wanting zero, willing and wanting free, in the age of austerity. The drive is not towards a desire to passively desire nothing – i.e. to not desire, to renounce desire – but towards a desire to actively desire nothing: towards what we could call a consumero ex nihilo. (And, all the while, for consumerism itself – and its capitalist spoils – less really does become more.)

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At the ODEON cinema an employees’ mantra is that for popcorn ‘air is part of the recipe’. That’s the reason they’ll give for portion-stinginess: why buckets of popcorn can’t match the overflowing ones in the pictures; by policy any popcorn that happens to get piled over a certain line is classified as ‘wastage’. The onus in this trend of consumerist narrativisation is thus no longer on the customer wasting not and therefore wanting not; it’s no longer even in their hands: the merchant now wastes not on them, telling them all the while to want it, to want air, to want zero, to want free, to want less, to want loss, to want not.

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