Stop. Put the iphone down. Eat your crayfish linguine before it gets cold. As beautiful, shiny and wholesome as the plate of organic, free range, deep-fried-in-locally-sourced-vegan-beer-battered chicken looks—it is not a sculpture. Just eat it. It is a meal for one, or two, but not a whole nation. Jesus fed the multitude and shared his five loaves and two fish so you don’t have to. I am talking, of course, about food porn. What have we created? We have succumbed to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh; we have finally wilted to the sheer power of our primal desire, that in our world of instant gratification has become all-important.
The connection with food and sex has always been present. Indeed, our language has been inextricably woven to harbour it. The body parts, the sensations, the shapes—they’re all aligned with our gastronomic desires. That includes you, with the peachy bum, almond eyes and sugarleaf lips. I will not go on a tour of the literatures and histories that contain constant references to our treatment of food and sex in similar ways, as it would simply take too long. But I would vouch a guess to say that the connection is so embedded that one’s eating habits will in fact mirror one’s sex life, or at least one’s attitude toward sex.
This is in the act, in the physical role of consuming food or passion. But, more importantly, what do we want all this to look like? As always, we must turn to Plato and Aristotle for the basic conception. Plato’s theory of forms imparts that every object and idea has a very essence, which defines it. Therefore every representation is deference away from true form. Manifesting in the platonic solids, the mathematically perfect and symmetrical shapes of the circle, triangle and square, are all platonic realisations of truth and unity. They are irreducible forms. Plato’s analogy of a table prompts a conclusion that a simple, minimalist table, using few shapes or structures would be ‘truer’ and closer in essence than say, a lavishly embellished Baroque dining table, which, although more refined, has more unnecessary and extraneous attributes. Specificity in this sense is not a negative thing, for it is a key to our ability to create taxonomies of our lives. The platonic in art is just a byword for the idea of perfection, of the ability to achieve closeness to the essence. This is something that every artist attempts in their work, for it is in the artistic world of depiction and representation that we convey our desires and trends.
When applied to the body these solids combine to form our basic perception of beauty. Through the use of proportion and symmetry we can ascribe the quality of beauty to a person, animal or building for that matter. The Vitruvian man is a particularly early staging of this association between perfect shape and proportion. Later we see Matila Ghyka in the 1930’s frame the visage and the body in a series of compounded platonic forms, so that we can mathematically describe someone as beautiful in accordance to their ascription to these proofs. Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie ascribe to the golden rule, as does the Fibonacci sequence that relates mathematical truths with artistic or naturally forming ones. Sunflowers and shells of snails and the Nautilus are other examples of perfection in ratio and shape.
But moving away from the face and towards more sheltered parts we can apply the same rules of beauty. What makes a naked woman or man
more attractive in this modern era? In our current age we have settled on huge booties, boobs and phalli, which dwarf the owners, rendering their torsos mere brackets to hold the said inflated appendages. Even the fashion industry, despite its penchant for small and under-developed models, still rigorously upholds the basic tenets of correct proportion and symmetry. Porn however, rather than reduce or conform the body as a whole, has taken certain parts, and redesigned them. Porn aesthetics are in one sense entirely regressive, for they revert back to Platonic idealism. The designer vaginas are ‘perfect,’ clipped and without hair or variation. Equally abstract men stand rippling against these smooth and curved ladyfolk. In porn there is no variation. It is just outsized and sculpted individuals creating the fantasy of perfect sex. Such pressure from this bombardment and saturation of imagery is the drive for around 2,000 genital operations performed each year on the NHS, and many more privately. This hyper-aestheticised sex world has leached into our everyday lives, like a toxic slurry field whose sluice gates have finally burst. In other words, our food has been poisoned.
As we walk past the parade of eateries that now clog our streets, stumbling over each other as they attempt to lure us in with a bewildering array of shiny and picture perfect delectables, we are left almost exhausted by the sheer overwhelming blitz of imagery. How are we drawn in? When I asked a friend the other day why people like the pit-stop fast food places he wryly replied, “because they’re cheap, fast and you know what you’re getting.” It was a succinct, spot on answer that doubled as a reply for the question, “why do people masturbate to porn?”
A swift release from our primal yearnings beckon and call as the food murmurs at the window and bodies dance on the screens. And the aesthetic of these two seducers are unnervingly similar. The product is the airbrushed and shiny, synthetic and bulbous: abstractions that draw our eye and promise the mind a bounty that we need not search hard or expend much to find. The late night sandwiches, burgers and pizzas, alongside all the other far-fetched, fusioned meals we can get anytime, serve exactly the same purpose as raunch on the Internet or a one-night stand. Both stand in this case as being culprit to Kalopsia, the condition where objects are more beautiful than they appear (better known under its scientific name, ‘beer goggles.’) We have all become chronic sufferers.
Dr. Deirdre Barrett of Harvard University has presented the notion of ‘supernormal stimuli,’ the idea that creatures including humans are susceptible to harder, better, faster, stronger alternatives than our usual objects of desire or responsibility. It sounds rather like the basic tenet of evolution, yet the focus is on the irrationality of our choices rather than any measured response. Barrett highlights many instances where primal behaviour completely blocks and negates our normal reaction to certain indicators, whether they be things that are out of proportion, or the use of excessive colour. I use Barrett because many of her examples mimic our own response to food and sex; that in our world saturated with images, need certain things to stand out and be recognised easily.
Both porn and food are presented in platonic ideal forms that offer signs and signifiers that we recognise instantly. The minutia does not matter. We are not seeking a real or meaningful encounter but merely a trivial, fast simulation of something far, far greater: fantastic meals with lovers and friends or a passionate relationship. These are increasingly harder to find in this superfast world. Instead, we fulfil ourselves with small but frequent moments of satisfaction because, well, it is easier. And often looks far nicer than it does on the plate.