Monday, July 12, 2010

Moral Depravity in America

Nothing quite like moral depravity to spice up your day. Here's an example that is so depraved that I am not even tempted to watch it.

Therefore I am thankful to William Saletan at Slate for having brought it to our attention and for having correctly judged it depraved. Link here.

Saletan wrote last week of the famous hot dog eating contest sponsored each year by Nathan's of Coney Island on the 4th of July.

No event or action can symbolize a society's moral depravity unless it is sanctioned and sponsored by those who command respect in the society.

So, Saletan is right to point out that the presiding genie at this hot dog eating contest was none other than New York's leading alimentary scold: Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Saletan captured the absurdity of Bloomberg's participation at this eating contest.

In his words: "This is the same Mayor Bloomberg who banned trans fats in New York restaurants and is now pressuring food companies, under the threat of legislation, to reduce their salt use. But 68 hot dogs? That's a feat worth celebrating. Perhaps the mayor is unaware that each Nathan's hot dog has 692 milligrams of sodium and half a gram of trans far. This means that in the first 30 seconds of the hot-dog contest, [winner Joey] Chestnut exceeded the U.S. government's prescribed 'tolerable' daily intake of sodium, and within 45 seconds, he exceeded the limit of his daily intake of fat. By the end of the 10 minutes, he had eaten 10 to 17 times his recommended fat intake (including 33 grams of trans fats and 20 times his 'tolerable' sodium intake."

Then, Saletan took things a step further, and declared that these eating contests were a sign of American moral depravity.

In his words: "Fifty years from now, when historians are looking for a moment that captures the depravity of our age-- the gluttony, the self-destruction, the craving for worthless fame-- it won't be bathhouses, Big Love, or AdultFriendFinder. It'll be Joey Chestnut stuffing that 68th hot dog down his unresisting gullet, live on ESPN. Or worse, it'll be the guy who broke his record."

We are not just talking about binge eating, though we ought to think about how these contests are effecting the psyches of those who tend to binge, but we are talking about people who are systematically mutilating themselves, coming very close to destroying their digestive systems to win a contest that in no way resembles a professional sport.

As it happens, Saletan did not leave well enough alone. As he was thinking about the act of stuffing 68 hot dogs down one's gullet in ten minutes his mind made its way to Linda Lovelace.

From there he raised the issue of what this major league eating might have to do with pornography, or at least certain forms of extreme pornography.

Of course, people have an appetite for sex just as surely as they have an appetite for food. It is common knowledge that people who suffer clinical depression lose their appetites for food and sex.
But, porn and sex and not exactly same thing. If you become too stuffed with porn there is a good likelihood that you will lose interest in the real thing. Or else, that you will try to make the real think correspond to what you have seen on the screen.

Saletan has a point when he compares extreme porn to extreme eating contests, but it is not really fair to compare eating contests to all porn.

My posts on the topic here and here.

On the other hand there are a couple of basic distinctions between eating and coitus. The first occurs most often in public; the second, most often in private. Food consumption involves table manners; sex does not.

One would have to admit that there is a difference between turning a normal public ritual into a grotesque spectacle and turning a normally private activity into something for public consumption.

I would grant that the kind of ill-mannered food consumption that occurs in an eating contest most closely resembles a bulimic's binge... and that that is something that usually occurs in private.

While I appreciate the point that Saletan is trying to make with his analogy, it does have its limits.

At the limit, Saletan is simply arguing for temperate behavior. He takes up the point in a second column. Link here.

You might think that no one would possibly be offended by a call for moderation. You would be wrong. On Jezebel, a writer named Katy Kelleher was quick to take serious offense to Saletan's suggestion that eating contests had something in common with deep throat. Link here.

Apparently, Kelleher was absent from school the day that they explained that there can, indeed, be too much of a good thing.

She feels that Saletan is trying to make her feel guilty or ashamed or both.

Here is her response to his column: "Sex and food. Food and sex. I don't know about you but I'm sick of the two being combined in some horrible spiral of shame. Food is not sinful. Lust is not sinful. AdultFriendFinder is not a cesspool of perversion. Doing these things-- enjoying huge amounts of food or conspicuous amounts of sex-- does not make one self-destructive, gluttonous, or depraved. Saletan's sloppy comparison does not turn me off competitive eating-- it just reveals his disgust and distrust of pornography. In drawing the two together, he makes both out to be something threatening, even dangerous. But a group of contestants shoving food into their faces while crowds cheer around is not symbolic of the impending downfall of our civilization. And this is no worse than paying two men to beat each other bloody while spectators urge them on to greater violence. As far as sports go, competitive eating is actually pretty tame."

Clearly, this is one of those the-lady-doth-protest-too-much-methinks moments. Where to begin?

Of course, Saletan did not say that food was sinful. He did not say that lust was sinful. As for AdultFriendFinder, I will accept Kelleher's judgment that it is not a cesspool of perversion.

Eating contests are not about "enjoying huge amounts of food." They are about shoveling food into your gut and not enjoying it at all.

I am not sure what Kelleher means by "enjoying conspicuous amounts of sex." I imagine that she meant copious amounts, but who am I to quibble.

I would mention that there is a difference between enjoying copious amounts of sex and enjoying copious amounts of porn.

Next Kelleher explains that Saletan is really revealing his disgust and distrust of pornography. Say what? I don't know anything about William Saletan, but I feel confident in asserting that there is no such things as a man who does not like some kinds of porn.

Kelleher does not agree with Saletan that eating contests are a sign of depravity. She feels that martial arts are worse. There she is simply wrong, because knowing how to fight is and has always been a basic manly virtue.

Does she really think that Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and Mohammed Ali are somehow less moral than Joey Chestnut? The former inspire men; the latter does not.

Saletan was imply arguing against excess and extremes. And he was quite right to do so. Martial arts comport dangers. But they also teach skills that are part of character development. There is nothing wrong with knowing how to defend yourself.

Extreme eating has no redeeming social value.


Anonymous said...

According to Ms. Kelleher "enjoying huge amounts of food...does not make one...gluttonous..."

I thought that was the definition of gluttony.

Jezebel should be renamed The people on that site wake up every morning looking for something to be offended by.

LordSomber said...

As shameful as gluttony like that is, what I see more often is fastidiousness, which C.S. Lewis also considered a form of gluttony.

Anonymous said...

Stuart, I think you did an excellent job disentangling those tangled issues.

Anonymous, above, and Lord Somber make points I was going to make.

For my own point:

Pie-eating contests and gastronomic competitions are as wholesome and American as apple pie and hot dogs and apple pie and hot dog eating contests.

I'm amused to see Ms. Whatsername defending this silliness as I doubt she could negotiate a weenie, of any kind, down her gullet.

Depravity is a vegan and vageterian defending the intake of meat, of any kind. Positively obtuse!

It's only gluttony and depravity if those delish dawgs were prized from the mouths of starving children.


An Unmarried Man said...

Pie-eating contests and gastronomic competitions are as wholesome and American as apple pie and hot dogs and apple pie and hot dog eating contests.
I disagree with this. The mark of saintly "Americana" does not distinguish excellence nor even legitimacy. There is absolutely nothing wholesome about overeating. The reason I believe the old tradition you speak of has traipsed into "depravity" is its newly-found showmanship/profit angle. Only in this fat-ass Western culture can a profit be vomited from swollen displays of gluttony.

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Demoralization, Destabilization, Crisis, Normalization

The four steps needed to successful turn a free and open nation into a nation of Marxism.

The process in whole can be successfully competed within 60 years, however the U.S and the U.K have been consistent with these steps for much longer than the necessary period. The only conclusion for this is that this time they will not make a mistake.

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