Saturday, April 12, 2008

Food Art and the Incorporation of Media Imagery

Bento Box Art
Originally uploaded by Loganpoppy
This image of the Powerpuff Girls in Bento Box form comes from Face Food: The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes by Christopher D. Salyer, a great hardbound value that shows another aspect to the art of food presentation. For the most part it has art done by Japanese mothers for their children's school lunches, which reminds me of my every other year purchase my favorite lunch box, an event that culminated with a 3rd grade purchase of an Emergency! lunchbox. When people say that kids eat this imagery up, well, they're not lying.

The issue here for me is beyond representation, but incorporation. As a kid growing up I remember how scared I was by the story of the Last Supper when in 2nd grade I was convinced that it was a parable about cannibalism. I know I am not alone in this feeling, but I need not spend too much time on the issue of communion. I bring it up to simply remind us of the power of incorporation. As a kid taking his First Communion in 2nd grade the celebration of my first incorporation of the Host was not only a big deal religiously, but also was a family event that culminated in gifts and a party. This is not uncommon for Catholic children, particularly those of us who grew up within a Hispanic context. The issue of religious incorporation is an important symbolic event that is on par with baptism and marriage: It is seen as a threshold event where the symbol also literalizes a change.

I have often wondered about the symbolic terrain of the logos and brand imagery but it wasn't until I saw this book that I think it really hit me that the possibility of affective connections that can be created through the reproduction and digestion of such material. The child and adult who consumes these faces must, at some level, do so with a level of care that must resonate throughout their psyche. What it means that these are symbols that are not necessarily generated by contract, but rather by fans (or parents of fans) suggests a deeper level of affective attachment, one that I had not considered before. Why I hadn't is clear to me. On my fifth birthday I clearly remember asking my mom for a "Batman cake", which she did as best she could. It's one of the better memories of my childhood, one that, if I am lucky, won't go away any time soon. I miss those cakes, my TV show lunchboxes and my mom, all of whom swirl together in memories of TV shows shared and time spent at tables in cafeterias, birthday parties and first communions. For better or worse, these mediated images of Christ, Batman and Family cannot be disaggregated, nor would I want them to be


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