Thursday, February 14, 2013

Capitalism Must be Destroyed

Not really. I don't think capitalism can or should be destroyed because capitalism simply means the free exchange of goods. I do, however, believe that the exchange of goods is an act with implications for all of society, meaning that the exchange of goods can never be, and should never, be absolutely free, unless we are talking about a cake sale or a parish raffle or something like that.

But I didn't really want to have a heavy sociological discussion about the justice and limits of the capitalism system. Instead, this post is prompted by an advertisement I saw on the side of a bus as I was coming to work today.

It was for a new Cadbury's product, Cadbury's egg 'n' spoon. They are sold in a box of four chocolate eggs, which contain chocolate mousse, and the box comes with a plastic spoon that you use to scoop up the mousse. I can't find the ad online, and I don't remember the exact text, but it concentrates on the novelty of a chocolate egg you can eat with a spoon.

This depresses me. It makes me think of Hamlet's famous solliloquoy:

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!

And was this paragon of the animals created to dream up advertising campaigns like this?

Don't get me wrong. I don't think there is anything wrong with chocolate-- in fact, I am its heartiest admirer. I don't think there is anything wrong with advertising chocolate. I think advertising for chocolate, as with advertising for most products and services, gives an almost infinite scope for ingenuity and harmless amusement.

What I do object to are the increasingly bizarre gimmicks and novelties that companies resort to in order to win half of a half of a half of one percent of market share. A chocolate egg with a spoon? It's an insult, both to the customer and the people who dreamed it up.

But mostly to the people who dreamed it up. Human beings with immortal souls, and with intellects and imaginations whose capacities we cannot even begin to fathom, sat around a table somewhere and "brainstormed" this rubbishy idea. Not only did they brainstorm it, but I'm sure it went through months of revisions and "tweaking" and fine-tuning and market research and focus grouping and goodness alone knows what. This demanded the best mental exertions of grown men and women, men and women who devoted an all-too-large chunk of their all-too-brief moments on Earth to dreaming up a chocolate egg that comes with a spoon.

It reminds me of this great speech from The Fall and Rise of Reginal Perrin, in which a middle-manager at a dessert company has a midlife existential breakdown and delivers this drunken rant at a conference:

We are told that we need more growth: 6% per year. More chemicals to cure more pollution, caused by more chemicals. More car parks for more tourists who want to get away from more car parks. More food, to make us more fat, to make us use more slimming aids, to make us take pills, to make us ill, to make us take more pills, to make more profit. More boring speakers, making more boring speeches, at more boring conferences. But what has all this growth done for me? Well, I'll tell you. One day I'll die, and on my grave it will say: "Here lies Reginald Iolanthe Perrin. He didn't know the names of the trees and the flowers, but he knew the rhubarb crumble sales figures for Schleswig Holstein." Look outside at those trees - beautiful. But soon they will all be cut down to make room for more underground car parks. But I have got good news for you, because half the parking meters in London have got Dutch Parking Meter disease.

Smash capitalism? No. But I do think a chocolate egg that comes with a spoon is an insult to humankind, created a little lower than the angels.

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