Friday, September 24, 2010

Long live transgression!

The Venice film festival was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the awarding of the main prize to Sofia Copola – by a jury chaired by her former boyfriend Quentin Tarantino. What caught my attention, though, was another movie featured briefly in the “Cinema” segment on Euronews. I think the actors spoke German, though I am not quite sure. In one of the scenes, they showed a 20-something daughter and her 40-something dad sitting on a row of white chairs in some waiting room – a few feet apart in a spotlessly sterile environment, meant probably as a metaphor for their existential distance. Here is roughly the dialogue that ensued:
Daughter: “Have you imagined me naked?”
Dad: “No, I haven’t.”
Daughter: “Is it because it is some kind of taboo?”
Dad: “Yes. And such taboos exist for a reason among mammals – so that they can procreate.”
Daughter: “Well… I have imagined you naked.”
As that famous ad addressed to young women in the 1960s said, “You’ve come a long way baby.” Indeed. If anyone has doubts on that account, how about that German gunwoman who killed three people (including her five-year old sun and her former husband) before dying in a hale of police-fired bullets?

But the desire to transgress constraining prohibitions is neither gender, nor country bound. It has become truly all encompassing – a trend which comes through very clearly, for example, in a NYT article about a new strand of culinary experimentation (“Waiter, There’s Soup in My Bug”). It features a chef and artist who recently organized a feast with all kinds of insects and larvae – dead and alive – on the menu. He raises those in his own apartment in miniature houses designed by his girlfriend – also an artist. These are now on display in some gallery as a daring work of art. The event itself was billed as half meal, half performance art, with a modest 85-dollar price tag. A few of the guests could not overcome their narrow-minded prejudice or disgust and went home hungry. But most relished the treats they were served. And it wasn’t just the taste of it all – no, they were exhilarated that they had crossed such a difficult threshold. Now, some felt, anything was possible – nothing could hold them back in the pursuit of all kinds of life satisfaction. At a similar event some time ago, the intoxication produced by this act of culinary transgression apparently helped the participants overcome some unrelated inhibitions and they began hugging each other, a few even started groping and kissing in a corner. As the culinary artist says, once you see people eating insects as if it’s the most natural thing to do, “it turns your world upside down a little bit.”

I thought eating insects – in addition to inspiring that invigorating feeling of personal liberation – could solve some nutritional problems. Maybe it could unlock our access to a new locally grown, organic source of protein which is, after all, commonly consumed around the world. But an expert is quoted as saying the global population of edible insects is not that significant on a per capita basis, and people in places where malnutrition is a real problem already snack on all kinds of insects. So maybe we need to take a step further and consider some other organic substances which are currently off the menu – but could be nourishing and abundant if properly prepared and marketed. Even if some of these seem off limits now, maybe in 50 years no such silly squeamishness will stand in the way of technological, social, and moral progress. The kids in that famous psychological experiments who, at maybe four years of age, begin to wrinkle their noses in disgust at the sight of a giant cockroach floating in a glass of water? Maybe their grandchildren will just slurp it – or any other digestible item in its place – without the slightest twitch; and ask for more. A small step on the way to a more rational, or cost-benefit, analysis of what is now still a nutritional dilemma – which can help resolve humankind’s alleged Malthusian predicament once and forever. For now, though, let’s take things one transgression at a time…