"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, January 31, 2020

Confessions Of A Mac ‘N’ Cheese Lover– In Praise Of Comfort Food, Daytime Television, And Donald Trump

Haley Mitchell grew up as a New England Puritan – not literally, of course, but as close to Cotton Mather as a 20th century woman could be.  In fact her ancestral home was not far from Salem where Mather and at least one of her great ancestors prosecuted alleged witches and sentenced them to burning at the stake, and for almost two hundred years her family had hewed to rock-ribbed, conservative values. No one in the Mitchell family had ever apologized for their stern, unforgiving religion or fundamentalist Protestant views which had nothing to do with the African, animist, pagan ceremonies in today’s Southern churches. 

The Mitchells were proud of their faith and proud of their rejection of the corruption of the Enlightenment and the adoption of its rationalist principles by Jefferson, Adams, and their lot.  If any family was ever pure American to the core, it was the Mitchells.  Never once, according to meticulously recorded family history, did they ever deviate from those essential principles.  They were the flinty, parsimonious, industrious families of early New England, the ardent supporters of fierce individualism and laissez-faire capitalism, the committed opponents to Mr. Roosevelt and his disassembling New Deal, the defenders of freedom, individual rights, and God’s word.  They were partisans of Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and every patriotic, faithful American who stood against secularism, socialism, and populism.

Image result for images cotton mather

It was tough sledding for a woman of such conservative principle in the progressive Sixties, and it was quite remarkable that she emerged unscathed.  While many of her family friends and colleagues bent to the winds of free love and idealism, she remained adamant.  While Cotton Mather had certainly taken things too far, he was right to demand absolute belief in God, his church, and his ordinances.  As Barry Goldwater said in his campaign against Lyndon Johnson, successor to the Roosevelt socialist legacy, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice; and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Haley’s point exactly.

She was marginalized by her Radcliffe classmates, left waiting on the curb by her Harvard professors, and offered no rides to Woodstock or Altamont.  She was persona no grata par excellence. She was deemed a reactionary, counter-revolutionary, bigot; and even in that early period of secular hysteria, assumed to be a racist, homophobic, misogynist bigot.

Image result for Harvard Logo

There was another side to Haley Mitchell which enraged her classmates and colleagues even more than her political conservatism and religious fundamentalism – her embrace of American popular culture.  One would have thought that with such an austere upbringing (Shaker furniture, Townsend chests, Chippendale end-tables, and Duncan Phyfe cabinets), she would have lived an austere, proper, Anglo-Saxon American life; but she saw no discordance or disconnect between a proper, respectful childhood and Hollywood, Barnum & Bailey, and McDonald’s. There was a special symmetry between the hair-shirt austerity of her ancestors and the mindless clowns of fast food.  Salem rectitude and harsh, Old Testament judgement and justice was properly balanced by a culture which had none.  Embrace of that contradiction was devotion – an acknowledgement of God’s infinite wisdom and irony.

Konstantin Levin, a character in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina marvels at God’s infinite irony, having created an intelligent, insightful, creative, and sentient creature, permitted him to live for a few spare decades, and then consigned him for eternity under the cold, hard steppes; and so did Haley wonder at the marvelous twists and turns of His universe.  There was something elegiac in her embrace of McDonald's, Whopper, Big Kahuna Burger, Hollywood tinsel, and Las Vegas glitter.  ‘God did this’, she thought.  He could have sent Americans down the flinty path of Salem, kept them along the straight and narrow in perfect obeisance to him and his son; but he did not.  He let us revel in the godless miasma of America! And if he did, Haley was going to embrace it.

Image result for images anna karenina

Life is always lived on at least two planes, and Haley was no different.  On the one hand she trod her own path of personal, disciplined faith in what unwoke preachers would call the Devil’s sinkhole, and on the other revered the faith of her Puritan forbears. Salvation was not a simple matter, and never one of convenience.

As far as her liberal colleagues were concerned, it was double indemnity – damned for her ignorant religious fundamentalism, and damned for her silly, populist Americanism.  How could she even consider any welcome of crass, commercial, vapid and soulless American culture? Or revert to the animist, primitive, religiosity of Salem?

It was easy.  Cotton Mather and the Salem prefects had God in mind when they rightly prosecuted evil;  and 20th century historians had wrongly condemned the trials because of ex post facto  ‘presumption of innocence’.  Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  The process of judging those who reject Biblical injunction and the dismissal of offenses against God is valid, regardless of collateral damage.

As far as daytime television was concerned, no one understood how Haley could be such a fan of The Days of Our Lives, As the World Turns, All My Children, and Another World – dreck as far as her Harvard classmates were concerned, frivolous nonsense.  Nor could they understand her love of People, E!, and Hollywood Today.

Image result for images as the world turns soap

Perhaps the greatest sin against the zeitgeist of woke progressivism was her embrace of popular American cuisine – comfort food,; Mac ‘n’ Cheese, hot dogs, Texas BBQ,  creamed corn, chili, burgers and fries, ice cream, donuts, and corn muffins.  Her classmates and cohorts were all aficionados of sous vide, foraging, local sourcing, veganism, and exoticism.  La nouvelle cuisine reinvented American, Alice Waters-style.  Who, now that craft beer is a local phenomenon, would ever drink a Bud Light? Why would anyone deviate from the new canon of wholesome, respectfully-sourced food?

Haley’s total embrace of American popular, comfort food; and her dismissal of Rene Redzepi’s side show of foraged periwinkles, sea oats, and prairie lizards, was in keeping with ‘God’s irony’.  By embracing the crass, the expected, and the bourgeois was an acknowledgement of his Creation.
She stood in line for muffins, bought frozen mac ‘n’ cheese by the dozen, watched daytime TV, and cruised the aisles of Walmart, Target, and Best Buy for bargains.

Her parents were appalled at her Christ Child seconds and Cheap Albert’s ensembles, her trips to Disneyland, and Pretty Susan smocks.  Yet Haley was undeterred.  She worshipped every Sunday, read Luke and Matthew daily, and endorsed every new home remedy, health food product, and wholesome living resort on the market.

Image result for images swanson frozen mac n cheese

The final blow, the final, ultimate expulsion was her vote for and endorsement of Donald Trump.  How could such a confirmed Protestant, a descendant of Puritans, and a soldier in the armies of the Lord possibly have anything to do with this spawn of the Devil? This Anti-Christ, this demonic, misogynist, homophobic, racist, bigot?

Nothing of the sort, said Haley to her critics.  Trump is us, the embodiment of crass American bourgeois aspirations; the pretender to nothing, but expressive of all that is American; and he is to be embraced just as Jefferson, Locke, Voltaire, and Kant – the inspirations for American democracy – were.  Trump is us, a part of us, belonging to us, indistinguishable from us, and expressive of us.  We cannot worship an all-inclusive God without welcoming Trump into the revival tent.

So Haley went to the voting booth characterized as a marginalized, dismissed, irrelevant, ignoramus – a Trump supporter.  However, she was at great pains to  explain that she was not so much a Trump supporter as an encompassing theist.  There was no shame in supporting a zeitgeist hero.  All zeiten are equivalent, equally judged, equally moral or amoral.

Haley Mitchell was a cultural hero, vilified for her beliefs and marginalized because of them.  Few of her critics had the intelligence or intellectual flexibility to hold two seemingly contradictory ideas at the same time or to appreciate those who did.  It was an either-or, zero sum game for her progressive critics.  You are either for us or against us. Haley’s political bi-polarity was rejected out of hand.  Yet she was the most insightful of them all.  God rules over an illogical universe, and that is his ultimate irony.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.