Stale Spaghetti vs. A Sinful Burger: A Middle American Political Allegory

11/08/2016 8:40 AM IST | Updated 11/08/2016 9:22 AM IST
Jim Urquhart / Reuters

It is a quarter past eleven and Joe walks into his apartment, tired and frustrated from a long day out. The job market isn't looking too promising and the new globalized tech-driven economy has no use for a man of his skills. Joe is your quintessential American, and his family epitomizes the American dream. Of mixed Irish and Italian descent, Joe is a third-generation American born into a family of steelworkers who believed in working hard, earning an honest wage and doing their bit to make America great. It was the blood, sweat and labour of honest, hardworking men and women such as Joe and his family that made the United States the greatest country on earth.

Ever since he lost his job at the steel mill, Joe has been temping at the Wal-Mart across town. The job doesn't quite agree with Joe. He often yearns for the heat of the furnace, the post-work beers and banter with the men. The work had been exhausting but it earned him an honest wage. Growing up to be a steelworker was all that he had ever dreamed of since he was a little boy watching his father go off to work at the mill. Moreover, Joe resents having to report to a manager several years his junior. Yet this is his life now: this is what the new globalized economy has ordered.

His eyes chance upon a takeaway menu with an inviting image of a juicy burger, and the words, "Make yourself feel great again."

Joe is trying to "adapt to the changing world". Following his daughter Alice's advice, he has signed up for adult training classes to learn how to use the internet and build the skills required by the modern globalized economy. But he is a man who knows how to work with his two hands; he never quite figured out the ways of the internet and how the youngsters "made all that money out of nothing". He is the man that globalization left behind; a relic of the past. It was his hands and those of his father before him that had built America and now he has been laid waste much like the abandoned steel mill he once worked at.

It is 2016, an election year, but Joe couldn't care less about either of the two candidates in the fray. A lifelong union member and a staunch Democrat, he feels that much like the economy, the political process too has left him by the wayside. Yet he has to vote. Maybe his vote will make a difference? Maybe, just maybe, happier times will return and he will regain his lost pride and his sense of self-worth?

It is late and Joe hasn't eaten properly the entire day. Jobs such as his don't pay much and the only way to compensate is to work long hours. His wife Mary is visiting their daughter and Joe is home alone. Tired, frustrated and hungry, Joe walks into the kitchen to grab something to eat. There isn't much food at home and he is faced with two stark choices. There is spaghetti in the fridge. Italian-American is his family's staple diet after all and spaghetti is a mainstay. However, coming home after a long and frustrating day the spaghetti seems stale; a mediocre option, something he should feel comfortable with but doesn't. Has the spaghetti gone bad, he wonders? A question pops up into his mind: can he trust it?

The spaghetti was never a perfect choice yet it was what they always had. Now it appears stale... The burger, on the other hand, promises instant gratification...

The thoughts racing through his mind momentarily overpower his hunger. The very fact that he is even considering an alternative to the old and proven spaghetti feels like an act of betrayal towards all that he has stood for so long. And while plagued with confusion and consternation, his eyes chance upon a takeaway menu for the local burger joint with an inviting image of a juicy burger on the front flap with the words, "Make yourself feel great again." The image is tempting and the words seductive. Although in his mid-50s, Joe has maintained himself well. He is a staunch "eat at home" kind of a guy. The occasional indulgence in junk food is confined to the family eating their staple Italian-American food in their neighbourhood diner. Yet the image of the burger and its promise of a happier and more gratifying result seem far more inviting than the stale spaghetti at home. Joe is tempted but not quite sure.

Joe has heard from experts that junk food, such as burgers, is potentially harmful for health. Furthermore, the homemade spaghetti in the fridge, while not exactly a representative of healthy living, is something that he has always relied on. It holds the promise of a safer and a healthier future. But the burger with its juicy meat and the sauces flowing from its sides and topped with a seductive tagline is enticing. To hell with the experts, he thinks to himself. They are all the uptight North Eastern and California folk with a university education and degrees in nutrition with overpaid jobs but completely disconnected from the life of hardworking steelworkers in Middle America. They love to preach to folk like him and he has to follow their dictates. It was men and women like these who dictated his life and look where that landed him: tired, angry, frustrated and finding himself in a hopeless situation, having lost his pride and his sense of self-worth.

[The burger] is a kind of revenge on the overpaid, "disconnected with reality" experts who have ruled his life for years. He wants to feel great again...

Joe wants a change. The spaghetti was never a perfect choice yet it was what they always had. Now it appears stale to him. He no longer trusts it with his future and isn't quite sure if it is good for him or his family. The burger, on the other hand, promises instant gratification and he yearns for it. It promises happier times and a better life. Even though the future promises only momentary gratification, he wants it. More so because it is a kind of revenge on the overpaid, "disconnected with reality" experts who have ruled his life for years. He wants to feel great again; in charge of his own destiny!

Abandoning the trusted homemade family spaghetti due to its stale messaging exposes a fundamental lack of trust and belief in its current avatar, amplified by anger against the system and the incumbent establishment. On the contrary, the burger, an overtly risky and ultimately hazardous choice offers an extremely appealing message of hope and instant gratification. This is the choice that America faces as it go to the polls this November.

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