If the nation’s popular media were disproportionately staffed by the sensible instead of the sweetly delusional, we might never have learned that a bakery began trading last week in Perth. As it was, though, the US-based doughnut franchise Krispy Kreme opened its doors not only to a now-anticipated crowd of everyday revellers but to a press opportunity to tut-tut-tut at all those who, apparently, describe and hasten the downfall of the culture.

Look at them! Eating their sweets like diabetic merinos!

Fairfax led with a report on just how many calories lurked in each pastry and a tally of the fat consumed by thousands of servile customers. The publisher, which does not offer nutritional advice in any of its Good Food culinary publications, seems to have naturalised the idea of the “obesity epidemic”. Revulsion for those who so openly shun kale in favour of transfats is now a common feature of press, the “writing” of Sarah Wilson and the culture at large. Despite evidence to the contrary, we’re all pretty convinced that these cheap and cheerful lotus-eaters will cost us future medical care.

There are those less concerned about a future XXL burden on the state than they are about The Sheeple. Many commentators just fret that fondness for Krispy Kreme is “sad”. This was one of recent many social media posts concerned that large numbers of people are doing the same thing without genuine independent thought and giving their money to the same latter-day imperialists. On my Facebook feed, a number of “friends” fretted that the masses were actually and mentally corpulent and subject to market control.

This, of course, is a real concern. Economic forces shift our bodies in particular directions and this is rarely so visible as when a global “cult” brand like Krispy Kreme or Zara or Sephora parts large crowds of “fools” from their disposable income. Of course, the media class tends not to fret so much about the market devotion to brands like Apple and it rarely discusses bioeconomics when the market is largely young, middle-class men. But to suppose that Apple fanboys are more aware of the implications of an iPhone purchase than a simple doughnut eater is rank nonsense. We’re all idiots who fetishise stuff and people who shove doughnuts in their pie holes are doing no more damage to themselves or the viability of the state than someone who pre-orders an Apple Watch.

Frowning at Krispy Kreme derives from a sniffy revulsion for the fat and the stupid. It is a vile urge that deems some consumers as surplus to the needs of the state and shields others, like Apple fans, from the same terrible judgement. And, even if we look past the systematised cruelty of consumption, all of this whining that the product is “sad” does not allow for the simple acknowledgement that people are gathering in large peaceful groups for the cost of a couple of doughnuts.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s doughnuts or computers or critics of Reaganomics. When you’re hanging around waiting for something, you’re in a place that is momentarily free of capital and flooded with community.”

Apple fans enjoy the sense of community that the release of a new iPhone fortuitously builds just as sports fans do in the week before a grand final. Of course, there are those of us who disdain crowds and can’t see why anyone would not just stay at home. These days, the thought of queuing for anything is anathema to me but I do recall the long-ago thrill of a cold and sleepless night in Canberra waiting for tickets for punk band Dead Kennedys. Honestly, the best memory I have of this gig comes to me not from the woeful sound system which made the words to California Uber Alles sound like the Mentos jingle but from the experience of sitting in studied teenage silence with other fans. Here, the exchange of money and the product itself were secondary to the primary rush of recognising in each other a temporary sense of fellowship.

It doesn’t matter if it’s doughnuts or computers or critics of Reaganomics. When you’re hanging around waiting for something, you’re in a place that is momentarily free of capital and flooded with community. We attend these things to now enact an instant of what some optimistic sociologists have called the “third place” or to do as Orwell advised and just enjoy a democratic moment of mutual understanding.

Now, I’m not much one for the moderate politics of Orwell or Third Way theorists like Robert Putnam. But I know a peaceful public gathering when I see one, and often the cost of attendance at such a genuinely democratic event is overshadowed by the benefit. Krispy Kreme will close; my local did. But the memory of a pleasant afternoon disbursed more in the spirit of togetherness than it is in servitude to capital — which is always around us in any case — remains open for business.

I remember my parents, also in Canberra, made the painful trek to the Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. Of course, this is not an act that would ever be deemed as “sad” — except, of course, by keen critics who knew that this flimsy show contained far less Rembrandt than it did hype. They queued in the appalling and stark lobby of the NGA with thousands of others and the pleasant memories they took from it had far less to do with the under-represented Rembrandt than they did with the sense that here they were in a city full of people who bothered to leave the house and say hello to each other.

Rembrandt is a cult name just as much as Apple or Krispy Kreme and the fact that he and his “essential” genius was as lacking from the blockbuster show as US-style glaze is from local doughnuts just doesn’t matter.

It is true that the consumption of doughnuts, just like the consumption of art, is a social class filter. These are empty calories that nourish our minds and our bodies less than they nourish our sense of identity. This is one of the dreadful things about ourselves and our world: our aesthetic preferences largely exist to make a statement.

But, sometimes, while we are waiting to make that statement — whether it is in a queue at the poorly designed NGA or a Perth car park or an Apple Store — we take a step outside of the markets that have been built to contain us and actually look at each other. And in those moments, we can apprehend each other not just as consumers or people with a particular kind of taste but as other selves who are not made by the market but made by the social.

*This article was originally published at Daily Review

Peter Fray

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