(EXCERPT FROM DISPOSABLE THOUGHT)
BY STEVEN T. BRAMBLE
Those entering the doors of Burger King were their own mobile empires, and as with all acts of imperialism they were prompted by the mind’s most dominant impulse, consumption. Any empire is the sum product of repression, violence and disposal of those individual units of which it’s composed, their misery swallowed up by the ends of a powerful, bloated entity—this is an accurate portrait of the American Customer. Analysis of this creature is abundant statistically, and yet on a theoretical level its behavioral properties have rarely been critiqued.
It’s well-known the occupation of server is a psychologically-trying exercise, due in large part to constant exposure to the selfishness, vindictiveness and impatience of Customers, but there’s a fully separate dimension to the job which renders its witness both toweringly bitter and impotently submissive. This dimension, properly defined, is the erosion of perceptual comprehension by unnecessary physical quantities. Less precisely, it is the foul stupefaction that remains in the wake of the original and most purely consumptive act: eating.
For the alert server, it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that no Customer is truly hungry (were they it’s unlikely they’d be allowed in). This irony becomes glaring when coupled with the most sacred principle of commercial food enterprises, speed. Serving food at great speed reinforces a lack of necessity, but also produces a bizarre, malignant delusion within the Customer. The delusion of personal empire. Expansion of self, literally or metaphorically, becomes the Customer’s primary goal, leading to competition between Customers as well.
The premise of empire rests on the annexing of land, resources and individuals in order to create a shield between Customer and process, process generally being too unpleasant for the Customer to partake in or even look at. What we discover in the daily functioning of a restaurant is immense and cynical disposability, not just taking place in areas intentionally hidden from Customers, but also those in plain sight. At Burger King, this principle was embodied by the condiment station.
Free, unsupervised access to materials lends itself to empire-building, as Cole became painfully aware. Merciless hands seizing thick wedges of napkins that would go completely unused before being trashed, plugs of ketchup packets sticking out between fingers, lids & cups & straws laying smeared and dead in the bins, plastic spoons plucked from the holder indiscriminately whose use would be minimal if at all before contributing to the pileups of exploitation, and it was Cole who opened the boxes to cram this existential trash into the troughs from which it would be extracted and slaughtered, Cole who unwrapped fifteen paper sleeves of napkins only to watch them be exterminated within minutes, tossing the wrappers into the garbage where they could not be grieved for, only inundated by more and more. The flow of materials never stopped, and Cole knew that even when he was not at work the numbers of deceased would not pause then, either. Out of sight, for him, was no longer out of mind. He began to understand that the destruction of any materials did not lead to their decrease, as if there were some finite reserve from which they were drawn, but actually to their multiplication, and the question gradually became not where does it all go? or why is this being done? but WHAT IS REALITY? His alienation from physical objects was so strong at times he began to believe he was simply coming into contact with the exact same objects endlessly, like magical reappearances. This, of course, was a symptom of stupefaction. Contrary to popular wisdom concerning disposability—when it comes to humans and materials—witnessing ever-increasing amounts of disposal does not actually encourage an individual, or Customer, to change his or her behavior. In fact, each act of disposability further distances one from physical truth by making each separate, unique piece of material seem identical, or, in a more advanced stage of perceptual breakdown, recurring.
The erosion of perceptual comprehension by unnecessary physical quantities.
Such is the example with genocide. For those tasked with destroying human beings, a necessary objectification occurs which denies the murderer knowledge of the immeasurable suffering of each discrete person. The same holds true for the disposal of animals or inanimate objects. But “disposal” is a misleading term, since anything disposed of is not truly disposed of at all, but simply mentally written off. Banished into permanent suffering. For everything disposed of, corollary consequences remain for the leftover matter, as it does not simply go away. Genocide remains a useful and practical imperial tool, as well as the solemn promise made to the American Customer.
Disposability is a dream few attempt to wake themselves from. Making it doubly difficult to understand the essential falsehood of the concept is that those who profit from it have institutionalized it as a social value. Personal empire propagates self-referentially because there no longer exists any method of forcibly destroying it according to some evident moral structure, and for these reasons Cole continued to see gallons of water disappear down drains, chemicals spilled, packs of unused plastic hitting floors before hitting the bottoms of trashcans, all of it distributed into the world by his own hand, and, by the ends of his workdays, when any possible philosophical explanation was withered in him by fatigue, what remained was an incurable tumor of rage and confusion.
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