Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Look to the skies--the baby spinach greens are wilting!!

Let me get a little bit Andy Rooney for a second here and gripe about the trivial. As it turns out, I am a sucker when it comes to the whole there’s-something-on-your-shirt gag. You know, the one that starts with the aforementioned phrase and ends with the victim’s nose getting tweaked. Why is this? For two reasons:

1) I generally trust people (yes, I said that I was a cynic before, but that is not by inclination, but through years of thinking about it too much).

2) I’d rather not walk around with something actually on my shirt and not know it because I didn’t want to fall for a joke that is probably about ten minutes younger than the
invention of the shirt.

The upshot of it is that, although I am not dim, I am fairly easily fooled under the right circumstances. Another example would be the two-for-flinching “joke.” This one actually bugs me a little more for (once again) two reasons:

1) It actually punishes the instinct for self-preservation that I happen to value a great deal, mostly because it is very likely to preserve my self.

2) It hurts.

I was in my neighborhood Safeway the other night (I tend to do most of my grocery shopping between midnight and 1:00 AM), and fell prey to an unintentional version of the above. While I was in the produce section, I heard a thunderclap and caught a flicker of light out of the corner of my eye. I looked up, only to discover that there was not, in fact a thunderstorm taking place within the confines of an upscale neighborhood supermarket--just a bare supermarket ceiling. The only saving grace to this is that further investigation confirmed that I am not the only person fooled by this phenomenon.

It turns out that the modern (post-modern) supermarket uses this sound-and-light show to signify that the vegetables are about to be misted by the automatic system, and that shoppers who wish to avoid getting slightly damp should move away from the peeled baby carrots. This system has supplanted the clearly artificial beeping sound that was previously used to signify this event, which in turn replaced the long-reigning guy-saying-hey-get-away-from-the-overly-dry-vegetables-lest-ye-be-doused method.

Rooniness aside, let me get to the Roland Barthes side of this whole thing.

The reactions of supermarket shoppers to a thunderstorm simulation are pretty typical. Hear thunder, look for rain. It’s a signifier that’s probably been with us for at least as long as there have been mammals (how’s that for an untestable hypothesis!), and it serves a pretty useful purpose. Now, I don’t think that the board of Safeway is sitting in some bunker in Colorado rubbing its collective hands together at the prospect of undermining a basic human reaction and further removing us from a world that has anything to do with the actual natural world, but it is certainly interesting in a kind of huh—look at that kind of way.


  1. This is our surrealist title so far.

  2. Alas, my Ralph's does not have the thunder in the produce section. I miss it though, as it always prompted me to say (in my very best Barry White voice) "The Quiet Storm" whenever it would occur. Good times.