Friday, September 2, 2016

The Watermelon Colonel and Jack's Munchies

George Hamilton as Colonel Sanders for KFC: tanned white guy or light-skinned black guy?
Have you noticed that since Colonel Sanders has been resurrected by KFC, his complexion has been darkening? I'm not saying that it's a bad thing that the now fictional Colonel's skin is living the life of Michael Jackson's skin in reverse. I just find it interesting because it really implies how racist this country is. If race is the heart of my being; if race defines my identity or my exclusive membership in a group that seeks some sort of purity; or if race provides a guideline for hatred, then I am a racist and a moral failure. The only non-racist position on race is to forget about it.

Three different actors have played the white-suited, string-tied icon who, in turn, draws upon the traditional image of the post-Civil War Southern Gentleman, down to the facial hair—the thick moustache and the goatee—clinging to a tradition otherwise gone with the.... Well, you know. It doesn't seem to have crossed anyone's mind yet, but the Colonel's icon pre-dates the American Civil War and conjures up the image of a plantation owner who sits on his verandah, sips mint juleps, and watches all the slaves out in the fields bringing in that cotton for his bank account. Less than this—especially with all those Star-and-Bar Confederate State flags out there—has tied up Southern state legislatures for whole terms over the political incorrectness of the flag's image.

There were such men, trapped in William Faulkner tales, who, though still boys when the war ended, lived as though they were the tragic figures of the war, stripped of estate, purpose, and identity. Harlan Sanders was born twenty-five years after the war ended. His rank of colonel does not refer to a rank in the Confederate Army but to an honorary title given by the Commonwealth of Kentucky to people who have demonstrated extraordinary service to a community, state or the nation—it's like a knighthood issued by a state. Colonel Sanders got his Kentucky Colonel commission from his friend, Kentucky Governor Lawrence Wetherby—another example of how friends in high places come in handy.

For many years KFC left its origins in Kentucky behind and presented itself in that sterile space of corporate control that said, "Here's a product that, when eaten, makes mom and dad orgiastically happy, and that pleases the kids as if you've just taken them to Disneyland." That was it: take the your family to KFC and your dysfunctionality disappears and you have the happiest family on the planet.

But now the Colonel is back. He brought a sense of humor in this incarnation. And every time I see him, his complexion looks darker. Has nobody noticed this but me? African American comedian David Alan Grier recently tweeted he would be playing Colonel Harland Sanders, but KFC came along behind and said Grier was only joking. Now, if you've read your Freud, you'll recall that the Vienna psychoanalyst said that these kinds of jokes aren't jokes at all. They're truths in joke's clothing so nobody will get beat up. If John says to Bob, "Bob, you louse, you're the ugliest son of a tick this side of Aldebaran, ha ha ha, I'm only joking," Freud says No, John is saying what he really thinks but is trying to make it look like a joke to save his own face. "I'm going to be the next Colonel," says Grier, "No you're not," says KFC, sounds a lot like this sort of humor, and it just happens to create the gap that fits the piece of insight I'm holding in my hand.

It might be only a shift in stereotypes to move from a spokesperson, himself an icon but emulating an older icon of a plantation slaveholder, to a chicken-loving black man, which is another stereotype, but one that we might be a bit more comfortable with. Anybody with a soul raised in the south loves collard greens, mustard greens, cornbread, ham hocks, and watermelon. Chitlings might be the other side of a line for some folks—I'll eat anything especially when not eating it is a cultural issue—but the only southerner who won't admit his favorite food since he was weaned from his mama's teat is fried chicken is just too racist to admit it. So bring on the sage black man to tell me he's got the planet's best fried chicken "pressure-cooked with a secret recipe with 11 herbs and spices" and I'm already salivating and tomorrow I'll be on line to buy that stuff. If we can't have a black Jesus, at least we can get a black Colonel.

Jack in the Box's Munchie Meal campaign specifically
targets marijuana smokers with the munchies.
KFC's market niche has always been the happy family. But there are other niches. Even that polar opposite of the family, the lone stoner, needs to eat. Indeed, an occupational hazard of smoking marijuana is the munchies. Now that recreational weed is legal in three states, quasi-legal for even flimsy medical excuses in several others, and with prohibition laws falling with the sudden finality of the Berlin wall, it's kind-of OK to sell food to that market, especially if you're not too blatant about it.

There's a scene in Shrek where Shrek and Donkey finally come within view of Lord Farquaad's castle with its extremely phallic central tower, and Shrek says, "Do you think he's compensating for something?" This joke, depending upon adult insights into male pride as well as Freudian symbolism for its understanding, sails over the heads of the predominantly kid audience but gives the adults a private joke that makes them glad they bought the tickets. The very name Farquaad is another phallic or counter-reproductive joke that kids are likely to miss.

Jack in the Box's surgically targeted ads for pot smokers with appetites likewise pass over the heads of non-smokers, who might otherwise be offended by the idea of a burger joint catering to stoners. As with any oppressed group, an entire subculture has evolved around pot smoking. In the ad shown here, munchie is the active word—although the word has taken on a more generalized meaning, it still serves for its original meaning as well: that particular craving for food when high that is usually satisfied by junk food ranging from potato chips on the low end of the spectrum all the way up to a banquet of Jack food for the affluently stoned. The black-light purple of the poster is another cue—Jimi's stepped out a moment to kiss the sky. And although this particular ad doesn't show it, when this campaign began, it was limited to the wee hours after midnight when pot smokers tend to be the most active.

Politically funded researchers have for years sought to make a convincing case that marijuana is dangerous, but the tide of human events shows us continually that it is drinking alcohol that causes most of mankind's problems. Intoxication by alcohol is not only destructive to the drinker, but it produces a kind of criminal insanity under the influence of which most crimes are committed. The dangers of alcohol are so evident that they're obvious to anyone—you don't need to be a rocket scientist to see what happens to an alcoholic over time.

Meanwhile scientists have to study marijuana use for years, and even then they have only vague evidence that must be mumbled sotto voce in order to convince anyone of anything. Such scientists mock their own profession because science is the profession of truth, and he who lies in the name of science is a monkey with a bully for a master. I see a great deal of this in Texas, where I live at the moment. Back around 1970 a leader in the state's civil rights movement was caught with a joint in his pocket and sentenced to twenty years. Marijuana is a blessing and not a crime worthy of such a harsh sentence, but the judge opportuned himself upon this man's possession of a controlled substance. He effectively killed him for twenty years of his life by locking him up in the East Texas gulag archipelago in order to remove him from the civil rights movement.

Many Texas attorneys and judges play a fast and loose game with the law. They use their power to sustain and wield brutal control, yet they do not consider themselves subject to the very laws they pretend to enforce. Indeed they do what they will, and leave it to their victims to sue if what has been done to them is not legal, but of course their victims' lives are in such ruins that they rarely have the resources to defend themselves in this obscene mockery of justice. Back in the 1980s there was a prisoner in the Texas prison system named Ruiz who had the smarts to single-handedly file writs that led to the reform the Texas prisoner system, which at that time was as brutal as a gladiator arena—guards freely struck prisoners, and they appointed prisoners to punish other prisoners. Guards who were around back in Ruiz's day sorely miss the days when they could effectively torture prisoners.

Rick Perry.
When I look at how a State treats its prisoners, I effectively slosh aside all the P.R. imagery for citizens and tourists, the tourism promotional crap, and the sleazy smiles of evil hypocrites like Rick Perry, who claim to love Jesus with all their heart but advocate shooting children who cross into Texas illegally from Mexico. The official tourism slogan for Texas, last I heard, is "Texas – It’s Like A Whole Other Country." Yeah, like North Korea. However, comparing former governor and occasional presidential hopeful Rick Perry to North Korea's Kim Jung-un drastically underestimates Kim.

There is so much of this "Cuz Merikuh" mentality left in Texas that it will be the last bastion of felony marijuana possession. It is ironic that the vast redneck Bubba majority of the Texas population feel that anyone who goes to prison deserves what awaits him there, yet most of those Bubbas smoke marijuana themselves and run the risk of being victims of their own ignorance. Gods forbid that Texas ever finally secede because the place will turn into Myanmar.

Since most people don't have the opportunity to think much about this, I'll risk belaboring the obvious: a criminal is sent to prison as punishment. A criminal is not sent to prison for punishment.

But let's face it, even in Texas with its vast Gulag system, enforcing the hoary old marijiuana laws would be as futile as arresting people for tearing tags off matresses or for digitally recording the Superbowl. So ten years from now, when most people in the United States will be driving about twenty miles per hour to Jack in the Box to buy munchies in the witching hour, Texas will still be locking people up, maybe not sending them to prison, but still not letting them possess marijuana without a threat. But don't tell the judges of Texas that Jack's catering to pot heads—they'll run them out of town, and I need my Jack greasy tacos. Yum.

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