Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Public Imagination of Vanilla

We were just watching an episode of "The Office" and some of the characters were arguing about what type of ice cream to get. Then another character suggested that they get vanilla, because it's not very controversial, and it's something that pretty much everyone could agree on. Well I thought it was rather interesting that at the same time, Britney Spears' Pop Up Shop is selling a candle they're calling Vanilla Flame candle that, as of the time of this writing, is available for about another 72 hours. Of course what makes it an interesting choice is that the stereotype of vanilla is that it is a plain, boring flavor. And in fact, we even use "vanilla" as an adjective to explain sex devoid of kink. Well, considering Britney Spears' history, I find this an interesting choice. You may notice that it's Britney's favorite. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Her tastes run pretty "meh." I once watched a video of her being hassled in her car, and they lean over to talk to her, and you can hear her stereo playing that Michael Jackson song "Want To Be Starting Somethin'" or whatever it's called, and you hear one of the papparazzi guys say, just barely audible: "She's listening to Michael Jackson." And once, I saw (on DVD) a stylist ask her what she's into and she named a bunch of boring mall stores like The Gap and Abercrombie etc. But then, I mean, that interview was from when she was 16. But! Also! This was coming from a girl who grew up in a tiny rural town in the south, and her family didn't have a lot of money (the lore of the Britney myth is that when she started bringing home the big bucks she then paid off her parents' debts). So I guess I can't really fault her for being into those stores. It must sort of suck to be famous when you're super young because then any time anybody wants to make an argument like "Oh her tastes are so vanilla" and then the example they use is some random quote from like 15 years previous. Anyway, maybe Britney's management was trying to do some sort of subliminal thing about trying to make the public think she's vanilla. Or make some sort of association with what people think of the smell of vanilla...? Or that it's straight up a money-making thing, like since vanilla is one of the most popular flavors, so they know they'll make a lot of sales...? I like the former reason better for sort of dystopian attempt to control the population by way of public opinion about the bla bla bla Chomsky ideological hegemony whatever whatever, but the fact is, I think it is more likely that the real reason is the most simple reason, and that is, money.

And probably because Britney Spears probably does have pretty boring tastes, really.

The color of the spectrum that's often associated with the vanilla is often thought of being a white. And then of course, all the typical mainstream, modern, western imagination associates the color of white with white skin color, blue eyes -- there was a period where I saw pictures of Britney wearing blue contacts (she has naturally born brown eyes) -- And of course the stereotype in the modern imagination's eye thinks that the best possible combination of hair and skin is blue eyes and blonde hair. Naturally speaking, Britney has neither blue eyes nor blonde hair. But she did refer to herself as "lilly white" once in a tweet. (I'm totally taking this out of context. It was a tweet in reference to someone doing her wrong and she said something to the effect that they can "kiss my lilly white ass.") Also, she once told a journalist something to the effect that the media should give her a break and harass some other "over-exposed blonde" for a while. Blonde hair, blue eyes, vanilla skin, vanilla scent. I'm sure this all seems like pretty elementary point to make that the most mainstream person in the world has the most mainstream tastes. But you would think of all the people she has working for her that they would get her in touch with some more interesting stuff. Madonna does. She's known for her legendary scouting of  musical genres, new trends in dance, new stuff in theater and music, and then she uses it in her work. Sure, it's not stuff that's super, super underground, but it is stuff that's not necessarily in the mainstream yet -- like William Orbit for her Ray of Light era, etc. I mean, it's not William Orbit was the most underground person at that era, but certainly he wasn't so, well, vanilla. (Random thought: But didn't Madonna date or sleep with Vanilla Ice? So apparently her tastes do run a little Vanilla -- ha ha ha.)

And yet, I was almost tempted to buy Britney Spears' candle. Because actually, vanilla does smell pretty good.

Finally, about vanilla (suddenly I feel like I'm Diane Ackerman writing some natural history book, like this is a book called The Natural History of Vanilla. Maybe after the book they'll turn it into a PBS mini series!): Once in a reality show they took a woman who was having problems identifying herself as something apart from her twin sister, and a life coach took her into a perfumery and said something like, "You need to figure out who you are. Now is the time for you to start formulating opinions about things. Pick a scent that you like." And guess what? She picked vanilla. Humph.

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