Friday, March 8, 2019

Review: Taco Bell’s New Steak Rattlesnake Fries Burrito!

In which we apply Kenneth Bailey’s Social Entropy Theory to the marketing and consumption of limited-time-only fast food...


By: JimboX
The Internet Is In America on Voat

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a fast food product review, and that’s primarily because I’ve been trying to lose some weight. You see, I LITERALLY gained 20 pounds since Christmas and have been having a real sonofabitch of a time shedding the holiday weight. So long story short, I’m trying to go from 155 pounds to 135 pounds by Memorial Day, and doing so means doing really sensible things like counting calories, keeping liquid intake to a minimum, and oh yeah, not eating at fucking fast food restaurants so goddamn much.

But here’s the thing. Anytime I partake in virtually ANY kind of pop culture/consumer culture ephemera, I feel this compulsive need to write SOMETHING about it. It’s a subversive kinda’ approach, really. I mean, if I take my GF to the movies and spend $40 to watch some horrible movie, all that means is that Hollywood and its infernal machinery got my hard-earned money, in turn allowing them to continue to crank out the same-old dreck and keep the perpetual sequel-prequel-remake loop chuggin along. But if I spend $40 to watch some turgid Hollywood offering and then go home and write a scathing 2,000-word indictment/deconstruction/criticism of the offending movie, I feel at least a little vindication for my troubles. At heart, what I think that stuff is really about is my burning resentment of passive consumerism. There’s NOTHING I abhor more than people that just slog through all of the mainstream products of the day, uncritically and unthinkingly devouring the manufactured mass appeal without at least trying to reappropriate the experience as something somewhat resembling introspection. It’s that whole Hegelian dialectic thing going on — while most Americans are content slurping up theses like a motherfucker, I’m a man who demands some sweet-ass syntheses up in this bitch.

Recently, I’ve been reading this great book by a guy named Kenneth Bailey called Social Entropy Theory. He came up with this three-level measurement model outlining three realms of what he considers social reality — the empirical level, the conceptual level and the indicator level. He posits the empirical level as the product or text of what we experience and the conceptual level as the prevailing cultural subtext behind the products or texts we encounter, which makes the indicator level our conscious recognition and processing of both the empirical and conceptual ephemera around us. I’m oversimplifying his work here, but to me, this is one of the most fascinating sociology frameworks I’ve ever heard of, and one that I think sums up the bulk of the contemporary American experience.

I don’t think that it’s going out on a limb to suggest that most people live the bulk of their lives stuck on the empirical level. These are the people who eat at McDonald’s and watch The Avengers and DVR The Masked Singer and never really contemplate what they’re doing. There’s no real recognition of the ongoing ephemera in their lives, which is somewhat ironic, considering they tend to live in a perpetual “now” state that pays little heed to the past or the future. To them, the fluid pop culture/consumer culture environs is a stagnant thing instead of a dynamic one, and they rarely view what they ingest, culturally, as anything more than a means of fulfilling instant gratification needs.

Pictured: the empirical level.
Now, the conceptual people seem to have an understanding of the passing ephemera and the cultural underpinnings behind them, but they never really move beyond a subjective analysis of such. These are the people who try to make EVERYTHING about politics, from those annoying-ass SJWs trying to convince everybody that seeing Captain Marvel is an act of social defiance to those autistic dweebs on 4Chan who think the Jews are behind everything bad in concomitant society. They’re aware of the conceptual and empirical planes of existence, but again, they never take that long step into actively processing those experiences into something new. Instead of turning their awareness of the conceptual and empirical world into something tangible — i.e., a product or a text — they tend to remain on the sidelines of life, bitching back and forth at the ideological other online. This is kinda’ the story of all societies, really — people understand the political machinations behind their culture, but instead of doing anything about it they just passively accept it and continue to rail against “the other guys” for everything they don’t like about society at large.

The indicator level — or, at least, my own bastardized interpretation of it — is a more objective, critical way of viewing the world. You see the empirical product/text, and you recognize the conceptual product/text, but unlike the first two level thinkers, instead of just agreeing with one perspective on the empirical/conceptual hybridization, you actively take yourself out of both planes of “existence” and view that social binary reality as an unbiased, impartial, individual interpreter. You’re not just consuming the empirical and conceptual product and text, you’re actively digesting it, with the hopes of hopefully shitting out an entirely new text or product that acknowledges the realities and fantasies of both empirical and conceptual existence.

It’s kind of like being that big-headed Watcher alien from the Marvel Comics — true cosmological liberation via complete objective experientialism. It’s all about capturing the unseen, unspoken isomorphisms connecting the conceptual to the empirical, and the empirical to the indicators, and the indicators to the conceptual, etc. It really is a way of seeing culture, as is, through a sorta’ six dimensional lens, this hexagonal dialectic that goes so far beyond the trifling political binary we talk about so much it’s like making the sociological equivalent of a leap from black and white television to holographic images that literally blow you for leisure and recreation.

And now, we’re going to use that paradigm-shifting framework to review some goddamn limited-time-only Taco Bell products, by golly.

So let’s start with the empirical level first. As you can see, these newfangled Steak Rattlesnake Fries Burritos from Taco Bell are sort of a variation of the Beefy Fritos Burrito, so right off the bat we have a common conceptual anchor point to work with here (but hold your horses, we’ll get to that in a minute.)

Visually, the product speaks for itself. It’s a tortilla loaded with the chain’s proprietary Nacho Fries (i.e., your common French fries, only coated in a fine armor of pseudo-Tex-Mex spices), a hearty dollop of nacho sauce and jalapeno sauce, a couple of wedges of jalapeno rings and, of course, the chain’s chewy-ass steak bricklets. The interior, naturally, doesn’t look anything at all like the promotional imagery for the product, but then again, when does it ever? In that, the product itself almost becomes an indicator of the “conceptual” Steak Rattlesnake Fries Burrito the Bell posits in its advertisements … but yeah, we’re kinda’ getting ahead of ourselves here, so let’s slow it down just a wee bit.

What product could possibly define contemporary American society as much as this image?

So that’s the product as is in the empirical world — a 470-calorie fast food offering that retails for $2.99 and does indeed have a corporeal, physical form in the cosmos for a limited amount of time before you eat it and literally turn it into either fat or dookie. But what does the Steak Rattlesnake Fries Burrito really mean on the conceptual level?

The mere use of the term “rattlesnake” in the marketing materials is designed to connote a sense of ruggedness, perhaps even danger. Moreover, it seeks to allude to “authentic” Tex-Mex cuisine … hence, traditional “Rattlesnake Chili” and all of its miscellaneous offshoots. Furthermore, in the past many commentators (including yours truly) has criticized the Bell for only being white people spicy as opposed to ethnoidentarianly-correct spicy, so in some manifestations, the product could be Taco Bell attempting to validate its street cred as a fast food provider that, if prompted, can indeed bring authentically spicy, Hispanic AF foodstuffs to the masses.

Which brings us to the indicator phase. In this case, it’s this VERY article you’re reading right now — a synthesis of my individual analysis of the empirical and cultural dynamics of the Steak Rattlesnake Fries Burrito. This results in a at least three sub-syntheses; an isomorphism between my indicative analysis of the empirical, my indicative analysis of the cultural, and the objective parallelism of the empirical and cultural dynamics of the product.

This sounds more complex than it really is. Let’s break it down in more layman-esque terms:

The Indicative/Empirical Isomorphism: I ate the new Steak Rattlesnakes Fries Burrito from Taco Bell, and I thought it was a slightly better than average gimmicky fast-food product, and one with a respectable, heightened degree of spiciness; however, the texture and mouthfeel of the various ingredients didn’t exactly gel into the harmonious orgy of peppers, fries and steak that I was hoping for, and the whole thing sorta’ devolved into a pell-mell mushiness that, beyond the increased Scoville quotient, nonetheless felt rather indistinct. Thus, I give it a 6/10 score.

The Indicative/Cultural Isomorphism: I ate the new Steak Rattlesnake Fries Burrito PRODUCT from Taco Bell, who is MARKETING the fuck out of this thing through a targeted national BRANDING campaign. While clearly a textual object in a real-world space, the real story of the product is the multi-million dollar hype-job behind the burrito, which is being posited not just as a calorie-dense commercial tool, but indeed a cultural event, complete with its own emblems and iconography denoting its ephemeral presence (i.e., the commercials, the in-store ads, the online marketing strategies, etc.)

The Cultural/Empirical Isomorphism: Pretty much what I said in the last two paragraphs, only without the two overlapping as constructional “things.” Thus, the burrito is a fixed EMPIRICAL object denoting the hype of the CULTURAL marketing jihad just as much as the CULTURAL marketing jihad is emblematic of the fixed EMPIRICAL burrito. But since there’s no indicator level mediator to bridge the two,  the cultural and empirical levels — while technically symbiotic — remain unaffiliated constructs.

Remember: it's always what's on the inside that counts.

Of course, if you want to get really intense, you can even create isomorphisms between the isomorphisms, finding even more syntheses between the cultural/empirical and indicative/cultural isomorphisms, or the indicative/cultural and empirical/indicative isomorphisms. Indeed, such an approach can be applied practically ad infinitum, to the point the overlapping typographies could constitute a real world space the size of the universe itself (or, at least enough to fill up your neighborhood Taco Bell.)

Call it an intradimensional approach to ephemera. It’s conscious recognition and understanding of the physical (real) and cultural (constructed) passing of time as it's happening. So in a way, I’m not just eating the new Steak Rattlesnake Fries Burrito from Taco Bell, I’m also digesting the societal constructs it represents, as well as the time-distance presence it denotes as a “limited-time-only” product. In the end, the very essence of this review itself becomes an oxymoronic instant nostalgia, a whimsical longing not for the past, but the present as its actively occurring and fleeting.

And that’s happening, every single day, on a millisecond-by-millisecond basis, with every single physical object and cultural construct we’re exposed to. You can either let is slip by you like the rest of the plebs, or you can take a step back, embrace your own temporal independence, and ingest the multi-dimensional, multi-isomorphic social reality that swirls around you and poop it out as an entirely new, synthesized material, indicative not only of the empirical and cultural connotations of the day, but your own idiosyncratic core consciousness.

Which, naturally, raises the ultimate existential question … just when are these motherfuckers going to be bringing the Bell Beefer back, anyway?

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