How to describe deprivation?
The emergency alimentation for Haitians consists of cookies – five packets a day per person. The Haitians have to eat cookies (referred to as biscuits).
Cookies, what an irony!
“Had I known that you would visit me today, I would have baked a cake” sings Ernie from Sesame Street. “But I want cookies”, interrupts Cookie monster. Cookies are the epitome of abundance.
“I said to my mother not to buy me any cookies, but she does so anyway.” murmurs the artist Adrian Piper dressed up as a man into her beard – alluding to the social pressure on women to watch their waistline.
So how can we account of people in misery eating cookies?
The cookies, which are distributed to the Haitians, are special, concentrated energy food. But this brings them absurdly close to Hollywood stars on diet and astronauts on a mission. Instead of reminding us of the unbridgeable gap between these experiences, between misery and site-specific optimum nutrition, it puts everything into a kind of domestic order. Benjamin could say bringing it home to the « gute Stube ». The cookies are part of reconciling narratives in which the victims of today can become the Hollywood stars of tomorrow – Benjamin could say soothing the people’s anger by promoting the salvation of future generations.
The central question is supposed to be the efficient organisation of international humanitarian aid instead of the political reasons, the political predisposition of the poorest countries and neighbourhoods to be hit hard by natural catastrophes – Benjamin could say the historical gaze needs to be replaced by the political one.
(That the cookies taste of cardboard is only a little side note. The second shift produced in Turkey added vanilla flavour.)
Paris, mars 2010