Early Friday morning, I was walking one of the little woodland paths that circle the university. My favourite one runs between a road and a car park, in a deep dip so it feels as if you're miles from anyone else. At the wooden steps where the path ended, a piece of litter caught my eye.
A cup from McDonald's. Someone driving by had tossed it away, or someone walking the same path had finished their drink before re-emerging into the world. The cup had been discarded and stepped on, but the brightly coloured design caught my eye, in particular two words: THIRSTY FUN.
'Thirsty' and 'fun'. Two words that have probably never been put together before, except maybe in avant-garde poetry or pornography. The sort of inanity that the fashion for wackaging has deadened us to.
Long ago, I studied theoretical physics at university and learned about the anthropic principle. This is the idea that universe we observe and measure must be consistent with the existence of humanity. While this sounds obvious, it leads to some interesting conclusions. Among them is the explanation of why we live in such a massive, empty universe. It takes billions of years for nucleosynthesis to occur, billions more for life to form. In an expanding universe, the age implies the size of it. All those stars and galaxies and empty spaces between them are pre-requisites for a universe old enough to contain a single human life, a single poem.
The existence of an object implies a history for it. This piece of litter implied so much: meetings, prototypes, emails, invoices, sign-offs. The planning sessions, the whiteboards and thought-showers, the tedious creativity. At some point a real human being sat down and wrote the words THIRSTY FUN. What did the words mean to them? What moments in their life, joys and difficulties might be summed up in those words?
Let's put aside the arguments about branded litter. Firstly they're not relevant to this rant, and secondly, I'm sure that McDonald's don't mean for their littering clientele to function as a street team. The logos are just there as part of the end-to-end brand experience of consuming a McDonald's meal. It's an accident that I seem to see this litter everywhere, marking out the restaurant's territories.
Let's put aside the arguments about branded litter. Someone wrote this copy to pay their mortages (what Christopher Buckley referred to as the "Yuppie Nuremberg defence"). And the words THIRSTY FUN are bitterly ironic when placed near the logo for Coca-Cola, a company often criticised for their effects on water supplies in the third word. Did anyone think they were doing the right thing as they designed, printed and distributed this cup?
Maybe I've got it wrong. In the same way as the existence of a single book requires billions of light years of universe, maybe we cannot have the Society of the Spectacle without the cultural emptiness of a squashed McDonalds cup? But I'm sure that can't be true.
What sort of person devotes their time to writing a phrase like THIRSTY FUN on a cup intended to litter verges and woodland paths, decorated with logos advertising murderous corporations? Who were they? Did they have nothing better to do with their time?If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list