Dissonance- free Art

Flooded McDonald's, Superflex, 2009. Photo taken from: http://superflex.net/floodedmcdonalds/

By Jayne Tan

Flooded McDonald’s is a simple 21 minute-long video installation of an exact replica of a McDonald’s slowly flooding, played on loop by Copenhagen based group Superflex.

It’s easy to see the point Superflex is trying to make, to comment on our role as consumers and treating McDonald’s as a symbol for the all-evil, environment-killing capitalist, free market of the West that is directly responsible for the inevitable warming of the globe, or ‘climate change’. The artists managed to side-step political controversy by making this piece as open ended as possible, up to the interpretation of the audience. But of course it is hard not to think of recent natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and of course the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. To view it at the Singapore Biennale just two weeks after the events in Japan, I expected it to stir up some emotions, or at least some kind of quiet remorse for a tragedy happening not too far from home. But why did I find it so funny and pleasing to watch? All I could think of when I first heard about a piece in the Biennale where a McDonald’s was flooded was, “Awesome! I really wanna see that!” And then when I did see it, all I could think of was, “Awesome! I wish I thought of that”.  It also made me think of the opportunity to save all that free, freshly made greasy food, which looked so, so good on that giant screen and put it in my belly before it started floating all over the place.

Maybe unintentionally, Superflex has enabled their audience to finally view their own fantasy of destroying a McDonald’s – or maybe just mine. It’s thoroughly mesmerizing in it’s simplicity and visual pleasure. Watching a catastrophe happen in real time is almost a fantasy – of course minus the tragedy of taking lives and destroying homes. I don’t see why anyone should feel sadness or remorse or anything negative while watching a fast food chain slowly get destroyed. In fact, I even felt more than a little proud to be part of this perceived ‘movement’ in taking down the evil Capitalist icon. Just watching it slowly drown and disintegrate brought a smile to my face and a tiny chuckle to my throat; it felt like now I had the power. Your burgers and fries are not going to control me no more! Maybe in its destruction, there is the removal of temptation and the resistance I have worked so hard to build toward fast food in order to stay healthy (who am I kidding, I mean “skinny”).

If I were to go by the theory of cognitive dissonance, this would make complete sense. This theory postulates that a feeling of immense discomfort arises when we hold conflicting ideas or thoughts simultaneously. Temptation is defined as “A desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise”. One could say that temptation in itself is cognitive dissonance. For example, I know that smoking is bad and causes lung cancer, but I REALLY NEED a smoke right now. So I tell my self, “Ah, it’s just one cigarette, if this doesn’t kill me, something else will”. Then, tadah! Dissonance gone. Now I can smoke my cigarette in peace. When I feel the temptation to eat McDonald’s, I know that the meat is gross and it contains a load of junk and it will make me fat and unhealthy, but IT TASTES SO GOOD. So I tell myself, “I don’t eat fast food that often, I mean it’s been almost 2 weeks since my last pack of fries”! Tadah! Discomfort gone. I can eat my upsized double cheeseburger meal in peace.

So, when this flooding comes along and I’m standing there watching it, I feel all my discomfort wash away. This is what happened. I am the all-evil consumer who oils the cogs in this never-ending machine of mass production. Day to day, as I go about consuming, I feel this small, nagging discomfort because I know the part I am playing in feeding the Capitalist machine and destroying our Earth and the poor ill treated cows and chickens. So I as stand there proudly watching the golden arches in all its glory drown, tadah – dissonance gone! You could almost say that watching the flooding was akin to watching my carbon footprint wash away. Who knew art could do that. Maybe that’s why Superflex made this piece- to expiate for their guilt-ridden minds. Or possibly they are doing their part, their community service, expiating for all our guilt-ridden minds. That’s a role I never thought art was able to play – psychologically make amends for humanity’s mistakes.

It’s almost a little too easy to say McDonald’s is the evil giant here, to say these humongous corporations are to blame for climate change and the “all- consuming slow apocalypse”. I think why I felt such enormous relief and pleasure in watching this piece was purely due to the removal of my dissonance, my guilt, however small. Each one of us is just as guilty.

“Sin with the multitude, and your responsibility and guilt are as great and as truly personal, as if you alone had done the wrong.”Tyron Edwards


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