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OoO SHE BAD!

Chocolate, Sex, and Passionate Indulgences

  1. A Contextual History: The Ancient Origins of Chocolate as an Aphrodisiac

Introduction

In class, we discussed the relationship between Valentine’s Day and chocolate.  Because it is a Victorian-created holiday that can seem to a skeptic more of a consumerist ploy than a celebration of love, one may argue that the importance placed upon Valentine’s Day is in our culture is inflated.  Sure, maybe Valentine’s Day is just a (highly-gendered and heteronormative) convention, but nobody can deny the centrality of chocolate in its celebration. Many foods are said to have aphrodisiac qualities, but chocolate is amongst the most renowned.  The passion elicited from its indulgence dates back centuries. The Maya considered cacao sacred, encouraging its consumption during highly emotional or spiritual events like marriage and fertility rituals as well as death rites. In more transgressive accounts, Aztec emperor Montezuma consumed a gluttonous amount of chocolate each day to boost his sexual stamina.  This essay serves to trace the entwinement of chocolate, sex, and passionate indulgences through the contemporary state of the cacao-chocolate industry while situating it in its appropriate historical context.

The ephemeral nature of cacao consumption’s association with aphrodisiac qualities divulges a corollary truth between ancient wisdom and modern science.  While historically chocolate has been taken advantage of in the name of its spiritual effects, science, commerce, and even art contemporarily reveal there is a passion to indulgence.  Whether it is eating chocolate or having sex, fleeting benevolence. Consistent consumption of both nurtures an honest, transgressive air of ambitious pursuit that allows one to stay in tune their desires, promoting health, general well-being, and growth.  If demonstrated truthfully, this post suggests indulgence should not be understood merely as a momentary transgression, but rather an honest, consistent truth that leads to health and progress.

2. Contemporary State of the Cacao-Chocolate Industry: Modern Marketing and Cognitive Science

Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate: How We Fell In Love With Caffeine

Melanie King’s book Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate: How We Fell In Love With Caffeine explores the question of how contemporary culture and modern society became enamored with tea, coffee, and chocolate.  Broadly, she argues it has to do with their stimulative effects on dopamine. Specifically, King posits that drinking chocolate products benefits the consumers “sex life and physical appearance,” a wisdom that can be traced back through history.  The stimulation a consumer achieves increases their propensity to chace the transgressive desires weighing on their heart, promoting longevity and renewal.

Mood State Effects of Chocolate

Putting some science to Melanie King’s argument for ancient wisdom in the positive benefits of cacao consumption on our mood, the University of New South Wales’ School of Psychiatry conducted an academic review on the association of chocolate consumption with enjoyment and pleasure.  Historically, dating back to the Ancient Mesoamerican origins of cacao consumption, chocolate indulgence provokes a variety of mental, physical, and spiritual effects that bestow “stimulant, relaxant, euphoriant, aphrodisiac, tonic, and antidepressant” properties. Specifically, the UNSW research team focused on the mood altering traits of chocolate.  Investigating chocolate’s psychoactive positionings, the team concluded: “chocolate can provide its own hedonistic reward by satisfying cravings but, when consumed as a comfort eating or emotional eating strategy, is more likely to be associated with prolongation rather than cessation of a dysphoric mood.” Thus, their research provides implications about the ephemeral, fleeting benefits derived from one’s chocolate indulgence.  This is not to say that chocolate consumption is malevolent or harmful, but rather that the endurance of its advantageous emotional effects requires habitual consistency.

Chocolate Consumption and Women’s Sexual Function

Further, Psychology Today’s article “Chocolate Consumption and Women’s Sexual Function” claims, “Aztec emperor Montezuma is reputed to have used chocolate in a manner akin to today’s Viagra pill.”  Nowadays, the aphrodisiac link between sex and chocolate is most visible around Valentine’s Day. Dr. Andrea Salonia, an Italian physician, piloted a research project that measured chocolate consumption against female sexual function and depression.  It was found that chocolate consumption increases the female propensity to achieve sexual satisfaction, positing a scientific legitimacy in the human inclination to sin and sin again consequently. The research team also found a correlation between age and scores on the Female Sexual Function Index. Younger women who consumed chocolate daily scored much higher, suggesting maturity impacts the desire to indulge transgressively.  

Sex, Chocolate, and Disability

The cultural perception that there is a transgressive nature to sex and chocolate consumption has influenced commerce, marketing, and media in various controversial ways.  In 2016, Mars-brand Maltesers ran a series of ads that featured disabled people discussing embarrassing intimacies while opening up over chocolate. The first ad featured a wheelchaired woman with cerebral palsy symbolically spilling a bag of Maltesers on the table as she describes an awkward sexual experience with her new boyfriend, implying her spastic disease caused a diuretic explosion during sex.  The risky ad provoked a highly controversial reception, polarizing audiences into camps of insensitivity and effervescence. Maltesers doubled-down, claiming lightheartedness and sense of humor are necessary forces of benevolence in a world of degradation, shame, and censorship. More importantly, these ads provoked public conversation about disability and suggested one ought to be optimistic about what defines their personhood.  

Much of debate surround Maltesers’ ads were concerned with “sensitivity and authenticity,” triggering empathetic ideas about vulnerability outside of oneself.  Remaining optimistic in ethos, a company representative stated, “Maltesers positions itself as a lighter way to enjoy chocolate and its ads encourage people to look on the light side of life. In three previous animated spots, comedians … relay awkward or embarrassing situations they’ve encountered, such as walking around a shop without realising you still have your umbrella up.”

Putting yourself in the shoes of the disabled, one must consider their perception of pity at odds with true equity; yet, the radical transparency of the Maltesers ads surely realized an air of bravery through creativity that encourages the disabled to exit their defensive comfort zones.  Further, Mars’ 2016 advertisements added visibility to the disabled by expanding their personal liberties through the proliferation of opportunities for employment and exposure. There is also an argument to be made about diversity. Rather than tokenism, a representative of Mars claimed, “we got better ideas by not just thinking about the white, middle-class, able-bodied family with two kids. Using a different lens has been a game changer for our creativity.”

3. Personal Analysis and Critique: Healthy Indulgences and Fleeting Flits

Beyond Veggies

Harvard Medical School published an article about the health benefits derived from unorthodox sources, such as chocolate and sex.  Typically considered a devious indulgence, the team wrote: “A steady stream of studies has won chocolate cardiovascular laurels by showing that it improves blood flow through arteries that supply the heart and the brain.”  Further, in 2008, researchers at Harvard found that “two weeks of enhanced chocolate intake quickened blood flow through the middle cerebral artery.” Additionally, Italian researchers found a feeble correlation between increased dark chocolate and reduced inflammation marked by the resultant low levels of C-reactive proteins.  However, this comes with a major caveat: the health benefits of one’s chocolate indulgence are best derived from the organic, raw, unprocessed type. Added sugars and other excessive processes only complicate the body’s ability to receive cacao’s naturally fleeting benefits. As it concerns sex, the article called it obvious that “sexual arousal and orgasm is a source of great pleasure and a sense of well-being,” noting that, “even after the immediate glow fades, there may be residual health benefits.”  While there are rare cases of sex causing heart attacks particularly in men, the effects of sexual activity regardless of gender are found to be overwhelmingly ameliorating. These benefits range from reducing the intensity of headaches and stress to the general wellness of cardiovascular and immune systems. When you put the two together, the consumption of raw chocolate and sex, there is a benevolent implication for overall health. But, it is important to tune into the fleeting nature of these benefits; to achieve a healthy balance, consistency is key.

Love and Chocolate

Love, ideally, is passionate, consistent, and true.  Due to legends involving Montezuma, Don Juan, and even Casanova himself, chocolate and love have been mythically inseparable for centuries.  The presupposition is that chocolate inspires passion. Whether in terms of sex, love, or both, it has been found that chocolate contains aphrodisiac powers of mimicry that can illude the passionate feelings of being in love.  Janet Vine of Aphrodite Chocolates reported that “chocolate contains substances called phenylethylamine and seratonin, both of which are mood lifting agents found naturally in the human brain. They are released into the nervous system by the brain when we are happy and when we are experiencing feelings of love, passion or lust. This causes rapid mood change, a rise in blood pressure and increasing heart rate, inducing those feelings of well being, bordering on euphoria usually associated with being in love.”  When consumed, chocolate releases these agents into the system and boosts a certain euphoric stamina that earns its reputation as an aphrodisiac instigator of passionate action.

Growing The Ultimate Aphrodisiac: Chocolate

Love, to me, is also something you must cultivate and actively work toward.  The Grow Network video “Growing The Ultimate Aphrodisiac: Chocolate” above discusses the modern cultivation of Theobroma cacao trees.  While it is imperative the leaves stay moist, they don’t retain all the water. It is a tropical plant that, in nature, grow as an understory, shaded by other trees so they don’t get the full brunt of tropical sun.  Today, they can be grown in personal backyards or greenhouses, ideally temperature-controlled around 60 degrees. They start from seeds, but reach 5 or 6 feet in about three years when grown in rich organic soil. Once mature, pruning begins; they flower and fruit all year long.  

Chocolate Rain

Artistically too, modern culture connects the indulgence of chocolate and self-permitted growth.  In 2007, YouTuber Tay Zonday went viral with his song “Chocolate Rain.”

Culturally, it was received as a funny video, but deserves to be recognized for its profound social commentary.  Chocolate rain is a metaphor for the tears of African Americans operating in a system of racism. In a way that tugs at the heartstrings, Tay Zonday sings of the pain caused by institutional lies and deceit.  He notes the inescapability of being wronged, for instance, when he sings “the bell curve blames the baby’s DNA,” referencing Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve, which argues for the innate intellectual superiority of white men.  It is again an interesting dichotomy between chocolate skin and tears of water.  The emotional act of crying, expressing vulnerability, allows renewal upon a stained existence of unjustified inferiority.  Crying, too, can be a passionate indulgence–a letting go.

Like Water for Chocolate

In other artistic representation of passion and chocolate, it is imperative to reference Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, which is one of my favorite all time works of literature.  Symbolically, the title itself poses water’s purity against chocolate’s mercy; water is eternal like love, while mercy is fleeting like lust:

“it seemed Pedro’s rage dominated the thoughts and actions of everyone in the house. Tita was literally ‘like water for chocolate’—she was on the verge of boiling over.”

The real passion in Like Water for Chocolate exists between Pedro and Tita, star-crossed forbidden lovers. Esquivel’s style of prose, magical realism, portrays the otherworldliness of true love; it is a nature that defies reality and works in an irrational way. The quote above speaks to Tita’s divine feminity, and her arousal, showing her readiness to transgress and receive Pedro’s divine masculinity–she ultimately runs toward him. The novel positions true love as a life-giving force, requiring a nurturing attitude toward spiritual honesty, which brings happiness to pain. The story shows the ways in which truth, to oneself, is freedom.  It is an interesting act of balancing that operates over the twelve months of the book, revealing true love, water, is capable to remedy intermittent affairs and external romance, chocolate. It took a long time for Pedro and Tita to actively run toward the cultivation of a serious relationship. In the final scenes of the book, they let go of their fearful resistance:

“Little by little her vision began to brighten until the tunnel again appeared before her eyes. There at its entrance was the luminous figure of Pedro waiting for her. Tita did not hesitate. She let herself go to the encounter, and they wrapped each other in a long embrace; again experiencing an amorous climax, they left together for the lost Eden. Never again would they be apart.”

Thus, true love is proven an enduring force, but it requires the crossing of boundaries and ultimate indulgence in true passion.  Water’s solvent powers allow the indulgence of soluble chocolate to make for a greater drink, which, as we’ve learned in class, produces “stimulant, relaxant, euphoriant, aphrodisiac, tonic, and antidepressant” effects that renew the soul.

Bibliography

“Beyond Veggies: The Health Benefits of Chocolate, Sex, Sleep and Social Networks, from the Harvard Health Letter.” Harvard Health Publishing. April 2009. Accessed May 03, 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/beyond-veggies-the-health-benefits-of-chocolate-sex-sleep-and-social-networks.

Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate. London: Black Swan, 1998.

Goldstein, Kay. “Love and Chocolate.” HuffPost. May 25, 2011. Accessed May 04, 2019. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/love-and-chocolate_n_165040.

Hagi, Sarah. “10 Years Later, ‘Chocolate Rain’ Is Still the Wokest Song Ever.” Vice. April 25, 2017. Accessed May 05, 2019. https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/qkqewv/10-years-later-chocolate-rain-is-more-woke-than-ever.

Kiefer, Brittaney. “Sex, Chocolate and Disability.” Campaign (Sep 09, 2016): 14. http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1825218631?accountid=11311.

King, Melanie. Tea, Coffee & Chocolate: How We Fell in Love with Caffeine. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2015.

Parker, Gordon, Parker, Isabella, and Brotchie, Heather. “Mood State Effects of Chocolate.” Journal of Affective Disorders 92, no. 2 (2006): 149-59.

Saad, Gad. “Chocolate Consumption and Women’s Sexual Function.” Psychology Today. Accessed May 03, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/homo-consumericus/201002/chocolate-consumption-and-women-s-sexual-function

Just Ad Water: Positive and Negative Advertising and the Case of Swiss Miss

Advertisement is one of the ugliest and most alienating features of modern life. Karl Marx describes the phenomenon of advertisement perfectly in his polemic essay “On The Human Requirements:”

…every person speculates on creating a new need in another, so as to drive him to a fresh sacrifice, to place him in a new dependence and to seduce him into a new mode of gratification and therefore economic ruin. Each tries to establish over the other an alien power, so as thereby to find satisfaction of his own selfish need… [the producer] puts himself at the service of the other’s most depraved fancies, plays the pimp between him and his need, excites in him morbid appetites, lies in wait for each of his weaknesses—all so that he can then demand the cash for this service of love.

(Marx, 93-94, emphasis sic)

Advertisement works by creating need or desire in its target audience (the potential consumer). But how does it do this?

A classical, simplistic, naïve description of what advertisement does might be that it relates the merits of the product accurately and, by informing the consumer, allows them either to choose that product or one of its competitors. This is the conception of advertisement embedded in the classical economics concept of homo economicus: the self-interested, knowledgeable consumer.

It is obvious to any thinking person that this conception of advertisement’s function is grossly incomplete—in fact, most advertisement today does not function by informing, it functions by persuading the consumer, and it does this not usually by accurately depicting the advertised product’s literal qualities, but by investing it in the consumer’s mind with more abstract attributes. This has much to do with what historian and anthropologist Sidney Mintz called “the complex idea that one [can] become different by consuming differently,” (Mintz 185, emphasis sic). For example, the below ad for Diet Coke comments not at all on any of the visceral, material qualities of the soda—its taste or texture in the mouth, the effects from its caloric or caffeine content, or even the more debatable and abstract quality of being “refreshing”—and focuses instead on implying that, somehow, consuming Diet Coke will increase your social appeal, your sex appeal, and will empower you to glamorously have fun.

By depicting the experience of drinking Diet Coke this way, Coca-Cola is promising something that in some way resembles that experience to those who drink the soda in reality. Advertisement promises something to the consumer—an experience, a sensation, an improvement, a change.

The Diet Coke ad above is what I will dub “positive” advertising—not positive in the sense of a value judgement, but positive in the sense that it promises an addition to the consumer’s life, and preys on the consumer’s desire. What I will call “negative” advertisement, therefore, does not so much promise to add something good to the consumer’s life as to take something bad out of it—negative advertisement preys on the consumer’s fear. An example of negative advertisement:

Now, there’s at least 30 pages’ worth to be written on everything that is royally f**ked up about that advertisement, but leaving all that aside, it illustrates negative advertisement perfectly. The ad tells us that Veet will keep from the consumer something they fear (“dudeness,” apparently); it will stave off something bad from their life, rather than add something good.

Obviously, the boundary between positive and negative advertisement is extremely nebulous—there is a sides-of-a-coin sort of relationship between desire and fear in that we desire to keep away those things we fear and we fear not having our desires satisfied. Nonetheless, the lack of a clear boundary doesn’t mean we don’t know it when we see it. The Diet Coke ad above is clearly positive advertisement—but it could easily be changed into negative advertisement if the young woman drinking the soda were to be displayed as disastrously lacking in social and sex appeal or in her sense of fun before the can is cracked. Negative advertisement, to put it another way, promises to compensate for some glaring deficit in the consumer’s life or self.

I should note that these categories and this essay are only concerned with advertisements for consumable goods. Lyndon B. Johnson’s famous “Daisy” campaign ad, for example, does not advertise something that can be consumed, and is therefore not an example of negative advertising despite the fact that it is perhaps the ur-example of advertisement that panders to fear:

I mean… damn. It doesn’t get much more fear-based than “vote for me cause Barry Goldwater is gonna get your kids nuked.”

One’s children being incinerated in a nuclear explosion is a fear of a very primal and uncomplicated kind, but not all negative advertisement is so basic. In fact, deconstructing the fears and cultural complexes on which a piece of advertisement plays can yield fascinating insights into the product being advertised, its relations to its own consumers, and the culture in which these relations operate and find their basis. As an example of this deconstruction, a classmate and I examined and parodically altered the following advertisements from Swiss Miss hot chocolate.

Image

 

(Image Source: Kaitlyn Boudah)

This image is taken from a sachet of Swiss Miss hot cocoa mix, and

ImageImage

this blurb and photo are taken from the Swiss Miss brand page of the Keurig coffee product site (url: https://www.keurig.com/swissmiss-k-cup) describing a little Keurig mini-cup-pack of Swiss Miss mix. Clearly Swiss Miss has a consistent and coherent narrative running through much of their advertising—one that represents a complex and involved example of negative advertisement.

The image on the sachet is of a youngish, attractive, white woman—who can only be presumed to be the mother—and the prepubescent, adorable, white little girl smiling at her—clearly meant to be her daughter—enjoying a cup of hot cocoa together, with the slogan “Create the Moment” repeated alongside it in elaborate cursive script. The text of the blurb speaks for itself. Let us examine them and see what we can deduce. If we follow the obvious principle that the consumer is meant to be able to identify with the models in the advertisement, we can safely say that the target audience of this advertising narrative is mothers (or at least parents, since little kids do not make purchasing decisions). With a little less safety we could generalize that the target audience is, on the whole, white and of middle-class socioeconomic standing. So, with both sides of the producer-consumer relation established in mind, let us proceed.

I have stated that this is negative advertisement, but I acknowledge that it could be argued to be positive. I will defend my claim below, but first let us examine what fears, desires, and cultural ideas this advertisement makes use of. As with the advertisements discussed above, it is not the product itself that is being sold, it is those things with which the advertisement invests the product in the consumer’s eye. In this case, what is primarily being sold is family togetherness. The slogan “Create the Moment” informs us what may be accomplished by the purchase and consumption of Swiss Miss—a moment of sharing, of connection, of togetherness, of bonding and love between family members, especially between mothers and daughters such as are depicted on both the sachet and the image that accompanies the blurb on the Keurig site. The emphasis on mothers reflects gendered assumptions on the part of Swiss Miss: that the mother is the primary purchaser of groceries, that the mother is the parent more responsible for emotional fostering, or that the mother is the parent who would prepare a consumable drink for their child.

The blurb is selling “one-on-one time” and “those precious moments with the kids.” My argument for this as negative rather than positive advertisement lies primarily in the rhetoric of the slogan and blurb. Swiss Miss is not selling anything additional; it does not take the positive advertisement’s view that your life may be well and good and sufficient but by buying product X you can make it better, you can add something to it which takes it beyond sufficient to great. Swiss Miss is selling you something to fill in a hole and bring your life something that it is lacking. The slogan is not “Create A Moment,” it is “Create THE Moment:” the Moment is something understood, something that requires no explanation, something that the consumer apparently already thinks should be in their life—but perhaps isn’t. “Those precious moments” operates in the same way—the “those” designates a concept already understood. Even if the consumer has never felt that they have experienced such a moment, they at least know what the moment is supposed to be, and Swiss Miss is selling them a chance at it.

This advertising narrative plays off of parental (especially maternal) fears that parents are not having enough of “those precious moments” with their kids—preciousness connotes rarity, and it hardly needs proving that there is a widespread anxiety in our culture today about lack of understanding or sympathy between parents and their children, about children’s moving “too fast” to stop and really connect. The invocation of “tradition” in the blurb adds a nostalgic note that obliquely taps into this modernity-angst zeitgeist. Add to this the ahistorical anxiety parents have about their children growing up and moving away from them—either in the sense of drifting away from them in values, beliefs, etc., drifting out of their parental influence and out from under their protection, or in the sense of merely becoming an adult who is no longer dependent and therefore no longer bound to the parent by that dependency—and we’ve got quite a lot of potential fear, guilt, anxiety, and sadness. The advertisement is effective because it promises to stave these bad feelings off, to solve these problems: it seems to promise that by sharing a cup of Swiss Miss brand hot cocoa, parents and children can share a special moment of emotional connection, can forge a bond that will last through aging, can stop and appreciate the current moment, always so fleeting, of the child’s development. And since the root of all these fears is the same—the root of all fears that are based in regret, in not having lived right, in being left behind by your loved ones and by the relentless march of history—what Swiss Miss is selling, on some level, is a cure for the fear of death. Just add water and stir.

To highlight and parody these fears and the way the advertisement exploits them, we have altered the blurb taken from the Keurig site and its associated picture:

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Behind the girl is a specter of a young woman in risqué “punk” attire and makeup, representing the parent’s fear of a child’s growing up, rejecting the parent’s influence, and going “wrong” somehow. Behind the mother is the Grim Reaper, who rather heavy-handedly represents the aforementioned fear of death. The blurb has been altered to highlight the commodification of family togetherness and exploitation of parental fears (with a jab at the real blurb’s glossing over the “imported” chocolate’s origins thrown in for good measure). The slogan has been changed to, again, show how family bonds are being commodified.

 

Works Cited

Marx, Karl, and Engels, Friederich. The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. Robert C. Tucker.    W.W. Norton & Company, New York N.Y. 1978.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking Penguin Inc., 1985. London, England.