~ 6 minute read
One of the unique experiences of living in Malta is to be at once a spectator and a participant of the ever-colourful spectacle of life. You can never have a dull moment. What seems insignificant at first sight has a potential of expanding into a mass outcry in no time.
Fast food is at the center of heated debates for the second time this year. In February, Ann Fenech slammed pastizzi at Serkin as too “common and crude” for anyone in a position of influence. Last weekend, the members of Patrijotti Maltin found pizza, burgers and fries unfitting for the last meal of Jesus Christ and the Apostles. What followed next was a bizarre blend of comedy and drama along with a few sensible comments which made the whole thing look like a classic performance piece.
Though the interpretations of the saga varied, it was eventually presented as a squabble between Patrijotti and NYB which is to say that spectators were expected to side with either of the two. So it happens that I’m one of those who sides with none of the two major characters and thinks that retaining complexity is a healthy approach to any argument.
To start with, the whole list of players was broader than NYB and Patrijotti and should have included Leonardo Da Vinci as the painter figure, the charismatic Galilean Jesus Christ himself and, finally, the burgers. The curious interplay of opinions and interests makes the saga far more interesting than it appeared from the beginning.
Plot 1. Patrijotti vs NYB
As it happens in a classic play, while the protagonists appear mortal enemies, their visions are more alike than different. Patrijotti and NYB, personified by Diacono brothers, are the two sides of Maltese exceptionalism.
Despite their differences, both sides agree that Malta is exceptional in a way, good or bad. Malta of Patrijotti is a loyal guardian of sacred values, circa the embodiment of the Holy Spirit. Malta of Diacono brothers is a shithole of a place, “a rubbish dump of Europe in food”. Both positions are uncritical, superficial and paint everything in one colour – either white or black. Both positions are popular and are shared by a large fraction of population which makes exceptionalism a cliche interpretation of Malta in general.
Both sides also compete on the lack of imagination and creativity when it comes to implementing what they care most about. While Patrijotti defend the sacred from the fast food profanity by literally tearing Jesus out of the advert (doesn’t divinity deserve better?), the Diacono brothers’ solution to Malta’s “mediocrity” is … a burger joint.
Either my sense of humor is failing me or I’m a poor expert on greatness, but in no way do I see a burger, no matter how high is its quality, any innovative and phenomenal. Given that the worryingly high obesity rate in Malta is driven by the abundance of affordable fast food, calling for more fast food is simply shortsighted. If NYB plans to offer affordable, healthy, quality snacks, I’d be the first to welcome their decision.
Plot 2. Leonardo’s masterpiece vs fast food
The motivation behind the protest act by Patrijotti (slammed as vandalism) was indeed dubious. The warriors of proper faith demonstrated how eager they are to take justice in their hands – and that is a disquieting manifesto.
But let’s focus on vandalism per se here. To some commentators, especially those for whom art has a sentimental value, the design of the advert equaled to vandalism of its own kind. Yet again, one of the most iconic works of Western Art was reduced to a backdrop for pizza, burghers, fries and milk shakes. Correct, the depiction of relationships – friendship and betrayal – and the apprehension of sufferance that is looming upon Christ was replaced by the kitsch one-dimensional message “buy our food”.
And if centuries ago the most prominent works of art were commissioned by the most powerful Renaissance families to manifest their power and affluence, the interest of various entrepreneurs in art is even more applied than that – it is mercenary. As anything else, the value of a work of art is as high as profit generated off it. Sadly, classic art works served as adverts countless times and Jesus “modeled” for fast food adverts in the past as well.
The design of the advert can also be classified as plagiarism of the Chinese-American artist Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung’s “The Fast Supper”. The difference between the artwork below and the NYB’s advert is that the latter encourages what is questioned by the former. Unlike the advert, the “Fast Supper” does not encourage a viewer to engage into a mechanic act of food consumption, it poses questions and has depth.
Plot 3. Religion, business and cocky leftists
Finally, there were commentators whose take on the saga was different from anything mentioned above. Nor they stood for Patrijotti, neither did they see NYB and Diacono’s brothers as champions of the secular modernity in Malta. And it wasn’t the devaluation of classic art which angered them most but the self-righteous attitude of the entrepreneurial class represented by the brothers.
Let’s admit it: entrepreneurs are pushing away the old saints from Malta’s pedestal of worship. Yes, church still enjoys a significant influence but craving for entrepreneurial success is speedily replacing Catholicism as Malta’s new official religion. Those who see the latter as a sign of progress are certainly not paying enough attention: the commandments of business are as oppressive as the Christian dogmas.
In their interview to MaltaToday, Diaconos present themselves as a gift to Malta. Armed with top notch burgers and fries, the immaculate businessmen are on a mission to drag Malta out of the Middle Ages where they presume it still resides. However, their business attitude is far from innovative and is rooted in protestant ethics which itself is as old as 1517 thesis of Martin Luther.
Diacono’s suggestion for business revival is simple yet ingenious. It seems that Maltese students are way too comfortable to be an obedient industrious workforce, thus cutting stipends should improve the employers’ lot. Isn’t it horrible that Maltese students are not debt-ridden as their North-American and British counterparts? Horrible indeed. Not to mention that anyone who thinks that Maltese (students and others) are too comfortable to catch “a cheap bus to wherever” is clearly out of touch with the realities of the local public transport.
And here is another question to ask: since when does a producer of fast food complain about the comfortable and lazy lifestyle to which it contributes so lavishly? And if stipends and buses are responsible for turning Maltese into lazy slobs, how about the comforts of being part of a wealthy family and the safety net which comes with it?
As an after note – isn’t it incredible what interplay of various interests and opinions was unlocked by an advert of a fast-food outlet?
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