catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 6 :: 2010.03.19 — 2010.04.01


Pop tarts and pop arts

Due to my wife’s recent appendectomy and ensuing low-sugar tolerance, we have been limiting our sweet intake to a minimum. Our diet keeps us from gathering sugary goods with any intention, but as a result I find myself eating quick treats without discretion. Thanks to our housemates, parents, etc. there has lately seemed to be a steady flow of Cinnamon Brown Sugar Pop Tarts in my vicinity. I eat them. Slowly, but surely I eat them all. They unintentionally take the place of my one-a-day vitamin and go down so much easier.

Part of the appeal of pop tarts is the lie that I plead ignorance to, but still believe: they are breakfast. They are likely part of that ideal “balanced breakfast” we’ve heard so much about. Of course they are really nothing more than corn syrup wrapped in cheap white flour glazed with sugar, flavored artificially. Yet they have been named as “Breakfast” so I keep them in that “OK” place in my heart that persuades me to the pleasure. The reality, of course, is that they are less healthful than most cookies and, due to their persuasiveness, are a consistent contributor to the destructive culture known as the American Diet.

Disregard the pun and regard the coincidence: the culture and misnomer of Pop Tarts is very much the same as our pop arts. It is nice to consume whatever claims respectability, and is easily available and ever so sweet. This brings me to my second and third guilty pleasures: Miley Cyrus and Andy Warhol. This conflation may bring surprise, but I find them to be very similar.

And the Miley song was on. And the Miley song was ON. Often in pop music, credentials are given not earned. This is the case for Miley: the daughter of an already established music star (Billy Ray) and the chosen heir to the Disney post-Mouse-Club throne, her success was all but decided when she began. She drowns the radio, so we listen and can’t help but stay on the channel. At least I can’t. “Everyone” loves her, so its OK for me to like her too.  She’s always available — just turn the radio a few times — and I’m a sucker for good auto-tuning (the musical equivalent of brown sugar frosting?). Miley’s song is almost nothing of her own: its popularity hinges, in part, on its references to entertainers who are already popularly identifiable: “And the Britney/JayZ song was on!” Andrew Warhol does just the same.

Warhol’s respectability, I think, is due in large part to his genre (“Fine Art”) and his popularity; his popularity due in large part to his accessibility; his accessibility due in large part to his pop-y colors and popular subjects. His first display: Marilyn Monroe, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s Soup. While Warhol’s work can certainly be considered legitimately worthwhile Art, my love of him is not due to his Art, but his popular entertainment value. I like Andy Warhol because I remember seeing those giant Elvises in the Museum as a kid and thinking “Whoa, cool! Giant Elvis! Mom look!” I did a demonstration on him for school once, recreating the soup cans and Coca-Cola pieces in the classic childhood fashion: printing them out in black and white and coloring over them in different crayon. Even at eight years old there was something to enjoy.

Again, although Warhol’s process may have been deeper, it can be reduced to this: take a popular object, paint it up really big, multiply it in pretty colors, call it Art. Then, in contrast to the vast majority of “Art,” everyone can enjoy Warhol to some degree because they recognize his subjects and his sweetness; everyone can enjoy Miley to some degree because she’s respectable, she’s popular and sounds sweet; and pop tarts as well, because they’re breakfast (but dessert!).

This is why Warhol has his own museums so shortly after his death, this is why we love musicians who can’t sing well, this is why we love the least healthy breakfast. Because someone said is was OK and it sure tastes good. Although I’ve seen Warhol’s grave in my hometown of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, I can imagine him living today and like to think of his new pop art subjects. Warhol’s latest diptychs: Pop Tarts and Miley Cyrus. Sweet, sweet, sweetness. Auto-tuning, pop-y colors, corn syrup. Call it breakfast, call it Art, call it Grammy-worthy — any way it’s packaged, I’ve already bought what they’re selling.

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