I am Jack’s Magical Beanstalk

I often marvel at the manufactured needs that corporations so effortlessly instill upon the unwitting public conscious. Products seemingly frivolous become essential. My favorite part of air travel involves gawking at the superfluity of products in the quixotic SkyMall catalog. I will occasionally turn to my wife, grab her attention from what is usually the serious fiction I myself should be reading and implore her with the necessity of purchasing a magic wand television remote, marshmallow shooter, or ultrasonic pest repeller. She doesn’t find this funny and doesn’t think I’m entirely joking. And the thing is, neither do I. After all, while I kind of know I probably don’t mostly need a device that “attacks the auditory and nervous center of rodents,” I can’t exactly admit that my life wouldn’t be markedly improved by one.

The Costco Ad I got in the mail just a couple days ago.

Inspiring need where there was none before requires tricky marketing, if not outright psychological treachery. And we are all too familiar with the myriad tricks of Advertizing and Public Relations, tricks one can earn an entire college degree mastering without, apparently, obliterating one’s dignity or resigned oneself to sociopathy. You often see an appeal to status, beauty, longevity, virility and sex appeal, but these pale in comparison to good old fear mongering. Why take unnecessary risks with the lives of yourself and your loved ones when this product can insure that in the event of such-and-such a hypothetical catastrophe, you will be protected, prepared, or otherwise comfortable more so than without? This is all good and well when it comes to cell-phones-for-tweens and emergency road flare kits for your SUV—let’s not forget the quintessential survival vehicle for our desperate modern age.

But here’s the thing—Costco is offering for the low price of $42.99 “Emergency Garden Seeds,” capable of sowing a one-acre emergency, yes, emergency garden.

emergency seeds. Yes.

You don't plant them, silly, you save them for when you need a garden, stat.

Imagine yourself, if you will, in your backyard, pitch black of night, the city in a blackout, no light save the faint splash of red and blue flashing police lights, a maddening din of sirens all around, maybe an unsettling, low-decibel roar of some nightmarish catastrophe burning at an untold distance, and there you are, huffing and puffing, as you scramble around your lawn…frantically planting seed after seed into your well manicured suburban lawn.

Okay, the term “emergency” notwithstanding, perhaps this is marketed to the hyper-paranoid or otherwise safety-conscious Costco patron. Not taking into account the 5-year shelf life and the presumption that one isn’t to plant these seeds, rather, hang onto them, dispose of, and repurchase. Barring, that is, an incident of such magnitude that returning the product would be out of the question as the whole of society has collapsed to the point you have resorted to planting an emergency frickin’ garden. There still remains, however, one small predicament of what one shall eat whilst waiting five to eighteen months for the proper season to arrive, or, you know, your seeds to germinate and transform themselves into a veritable cornucopia of produce hopefully conducive to your local climate, pest issues, bands of wandering pillagers, and radioactive zombies potentially interfering with your emergency harvest. (Though they prefer human brains, you are bound to lose at least some cauliflower to the occasional, confused zombie now and again. They don’t eat it, just masticate it for a while, and you could probably boil off the zombie virus, but what’s the point?)

Not to worry, Right above this product in the catalog, one can find a single $159.99 product that contains “three #10 cans of chunk chicken, three #10 cans of ground beef. 288 total servings.” Don’t worry if you’re not hungry at the moment, it has “up to a 25 year shelf life if sealed.” And as if a sense of comic absurdity was not lost on the marketing department at Costco, they look like ice cream tubs. And I imagine whatever chemical and mechanical process involved in preserving raw meet for 25 years (included in the product title: “With Gamma Seal”), it not doubt has taken on a consistency not unlike ice cream. Meaty, meaty, ice cream. But honestly, why not opt for the palette and save 10%? And be sure to pick up the six #10 cans of emergency dehydrated cheese while you are at it.

Now, unless this is really just some secret product cluster meant for aspiring cult leaders to stow themselves and their beloved disciples away in the wilderness with, then I have to presume ordinary American families are purchasing these products out of a genuine concern that the shit is going to hit the fan and hit it for a VERY long time. Let’s look at some of the product reviews, shall we?

Of the powered cheese, Jendoe writes, “Cannot comment on the taste as these are part of our earthquake kit.” Okay, fair enough, we’ll check back in with Jendoe when the Big One hits and its time to break out grilled cheese for the kids.

Of the seeds, garden4life writes, “Nowhere does it mention if these seeds are Heirloom. If not, then they will only produce one time. It is very important to purchase seeds that will produce year after year. Our very lives may depend on it!”

Wisco12 believes that size matters when it comes to seeds and writes, “Haven’t opened the package yet, however I was disappointed when I saw the size of the container. Quite smaller than it looked on the website. Not sure if I’d recommend yet or not.” Thanks, Wisco12, for taking the time to write a review and let us know even you yourself have no faith in its merit. After all, its entirely possible that plants, you know, grow.

The most common reviews are fives stars and relate the same sentiment as Zebopper, “We purchased these seeds to put away in case of an emergency. I haven’t opened them, and frankly, I hope I never need them!” PT Barnum would be proud.

And when the reviews are not charmingly gullible, they contain an element of sobering paranoia. Rosie21 writes, “Feel blessed that I’m able to purchase this product and hopefully plant it soon in my land so I can eventually live of my land. Unfortunately it looks like were all gonna eventually go back to the basics. Blessed and fortunate are we for having the knowledge of what’s coming and getting prepared : )”

Virginaa’s comments are also typical, “I’m interested in being prepared for whatever calamity might befall us. And if nothing happens and my preparations are for naught, so much the better. Everyone talks about growing gardens if the situation gets bad. My concern was always ‘but where will we get the seeds?’ I now know where I will get my seeds: from the back of my closet.”

the last page of the catalog

These products, ridiculous though they are, are themselves a product of our collective awareness of immanent and widespread catastrophe. In 1898, H.G. Wells published War of the Worlds, itself an intractable treatise on the immutability of theBritish Empire. And prior to WWI, the notion of an invading force actually reaching so far into England as the outskirts of London itself was so unthinkable a notion that in order for the Martians to have any degree of plausibility they would have to take a few days to march their Heat Rays through the hamlets and hedgerows on giant legs—let’s not forget, lighter-than-air-travel was far too preposterous for even the wildest speculative fiction, war with intelligent life on Mars, on the other hand, was all but an inevitability.

However, since mechanized warfare was introduced in World War I, and certainly since atomic warfare in World War II, the whole of human civilization has been forced to live with immanent and perpetual threat of instant, vaporizing annihilation. And I’m not the first to take notice of it. American Southern Gothic writer William Faulker, upon accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950, said, “Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up?” This question of blowupability pre-occupies our collective unconsciousness, so much so that we cannot help but wonder if serious long-term planning for future prosperity is simply naïve and doomed to disappointing failure once catastrophe at last arrives.

"Everything is Ruined Forever"

William Faulkner

Science, itself responsible for the technological advancement that have contributed to this universal sense of nihilism, ahs also contributed inspiring innovations such as the Moon Landing and Vaccination that just maybe we will have a future worth living in after all. But since, well, pretty much since the Moon Landing, their has been a steady tide of anti-scientism sweeping public sentiment here in America, two favorite targets of which are the Moon Landing and Vaccination. And who wouldn’t be severely disappointed to find that the best and brightest minds at NASA were not mathematicians and physicists, but special effects filmmakers and choreographers? Below, you can listen to a moribund Neil Stephenson blame Science Fiction writers for a lack of inspiration in the sciences, which has lead to a tide of anti-scientist sentiment, but before you cry foul on his exercise in technological relativism, I should warn you that he is going to end up sharing his plan to “foster direct collaboration with science fiction writers and researchers, engineers, and scientists” to team up and, for one, build a carbon fiber building twenty times the height of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, from which we could then launch space ships.

Stephenson’s techno-optimism notwithstanding, we find ourselves in an increasingly myopic civilization, where short-term and instant gratification reigns supreme. We have lived through and apparently learned no lessons from a credit bubble of such magnitude as Stephenson’s would-be real-lifeTowerofBabel. I will leave you then with this–that because of this paralyzing fear of the future, our entire American economy has devoted itself to financial markets that divine ever-shortening market shorts, trading stocks and commodities on an automated, computerized algorithm of micro-transactions. Our best and brightest minds have devoted their careers to this aim, all intended to assure the investor of being protected via leverage and “hedging” in the event of catastrophe. Not unlike an insurance policy based upon a closet containing tubs of emergency magical beans.

 

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  • Dagfari

    These survival food containers are generally more readily available in the United States than in Costco’s Canadian warehouses.  They’re marketed towards Mormon families, who generally keep a one-year supply of preserved food.  I’m not entirely sure they’re marketed on fear like you suggest.

    • Eric Reinsmidt

      Maybe not fear, but hope? Watch this video on prepping: 
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUM0TOkNALg

      Regardless, they are marketed in some sense and I am guessing it isn’t your standard CostCo/Sam’sClub membership paradigm.

  • Josef Bray-Ali

    Your quick analysis of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” does not jibe with what I know of the book. War of the Worlds was about the influence of technology on our humanity, not the British Empire.