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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ingenious Disingenuousness




Ingenuousness is a virtue meaning “noble” which found its name in the late 1500s. It comes from the Latin for begetting, gen-. There is an understanding of honor attached to it, suggesting the bearer is honest, candid, upright.

When first there is a positive thing, it is quickly followed by its evil twin, the negative; thus we have disingenuous, which dates from the 1600s, meaning the exact opposite.

The cover of this book is disingenuous. If you read the subtitle, it claims to be a book promoting health and “low-calorie desserts.” Yet the picture is of a Baked Alaska, which cannot possibly be either healthy or low-cal. It also dandies up a rather plain and uninspiring ingredient — yogurt, which might be hard to sell otherwise. It says that you can maintain your diet by indulging in elaborate sweets, which is a lie.


If disingenuousness is your thing, you can get a big helping of it every day at the supermarket checkout, where the magazine tunnel bombards your brain with the paradoxical message that you can eat your way slim. How do they sell this absurdity? By appealing to their target audience’s two biggest weaknesses: their addiction to junk food and the shame they feel about their weight. 


Any given cover subscribes to a formula which provides both: a lead story about losing weight paired with tempting photos of brightly colored and often seasonally decorated food. It’s guilt porn.  Does anyone really ever make these elaborate cakes? Probably not — all they are is a slick visual designed to tweak that addiction and sell ad space. These magazines have no investment in actually making their readership diet successfully, or they won’t stay in business.


The disingenuity comes not only in the premise emblazoned across the covers, but in their very nature.

Yogurt Cookery, Sophie Kay, 1978

Also from this book: Yogo-Cheese

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