What does one immediately associate with New Jersey? Bruce Springsteen, the demagogic self-styled poet of the proletariat. Romanticizing the blue collar working class is as old as the hills and nowhere does the dichotomy between the haves and have nots reach it’s Yankee apotheosis than in the songs and lyrics of “The Boss” who sings about poor Wendy serving up sandwiches in Asbury Park, dreaming to ‘get out’ with her boyfriend so they can reach the West Coast to make more sandwiches. While Jersey Mike’s luckily avoids most references to Springsteen with just a marginal nod to beaches and surfing communities in south NJ, this sandwich shop is firmly ensconced in both Durkheim’s anomie as well as some more recent post-situationalist thought. The French sandwich is plain, devoid of the various optional toppings that Jersey Mike’s offers – from “Mike’s Way” (lettuce, tomato, onions, salt and pepper, oregano, mayonnaise, and something else I am forgetting). In France, a ham sandwich is generally just that – ham and bread perhaps with some mustard or mayo. And yet the anomie present in both the romantic longing in Springsteen’s songs and the chansons of Jacques Brel is evident in both situations. Make no mistake – Springsteen’s “Wendy” is not the French Marianne, a symbol of the people and the nation trampling over the Ancien Regime. It is as plain as day that Wendy is a deliberate reference to the hamburger chain of the same name and thus a Ouroboros of capitalist consumption and repression. Thanks to the strength of the American unions, the United States never seriously flirted with socialism and yet, much as in the condiments at “The Hat” (see my previous essay), the choice is there and simultaneously isn’t. To order your submarine sandwich “Mike’s Way” is a subtle but very powerful push for conformity, which is why Wendy can never truly leave Asbury Park, as is evident that together, her and the narrator will need to “live with the sadness”. And the narrator who says “Wendy let me in, I want to be your friend” if one opens one’s eyes is no different than a Fagin type of entrapment: for Wendy a life of wage slavery, for the consumer, obesity, diabetes and coronary ailments.
In addition, it psychologically induces conformity into the very people it wishes to romanticize. Order your sandwich “Mike’s Way” and soon enough you’ll be an accounting major at Rutgers like every single one of your classmates from Tom’s River High. The insidious aspect of it all is that Jersey Mike’s is as successful a corporate entity as Bruce Springsteen himself, and from their golden cages they are an obvious parallel to the party structure in Orwell’s 1984. Both “Mike” and Bruce belong to the “Inner Party” and while offering incentives – cheap pornography and lottery tickets in 1984, Mike’s ‘points’ which add up to a free sandwich after a number of purchases – actually demean and degrade the working class who relish these lunches. Some anarcho-primitivists like Unabomber Ted Kaczynski argue that complex societies, particularly industrial and post-industrial societies, directly cause conditions such as anomie by depriving the individual of self-determination and a relatively small reference group to relate to, such as the band, clan, or tribe. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of Jersey Mike’s. The small reference group one can relate to is the relative poverty of blue collar America. Fetishizing the spectacle as per Guy Debord – in this case, romanticizing the disenfranchised proletarian working class – is evident in the not too subtle word play that Jersey Mike’s is indeed a “franchise”. Debord of course follows Lukacs in commodity fetishism but the deeper roots are a disdain for the proletariat. By ordering your sandwich “Mike’s Way” not only are you continuing to promote conformity you are also making sure that Wendy will never, ever, ever get out of New Jersey and thus stifling any aspiration the proletariat can try to better themselves. It is a dark and difficult cycle that no amount of idyllic photos of young people in Wildwood and Cape May, oblivious to their bleak future, that adorn the walls of Jersey Mike’s can whitewash. If you want to “walk in the sun” like Wendy’s exploitative boyfriend claims they will while mulling over plans for her white slavery, then run from this franchise. Run faster than as if you were born to run.
The first time my friend the Irish-American author Brendan T. Costello went to Chuck E. Cheese’s he came armed with a copy of the Viking Portable Dostoevsky. A fine choice but an even better one for navigating this particular circle of hell would be “Eden Eden Eden” by Pierre Guyotat.
If the sounds of American children screaming and fighting over the bastardized cardboard they call pizza like a gaggle of bald headed eaglets does not frighten you at first, consider the video games with their images of war and savagery, consumerism and imperialist ambitions. One would think it were just the sheer cacophony and over-stimulation that made Chuck E. Cheese’s one of the most dangerous restaurant chains in America with violence breaking out among parents almost every month if not with greater frequency. It goes beyond that. The squeals of the immature Yankee toddlers and pre-teens form a violent chorus almost begging to be either saved or silenced. The whole establishment resembles a metaphoric pit, not the pit of Kobo Abe’s Woman in the Dunes but the actual pit that Guyotat lived in during the Algerian Civil War. Consider this passage from Eden, Eden, Eden:
“In the palace of gilded wood, pigs stir among the barrels at the end of the yard, small birds flutter around, the sun vibrates in the blue, the prisoners howl, lying on the slush of cock droppings, a child, iron-armoured, tightly wrapped in leather, pricks them with a stick, they then become silent, hold out their arms, open their hands, frogs jump out of them, their song dies on the slush…”
Or better yet:
“Khamssieh’s hand, weak, crushing tarantula in nostril : venom hardening forehead ; fingernails scraping cold blood around nipples ; pulling dead tarantula, pinching sticky legs, out of nostril, pushing crushed spider between buttocks ; exhausted elbows dropping onto heaps of floor-cloths : penis contracting into shriveled scrotum ; odour of sodomy wafting through room ; rubbing of jeans, farts : regular in dawn silence….”
If you wish to relive the French colonial disaster in the Maghreb perhaps Chuck E. Cheese’s is a decent approximation. On my end however, the horror is so extreme, so enveloping that one would truly need to invent a new language in order to describe the barbarity at least within the parameters of a restaurant reviewer. I am also wondering if this chain is somehow connected to #pizzagate.
Final verdict: Not recommended.
Let’s deconstruct the photo below. For starters the spoon implies “silver spoon in one’s mouth”. Number two, the tomato, indigenous to the New World is now pureed for Western consumption and is a colonial approach to native people while the three intact tomatoes are a lame nod toward aboriginal autonomy. The haunting specter of two pieces of white bread (two: one for god and one for country) and their whiteness are nothing short of a hovering reminder of who’s in charge.