Triumph of the Übermunch

4 min read

You’ve got an insatiable appetite for Doritos brand tortilla chips, and would do almost anything to get some. But does that mean you’re a bad person?

The answer is yes.

And no. And that you may have misunderstood the whole category of values entirely.

But don’t worry. It’s also not your fault. As recent Doritos Super Bowl ads suggest, you’re probably just acting according to a natural instinct: to do anything—no matter how silly, dangerous, or terrible it might seem—to get your hands on those cheesy triangular wonders.

Before we get into what’s wrong with you and why there’s nothing at all you can do about it—a little context. As we approach our country’s fiftieth Super Bowl, we’re also coming up on another milestone, the fiftieth anniversary of the nationwide launch of Doritos brand tortilla chips. While one can’t fairly state that these two fifty-year-olds are inextricably linked, it’s hard to resist looking for connections.

Both Doritos and the Super Bowl started their lives as niche creations, but have grown to near-worldwide acclaim. Both have appeal across the generations—especially among fans of sports and TV. Both involve brightly colored flags. (In the case of Doritos, it’s actually a kitchen hand towel dappled with bright orange stains, which could possibly be avoided through more vigorous hand washing.)

For the past ten years, Doritos has held a contest for creative types to “Crash the Super Bowl” by submitting their ideas for thirty-second commercials to be voted on by fans of orange fingerprints and colored flags alike. The contests have generated some of the more talked about Super-Bowl spots of recent memory—ads such as “Sling Baby,” “Pug Attack,” and “Free Doritos!”

What do most of these ads have in common? If you said “the will to power,” you have perfectly understood the trend of our thinking.

No? Okay. Well, let’s try it this way:

What if a demon were to creep after you one day or night, in your loneliest loneness, and say:“This life which you live and have lived, must be lived again by you, and innumerable times more. And there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh—everything unspeakably small and great in your life—must come again to you, and in the same sequence and series…. The eternal hourglass will again and again be turned—and you with it, dust of dust!” Would you not throw yourself down and curse the demon who spoke to you thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment, in which you would answer him:“Thou art a god, and never have I heard anything more divine!”

What if we were to replace the word “demon” in that passage with the word “Dorito”? Try reading it aloud that way, possibly in a super-serious, German-inflected voice.

A full one hundred and thirty years ago, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche anticipated Doritos in his treatise Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. His view was that a herd mentality called ressentiment had caused much of humanity to confuse self-sacrifice with virtue. The expression in humans of natural desire—as for delicious cheese-coated corn chips—is not “bad” or “evil” but rather an expression of “the will to power,” a drive to possess delicious snack items that is a fundamental instinct for all living beings.

We can see this expressed in a number of ways though all three of this year’s “Crash the Super Bowl” finalists. While “Ultrasound” expresses the instinct in humans at its most innate, “Doritos Dogs” again alludes to the animal nature in Man, and “Swipe for Doritos” to…uh…also the animal nature in Man.

But Nietzsche was ages ago. What fresh perspectives have recent years brought to the snack table? What of the Swiss theologian Max Picard—who distinguishes so neatly between the “unredeemed” silence of animals, “a hard, coagulated silence,” and the silence of humans, “transparent and bright because it confronts the world”?

First, let us protest that hard, coagulated silences have no place whatsoever in snacking. At least, not at the Super Bowl level. As for the rest of Picard’s theory, political philosopher John Gray condemns such lofty humanism as “a myth inherited from religion, which humanists have recycled into science.” Gray views the linkages between knowledge, enlightenment, and progress as virtually nonexistent. He sees his philosophical pessimism borne out by such developments as the liberal rehabilitation of torture in the post-9/11 era, and the resurgence of fascism in Europe.

But when it comes to the “will to power,” the Doritos brand is kind of the Übermunch. It has a market-leading 39% share of the tortilla/corn chip market—and its dominance in the flavored corn chip segment is even more pronounced. Despite this dominance, and all of Frito-Lay’s marketing money to throw around, Doritos has spent the last ten years scarfing free creativity from the public bag.

Not that Doritos is “wrong,” or “bad.” It’s just using its salty, sweet, crunchy silence to get what it wants, the way we all would, if only we had the strength.