Opinion: a pizza crust stuffed with a hot dog could be the ultimate expression of contemporary design culture, suggests Sam Jacob in this week's opinion column.
If this is all that's left for design to do on this earth then maybe we are finally fulfilling that quaint Victorian statement that everything that can be invented has been invented.
That's the second thought I had after seeing the latest product out of the gate from Domino's secret diabolical research facility: the Hot Dog Stuffed Crust Pizza. The first thought was where I was going to vomit.
Think of it for a second. Turn the idea over in your mind slowly: a pizza whose crust contains a hot dog. Yes, a sausage that loops around a pizza's circumference like a mechanically-recovered meat Large Hadron Collider.
Crusts, of course, have troubled pizza makers for years. To the volume pizza industry crusts are dead air, the unfortunate bready by-product of the pizza-making process. Barren, boring margins to the infinite possibilities of a pizza's surface daubed with cheese, tomato, pepperoni, chicken tikka and so on.
Previous attempts to transform these tasteless terrains have included stuffing them with cheese (acceptable in my book, at least in principle, because it's just a rejigging of certifiable pizza ingredients) and so-called "crust-less" pizzas (weird, like a spineless book or a hairless cat). Other tactics have included transforming the pizza base into a sandwich of discs glued together with a garlic flavour emulsion (frankly revolting and a thankfully short-lived experiment).
But this ring of meat takes the biscuit. The Hot Dog Stuffed Crust is a fast food crossing of the streams, a hybridised foodstuff too far. But don't blame Domino's. It was apparently Pizza Hut who first introduced it. Domino's version just ups the ante with mustard already lining the orbital sausage cavity. Pizza Hut has fought back with more innovation: the Hot Dog Pizza Bites Pizza: "pull-apart crust with 28 succulent mini hot dog bites, packed with delicious flavour" (in case you needed further explanation).
We might be appalled by the fact that this ever got off the drawing board and onto the back of a delivery moped driving around the very same streets that you and I walk. But I think I'm not alone in also secretly applauding the sheer ingenuity of this foul invention.
Let's suspend judgement for a moment. For, as revolting as it may be, the Hot Dog Stuffed Pizza Crust represents a form of design thinking. That is to say, it isn't a one-off incident but a product of the zeitgeist. It's something that could simply not have happened say, 30 years ago. The HDSCP emerges out of a culture that we are all part of, that we all participate in, that we all contribute to. Frightening as it may be, all of us are responsible for the existence of the Hot Dog Stuffed Crust Pizza.
Here are some of the things that I would argue enable humanity to conceive of the HDSCP; its cultural ingredients, in other words. Third Way politics that suggested you could be both left and right at the same time without being either. Hacking culture. Surrealism. Postmodernism (which might problematise the very idea of "pizza" and "hot dog" in the first place).
Robert Venturi (a better example of "both/and" you’d be hard pushed to find). Advertising. Pornography. Swiss Army knives. Photoshop. The convergence of uses that electronics has delivered since the digital watch first gave us a clock that was also a calculator (i.e. there's not much ground to travel between the idea of a phone + camera to a pizza + hot dog).
All these phenomena (and many more) change the way in which we think. They alter our expectation of things, what we want them to do and to be. Design is something animated by forces outside of itself, shaped by the broad culture within which it practises. Objects, much as we'd like them to, can no longer be simple, natural or authentic because of the sheer complexity of contemporary production and consumption.
Much like food itself, the sensations of simplicity, naturalness and authenticity can only be created with spectacular and concentrated effort. The cult of the natural – so understandable a yearning in the face of things like the HDSCP – is as synthetic as everything else.
The Hot Dog Stuffed Crust Pizza might be a revolting thought, but it is also an object that crystallises a trope of contemporary design culture. Its appallingness has a purity to it, a clarity that reveals tendencies that often lurk below the surface of design, hidden by good taste and convincing rhetoric.
If I were helping build the Design Museum's new collection and wanted the object ne plus ultra of 2013, it would be this. An object so completely of its moment that if it was all that was left of civilisation, future archeologists could decode the entire socioeconomic structure of our society.
Sam Jacob is a director of architecture practice FAT, professor of architecture at University of Illinois Chicago and director of Night School at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, as well as editing www.strangeharvest.com.
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