Masterchef – or what you always wanted to know about desire
Everything you always wanted to know about the psyche but were afraid to ask Gregg, Monica or Michel Roux jr.
In other words, what explains the popularity of Masterchef (Professionals) is of course that it is primarily about the multiple layers of the psyche catered on our home screens, and featuring that intimate event of joy when something goes in before later coming out. Food.
Think of Masterchef as the structure of the psyche. It comes in three. What you have is the drooling, child-like, enjoyment – jouissance! – of Gregg, whose whole body vibrates when brought in proximity of sugary desserts. His face is the face of enjoyment, unhidden. He cannot, because that is his part, as the id, the primal orientation to joy/food/excess.
Take Monica then. The professional, cool, rarely smiling, more likely a slightly contempt-filled face of judgment: who is good enough for Michel. She judges according to the expectations of the one who is absent. She does not eat much – if she does, it is only to evaluate, not to enjoy. She is empty, as she has to know what the Absent wants and act as the mouth of that. “This is not good enough for Michel”, is the cool, cruel judgment that lacks passion. (Yet, is she somewhere inside paranoid; what if she gets the judgment wrong?) She is impossible to please because she talks for someone else. She incorporates the function of the ego as a mediator.
Of course, Michel Roux jr. is not always absent – he does make himself visible at times. Still cool, but completely beyond the scale in comparison to others featured in the show, we are always almost double-guessing. What does he want? What does he really want? What else is that recurring ever-so-slightly missing bit but that lack that constitutes the unattainable? Hence, paranoia: the professionals who anyway have to work to please are here trying to mediate their actions in a situation of conflicting desires, ie the structures of the psyche, and finally the ever-so-slightly always missing bit what distinguishes the Absent one.
The Absent one does speak, of course: “So what is it that you want to show us?” The question of confession and subjectification. “Well, I want to be like you, Michel”. Of course, such a line never appears, would be blasphemy. Instead, what we hear time after time is “to see how far I can go.” And: “just to show what I can do”.
They are not there to enjoy the food (Gregg eats for all), but to enjoy the appreciation of the Ideal – Michel Roux Jr. (Mediated via Monica). Enjoyment comes via the Other.
So, of course, now the question is: which one do you identify with? The completely reckless hedonist Greg, or the cool evaluating and despising gaze of Monica – or the shaking, scared little competitors trying to mediate between the conflicting desires in their head externalized. As the absent one is, and remains, unattainable. And let’s not even talk about the Roux Sr.
(disclaimer: I am not and have never been a member of the Club Psychoanalytique and I read Žižek as a guilty pleasure, and never have claimed to offer accurate analyses. In other words, read this as tongue in cheek).