Jenny Drumgoole’s cream cheese art submission morphs into a representation of corporate America.
Google “cream cheese recipes,” and one will be bombarded with recipes for cheesecake worthy to take to tea with grandma. Yet, Philadelphia-based artist Jenny Drumgoole’s cream cheese creations befit the “Twilight Zone” better than granny’s kitchen.
Drumgoole, a nationally-known artist with a master’s in fine arts from Yale University, spoke at Moore College of Art & Design on Feb. 24 about the bizarre cream cheese performance art she created for the “Real Women of Philadelphia” contest, which was co-sponsored by Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese and celebrity chef Paula Deen.
Drumgoole took the opportunity to use the most innocuous condiment to unveil the deceptive conspiracy of cold-hearted corporate America.
The “Real Women of Philadelphia” contest required participants to post online video entries of their Philadelphia cream cheese recipes. The prize for the best recipes was the culinary Holy Grail – a chance to go to Savannah, Ga., to meet Deen. Drumgoole initially entered the contest to gratify her mother’s intense obsession with Deen and get her cookbooks signed.
Drumgoole’s nine video contest entries – on display at Moore until March 15 – portray her as a veritable Julia Childs on drugs. The videos she posted on YouTube show her surrealist concoctions of cream cheese heads shaped like John Rambo and cupcakes comprised of pickles and OLD BAY spice.
In her videos, she recalls scenes from “Rambo” movies by writhing around on the floor or being slapped in her lipstick-smeared face. She used the common theme of “Rambo” to symbolize her ultimate mission.
“I’ve always been interested in Rambo because he embodies over-the-top masculinity,” Drumgoole said. “In this all-women contest, it would be interesting to see how they would respond to that. Also, all of Rambo’s missions were about recon, and my recon mission was to the get those cookbooks signed.”
The wide-eyed chef parodied celebrities by having comedic interludes with copious amounts of hair flips and conspicuous plugging of cream cheese. The seemingly bizarre behavior reflected the over-sexualization of women as selling points, as well as shameless product endorsement.
Dr. Johnathan Wallis, an assistant professor of art history at Moore and the liberal arts chair, described the power of Drumgoole’s videos.
“She engaged the community of women,” he said. “She created a collaborative byproduct which I think is testament to the idea of the potential of art when it is practiced outside of its traditional boundaries.”
Deen took notice as the videos were gaining popularity. After receiving ostensible praise from Deen via online comments, Drumgoole flew to Savannah to dine with her and the other contestants at Deen’s restaurant. When she got there, Deen was nowhere to be found. Instead, the contest producer greeted her.
“She took me aside and started talking trash about all these women,” Drumgoole said. “Then she said, ‘I’m Paula Deen. I was writing about the videos, not [the actual] Paula [and] if you tell anyone, I’ll ruin you.’”
“It was part tragic, part angering,” continued Drumgoole. “It’s a system set up to exploit individuals and entice them. The company has this idea of creating a fake persona to use it for marketing purposes.”
Drumgoole attributes much of this deception to the production company behind the contest, Eqal.
“I don’t think Kraft knew that Eqal was running it like this,” she said. “You don’t f— with people’s heroes to get them to buy cream cheese. It’s just dirty and gross to me.”
Drumgoole informed the other women about the truth behind the contest. They joined in her crusade by sending Drumgoole their own videos of hair flips, which Drumgoole pieced together into a hair flipping tribute she described as, “à la Tawny Kitaen from a Whitesnake video.” Drumgoole’s videos had then transformed into farcical social commentaries on the illusory policies of corporate charlatans and celebrity chefs.
In her final video entry, Drumgoole set out to finally expose the man behind the curtain. In the video, she and her mother traveled to Delaware to Deen’s book signing. Her mom talked to Deen about the specific comments she wrote about her daughter’s videos.
“She did all of those hair flips for you,” her mother said. “And the Rambo cheese head mould. Would you do a hair flip with us?”
Deen stared in blank confusion.
“What’s a hair flip?” she said.
In an act of ultimate triumph, Drumgoole stopped in front of Deen and flipped her vibrant red hair in the face of corporate America.
After the revelation at Dean’s uncaring insincerity, Drumgoole’s mom cried in disbelief.
“She was a mean b—-!” her mom said.
Drumgoole ended the final video by killing the illusion and lighting her “chef” wigs, Philadelphia cream cheese box and cookbook, signed by Deen, on fire. Drumgoole muses on the meaning behind the cream cheese, hair-flipping madness.
“Companies, corporations, marketers – they need to treat consumers with a little bit more respect because they, the consumers, are all viewed as dollar signs that they can manipulate in every way,” Drumgoole said. “They need to give people a little bit more respect.”
Jessica Herring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.