MILFF*: Mothers in the London Film Festival

Review essay

It’s an annual bonanza of tasty cinematic goodness: the London Film Festival (LFF) is winding down. Since this is probably my last autumn in the Big Smoke/Londonium, I went all out and got tickets for everything that struck my fancy. It wasn’t until my  fourth film screening that I realized there was a theme: motherhood.

Disclaimer: I’m not a mother and don’t intend to be. I generally resent it when podcasts and blogs I like get all hipster-parent-ocentric. Hell, I was mad when Lisa Bonet got up the McDuff and quit A Different World.  But, clearly, I must’ve been subconsciously looking for something. No, not a soul. For a different portrayal of motherhood. Something beyond a traditional natalist script of the perfection of motherhood, i.e. Katie Roiphe’s Double X article about her baby being like gak.

What’s mama-ing looking like in the 21st century? I’ll start with the titles that were mostly good, in their own way, but limited in saying anything new about motherhood, pressures (real or imagined) placed on mothers, and their expectations of children.

Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)

I’m cheating a bit with this one. It wasn’t part of the LFF, but it should’ve been. Maybe it wasn’t because…drum roll…it won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year. And, yet, I suspect it won’t have a very wide release Stateside, so if Netflix has it, do it/queue it.

This quiet, tense film focuses on Mia, a 15-year-old living on an Essex council estate with her mum and sister. Grim. Read on. Mia dreams of becoming a street dancer and she practices her moves, gleaned from hip hop music videos, in an  abandoned and  trashed vacant flat. It’s just Mia, some wacked out speakers, a CD player, and a 40 of cider. Fame, it is not.  The film ostensibly hits its  core dilemma when Mia’s mum, with a pathological love of boob tubes, brings home a new, hot boyfriend, Connor. Is he making moves on Mia, as well, or is he being affectionate as a father would?

No spoilers here, but what I will note is that Mia’s mum, Joanne, is a two-dimensional portrait of Britain’s Young Mum Problem broadly drawn. She’s a vision in trampitude with very little inner-life. She’s mostly outer-life and a caricature of “the culture of poverty”: unemployed, hard drinking, braless, unconcerned with having sex with the bedroom door open, yells at her kids, is killing them with second-hand smoke and just a generally shite mum. We do see some vague notion of love for her kids at the end of the film, but it’s as if the filmmaker oh-so-reluctantly decided Joanne might be a teensy bit human.

While the reviews for this film were mostly concerned with the young girl/possibly paedophilic boyfriend plot, I was once again enthralled by British filmmakers’ fetishization of blackness. Or perhaps it’s British culture’s fetishization of African-American blackness. British filmmakers love to depict blackness without black people. Mia practices her dance gyrations to an Ashanti video (she is, indeed, on a boat!). When Connor catches Mia in the act he says, “You dance like a black.” Not a black person. Not with black style, but like something less than human. I don’t doubt the frequency of such grammatical construction but, while I’m not a linguist, I read it as an articulation of white superiority.

Similarly, Mia’s mum Joanne falls way outside the bounds of “decent” white British womanhood. Race comes crashing into class to equate poor British white women with the Reagan’s American vision of a black welfare queen or Ricki Lake’s hoochie. Notably, the music that Joanne and her friends dance to when the pile into her council flat is dancehall with accompanying windin’ da body. Black culture is clearly a proxy for degeneracy. An affinity for blackness will only keep Mia and her mother rooted in a culture of poverty, not a cycle with institutional roots—an assumption that certain people are born to be poor, are born to never achieve.

All that makes it sound like I didn’t like Fish Tank, but in fact, I thought it was captivating in the cinematography, the rich performances that Arnold elicited from her performers, a funny and poignant script, and some clever jibes at modern-day Britain’s tabloid-induced hysteria over paedophilia and missing children.

The Absence (Mama Keïta, 2009): I had a hard time with this one. Maybe I was supposed to. In Keïta’s film, Adama returns home to Senegal thinking that his grandmother is deathly ill. She, in fact, is not, but Adama’s sister, Aïcha, so desparately wanted her brother to come home from France that she faked the message. We’re also led to believe that it’s Adama’s fifteen year absence that has resulted in Aïcha turning to prostitution. Adama cannot, of course, understand this since he sends plenty of money back to Senegal for his female relatives’ survival.

Again, without spoiling the film, once he learns of Aïcha and her disrespect for his reputation, Adama whips himself into a veritable frenzy of battering Aïcha. He must, however, later try and save her when she turns her own anger on the wrong, vengeful john.

I left this film feeling ambivalent. Was it my Western black feminism that had me reading the film as short-sighted and misogynist in its manichean dealings with the women involved? The saintly but naive grandmother, the beautiful dead mother, and the dirty-whore sister? It seemed like an excuse to make a Tarantino-esque film in Senegal. While I commend the effort to depict the struggles that people face with emigration, the people they leave behind, and the people left behind, a more nuanced approach might have made Adama less of a douchebag and Aïcha able to articulate her needs (literally—in this film she’s both speech- and hearing-impaired) so that her family would listen. The people in the audience who liked the film were so glad to have a representation of Africa that wasn’t destitution or despots that it struck me as a bit of Stockholm syndrome: grateful for any new representation. I’d give it a close, but not-quite-made-it.

London River (Rachid Buchareb, 2009): I generally enjoy Brenda Blethyn’s performances. I think she’s a British national treasure right up there with Peggy Mitchell and the Queen Vic. Alas, when I mentioned Blethyn’s performance to a friend and that she was simply a miserable punching bag, he quipped, “She’s the nation’s punching bag. When is she not?” True dat.

In this London River, Blethyn plays, Elizabeth, the mother of a daughter who has gone missing during the aftermath of the 7 July 2005 bombings that killed 52 people plus the four suicide bombers—all of Muslims of British-descent. This is important because the film plays with assumptions about nation, race, religion, and appearance. Elizabeth is thrown into the chaos of relatives searching for missing persons as she travels from her home on the isle of Guernsey to London. There she must grapple with a multicultural city that won’t easily tell her what happened to her daughter or where she might be. Everyone she encounters in this modern-day London—an Islamic landlord, a French Muslim detective, a black female constable—is Other to her. In her provincial mind, the people she meets are all evidence of London “crawling with Muslims,” as she cries to her brother down the phone.

Blethyn really rocks this role because you can see her coming to pieces when she encounters the father of the young African man her daughter was apparently living with, in love with, and…wait for it…taking ARABIC classes with! With this evidence she fears her red-haired, pale-skinned girl-child has been radicalized, Elizabeth is rude, hostile, and insensitive to the one person she’s in contact with who would most intensely know her pain: Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyaté), the young man’s father. Also a devout Muslim and a forester, we’re encouraged to see this elderly, dreadlocked man as a natural innocent, despite not having seen his son since he was six years old (more at the end of this post about fathers in these films).

The film maintains suspense as we follow both parents’ attempts to find their children.  With archival news footage of 7/7, London River perhaps too realistically conjours the horror of the time and the agony of not knowing. And, yet, everytime Elizabeth exhibited her racism and privilege, when others in the audience laughed at her, I just wanted to strike her. Neither reaction’s acceptable, but those were the limited options. Empathizing with her plight as a mother was difficult because it was too familiar and expected. Of course a woman who spends her days gardening on Guernsey in Wellies and sitting peaceably on rocky cliffs and making tea is going to be scared witless at the prospect of her only child living amongst the people constructed as boogey men by the BNP.

Ultimately, I think the film did do a good job of contrasting her religious rituals (Sunday church) with Ousmane’s. While she tossed and turned and mumbled to herself about her failings as a parent, Ousmane both sought help at the mosque and quietly hoped for the best, trusting that Allah’s will would be done. Being a non-believer myself, I could still appreciate the juxtaposition. As Western as Elizabeth was she couldn’t very well navigate the Western world as it evolved. The film did, alas, strike a Driving Miss Daisy Around Londontown note at times: sage, African man inserted to assuage the pain of mostly undeserving, self-indulgent white person.

Precious Based on the Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire (Lee Daniels, 2009)

I’d have to place Lee Daniels’ film on the border in terms of representations of motherhood, generally, and black motherhood, in particular. I’ve been holding my breath since it was announced that Daniels would dare approach Sapphire’s amazing book. Besides, I’m still mad about the Daniels-produced Monster’s Ball, so I wasn’t trying to like this film. Grudges aside, he had a dream, went after it, got it financed, and pulled some incredible performances from Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, and Gabby Sidibe. As an aside, Gabby needs publicity lessons. Walking on stage, saying, “Hi. Bye.” won’t cut it on Oscar night. There will be Oscar nominations, if not awards. Hollywood likes to give Oscars to our worst portrayals of black womanhood. Yea…Academy.

Mo’Nique pulled out all the stops as Precious’ delusional, force feeding, battering, sexually abusing mother, Mary. “Monster” is the word that’s emerging most frequently in the press on the film. And, indeed, her behavior and the rationales she give for allowing her man to abuse her baby are monstrous. But somewhere between Mary’s devestating insecurities that would make her want to keep her man—any man—at all costs and Mariah Carey’s turn as a social worker ultimately out of her depth, the film raises some compelling questions about motherhood. There’s a lot of handwringing over stereotypes, but as many media scholars have been saying for a while now, isn’t it time we push our critiques beyond good versus bad representations?

Hopefully, viewers will be encouraged to look a bit deeper into what society pushes women to think will happen if they become mothers. What is our investment in writing certain women (poor women, women of color, lesbian women) off as “bad mothers”? We seriously need to question the notion of a maternal instinct. Some socialist feminists have been trying to do this for years, if not decades. What are the perils that women and children face if they believe saintly notions of mother-on-pedestal and children at her feet? One of the best interrogations of motherly expectations is Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. Just because many women can biologically  have babies doesn’t mean that there’s anything natural about how we expect people to raise those babies.

The last two films I want to note blew the others right out of the got’damn water! Sky high. Totally rocked in their filmmaking and complexity in depicting mothers.

Applause (Martin Pieter Zandvliet, 2009): Paprika Steen. I’ll say it again: Paprika Steen. This is the moment I love: when I stumble upon an actor, a band, a TV show that’s been going for a while and I have a whole catalog to devour after falling completely in love with a performance. So, don’t stop by unless you’re up for The Paprika Steen Film Festival.

The film: Thea is a mother just out of rehab. She’s a recovering alcoholic, as well as an actress still at the top of her game. She struggles with her ex-husband Christian to see her two sons and make up for lost time. I know it sounds kinda True Movies/Lifetime, but the depth that Steen brings to Thea’s desperation is palpable. She’s blunt, self-depracating, but wholly believable when she expresses a need for her children. To be in their lives is clearly a selfish act. Her motivation isn’t wholly that she wants to prove herself to be a good mother, but to stay sober.

It’s a dynamic take on motherhood because it’s honest. Having children is, more often than not, framed as a selfless act, Never has so much self-lessness been trumpted and used to pull rank on the child-free: “When will you stop being so selfish and have kids?” This logic has always sounded ass-backwards to me. Just because  you can no longer go to the cinema when you want to or get shitfaced on a Saturday night doesn’t make you bloody Mother Teresa. It means you’ve made a choice about a lifestyle change. I can think of nothing more selfish than the need to have replicas of yourself watching Noddy or asking, “Can we go now?” Applause reveals a certain truth about motherhood: it’s entirely selfish and if one’s not honest about that need, who’s interests are really served? Thea’s final scenes with her children are revelatory to her and the audience as she twigs what she must do in order to fit comfortably in the role of mother.

Mother (Bong Joon-Ho, 2009)

Bong Joon-Ho reeled me in with his 2006 South Korean monster flick, The Host. He upended conventions by showing the monster very quickly and using that sighting to scare the beejesus outta me for the rest of the film. In this follow-up, Kim Hye-ja plays “Mother.” She appears to be much like Brenda Blethyn’s Elizabeth: an almost obsessive mother in her willingness to do anything for her child’s safety and happiness. In this case, Mother is determined to prove that her slow-witted son, Do-joon, isn’t responsible for the murder of a local girl. The frenzy with which Hye-ja plays the role always hints at something even more manic just beneath the surface.

I can’t say too much more about the film for fear of giving anything away, but the film made me think about the ways in which motherhood marginalizes women, particularly older women. The notion of an empty nest syndrome becomes even more terrifying if one is led to believe that one’s value only rests in being a mother and wife, perhaps a grandmother. What’s a mother to do when her raison d’etre is threatened? If you like mystery-thrillers with a societal statement to boot, see this. One Korean film site likened Joon-Ho’s work to Almodovar and I’d say that description’s not far off. As we’d say on Yelp: I’m a fan.

Word to your papa…

Fathers didn’t generally fare well, but given that so many of the mothers depicted were flawed what makes you think they’d make good partner choices? There was the absent father (Fish Tank, London River), the dead father (London River, Precious, The Absence, Mother), and the abusive father (Precious). Of these men, it wasn’t a far leap to think that the underlying message was that if the men were around these women wouldn’t be inclined to drink, be sexually promiscuous, have Islamophobic panic attacks, or become abusive themselves. Of all the films, Applause has a present father who is central to the mother’s relationship with her children. As a testament to the strength of the script and the fine acting, we didn’t get a cardboard cutout of a bad man wanting to keep a mother from her kids. Nor was he a good man dealing with an utter wackjob. Of all the dad’s, present or unaccounted for, he made the most sense and made me want to see more of fatherhood depicted as more than an after-thought.

* I play on the “MILF” concept reservedly. It’s rather creepy that patriarchy finds ways to sexualize women at any age and in any station of life: “milfs,” “cougars.” Not that women of all ages don’t want to be wanted, but isn’t it telling that as soon as women reclaim their sexuality (e.g. women in the 40s, 50s, and 60s), some jackanape comes along and undermines it with a new “demographic” term?

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Daddy’s Little Girls

TV has located the perfect family structure: apparently, it’s an accomplished, sexy father, and a pert, cute tween or teenage girl.  Ex-wives/mothers can be occasional guest stars, but the focus is on the Dad, who is both virile and understanding, and the daughter, who still needs guidance, but can also help dear old Dad understand the softer side of life by explaining things like emotions to him.   I found this model instantly annoying when I encountered it recently in a show I can’t remember the name of–it was billed as House with lawyers, and focused on a star criminal attorney who decided to become one of the good guys, but it’s much more recent than The Guaridan (if you know the name, please comment!). But I began to get more seriously annoyed when I found it repeated in other up-and-coming money-maker shows, Castle and Lie to Me.  In fact, the tween daughters of Castle (Alexis) and Lie to Me (Emily) look quite a bit alike, except for the striking red hair of Castle’s daughter: they are both notably elfin, with big round anime eyes.

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Emily in Lie to Me

Alexis in Castle

Alexis in Castle

Why does this pattern give me the willies?  First of all, it relies on one of my most hated of cultural tropes, The Enlightened Dad.  I’ve got nothing against dads changing diapers; what I hate is how they are lavished with praise for being even minor participants in child rearing.  A man tenderly dandling a baby makes everyone smile and sigh; a woman doing the same thing is just par for the course.  Both Lie to Me and Castle show their heroes’ softer sides through this sort of nonsense: they can be tough and arrogant, but don’t worry, they will be redeemed through their status as Good Dads!

What’s more troubling, though, is the kind of fantasy family these shows create. In effect, father and daughter replace husband and wife, offering a new couple that gets rids of the sort of things that make trouble in a real heterosexual marriage, particularly in the wake of feminism   Without a female authority figure at home (Mom), we get a family that boils down to the big sexy in-control male figure and amusingly willful yet ultimately sweet subordinate female figure.  No need to worry about who works, since the daughter doesn’t need to earn money; in fact, no need to worry about equality at all, since the roles are polarized by age and family position.  In other words, the father-daughter model recreates the sort of husband-wife family we imagine we used to have before women got all uppity.

Part of the satisfactions of this model are purely Freudian: getting rid of Mom so Dad and Daughter can pursue their own family romance is one of those omnipresent, barely masked cultural fantasies; it’s not for nothing that our fairy tales are filled with evil step mothers who try to keep worthy daughters from marrying the prince.  And certainly this model has a history on TV beyond Disney fairytales (anyone old enough to remember Family Affair?).

But I think the reinvigoration of the Dad-Daughter pattern now has more to tell us about the cultural fantasies of post-feminism than the Freudian fantasies of the family romance.  For one thing, both Lie to Me and Castle belong to a larger pattern of shows that pair men who possess almost supernatural powers with feisty, street-smart professional women who are never quite able to best them.  In Castle, it’s the tough female cop who supervises a team of male detectives.  In Lie to Me it’s the ‘uneducated’ Latina with a raw talent for recognizing micro-expressions.  In Life it’s the Persian-American cop with a history of substance abuse, and the African-American lawyer/ex-Olympian runner.  In Burn Notice, it’s the Irish mercenary with a penchant for violence.

In every case, the women in question are clearly figures of the post-feminist present–that is, they belong to a cultural landscape that assimilated certain palatable aspects of feminism, and jettisoned the rest.   These characters are all  tough professionals who expect equality and have  a kind of sexy swagger that borders on the butch.  And, in every case, they are either overtly mentored by or consistently bested by their borderline-omnipotent male counter part.  In cases like Castle and Lie to Me, proving the woman wrong becomes a key plot point in many episodes. What’s palatable, apparently, is the sexy, savvy woman who can almost beat a man at his own game.  What got jettisoned was the whole equality thing.

That three of these characters are women of color (two in Life, and one in Lie to Me) gives the whole process a sick twist: both shows suggest that their heroes are somehow progressive in pursuing this close relationship with a woman of color, at the same time that they consistently show them up.   That Life gave its hero another tough woman-of-color partner when its lead actress went on maternity leave suggests this pattern is no coincidence.

Once upon a time–I think it was the ’80s–having women characters like this in books and TV shows seemed to mean something was shifting.  Women who were tough, who carried guns, who kicked ass, were certainly a breath of fresh air, a little gust that seemed poised to blow away some elements of the status quo.  But, as it so often does, popular culture found a way to have its cake and eat it too: as shows like Lie to Me, Castle and Life make clear, we can now enjoy the sight of an ass-kicking woman (it helps if she’s beautiful, of course) without there being any real threat to male supremacy.

It makes sense, then, that the father-daughter family occurs in the some of the same shows that feature the tough female mentored and/or topped by the brilliant man: in both cases, we can have all the smarts and savvy we want provided we stay daddy’s little girls.

jke

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Why I keep not blogging about health care

Basically, it’s rage.  The whole thing is making me so mad that I can’t stand to follow the stories.  Everytime I try to watch Rachel Maddow or listen to NPR I wind up turning them off ten minutes in because I get so angry I feel like my hair is on fire.  So, instead of a reasoned blog about the current debacle, I’m offering the only thing I can: a list explaining why I’m too furious to blog properly.

1. Because of Obama’s obsessive, truly pathological inability to accept that, strange as it may seem, SOME PEOPLE WILL NOT BE CHARMED BY HIM.

2. Because of Obama’s resulting inability to stop trying to please Republicans and just get the damn bill passed by his MAJORITY party.

3. Because of the idiotic comments of people who believe that any chance of having some government option is somehow equivalent to ‘Russia’.  HELLO!  What is this, 1982?  Russia is a raging capitalist chaos now, people.

4.  Because  American ideology of ‘freedom’ and ‘individuality’ is so tenacious that some people apparently think the Preamble to the Constitution contains an argument against affordable health care.

5.  Because American exceptionalism so prominent in that ideology  that, no matter how many times the statistics are bandied about, most people seem incapable of believing that we have the worst health care system among the industrialized nations.

6.  Because so many people really seem to think that it is better to have exceptional medical care for a few than decent medical care for all, and have no problem saying so.

7.  Because it is fucking heartbreaking to watch ordinary people, many of them lower-middle or working class, make impassioned statements that boil down to arguing that they should keep suffering so that insurance and pharmaceutical companies can keeping getting richer.

8.  Because for about 5 seconds it seemed that, for once in my adult life, something in American might actually change for the better, and I can’t stand watching too closely as that possibility apparently goes down the tubes.

jke

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Beer Summit for Black Woman?

Will the Black woman who was removed from Claire McCaskill’s town hall meeting on health care get a “beer summit” at the White House? Turns out she was reacting after a white woman snatched a poster of Rosa Parks out of her hand. The white woman then ripped up the poster. After the Black woman reacted, she was quickly removed from the town hall meeting. According to MSNBC, the white woman was not. McCaskill tries to explain what happened to the crowd, but quickly aborts that attempt as boos erupt from the audience.

Here’s the video–notice the freeze frame of the “angry Black woman.”

Obama, hello?

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Julie and Julia

I found Nora Ephron’s portrayal of a 30-year-old blogger in Julie and Julia so offensive I’m going to indulge in an intergenerational critique. Generally I try to avoid harping on generational differences between women, associating it as I do with whiny middle-class white women suffering from a prolonged case of adolescent rebellion. But Ephron’s portrayal of Julie Powell, who created the Julie/Julia Project in 2002, a blog that described a year-long journey to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s epic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” dismissed the continued difficulties of women seeking a purpose outside of the traditional roles of raising children and the newer imperative of making lots of money to prove that their self-sufficiency and independence is deserved.

Powell was a failed novelist who worked in a cubical at the lower Manhattan redevelopment project when she began her year-long project, which landed her a book deal, the rights of which were also sold to produce Julie and Julia. I didn’t read the blog—not many people read blogs back then, difficult as it is to remember this—but I did read and enjoy the book. Powell’s life as a childless 30-something woman who expresses no desire for children, whose career has stalled and whose ambition has become nameless spoke to me, as I spent my first year outside of academia struggling to build credibility as fledgling journalist. It was a pleasure to see Powell develop her own sense of legitimacy as a writer through her blog. I liked the portrayal of the complexities of her marriage in the book too, grateful for a story from a woman who seemed to be on equal footing in her relationship with her husband, despite the fact that she was rather lost in her work while he was on steady ground.

None of the pleasures of the book translated in the film, where Julie is a spoiled brat, who whines her way through a year of cooking as her husband, “the saint,” a title the character at one point disavows but the film ultimately endorses, lends his strong shoulder of support. A typical scene: Julie drops a stuffed piece of foul, sinks to the floor in a tantrum and slathers herself in the stuffing, which appeared to be pate- based. Meanwhile, her sage husband calmly fields a phone call from a reporter who wants to do a story on the Julie/Julia project, which the pate-covered Julie accepts, rising from the floor, but still sniffing, toddler-like.
One might conclude from the repetition of such scenes in the Julie segments of the film that Ephron lacks respect for women, but then there is her tender, thoughtful representation of Julia Child. In the movie, Child is a misfit of a woman who nonetheless blazes passionately through her life with little regrets, but one: She is unable to have a child. And since “one must do something,” as Child says in the film, she learns to cook, and brings the United States French cooking in the form of her book, her accomplishment offered to the world in lieu of her heart’s desire of children.

What then, is Julie’s blog, clearly not a stand in for a child? Given how it serves as a way for her to master and manage her own impetuous temperament, the blog seems like Julie’s pacifier. A child’s toy.

Indeed the contrast between Julia and Juila’s levels of maturity are so pronounced that the audience might have been shocked if reminded of the slight age difference between the two. Julia is 36 when the film begins, a mere 6 years older than Julie, which indicated to me that Ephron’s problem is with younger women of my generation. Rather than using the clear parallels between the women’s lives to tell an intergenerational story by comparison and contrast, the film simply finds a whining Julie undeserving of comparison.

Julie, the film suggests, who doesn’t long for children, revere her husband, or slog through the time-honored process of slaving away on an opus to see her words in print, does not have a life to be taken seriously.

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One Feminist Analysis of Gates Arrest on NPR

A woman called in a comment on the Gates incident to Talk of the Nation, read aloud by Neal Conan today, one of the most hilarious I’ve heard so far. After identifying herself as African American, the woman summed up her analysis of the Gates arrest in three words: “Too much testosterone.” Priceless.

htg03

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Food Inc.’s Blind Spot

I fixated on the carrera marble backsplash of Eric Scholsser’s kitchen throughout Food Inc., even though only a few scenes were shot in his kitchen. I sincerely admire the muckraking work of Fast Food Nation, and Scholsser changed how I eat, as did Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. But as I intimated in another post, the elitism that marks the reception of their books– I believe I called this, inelegantly, the “whole fart smelling aspect of it”– puts me off. I don’t believe the books themselves necessarily lean in this elitist direction, but the uses of the book do. I liked aspects of Food Inc., as a film can capture image in a visceral way that is difficult for a book to replicate. I would challenge anyone to catch a glimpse of a typical Tyson chicken house and then eat a Tyson chicken. That is, if they can afford to make that choice. The central thrust of Food Inc is that real food costs more, and we should be willing to pay more. The people who can’t may more? I found that the film demurred on that point, and at moments, like in the trophy kitchen shots, appeared totally clueless. People with money telling everyday folks to spend more on food seems really nutty to me. And I found and still find myself hoping that future work aimed at challenging the food industry and consumption habits could show people how to alter their diets for the better while spending the same amount of money at the grocery store. At this point, it seems to me that a good batch of bean recipes would have a broader political impact than the entire film. If we aren’t coupling muckraking with viable solutions, what are we doing but talking to each other, and patting ourselves and our heritage pork on the back for it?

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