In almost every movie ever made, at some point, a character will consume animal products: a cheeseburger, a steak, a tuna sandwich, an omelet, a slice of pizza, a milk shake…whatever. Often, the script will even have characters specifically voice their love for such fare. In the reviews of these films, of course, you will see no mention of this. No film reviewer would ever condemn a movie simply because the protagonist ate and enjoyed, say, a grilled cheese sandwich. However, if you were to release a movie that directly addressed the standard American diet and animal consumption, every wiseass writer would be poised and ready to get glib and trivialize the message. It’s all part of the subtle, daily conditioning we endure. If you don’t believe me, check out some of the headlines for “Fast Food Nation”
“‘Fast Food’ serves a lot to chew on” (San Jose Mercury News) “It’s a whopper!” (Edmonton Sun) “Beefing Up ‘Fast Food Nation’” (Washington Post) “Mistake on a bun” (Toronto Star) “‘Fast Food Nation’ bites off too little as a drama” (Seattle Post
Intelligencer) “‘Fast Food Nation’ serves up revolting food for thought” (Los Angeles Daily) “Linklater spoon-feeds audience ‘Fast Food Nation’” (Reno Gazette-Journal) “Order of ‘Fast Food’ difficult to stomach” (Boston Herald)
Then we have A.O. Scott, film reviewer for the newspaper of record, the New York Times. Scott’s review (“Will ‘Fast Food Nation’ spoil your appetite?”) wastes no time in mocking the movie’s mission. In the first sentence, Scott broaches “the subject of spinach.” To Scott, “Fast Food Nation” “dwells on conditions in the feed lots and slaughterhouses” where cows are “future hamburgers.” Thus, he says, one cannot help but indulge the “impulse to point out that contaminated leafy greens have recently sickened more people than dirty meat.” Scott evens add: “So there.”
Following that, this polemic disguised as a review still doesn’t talk about the film itself. Instead, Scott gleefully points out that, at Cannes, “American journalists bragged (or at least joked) about heading for the local McDonald’s after the “Fast Food Nation” screening, as if to prove they had resisted its lessons.” Did Scott finally discuss the movie after this? Nope. He chose instead to quote Bruce Willis (who appears in the film) as saying, “Most people don’t like to be told what’s best for them.”
Eventually, Scott gets around to saying a few positive things about “Fast Food Nation”, but how many folks were still reading the review at that point? It isn’t until the last paragraph that he mentions the “mute, helpless suffering of the cows,” and calls the film “necessary and nourishing.”
If I was a pithy headline writer, I might say: “New York Times: Junk Food Journalism.”
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.