Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fast Food Nation in 3 Media




A couple days ago, I finished this book. It starts out with some fine writing. Schlosser started out writing an article for Rolling Stone and it starts with enough hooks to keep you turning the magazine pages, and even pick up the next issue. It does tend to bog down when he expanded it to book length, but still a book well worth reading if you don't already know more than you care to about how your hamburgers are made. Growing up in Southern California around the time the book's action begins there, where fast food restaurants first begin to blight the landscape, I can remember the novelty of Macdonalds when it came to Sherman Oaks, and how it was avoided by my family and our friends because we valued Good hamburgers, then available in great variety throughout LA. I did like the Bob's Big Boy but I don't recall it being franchised at that time (Kennedy administration). Of course, if Bobs made its hamburgers the way they are described in this book and I was aware of that, I probably would have remained a vegetarian (we started eating meat in 62 when I was 11). Interesting parallel stories of Walt Disney and Macdonalds' Kroc. But that was a far more innocent world. As the book points out, fast food has altered the American (etc) landscape, and increasingly, the American waistline so profoundly it's as if Disneyland had taken over the world and everything was now a Disney ride. A ride with really wide seats.
When I mentioned I was reading this book over dinner at Zen last week with Dino and Krista, they told me it was a flick. At first I thought they were talking about Supersize It, which had been shown on CBC recently. No, they meant Fast Food Nation-The Flick. So yesterday, after finishing the book, I rented the DVD.
Notice the title of this post is 3 media. Seeing the flick and watching all the extra material on DVD, such as watching the flick for the second time with Schlosser and the filmaker Linklater commenting is a totally different media experience. In the first, I got right into the story, which Schlosser wisely changed from non-fiction to narrative. Smuggling Mexicans into the US to work at the hamburger plant reminded me of Babel (excellent flick I saw recently, particularly the scenes shot in Tokyo where I'll be filming in a few monthes), A Day Without a Mexican (whose writer appears as a character in FFN) and from a couple of decades ago, El Norte. In the DVD, the characters and filmakers talk about how Americans are unaware of the plight of the Mexican illegal worker, but it ain't for lack of flicks about the subject.
It was interesting to see scenes in the story which come directly out of the non-fiction work. I see this as a very inspiring template for future conversions of data to story. On the PBS show Novel Reflections on the tube last night, Steinbeck, in a segment about his writing of Grapes of Wrath, is reported to have felt "fiction is an instrument for bringing the news to people." The screenplay for FFN owes and acknowledges its debt to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Child labour laws ower their existance to Dickens' novels. There are more examples, but not enough.
When I saw Farenheit 911, I thought that was the future of political film makings. Now I think, although FFN wasn't nearly as good, because it is Story rather than Tome, it has a better chance of influencing people than Moore (though Moore is much funnier AND angrier).
The DVD also features the pointed animation of The Meatrix, and another clip called The Backwards Hamburger. On Air America yesterday, someone was talking about how cops never eat in fast food restaurants, cuz they know what the meals really consist of. Will watching this flick,and the DVD extras bring about a change in peoples' eating habits? The flick's main character, an executive of the hamburger chain "Mickeys," chows down on his company's burger even though he knows its full of cow feces. As the Kris Kristofferson character says, the machine has taken over America. But by and large, most Americans don't mind. So many people can't afford to eat anything else (or so they've been led to believe- great scene in the flick where the Arquette character microwaves scrambled eggs in a package, instead of actually scrambling real eggs). Now with corn being diverted into ethanol production, tortillas are becomming less affordable in Mexico, forcing more people to make the arduous journey to the US to work in its meat factories. A viscious circle not unlike global warming, which all those farting and belching cows only worsen.
Even before they began making albums, the Firesign Theatre spoke of the War with the Cows in one of their early plays. On one of their radio shows, they speculated that the reason cows have bloodshot eyes is because they know their fate. When Fumiyo was in India 8 years ago, she noticed how contented the cows were there, knowing that no harm would come to them. We don't HAVE to be a fast food nation. Just as I saw the fast food industry in its infancy in LA in my childhood, I may see it fade in my old age. Or not. But the vegetarianism of my first 11 years is looking increasingly appealing to me now.

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