In mid August, Murdoch columnist and ABC board member Janet Albrechtsen introduced an evening with limp cultural warrior Mark Steyn at the Sydney-based think-tank Centre for Independent Studies. “Capitalism has won the day quite simply because it works”, she stated. She should see the new film, Fast Food Nation, and her dreamy ideology might not look so rosy.
Based on Eric Schlosser’s best-selling book on America’s obsession with junk food, the source of that food and the immigrant workers who produce it, director Richard Linklater’s foray into political film-making is a powerful indictment of corporate America. During a preview screening in Sydney last night, Linklater said that Fast Food Nation was a “global mindset…where corporate profits win over humanity.”
The food industry is scared. Its US campaign to discredit the movie was leaked to the Wall Street Journal in May and McDonalds in Australia have “conveniently” released TV advertisements that claim the meat factories from which their burgers originate are as pure as snow.
The film has a number of narrative strains but revolves around a marketing executive from a leading hamburger chain who slowly discovers the real contents of his company’s burgers. The workers at the fast-food outlet are shown to be underpaid but idealistic. The workers at the abattoir are principally Mexican migrants who sneak across the border to find a better life. The characters’ lives never interact, but they’re all essential cogs in a system that devalues responsibility and cherishes greed. The American Dream is exposed as an exploitative mirage.
Linklater told the packed audience in Bondi last night that the recent success of Super Size Me helped Fast Food Nation get off the ground. They can be seen as companion pieces because they present opposite ends of the junk food experience. The gruesome scenes in the slaughter-house should be enough to convert even the most tragic meat-lover.
For ideologues like Albrechtsen, the reality of abused, non-unionised and unprotected foreign workers in the heart of America matters little, so long as they have their well-paid columnist gig that rarely takes them away from Surry Hills.
Fast Food Nation is a wake-up call for us all.