Friday, May 24, 2013

Film Friday: Hoodwinked and the Food Industry

The 2005 animated film Hoodwinked, directed by brothers Cory and Todd Edwards and their friend Tony Leech, has become a forgotten film in the era of Ice Age and Shrek (to say nothing of the Pixar films).   One reason for this is that the people responsible for it never became associated with one specific studio or company.   Hoodwinked had trouble getting released because the original producer only really had the money to finance the film's making and did not have the resources to distribute it, eventually selling the rights to the Weinstein Company.  (This move left the producer, financier Muarice Kanabar, in a difficult position when the sequel was being made and distributed.)   It received very mixed reviews, but was very successful at the box office, relative to its cost.  (Most critics complained that the animation was cheap.) 

I only saw this the other night with the kids.  I was amazed.  No, not by the animation effects.  Not by the heartwarming story of a sheltered girl who gets a crack at adventure, and not even by the amusing homages to police procedurals and Rashomon (yes, that's right: the Kurosawa drama with the same event told from multiple perspectives; don't be shocked, other cartoons do it, hell, I even saw a Johhny Bravo toon that did it). 

What stunned me was the way that the film captured the growing economic crisis that we have suffered now for years, and especially its depiction of one specific industry in particular, the food industry.

After the initial setup of the Red Riding Hood fairy tale -- kid discovers Grandma is really Wolf, Grandma tied up in closet, huntsman comes blasting through with his ax -- the action stops: the woods police enters the scene and begins asking questions.    And as Red tells her story first, we learn that the woods is in crisis: local goodie shops are closing because of the Recipe Bandit, who is stealing their recipes for their special treats.  As Red rides on her bike through the woods, and sees the shops closing and disappointed woods creatures, with heads bowed, leaving their businesses, I was struck by the images of economic malaise of our time.  You can do the same shot of most major and minor U.S. cities and see lots of shops closed with "for rent" signs in the windows.  Some saw this as an allegory of Wal-Mart shutting down Mom and Pop stores (the film-makers don't really buy that interpretation), but one could also argue that in the Information Age where data travels so quickly, businesses are also affected by people not having to rely on knowledge only held by those companies. (This reminds me of the mythic e-mail of the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe. Or the classic "Soup Nazi" episode of Seinfeld, where Elaine obtains the recipes for the soup man's soups and he retaliates by closing up his shop.) 

That said, the Wal-Mart allegory does gain some steam as the villain reveals his plan: he is going to use all the recipes to make his own brand of goodies and be the only game in town.  (That's kinda Wal-Mart-ish, no?)  And to ensure he stays on top, he's adding a special ingredient that will keep people addicted to his snacks.

When I saw that revealed, I thought: holy crap this bastard is working for Kraft Foods! Or Nabisco, or any of these snack food or fast food companies, who do work very hard at making food that will keep customers hooked.   This is no fairy tale.  The former CEO of Kraft has spoken out against his own industry.  What the villain is plotting to do do is exactly what this industry has done for decades.  And dammit we all know how effective it is. 

So in this sense we should not compare Hoodwinked  to the films of its era, like Ice Age or Shrek or Cars.  But rather, we might want to compare it to documentaries like Super-Size Me or Food Inc.  These are sobering films about the damage that Corporate Food does to the environment and to the body, of course, but sometimes the fairy tales can cut closer to the bone.  Like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, whose story of the demise of public transportation in L.A. has its roots in what supposedly did happen, Hoodwinked gives us a picture of an industry driven by only by greed. 

This being a Hollywood cartoon, the villain is defeated and the principal characters find their next careers working as special agents (the sequel setup is painfully obvious).  That brings us back to the fairy tale.  In the real world, the villain does get to make us all hooked.  And the system is left off the hook because it is represented by one character;  benign capitalism benefits all.  Talk about hoodwinked.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Film Friday: Angie's Tits

First, it's remarkable in this social media age that Angelina Jolie could have major surgery like this and keep it secret.  Wow. 

Jolie's decision to have preventive mastectomies, based on her genetic history and a high probability that she would develop breast cancer, has been very much the subject of what I might call intellectual-tabloid discourse, as opposed to, well, anything to do with Kardashians.  Her choice brings up the issues of medical ethics: is it right to remove healthy tissue, and a substantial amount of it, as a preventive measure (and to put in implants that have also been the subject of controversy in terms of safety, at least in the past)?  The question of cost has also come up: who has the kind of money to spend on the sophisticated tests, and who can afford what her insurance company would call elective surgery?  Others have also questioned whether or not any lifestyle changes might prevent Jolie from meeting the same fate that claimed her mother. 

I would suggest that family history means only so much, that you are an individual and not defined solely by genetic fate. Then again, I'm also of the opinion that, in the words of Joe Jackson, everything gives you cancer.  It's gonna get us all one of these days, so why bother having the kind of surgery Jolie did?

Ultimately, when you have lots of money, you can afford as many options as there are.  Can the 99 percent get access to this kind of health care?  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

O.J. Returns, and so do I

After several weeks of general chaos of preparations for various May Madness events -- three birthdays and Mother's Day -- I finally have a bit of time to write.  So naturally, I'm going to write about O.J. Simpson's appearance in a Vegas courtroom as he attempts to get a new trial in his robbery case on the basis of incompetent counsel.

Naturally, because the media coverage of Simpson's murder trial -- some of you young people might think that he only starred in some tv movie playing a man accused of killing two people, but kids, it really happened -- became very much my academic work for about seven years.  It was the subject of my dissertation, entitled, "Framing O.J.: Allegories of Knowledge Production in the O.J. Simpson Case."  Though I've moved on to other things, I still grab the tabloids when O.J. makes the front page, which is usually every six or seven months.  And considering all the things going on, what needs to be said about our continued fascination with Simpson, when his mere appearance in court prompts the two competing New York tabloids, the Daily News and the Post , to put his photo on the front page:

As you can see, the papers are having fun reporting that Simpson has put on a little weight.  I'd already seen for myself because of this CNN video showing O.J.'s court appearance.

I remember watching and thinking how pathetic Simpson looked, big, old, eyes bloodshot.  I didn't need to read any articles like the one in the News about how Simpson no longer worked out and pretty much ate junk food.  You could see the pain; his arthritic knees must be killing him.  This clip is just of him entering the courtroom, no news-anchor narration to explain what was going on. That made it much easier to just watch this aging con who once was as fluid a running back as ever played football, and as large a media personality in his time as Michael Jordan was in his. 

I must also confess that I imagined Colbert pointing out that this video was proof that O.J. could not have killed his ex-wife and her friend.  Colbert is good for that kind of twisted logic. 

Dare I dust off the aged dissertation, completed when by thirteen-year-old was a mere babe?  Nah.  Just another minor aftershock to the final Trial of the Century that was the 20th.