Friday, 15 March 2013

The Politics of the Campaigning Culinary Documentary

At the end of last year, Joanne Hollows gave a paper on ‘The Politics of the Campaigning Culinary Documentary’ at the International Symposium on Media, Food and Identity at the University of Copenhagen (13-14 November 2012).

Joanne identified campaigning culinary documentaries as structured around a problem-solving narrative in which television personalities and celebrities drawn from the world of food media seek to utilize their status to affect some kind of social, economic or cultural change. While drawing on conventions from lifestyle programming and documentary formats, they frequently also draw heavily on conventions from reality TV. This sub-genre not only relies on the ‘makeover’ format in its use of ‘ordinary people’ whose habits must be transformed but represents the food personality or celebrity as an ‘inspirational’ figure who is potentially capable of effecting a much wider-scale makeover of institutions, industries or practices.  Many of these conventions were first utilized effectively in Jamie’s School Dinners (2005) and, in the UK, the format has remained closely associated with Channel 4 in series such as Jamie’s Ministry of Food (2008), Hugh’s Chicken Run (2008), The People’s Supermarket (2011) and Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket (2012).

In this paper, Joanne focused on these examples to explore how they represent the relationships between the classed and gendered identities of both the ‘inspirational’ food personalities at the centre of these series who act as campaigning moral entrepreneurs and the ‘ordinary people’ whose habits must be made-over or transformed if social change is to occur. She examined how these identities are associated with different ethical dispositions, both in Bourdieu’s theoretical sense of the term and in relation to more commonsense understandings of ‘ethical consumption’.  However, Joanne also suggested that these series work to individualize social and economic problems and also work to associate political responsibility with charismatic individuals rather than government responsibility. This is located within a broader context of the current political climate in the UK.


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