Monday, November 17, 2008

Food Fight


Food Fight
Directed by Stefan Nadelman, USA, 5 minutes 30 seconds
Source: Tourist Pictures

"Food Fight" is a really clever film made using (digital) stop-motion animation. The film traces the general history of "American-centric" warfare from World War I up to the second Gulf War, substituting food for human beings.

The foodstuff replacement functions on two levels: first, it preempts any offensive characterization (or, as some might see it, caricaturization) of entire nations by an outsider. In such a simple stop-motion animation film, it's absolutely necessary to depict the players in each war as sweeping generalizations, or to go even further, as symbols. Furthermore, in order for the viewer to be able to play the guessing game of figuring out the wars being shown, these symbols need to be radically different from one another and based in something culturally recognizable. In light of these necessities, if Nadelman had attempted to fashion clay figurines of Japanese people, for example, as an American director he would likely run the risk of being called out as racially insensitive. Food, however, is something we all know and love (...dare I use the much-maligned word "universal"?); anybody can identify at least one food item that is strongly associated with their native country, and most people can associate certain foods with those foods' respective countries of origin. To go back to the example of Japan, then, using sushi to symbolize Japan as an entire nation/military player, as Nadelman does, is a relatively innocuous symbolization that also dodges esotericism.

Second, replacing people with food items highlights the absurdity of war. Although I'm sure anyone would be much pressed to say that war is funny, I would call "Food Fight" a humorous film. Obviously the incessant barrage of war depictions also plays a crucial role in creating a farcical effect, but by separating warfare from human beings, Nadelman severs the profoundly emotional ties we as human beings may have to a specific war/conflict, to warfare in general, or to the more general idea of death and destruction. In halting these instinctual associations, we can momentarily distance ourselves from warfare--and if, like me, you think this is an antiwar film, we can see with more clarity the silliness of waging war and the unnecessary destruction it causes.

That said, I really enjoy the interactive nature of this film. Nadelman wrote on the website on which the film premiered (www.touristpictures.com) that he had received conflicting suggestions to have captions and to not have captions [specifying nations and wars], but ultimately decided to not have captions so as to let the viewer probe the depths of her gastronomical knowledge/high school history education for what each food fight sequence represents. I'll let you all decide if this film could function as propaganda, if it perpetuates an American imperialist agenda, insert-your-view-on-the-theory-of-history-here, but I won't talk anymore about it, because I think the best way to view "Food Fight" is to first go blindly into it, then afterwards look at the food fight cheat sheet and watch it again.

13 comments:

J.J. said...

How are there no comments on this entry? It, and the short film, are great, and the topic is ripe for conversation.

Jen said...

In some ways it's like the connection between war and food doesn't actually release us from our proximity to violence/warfare/etc. Food is one of the most definitive and unalienable examples of culture and cultural influence, and war is the great disrupter of culture (and so much more). So in a way, it's jarring and strange to see these various ideological sides condensed to the most base representation of their culture. This is kind of a douchey comment but SO BE IT.

Cecilia C-W said...

The point about the juxtaposition of war and food is well taken, but I'm not sure I understand how that doesn't actually release us from our proximity to violence/warfare. Do you mean that the close comparison of the two is a suggestion that the drive to wage war is part of human nature?

To veer off-topic a bit, the first thing I thought of when I watched this was those anti-smoking posters that were popular in the 90s that featured photos of various animals with lit cigarettes superimposed into their mouths under the tagline, "you look just as stupid when you do it."

Jen said...

Not a suggestion that waging war is a condition of being human, but that the use of inanimate objects like food seems like an idea that would totally allow for that disconnect but the cultural implications of it actually draws the two together in a pretty profound way. We identify and connect with food because it is both an incredibly common presence in our lives, but also a marker of cultural siding. So I guess to see that which we hold dear on a pretty intrinsic level (the eats) fighting our human battles (the wars) for us is pretty fascinating. It initially seems like a premise that would lend itself to a little whimsy and a little fantasy, but in fact it's way more stirring than that.


I'm hungry.

david said...

I had an argument once with an art history professor over whether or not it was ok for British artists commissioned to record World War II to paint beautiful abstract images of battles and destruction. Food fights are funny and this film is even more detached than those paintings. That guy would have hated this film. It's an amusing project but unless it's just yet another way of saying war is absurd, I think I'm missing the point.

Cecilia C-W said...

Was this professor's argument against aestheticized violence? For the sake of argument, I'll assume it was: like you said, this film is amusing, but it does not intend to be beautiful-- doesn't that preempt the charge of making the destruction of warfare look appealing? Although I suppose it does intend to look delicious, so maybe I've just contradicted myself...

Lindsay Z. said...

This is so great. I think the decision not to use text was wise, I like the overall minimalist aesthetic and it's pretty easy to ruin that with some superfluous text.

David K said...

The film had a strange effect on me. Rather than comically distancing me from the violence (so I could laugh), I found that the comedic effects actually hurt me, that wanting to laugh at this actually hurt. I seem to instinctively deconstruct the appropriateness of these images; and when I do, that's what digs down, touches me, makes me remember. War is this ridiculous. While it's not great art, it's pretty courageous, no?

charlotte said...

I will never look at sushi and croissants the same again.

Simply put, the point I got from this was how ridiculous war, killing, etc. is... The director chose something we can all relate with and used it to illustrate the absurdity of warfare.

Sarah C. said...

This just made me really hungry.

Drew Rosensweig said...

Talk about food for thought.

Jan Michael said...

Salvador Dali playing Gordon Ramsay... Bon appetit!

Johnny said...

one aspect of the food as nations/combatants symbolism that i wondered at: the fact that as one foodstuff attacks another, they lose a bit of themselves in the process. this was most poignant when the japanese kamikazi sushi pieces slammed into american burgers, or when the falafel suicide bombers struck. that's the nature of war: even the "winners" lose something of themselves.
glad somebody brought up the animals smoking ads, this film is operating in the aesop's fables tradition of distancing us from serious subjects through absurd/comedic protagonists.
this distance allows for an often more informing discourse than the depiction or discussion of actual events.
also, there's a joke about this film being tasteless waiting to happen somewhere, but i can't quite put my finger on it...