By virtue of its necessity, simple food can be a powerful tool for manipulation; a hungry man is a weak man. Even more powerful, however, is food so seductive or somehow desirable that it can be used to manipulate even a sated man. In “Momotaro’s Sea Eagle,” we saw the use of culinary images like the peach and millet dumplings from the iconic Momotaro story in such a propagandistic sense. The film’s army of peppy critters joyfully munched on these snacks, evocative of the shared history of the Momotaro tale, while they determinedly destroyed the obviously Hawaiian naval base of the “Red Demons.”
While not quite a conflict on the scale of World War II, the struggle through the Football season in the greater Pittsburgh area in Pennsylvania is an intense one for Steelers fans. TV spots air, players appear on local news for interviews, and the wearing of jerseys increases exponentially. One bizarre practice of the community is the production by local snack makers of Steelers themed chips. I don’t know if this is a unique practice, but I’ve always thought it strange, browsing the grocery store isles to find black and yellow tortilla chips with the usual Tostitos. These bags will occasionally sport pictures of players in dramatic or triumphant poses, with a one sided message for Steeler Country.
These sexy chips function essentially like the snacks of the Momotaro film- representing themselves as the snack of a shared culture and the starting point for a Go-Team patriotism. They go well with salsa too.
The first image an American might come up with when asked about propagandistic food might be “freedom fries”, or the less well-known “freedom toast”, renamed because of French opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Few might look at their own families for sources of propagandistic food, but that is actually one of the first things I thought on the topic. My mom loved telling me in my childhood that eating spicy foods would result in a long and energetic lifespan, pointing at my grandmother (her mother), who was well past 70 but still climbing apartment stairs and working in the medical lab daily. I cannot remember what I thought of food when I was young, though I suspect I avoided my greens; nevertheless, I have been eating spicy foods for as long as I remember.
As I write this, I am also aware that many people simply cannot tolerate spicy food. The only way I could rationalize this scientifically was to think that perhaps these people had too many spicy taste buds on their tongues, whereas I had too many burned away over the course of the years. But even if that were true, that would suggest that at some point in time, I too was not able to tolerate spicy foods well. It just goes to show how powerful propaganda in food can be, especially on a child whose mind can be easily molded. Though I cannot remember it, the lull of a longer, more eventful life seems to have encouraged me to pick up spicy foods, to such an extent that my tolerance of spice has kept going up for as long as I can remember – and to the chagrin of friends who try spicy dishes I recommend.
I am sure many of us have seen the Reese’s Puffs commercial in which the cereal is presented as the gateway to good fortune. As soon as the boy puts one spoonful in his mouth, his life becomes infinitely better. His parents suddenly treat him as their master and allow him to do anything that his heart desires. After just one bite, he becomes extremely popular and catches the eye of a famous music group. Not only does this advertisement portray Reese’s Puffs cereal as something absolutely fantastic, but it also brainwashes young children to believe that they too can make their dreams come true after eating some. The boy’s sister seems to carry on with her drab life, probably due to the fact that she herself has not yet had a bite of the wondrous cereal. This definitely underscores the fact that it is indeed the Reese’s Puffs that have forever changed his fate. However, the real propaganda tool is the sister, who desperately tries to get her hands on the cereal box. She represents all the young children who are also dying to try just one bite of Reese’s Puffs. By observing her, they truly believe that the cereal is the key component to success.
Similarly, after becoming familiar with Momotaro’s myth, it is rather likely that millet dumplings became extremely popular in Japan because they were associated with effortless victory. People truly believed that if they too were to consume these “magical” dumplings, they would be guaranteed lifelong success in anything they tried to conquer. Almost everyone loves to eat food–what better way is there to distribute the message of Japanese nationalism through patriotic millet dumplings?
We will watch the Momotarō film in class. As you watch, and as you read, think about:
?: what elements seem to vary, between versions? What elements are a constant–and seem to resemble a structure, something fixed?
?: like Ryuji, Momotarō is a young peach. How do the qualities people usually look for in a child help him in his cause as a warrior?
Note: the NDL (national diet library) book is much better when viewed on line here.
Don’t forget to watch the Momotarō jazz opera [search for Momotarō in the blog search box]
No blog entry–blog entry is due on a “mythic or propagandistic food” on Tuesday, October 19.