The 18-minute segment is filled with media literacy gems (and fair warning: plenty of profanity since it’s HBO afterall). Oliver calls out the “Dr. Evil” of the public relations industry (Rick Berman) for a transparent lack of transparency. Oliver also points out the ridiculosity in the lobbying efforts of “Citizens for Fire Safety” (a front group for chemical companies that manufacture fire retardants) and its attempt to promote fire retardants through the paid testimony of a paid doctor who can’t keep his story straight. Oliver shows footage from the brilliant 2014 documentary film “Merchants of Doubt” (based on the book by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes) directed by Robert Kenner and produced by Participant Media. The film is well worth watching as it peels back the veil on the public relations magic of the tobacco industry and how the playbook is replicated in other arenas, including that of climate change.
In this Last Week Tonight segment, Oliver also calls attention to the fumblings and falsehood of paid demonstrators (“Crowds on Demand”). But he also cautions viewers against assuming that everyone who dissents is paid as a crisis actor or as an astroturfer. It is a slippery slope when viewers take critical thinking to the extreme and become cynical and dispirited.
Ultimately, Oliver has a well-balanced call to action: More corporate transparency at the macro level and a healthy dose of media literacy education at the micro level. Or as Oliver says, “fighting candle fire with candle fire.” You’ll understand the reference after watching the video below. Enjoy.
Food media literacy is essential to health. Achieving both requires not just unpacking the ingredients of foods but also decoding how the messages about them are packaged and delivered for ideological consumption.
Some have criticized the video as a slick marketing move that fictionally portrays, at best, an exceptionally pristine processing plant and, at worst, something carefully staged for the cameras. The reality lies probably somewhere between the two. A media literate viewer has the ability to separate observation from interpretation. In other words, what do we actually see in the video? And what do we infer from what we see in the video? In other words, how do we know what we know? A core question of media literacy education.
The video emphasizes the technical processes (clearly Imahara’s comfort zone as an engineer) yet he behaves more like a boy at an amusement park. Smiling with eyes twinkling, he gazes upon the rows of headless chicken corpses on conveyor posts (animal rights activists, beware) and exclaims: “Amy, this blows my mind! I mean, there are multiple lines of peoplemaking cuts on the chicken just like you would at home or just like a butcher would!” Gazing upon a jacuzzi-size mixing vat combining all the ingredients Imahara exclaims: “I can’t stop watching it. It’s like a lava lamp!” It may be worth noting at this point that a classic lava lamp consists of only 5 simple ingredients (water, mineral oil, paraffin wax, and carbon tetrachloride) whereas McNuggets allegedly contain upward of 40 ingredients.
The point of this video, however, isn’t the substance of the McNugget, it is in the steps taken to create an amusing, awe-some visual display to enamor the viewer with extraordinary spectacle while at the same time convincing the viewer that there is nothing out of the ordinary happening in this processing plant. Along those lines, perhaps the video should be re-titled, “The Making of the McNugget.” If only the Internet could transmit scent, then another facet of this story surely would be told: Would we smell something fishy? Even less transparent are the rows and rows of line workers covered in hairnets, scrubs, and donning very sharp knives—no doubt on their feet all day doing monotonous assembly-line work.
Granted, this video is much less disturbing as compared to the R-rated scenes depicted in Fast Food Nation. Moreover, there is a simplistic Rube Goldberg-like quality in “What are McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets Made Of?” that overshadows the food adulteration committed to achieve the golden nugget at the end of this technological rainbow. It’s as far from a whole food as you can get.
It is worth noting that YouTube viewers commenting on this video confess to eating (more like hedonistically devouring) McNuggets regardless of their ingredients or nutritional composition, which raises additional concerns about human selection of food based primarily (and in this case, exclusively) according to flavor and texture. Preferential treatment, indeed. Surely celebrity chef Jamie Oliver made this point loud and clear when he demonstrated for a group of children in the United States the gruesome process involved in making chicken nuggets. With this new knowledge of ingredient composition, the children remained unchanged in their voracious appetite for the chicken nugget. (Here is where I cue a re-mix of the “Star Spangled Banner” and McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It!” jingle).
But perhaps none of these food science issues are of concern to consumers. Afterall, industrial technology, sanitization, and assembly-line efficiency are as American as apple pie (which can also be found on the McDonald’s dollar menu, by the way). If McNuggets are not of national concern, then at least food media literacy should be of concern: What are the trade-offs of production and popularity of McNuggets? And are these trade-offs worth the environmental costs and the unintended health consequences that may result? (e.g., obesity, diabetes, heart disease). Something to chew on, America.