WRH 315: Propaganda and You

Critical Analysis Part 1: Food, Inc.

Posted on: April 23, 2010

When most people think of propaganda films, they associate them with a major organization that has a negative or detrimental political agenda that reaches a large audience. For instance, the propaganda films from Nazi Germany are infamous for spreading the negative ideals of the Nazi party through the medium of film in order to present their message to the country. However, elements of propaganda films can also be incorporated into films that have messages that seek to implement positive change within society. For example, the Academy Award nominated documentary Food, Inc. has a mission of revealing the detrimental practices of corporate farming in the U.S. food industry; at the end, the film provides audience with steps they can take to improve the sustainability of their food-purchasing practices. Nevertheless, like other propaganda films, Food, Inc. uses the four stratagems of persuasion in order to convey their message in a visually-striking, almost shocking manner that captures and holds the audience’s attention. Therefore, the four stratagems of persuasion are used in the film Food, Inc. in order to convey the movie’s message as propaganda for positive change.

Pre-persuasion is established immediately in the film’s first scene. The opening credits and one of the film’s commentator’s off-screen narration take place within a typical American grocery store. As the opening credits roll by, one of the film’s commentators noted that most corporate food producers, especially meat companies, use the image of the pastoral farm to advertise their products. According to the commentator on the film, by using the image of a farm, the customers associate farm-fresh quality and wholesomeness with the large corporations’ meat and produce. Sure enough, the grocery store in focus has images of red barns, cattle, and burly white men in overalls over its meat and produce displays. Following the introduction, images of cow carcasses hanging from a conveyor belt in an industrial slaughter-house and an aerial view of miles of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) with thousands of cows contradict the food companies’ “farm fresh” marketing campaigns. The juxtaposition of the images of the food companies’ campaigns in the grocery store and their actual meat-processing facilities establish pre-persuasion by discrediting the food companies’ advertising campaigns and exposing the true nature of mass food production. Thus, the film’s introduction establishes their credibility with pre-persuasion by exposing the truth behind food companies’ mass-production methods.

The film also establishes source credibility through its commentators and interviewees. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, both served as commentators in various sections of the movie. Pollan and Schlosser conducted extensive research in the U.S. food industry before the publication of their books on the subject, and both authors and are currently activists for sustainable food production. Schlosser is even shown serving as an advocate against genetically modified produce during a California House of Representatives session focused on developing a law requiring the labeling of genetically modified produce in stores. The film also establishes source credibility by interviewing a contract chicken farmer for Tyson. The farmer took the film crew on a tour in one of her chicken houses where she raised chickens for Tyson. The conditions of the chicken house were severe, with the animals crowded together from hatching to shipment to Tyson with little ventilation or light. The chickens were also given food with growth hormones so that they would reach development faster for quicker production. The farmer expressed disdain for Tyson and their requirements for raising chickens, but she also stated that with production costs, she would not be able to afford to operate the farm independently. Thus, the film establishes credibility by providing sources both inside and outside of the food industry.

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