I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Fox Searchlight Pictures is releasing a movie called Fast Food Nation, which I imagine is based on a loose adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s compelling study of the fast food industry in the US. The book itself makes for an interesting read, ranging from the little-known political influences of the meat-packing industry, to the effects of fast food corporate sponsorship in the American educational system. Echoes of this book can certainly be found in Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners Campaign, which dominated the media debate on health and education in the UK about a year ago.
But the really interesting aspect of this story for me is the fact that the big names of the film industry are progressively embracing the idea of political movies as something that makes money. This is not about corporate social responsibility, on the contrary, it’s about exploiting the markets to the full, and policing other corporations in the process. Using the powerful and far-reaching medium of cinema, this new dynamic is changing the way people think on some pretty important issues, which until a few years ago were relegated to the dusty bookshelves of some university library. While I appreciate the risk that these films might be sensationalising some issues – as Paul pointed out in relation to the upcoming Di Caprio blockbuster Blood Diamond – it is also worth reminding ourselves that often corporations will only be moved to action when pressured by market forces.
In other words, while films might oversimplify the complexity of some of these issues, they serve a hugely important purpose, that is to awaken the all-too-often sleepy political conscience of the vast majority of people. And when people start questioning where their engagement rings come from, or why those burgers are so cheap, there’s a higher chance corporations will be moved to alter their behaviour. Most interestingly, the corporate system seems to be developing a self-monitoring mechanism, that picks up abuses at one end, and displays them to the public at the other end. And all this in the name of profit.
So, are the ways of capitalism truly infinite? Well, personally I am still very sceptical about the alleged wisdom of markets, but I have to admit they are showing increasing signs of adult behaviour, although still primarily motivated by self-interest.