The Future?

2006.Apr.01 Saturday · 7 comments

in Books & Other Media

Buenos Aires – The last few days have been spent more or less indoors, for myself fighting off a bit of a change of season cold, and playing nurse to Henry who’s been dealing with some sort of allergic reaction to something he ingested. So, thanks to the magic of the internet and p2p software, I’ve been catching up on various films and shows that aren’t available to rent on DVD here. Of note in the food world, I’ve watched the first two episodes of the new “reality” show, Top Chef, more about which at some point in the near future, or maybe after it’s all over… we shall see; and, more importantly, I just finished watching The Future of Food, a docu-drama that came out a bit over a year ago. I’m definitely coming late to the party, both on watching it and commenting on it, but I think it’s worthy of commentary, and if you haven’t seen it, make the effort to do so.

In its barest, nutshell outline, this film is an hour and a half thrashing of the Monsanto corporation, which, according to the director’s viewpoint, is guilty of shadowy, greedy policies and actions taken in regard to promoting its biotechnology business. Deborah Koons Garcia, the film’s director, manages to also bring in various federal oversight agencies, and in particular both Bush administrations, especially the current one, and the various corporate connections, contributions, and back door deals that appear to have been taking place under our noses. She trashes the world of genetically modified organisms, the United States legal and political systems, and, seemingly, anything that has happened in the world of agriculture over the last half century. At the same time she exalts the disappearing family farm, the small farmer, and the poor of the world in various countries directly or indirectly affected by these dastardly doings, now or in the future.

While not an action packed film, it is extraordinarily well-filmed, and doesn’t give you a moment’s pause to consider what you’re seeing and hearing. Fact after fact, exposé after exposé, point after point is made, rapid fire, interspersing print quotes, interviews, and Reality Bites style film clips to keep the movie flowing. By the end you could find yourself convinced that not only is Monsanto an evil giant, but that science, and very possibly coming down out of the trees, were bad ideas in the first place.

And, that’s the one real flaw in this movie, powerful as it is. The complete lack of balance in the story leaves one with the impression that nothing good has ever come out of the world of biotechnology. That all small farm owners (and not all of those interviewed have farms that are all that small…) are horribly oppressed saints of the food world and the preservation of the earth, not a one of them ever having done anything karmically wrong to a beetle or earth clod, nor, willingly accepted a farm subsidy. That somehow all these biotechnological innovations appeared out of the laboratory and ended up planted on a zillion acres of farmland via some underhanded process while no one was watching. One is also left feeling that it is equally the fault of the American and, to a lesser extent Canadian, public, who have embraced this juggernaut of sinister progess while the populace of the rest of the globe have fought valiantly against it, to no avail. And in that regard, while obviously Monsanto is the focus of her wrath, the lack of any finger pointing at companies throughout the rest of the world involved in the same activities is notable.

In the end, I liked the film. I think anyone watching it will have new things to think about, questions and concerns about their personal food supply, and hopefully that of the world around them. But I think the lack of balance actually undermines the message, making the film come across at many moments as nothing more than a personal vendetta against a single corporation (without Michael Moore style hystrionics), and takes away from the thoughtful and concerned investigation that clearly went into the background work of the production.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

ksternberg April 2, 2006 at 16:24

I’ll definitely try to find this film. Although it sounds like it needed more balance, that doesn’t mean, I guess, that the main poiints the director made are untrue. Some could be, or at least overblown.

And despite what you call his hystrionics, Micahel Moore has made some of the most important films in recent times, as far as brining important issues to public attention. I’m extremely glad he is around writing books, speaking out against King Bush and making his films.

dan April 2, 2006 at 19:02

While that may be true, from my perspective, his problem is much the same as in this film, but even more so – he’s so one-sided and so rabid about his views that although I come away thinking about new things, which is good, I also come away doubting much of what he’s presented. If he were to present his views in a more reasoned, intelligent fashion, and give some room for the possibility that the companies and people he attacks are not all-consumingly evil, for me anyway, he’d be far more convincing. But that’s just a personal perspective.

ksternberg April 3, 2006 at 01:06

Perhaps, but Moore is not a journalist and has no requirement to be objective or overly balanced. There may be an up side to GM, despite its ruining the city of Flint, Michigan by closing the main source of employment there. And maybe those gun makers are not really so bad, after all. And Bush? He’s simply misunderstood, not evil.

dan April 3, 2006 at 12:48

See, a lot of it depends on your perspective and the background you come from, and I’m willing to admit that there might be other ones than mine. I don’t think Moore is – and no, he’s not a journalist, nor does he have an obligation to be balanced – and, my point wasn’t that he did, but that I think his message, like the message of the above film, would be more powerful, if he didn’t come across so one-sided. I don’t disagree with many of his conclusions, I just think his method of delivery was far less effective than it could have been if he’d allowed for some coherent opposing viewpoints.

As to the latter part of your comment. Let’s see, yes, GM left many people without jobs when they closed their plant in Flint. On the other hand, having grown up in that area and watched repeated strikes, often violent, by auto workers demanding more benefits and money – when essentially their unskilled laborers were making $20-30 an hour plus medical, dental, vacation, etc. – in the 1960s and 1970s – I can understand the business perspective of deciding to go for a labor market elsewhere, even if GM’s high-handed approach sucked. Are gun makers bad? Debatable. Gun users, in general, I’d say yes. And, obviously, if there were no major suppliers, that would limit access. But gun makers responsible for a troubled kid killing his friends, teachers and himself? Sorry, I don’t find any evidence. It’s like the specious arguments that playing dungeons and dragons makes kids kill or go crazy, or anything else of that nature. You and I grew up with cartoons and games that were just as violent, and so far, neither of us has “gone postal.” And Bush, sorry – from my perspective neither misunderstood nor evil. Stupid, idiotic, a political hack? Yes. Evil? Given some of the things I’ve seen in other parts of the world, he’s not even on the scale.

But, all that’s just my own perspective.

ksternberg April 4, 2006 at 02:47

One day, over a lot of wine, we’ll have an in-depth conversation. The guns don’t kill people, people kill people chorus is just wrong. Without guns, those same ill people who do end up going postal may, indeed, still try to murder others. But it’s at least a tad more difficult with a stick or a knife (not that I would know, ok?).

dan April 4, 2006 at 09:43

Oh, of course, nor am I just raising that chorus. But that still doesn’t, at least in my book, make the manufacturers into some sort of evil beings. But then, I don’t fall into the camp that guns shouldn’t exist. Where I grew up, many kids had access to guns in their houses, many of my friends had their own. We had problems too. I don’t remember anyone shooting anyone else. Nor, by the way, is it even a matter of poor gun control – which I do think is a problem, but still don’t think is the main problem, which for me, is blatant lack of decent socialization in our society anymore. Violence has become an acceptable way of settling petty disputes.

I think parenting in the U.S. is way out of whack, as is, due to how litigious our society has become, the ability of anyone from outside a family to step in (e.g., teachers, administrators, community leaders, organization organizers, or what have you) and maybe prevent some of this kind of stuff. Instead we’ve got things like zero tolerance laws that end up having kids suspended from school because they were playing with squirt guns, or making model rockets out of potato chip canisters (missiles, you know), or 6-year olds being charged with drug possession for bringing candy to school to share. And while I find those sorts of laws and their enforcement stupid, I can almost understand the need for them – since a school administrator or teacher who disciplines a child with something as simple as detention these days can be sued for any of a variety of things by that child or his/her parents, and probably lose. Personally, I admire any teacher who’s sticking it out in our current society, hoping to make a change. Of course, it’s tough to be a parent too – I mean, kids can now go back and sue you for having spanked them.

But once again, we’ve strayed far from the point I was originally trying to make, which I don’t know if you’ve missed, despite my repeating it, or just don’t agree with. At no time did I say that the two filmmakers shouldn’t be presenting their views, or, for much of what both of them have presented, do I disagree with their conclusions. My point is, was, and will be, that I think they could have made their case MORE powerful by having their films be more balanced. Preaching to the choir, as it were, it doesn’t matter, and you’re clearly a member of the choir. Preaching to those who aren’t members, requires, in my view, showing them both sides of an issue and then showing them why your side makes more sense.

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