11 Jul 2009, Comments (7)

Ad Nauseam: Masterchef and fear of food

Author: Helen

Killer tomatoes eat Masterchef viewers!

Killer tomatoes eat Masterchef viewers!

As I mentioned over here, we have been glued, glued, I tell you, to Masterchef lately.* And the kids and I have been noticing a certain disconnect between the program and the words from its sponsors. While MC obviously is about celebrating cooking and eating delicious food, the ads that interlard the episodes are full of the usual Western fear of food and cooking.

There are a couple of ads which try to express the joy of cooking. The plug for Western Star (possibly because it’s for a whole food, not some packet additive-laden stuff), does it best. The Diary of a Mad Housewife commercial (Tessie the Real Cook for Real Stock) is giving it a go, but I don’t think they quite hit the spot with the cute, lovable madcap family. These ads are in the minority.

The ad for Master Foods just-add-meat cooking bases says: “Why cook when you can create”? Sure, this is just a cooking show, why on earth would we be trying to get the audience interested in (Gasp!) cooking? Cooking is too hard, people! And what does their distinction between cooking and creating even mean?

This is irksome, but the Uncle Toby’s muesli bar ad is downright creepy in its cibophobic imagery. A sports star tells us she has lived up to now with a crew of dieticians, coaches and sports scientists controlling her every move. Now, sadly, she’s out on her own and OMG how is she going to stay in control? Enter the calorie-controlled muesli bar that “helps you stay in control”. Control, control, control. Because some of the twiglets watching Masterchef might completely lose it and eat some pork belly or something gross like that! And balloon to a size 10!!

The connection between anorexia and the need for control is well documented. I have an uncomfortable image of certain people watching Masterchef as food porn while cautiously imbibing some weight loss “shake”. No prizes for guessing the gender of most of those people.

The commercials the kids find most fascinating (and counterintuitive for the program) are the Lite’n’Easy Meals. This is one of those “complete systems” where a guy with a van brings you a week’s worth of frozen dinners, you stick them in the freezer and consume one by one, instead of cooking. Calorie Controlled, of course. We see a young professional say something like, “I’ve never been able to cook, so this is perfect for me!” We’re just intrigued that the company flogging this “system” would choose to market it during Masterchef, which is trying to teach us that cooking is interesting, exciting and accessible to all of us, and celebrating fresh and intense flavour. Again, I get the mental image of viewers watching each episode wistfully, thawed frozen dinner, heated in the microwave, on lap. Because learning to actually, you know, cook, is just too hard.

Oh, and ads for Contours Gymnasium also feature on the website, just to remind you that you are all disgusting people who touch, ugh, food.

Masterchef is pulling the viewers one way, the sponsors are (in the main) pulling them another way, towards our society’s warped and unhealthy relationship with food.
*MC Australia doesn’t allow external links on their forums, so I’m returning the courtesy by not extending them any link love. Of course, there’s a link to the official site on the Wikipedia article.

Comments (7)

  • Pen says:

    Yes, it’s an odd one. I wondered with the home delivery service ad if they were trying to hitch a free ride on the tasty and interesting meals on Masterchef, trying to imply that their meals are just as interesting and delicious. But without the stress. Masterchef certainly plays up the stress and hard work of cooking so the contrast might work. It might almost stretch to the masterfoods ad (unless you had ever eaten one of their products) but I never understand why you would want to do all the boring parts of cooking like chopping the meat and the vegies and not the fun part of choosing which other flavours go into the meal. Very odd.

  • Tzivya says:

    My girlfriend and her husband used to do Lite’N’Easy, and never had anything but good to say about it. I can’t say I’ve seen the commercials (I watch online or download, both of which are commercial free), but she was always impressed with the variety and quality of the food they get.

    They are a young couple, and she struggles with social anxieties and depression that make her unable to always cook, especially interesting things, and he’s useless in the kitchen. So for them, it’s not a bad system.

    Sadly, it’s not cheap, and they had to drop it. Now they have fast food (Maccas, pizza, KFC…) most nights, and the health impact on both of them is ungood.

    So, overall, I’ll take a Lite’n’Easy over a McD’s or other fast food ad any day! They are what they advertise, for the most part. Healthy, decent food that you just warm up. And I’m led to believe their options are quite varied and stray from just ‘boring’ dishes.

  • Kath Lockett says:

    We too are glued to MC and have greatly missed it due to being on holiday (in the red centre, no telly, no phone, no poota access) this past week.

    Tessie gives me the major irrits “I made a mess too” and I feel like shouting out, “FEED your frickin’ family something OTHER than chicken casserole!” No wonder her hubby is hiding in a robot box…

    The mother/daughter team for Lite-n-easy are hilarious. At the end, check out the sucked-lemon lips on the mother as the daughter’s chatting. We’re meant to be focussed on the daughter but mother’s facial co contortions are insane.

    We tend to watch MC during our own dinner which, thanks to hubby Love Chunks is of pretty high quality. Still, as we sat around the campfire last week eating a roo-based bolognese, daughter said, “Oh, this is easily your signature dish.”

  • Helen says:

    Kath, I tried to find youtubes of these examples but didn’t find one – I would particularly liked to have found a before and after version of the Real Stock ad, because I get the impression they tweaked it just after the series started, but of course I can’t be sure. I think the character was more deadpan and “edgy” to begin with and then they made her more smiley, presumably (if I’m correct) after some focus group just didn’t get the edgy attempt. But that’s conjecture as it’s just based on my creaky memory.

    Tzivya – That’s a good point, a thing like Lite n Easy might have a place for people with a disability, or people who are very elderly, who otherwise might be eating bread and jam or whatever due to lack of access to shops, or someone to cook for them in situ. In your GF’s case I’d kind of probe a bit further as to the “boyfriend useless in kitchen” factor. Does he have a disability as well? Or does he just refuse to do it?

    I still wouldn’t let the ads off the hook as being very counter to the program they’re sponsoring – and the characters in the ads are all young people in rude health who could very well get their arses to the shops to buy some fresh food.

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  • brownie says:

    now that the contest has wrapped, the focus has shifted to the media on it (The Daily Telegraph oops moment) which I am thankful for, because it explained to me how the womens weekly could have a colour feature with many posed photos of Ms.Goodwin, on sale the day after the announcement.
    Now she is the weeklys cooking consultant, and it all happened 17 days before the show was broadcast.

    Nothing is real anymore.

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