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.