buford on the food network
On Rachel Ray: "a likable sales-rep personality, with a me-and-my-mom vocabulary." (45) I'm not sure what this means, exactly. But does it have something to do with that trend diagnosed by (among many, many others) Teen Vogue, the mom as best friend thing? Only more down home?
I don't actually think it's that new. When you're out and about in Pittsburgh you often run into mother-daughter pairs gabbing their hearts out in intimate ways made possible, I think, only by close geographical and emotional proximity. And somehow the moms then know all about the daughter's jobs and family life and all. I think this might be what Buford is talking about . . . and it's key.
Only I'd say it's more than a vocabulary . . . and let's just say that for geographical, economic, personal and political reaons most of the people I'm closest to (who may or may not have passed on Rachel Ray's trash bowl tip to me) don't have this with their moms. . . at least not regularly, or dependably.
On the Audience: The network was now in seventy-five million households and its audience was among the most affluent people watching television in America. 'And nearly half of our viewers are men,' Girard said. This was a different audience from the one conceived by Schoenfeld, and rather elusive to picture. I found myself imagining stock traders and dot-com millionaires at home all day, kneading dough, trying out new recipes, wondering what to do with the saffron. (45)
I think this last is a bit dismissive and wilfully obtuse. For one, Girard (the Food TV pres, I think) claims that her audience is the most affluent TV watchers, not the most affluent Americans. And what's so funny about well-to-do men learning to cook, Bill Buford? He of all people.
Why is so hard for Buford to imagine that there might be men, and women, who, perhaps lack some kind of easy old-fashioned me-and-my-mom relationship, but want a little guidence (maybe even guidence they don't entirely buy and enjoy feeling superior to?) in the kitchen? I don't want to argue that the Food Network is a surrogate mother, but I think it probably fills a niche that other kinds of learning (home ec?) used to fill, and it offers this learning to a wider, less strictly gendered audience . . .
To her credit, the inclusion of the story about Julia's early on-air omelette suggests that she understood food TV this way too and (to his credit) that Buford understands that she understood food TV this way.
Maybe Buford commentary on the Food Network would have been more interesting in a less formal form, like, as mzn suggested, blogging. But you know what he could do given the resources, etc of the New Yorker? Write a short history on the following:
Ours is a different audience from the one that watched Julia Child. In 1962, “microwave oven” and “fast food” hadn’t entered the national lexicon. And restaurants were more expensive. Tim Zagat, the publisher of Zagat Guides, points out that for more than two decades the cost of going to restaurants or getting takeout has risen less than the annual rate of inflation—that it’s much less expensive today than at any other moment in our history to pay other people to prepare our dinner. Never in our history as a species have we been so ignorant about our food. And it is revealing about our culture that, in the face of such widespread ignorance about a human being’s most essential function—the ability to feed itself—there is now a network broadcasting into ninety million American homes, entertaining people with shows about making coleslaw. (47)
The very interesting thoughts that close the article.
But I love the description of Julia: Child, too, was unlike anything else on television: six-feet-two, virtually hunchbacked, seeming too ungainly for a small screen, with a long, manly face, but one that was also remarkable for its intelligent expressiveness. (44)
And if you're wondering why there are horseradish photos on my flickr, well, I was provoked by the smartypants at Epifurious. They plan to post on Buford's Food TV experience too and I'll link when they do.
The images here are of brilliant, beautiful Michel Simon in Boudu Saved From Drowing/Boudu Sauve des Eaux (Jean Renoir, 1932).
Categories: food, film, newyorker, education