Newsletter 322

Published January 28, 2020
Since Paris, May '68? This is not a paid KFC ad.

This is my second week without an art column and it’s vaguely gratifying that people are asking: “What’s happening?” Answer: nothing much, only a break. It hasn’t been an especially relaxing time as I’ve had a few pressing family issues, but it’s provided a little calm before the next writing storm arrives.

Instead of a film column this week the AFR asked me to do a piece on Australian cinema, or more precisely, the hole into which Australian cinema has fallen. After a few consultations I’ve written the requested ‘think piece’, which really cries out to be expanded into a proper investigative story, complete with quotations from the industry’s detractors and defenders. It remains to be seen whether I end up writing that story one day, or inspiring someone else to write it.

In the past I’ve found that a provocative piece of writing on art matters is usually met with silence from those in the firing line, along with a great deal of muttering behind hands. I’m curious to see whether the same process is repeated in the film world. This country is utterly phobic about debate. People tend to adopt fixed points of view and stick with them regardless of all evidence to the contrary. No wonder Scummo can chirp in praise of his “quiet Australians”. As Australia burns we can all see the results of that complacent attitude.

On a more general matter, one thing that struck me over the Christmas break, when I took a few moments to watch a test match, was the brazen vulgarity of the new KFC ad campaign. Although I’m not personally tempted by a lot of greasy chicken, the commercials address a very specific audience: couldn’t-care-less teenagers who are invited to signal their rebellious attitude by the revolutionary gesture of eating junk food.

You’ve probably seen the ad in which a schoolboy gets up and leaves an exam unfinished when a mate outside the window tempts him with a bucket of KFC. The jingle loudly proclaims: “I don’t care. I love it!” This translates into: “I don’t care if I flunk my exam, drop out of school as soon as possible, and spend my life as part of an impoverished underclass. Just so long as I can eat KFC when I feel like it.”

It’s interesting that the new McDonald’s slogan is “I’m loving it!” The idea, presumably, is that the momentary pleasure of eating a cardboard burger outweighs all other considerations in life. One might sell heroin in the same way.

Then there’s the KFC billboard campaign, which features the slogan: “Bucket. Why Not?” Ho, ho. Very witty. “Fuck it. Why shouldn’t I eat greasy chicken?”

It’s not just the vulgarity of this strategy that makes it so pernicious. The ads make it seem that it’s really cool to ignore all the warnings about healthy eating, excessive fats, salt and sugar, and just tuck in. They are also telling teenagers: “You are right and everyone else is wrong. You’re a legend! Bucket!”

Why should this worry me? Teenagers have plenty of time to eat junk and worry about it later. The problem in places such as the NSW country town in which I grew up, is that they never grow out of it. Surly, anti-social teens become obese, anti-social adults, working in dead end jobs or living on welfare. Is there no social conscience whatsoever at KFC and their advertising agency? Are they pleased at the idea of perpetuating junk food dependency throughout people’s lives? They’re not just selling chicken, they are selling a particularly noxious, self-destructive frame of mind. I already know how they’d respond: “Bucket. Why not?”

I know such thoughts are unusually moralistic for this newsletter, but a trip to the country always makes me feel like a Victorian-era social reformer. There’s already so much stupidity out there it’s galling to see further stupidity being promoted and celebrated. Oh, that reminds me, it’ll soon be Australia Day…