Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Food Face: Eating on the Small Screen
by Jameson, Stacy Megan, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2011, 194; 3499450
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation offers a cultural critique of contemporary food television that engages scholarship in emergent fields including embodied cinema, food studies, and facial expression studies. Rather than an inclusive overview of contemporary food television, the project investigates the structures and meanings of the medium's typical “money shot,” an exhibition of bodily incorporation followed by a visual affirmation of physical change. Each chapter identifies and examines a different embodied spectacle of eating or “food face” from a range of contemporary television texts including hamburger and chocolate commercials as well as reality television shows Survivor and Top Chef. Televisual food faces fall under three formal tropes including grimacing and gagging, swooning or orgasmic release, and a seemingly dispassionate poker face. These popular culture reactions to consumption allow us access to what I term food-affects: embodied sensibilities that blur sense expression with emotional feeling. The three prominent food-affects—disgust, pleasure, and contemplation—enable us as viewers to physically experience the tastes and judgments of food presented on the screen. But most consequentially, the dissertation posits that television's affected bodies act as structural conduits through and against which we enact a range of cultural ideologies.

This study explores how fleshy images of moving/moved bodies engage the viewer bodily often confusing cultural meanings with physical sensations, and ideology with biology. It considers the ways in which gagging on “foreign” food in reality TV gross food competitions, mingles a narrative of reflex with ethnicity and nationality, constructing an ideology of inclusion and exclusion, acceptance and rejection—a protective gag that mitigates a fall into the purported primitive. It addresses the now prolific commercial advertising imagery of food orgasm, paying tribute to the ways in which such displays of eating pleasure structure consumer practice, while at the same time naturalizing gendered notions of sentimentality. The final section examines television food spectacles that appear to deny the responsive body; the authority of the television food judge is entwined with the construction of an affective degree-zero, a seemingly neutral bodily display at tasting that reifies stratified social mores governing public bodily display. Overall, the project is not just about food and consumption, but rather argues that food-affects manifest a burgeoning essentialism-of-the-gut, wherein television's formal privileging of physical impulse and feeling validates social mores and relations of power as innate and natural impulse.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Pena, Carolyn de la
Commitee: Constable, Elizabeth L., Mechling, Jay E.
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Cultural Studies
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 73/07(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: American studies, Gender studies, Film studies
Keywords: Culture, Eating, Embodiment, Facial expression, Food face, Television
Publication Number: 3499450
ISBN: 9781267238900