We ask whether a change in the cinema-going experience is having an impact on our health.
Doctors recently suggested that watching animated films in which either a main or secondary character is overweight can encourage obesity in children. In the report they cited films and characters such as Toy Story and Buzz Lightyear, Shrek and its title character, and Kung Fu Panda and Po. Naturally, such a theory sounds ludicrous and pseudoscientific. “Why would an impressionable eight-year-old watch a fat, lazy, green ogre and wish to be like him?” you may well ask. But perhaps the real issue lies deeper. Perhaps the cinematic experience itself has something to answer for.
Snacking has a long association with cinema, an unhealthy association that probably cannot be disentangled
America is the second most overweight of the world’s developed nations. Our cinematic experience has been influenced by America’s glitzy entertainment blueprint. As such, popcorn has become synonymous with cinema. Popcorn sold in movie theatres “contains more fat than a breakfast of bacon and eggs, a Big Mac and fries and a steak dinner combined.” Snacking has a long association with cinema, an unhealthy association that probably cannot be disentangled. Because for a lot of people, going to the movies is intertwined with fun and entertainment.
Families and couples go to the cinema for a good time; they go for a day out. After they buy their tickets to see the latest Disney movie, they are met with rows of sweets, trays of popcorn and an array of sparkly fizzy drinks. They are greeted by the seductive, fatty aroma of hot dogs, odious, succulent slabs of burgers and nachos dripping with processed cheese. Kids will pounce on them, begging their parents to buy this treat and that. Therefore, an association is developed, at a young age, between cinema and junk food. Between movies and sweets.
The kids grow up to become teenagers who make it a ritual to go with their friends and buy the largest bucket of popcorn to take into the cinema with them. A movie experience isn’t complete without something sweet to munch on for a significant number of people. Students have film nights, in which beer, pizza and curries accompany the films. It seems that the socialisation of cinema-going has brought with it an inability for some to watch a movie simply for the love and sake of film. There is no separation between an obnoxious diet and Will Smith movies.
A culture of consumption develops. Going to the cinema becomes akin to watching a baseball game, rather than appreciating a piece of art
This association with junk food and watching a film can be harmful to one’s health, but it can also deform a person’s perception of the movie-watching experience. A somewhat vacuous culture of consumption develops, whereby going to the cinema, or renting a DVD, becomes akin to watching a baseball game, rather than appreciating a piece of art. No longer is the essence of cinema alone appreciated, but the need for extra pleasure is required. Going to the cinema suddenly becomes an all-encompassing event, whereby the cost of admission is added to by food, drink and video games.
Cinemas now come with arcades, where children and teens can go wild with abandon before and after the film. The spectacle of film becomes associated with Disneyland-style entertainment, with the cinema complex itself designed like an indoor theme park, the movie screens at the centre. The essence of pure cinema becomes lost. Film for film’s sake becomes a redundant, fossilised ethos. Kids go to the cinema for their birthdays, but the social outlet it offers often supersedes the film itself.
Independent cinemas, such as the Cornerhouse in Manchester, offer a more sophisticated cinematic experience. Stripped of colourful candy treats, the Cornerhouse offers only the film as the consumer item. There are no embellishments; no air-hockey tables or vending machines. Film is, after all, an art form – how many other art events do you attend where people munch on packets of Chewits, Rolos and Maltesers? Cinema seems to be alone in this respect. Popcorn has long been associated with American sports. Consumers go to baseball games and click their fingers for a vendor to lob them a packet of peanuts, a tub of popcorn, or a corn dog. Britain, in this respect, has become Americanised.
The rise of the theme park-cinema has paralleled the rise of the American blockbuster. It has paralleled the rise of special effects, on-screen explosions, slasher films and action movies. Some art film-lovers will, of course, sneak in a few treats to their local independent cinema. But those who consider watching the latest Shrek film as a fun day out for the whole family are in danger of furthering a culture of associating junk food with cinema, thereby exacerbating the obesity problem, thereby contaminating the idea of cinema and film as something to be socialised, sugarcoated by American entertainment ideology. It is film appreciation thwarted by capitalism and consumerism.
Featured image: Warner Bros
Inset images: Dreamworks; Zamber via Flickr