From chef to superstar : food media from World War 2 to the World Wide Web

Doctoral Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

This thesis examines representations of food in twenty-first century media, and argues that the media obsession with food in evidence today follows directly from U.K. and U.S. post-war industrial and economic booms, and by the associated processes of globalisation that secure the spread of emergent trends from these countries to the rest of the so-called Western world. The theoretical frame for the work is guided in large part by Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle (1967), which follows a Marxist tradition of examining the intersection between consumerism and social relationships. Debord's spectacle is not merely something to be looked at, but functions, like Marx's fetishised commodity, as a mechanism of alienation. The spectacle does this by substituting real, lived experience with representations of life. Based on analyses of media representations of food from the post-war period to the present day, the work argues against the discursive celebration of globalisation as a signifier of abundance and access, and maintains, instead, that consequent to the now commonplace availability of choice and information is a deeply ambiguous relationship to food because it is a relationship overwhelmingly determined by media rather than experience. It further argues that the success of food media results from a spectacular conflation of an economy of consumerism with the basic human need to consume to survive. Contemporary celebrity chefs emerge as the locus of this conflation by representing figures of authority on that basic need, and also, through branded products (including themselves), the superfluity of consumerism. The subject of the work, therefore, is food, but the main object of its critique is media. Food media from World War 2 to the World Wide Web is about the commodification of history and politics, through food, and the natural (super)star of this narrative is the modern celebrity chef.

Includes bibliographical references (p. 305-338).