The two most-buzzed about food documentaries this year are "Farmland" and "Fed Up." One is propaganda and one isn't.
At least, that is one interpretation.
I first heard about "Farmland" via friends on Facebook. Fair enough. It seemed odd that I hadn't heard much about it otherwise.
With a modicum of digging, I figured out why "Farmland" hadn't crossed through: the movie was released by Big Food as propaganda. The reception I saw about "Farmland" on Facebook was generally positive. Not overwhelmingly positive, but positive.
Further reading proves why I'm glad I didn't waste my money and time. A lot of these documentaries flow together; I certainly didn't want to ruin my mind on a film that was trying to trick me.
"Fed Up" is not propaganda, though if you question the film's intent, you could easily conclude that the film is propaganda.
Companies that get rich off of high-fructose corn syrup and corn would think "Fed Up" is propaganda. Then again, some of those companies were involved in the propaganda that is "Farmland."
If you look at the marketing of "Fed Up," the corn people should be somewhat happy. After all, the marketing lumps corn sweeteners as "sugar." The film's Web site compares the addictive properties of sugar as "tobacco and alcohol." "The more sugar you eat, the more you need to satisfy your craving." Except that not all "sugar" is sugar.
We have a huge problem in this country with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. But the marketing of the film lumps everything together as "sugar." And that doesn't help address the issue.
Marketing a film as "the film the food industry doesn't want you to see" sounds noble, but the motto inspires laughter more than anything else. The food industry won't care if you see "Fed Up" or "Forks and Knives" or "King Corn."
"Forks and Knives" and "King Corn" are other similar films are more straightforward, but their message is more general: eat better grown food.
"Fed Up" takes a simplistic position on a complex topic and takes a side, an obvious side. On some level, that is propaganda.
The difference might be whether you like the message in the film. The "Farmland" message is that farmers work hard so you shouldn't question how your food is grown or how animals are treated. We know that is propaganda because the people behind the film are being deceptive about the truth to further themselves.
Katie Couric is one of the major players involved in "Fed Up" — an executive producer and narrator. Couric's popularity has overshadowed her journalism sins.
Some might remember the plagiarism incident where Couric was reading first-person essays that didn't come from her experience. The sham was unveiled when a CBS News Web producer was fired for plagiarizing a Wall Street Journal column. Couric was never punished for her role.
Couric's worst journalism sin was "being deceptive about the truth to further themselves." In July 2008, Couric interviewed then GOP presidential candidate John McCain on the CBS Evening News. The answer McCain gave to a question was edited out of the interview and an answer to a different question was inserted into the interview.
The substitution was a direct violation of CBS News rules. The blame was shifted to an unnamed producer who edited the piece. Yet no one involved, especially Couric, were ever punished much less fired.
What Couric did was propaganda and passed it off as news. This isn't to say that "Fed Up" is propaganda, but you'll have to forgive me if I don't trust the journalism skills of Couric.
I didn't go see "Farmland" because I know from good sources that it is propaganda. I didn't go see "Fed Up" because of a major player in the film who has done propaganda. While I am not directly comparing the two situations, others will make different choices.
Propaganda is not always black and white. Elements of "Farmland" are true or relevant. Elements of "Fed Up" are true and relevant. While "Fed Up" has distinct advantages over "Farmland" in being true and relevant, to preach outside the converted, the voices have to be credible. There are a lot of voices in "Fed Up" that are absolutely credible: Katie Couric is not one of them.