Monday, April 24, 2006

(Un)Happy Meals?

[From CoreEcon]

Today brought moves for a code of conduct for the 'junk food industry' to limit the advertising content in junk food ads to children. One of the suggestions is that McDonalds would not be allowed to put toys in Happy Meals.

When it comes down to it, the whole move against advertising towards children is a red herring at best and at worst a distraction and excuse for governments not to hit at real problems.
  • First, it is highly unlikely that junk food ads were causing the problem. It is the junk food itself that is surely the issue. Let's face it, no one really believes that advertisements really work otherwise they would advertise carrots to children this way and it would 'solve the problem.'
  • Second, Happy Meals are not about the food but about the toys. The good thing about the food is that it is in small quantities. In my day, when we went to McDonalds we would eat adult meals. Anything that stops that is surely a good thing. McDonalds is likely making all their money on selling the toys in these meals.
  • Third, indeed, if we are worried about children eating McDonalds then the biggest threat -- ironically -- are the salads and sandwitches McDonalds now offers. These make it easier to sell Happy Meals. Why? Previously, a constraint on going to McDonalds was that increasingly health conscious adults would be resistant because they would have nothing to eat. Now, that is not the case. Remove that constraint and more children get McDonalds. Of course, I don't want to suggest banning healthy food at McDonalds only to suggest that playing around with these things is complicated.
  • Finally, if we get politicians thinking that dealing with advertising is good health policy we won't get good health policy. Moves to control the actual content of food rather than the content of food messages is surely the way to go. Thus, moves to ban soft drinks in school tuckshops is a much better candidate for health policy focus.
On a parting note, let's not forget the critical role junk food plays in children discipline and incentives. Everytime an ad is shown, children value junk food more and therefore react more when they receive it as a reward. Happy Meals do have carrots after all.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

The second best 'ice' movie this month

Movie Reviews (Ice Age 2: The Meltdown and March of the Penguins)

We saw Ice Age 2 yesterday and I have to say that it was the second best ice-themed movie I have seen this month (behind March of the Penguins). Let me substantiate this bold claim but first letting you know something about my criteria in seeing these G-rated movies: just because they were made for kids doesn't mean they should only be for kids. If I have to go along, I am expecting to enjoy it too.

That means that I am looking for something a little more sophisticated in plot than 'chicken sees sky falling and then war of the worlds ensues just as he was being doubted by society.' Ice Age 2 was strongly anticipated on this front. Ice Age had produced a remarkably complex plot that exposed prejudice, revenge and forgiveness. Just to recap that movie involved the plot 'sabre tooth tiger attacks humans as revenge for a prior attack, human mother saves baby by placing it in a boat [yes, it was derivative of Moses], baby picked up by mammoth whose family was also attacked by humans, who overcomes desire for revenge (thanks to a friendly sloth), converts another tiger away from group think and ends up fending off tigers to return child safely to humans, who show self-restraint in not killing the mammoth.' Very similar to the Jungle Book but with a few extra dimensions of selflessness and alot more ice.

As the ice melted for Ice Age 2, so apparently did the need to get everyone's motives down pat. The mammoth, Manny, is now concerned about being the last of his kind and is faced with a single potential mate, Ellie, who was raised by possums and thinks she is a possum. [Now there is some irony here as the mammoth is taken in by others just as the baby in the first Ice Age but is not smart enough to know what she is as opposed to the dinosaur in Dinosaur who knew he was not a lemur!]. Other than that it is not clear what the deal is with everyone else. The sloth, Sid, and their tiger friend try to overcome fears but the main enemies -- some previously frozen reptile things -- are somewhat one dimensional. They can't even talk for goodness sake!

Actually, there is a secondary plot line -- just as in Ice Age -- with a little rodent, Scat, trying to get himself an acorn. He will do anything for it and in the process causes mayhem (but ultimate redemption) for others. His struggle (reminiscent of the penguins that I will get to in a second) is wonderful, painful but also inconsistent with the plot of the first movie where he was frozen for 20,000 years. Nonetheless, I was happy to seem him back, even if there was no attempt to explain that.

In the end, there is little below the surface in Ice Age 2. The good news is that it is easily watchable and there is no sense at all of 'when will this be over' making it above average for the genre. [No Vogon poetry-type torture here].

Contrast this with March of the Penguins, a documentary about emperor penguins in Antartica and what they have to do through. It is 'set' today but the same story could have taken place during the ice age, so I feel that the movies are 'apples to apples' comparable.

Now you definitely get the 'when will this be over' feeling watching the March. But it is not for yourself, but for the penguins. In a vast irony of evolution, penguins appear to have become perfectly adapted to their Antartic environment but in a way that leaves their quality of life below that of pond scum. I don't want too give much away but you haven't seen suffering until you have seen what the penguins do as part of their normal life. Yes, there was suffering in Schindler's List and Meet the Parents but it was relatively short and hardly normal. The penguins do this year in, year out, generation in, generation out.

This movie is entertaining for the whole family but also gives you something in return: a new perspective on how hard life can be. Whenever things are getting you down, you will be able to think of the penguins and thank goodness you are not one of them.

In another irony, there is the subtext of global warming and what it might be doing to the penguins' environment and way of life. When it comes down to it, it is difficult to walk away from that with environmental fervour. After this movie, the emperor penguins are not going to be the poster child for that cause.

[March of the Penguins is available on DVD from]