Media As Culture

Description of communication situation
I'll be using the same advertisement from Pizza Hut that features their latest product, the "Cheesy 7 X'Mas Edition" Pizza: 

Analysis of communication situation
Viewing this ad through the lens of media as culture requires an understanding of fast-food culture, the ideologies behind it, and how they apply to this Pizza Hut ad (Pizza Hut organization). 

The definition of fast-food and pizza
The first know instance of the usage of the word ‘fast-food’ was in 1951, by Merriam–Webster’s dictionary (Merriam–Webster). It defines fast-food as:
1.     Food which can be prepared and served quickly
2.     Food which is designed for ready availability, use or consumption with little consideration given to quality or significance

It also defines pizza as: ‘A dish typically of flattened bread dough spread with a savory mixture usually including tomatoes and cheese and often other toppings and baked’.

Fast-Food is sometimes also known as ‘Junk food’, ‘Quick-Service food’ or ‘Convenience food’.

The modern concept of fast-food evolved in 1916, when Walter Anderson built his first White Castle in Wichita, KS. This introduced the limited menu, high volume, low cost, high speed hamburger restaurant (Jim Farrell, 2008). 

The Ideological Appeal of a Fast-Food restaurant
To understand the culture of fast-food, we will also have to analyze what makes a typical fast-food restaurant appealing. Eric Schlosser, in his book ‘Fast Food Nation’, lists some of these elements as (Eric Schlosser, 2001):
1.     Economies of scale / Relatively cheap – Bulk purchases of supplies and mass productions lead to lower costs for consumers
2.     Cleanliness
3.     Fast / Prompt service
4.     Child-friendly / Family-friendly atmosphere
5.     Reasonably good food quality and taste
6.     Convenience
7.     Predictable / Uniformity – People know what to expect when they step in, no matter which country they’re in

The combination of these elements enable fast-food restaurants to position themselves as symbols of wealth, progress, and well-ordered openness of society (Eric Schlosser, 2001).

Pizza Hut is the world’s largest pizza restaurant, with more than 7,500 outlets in the U.S., and more than 5,600 outlets in 97 countries worldwide (Yum! Brands statistics, 2010). Pizza Hut restaurants worldwide all have the listed elements as part of their appeal.

In addition, the Pizza Hut ad projects a homely, welcoming feel, coupled with the ‘predictable’ hot, melted cheese on a pizza.

The Cultural view of media
Eric Schlosser states that fast-food has become such a part of modern culture that people take it for granted. It is so commonplace and routine that ‘Hundreds of millions of people buy fast food every day without giving it much thought, unaware of the subtle and not so subtle ramifications of their purchases. They rarely consider where this food came from, how it was made, what it is doing to the community around them. They just grab their tray off the counter, find a table, take a seat, unwrap the paper, and dig in. The whole experience is transitory and soon forgotten’ (Eric Schlosser, 2001).

Fast-Food: The impact on culture
In viewing media as culture, we’ll examine fast-food culture in these areas:
1.     Health issues
2.     Need for instant gratification
3.     Influence on industrial practices
4.     Portrayal in popular culture

As it’s possible to write entire thesis on each issue, I’ll only give a general summary of main points on each.

Health Issues
Health is probably the most visible concern when it comes to fast-food, and it is the subject of much research and debate. There have been studies conducted on how fast-food consumption leads to obesity and increased risk of serious medical conditions (Anna Gosline, 2006), (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2004), (Dr. Mark Hyman, 2010), (Brian Halweil, 2006).

Studies have also been conducted on how fast-food advertising is a major influence on consumption habits (Fast-Food Restaurant Advertising on Television and Its Influence on Childhood Obesity, 2006), (Mary Story & Simone French, 2004).

There have also been cases of people taking a fast-food restaurant to court to sue them over health issues (BBC News, 22-Nov-2002). For example, maintenance supervisor Caesar Barber sued McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC for causing him obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and two heart attacks (Fox News, 24-Jul-2002).

What’s more interesting about this case is that Caesar Barber’s suit resulted in public and media backlash against him. His lawyer, Samuel Hirsch, commented that ‘Unlike the tobacco companies, who are viewed as malevolent groups..., people love the fast-food chains. McDonald's is an icon in America. We are attacking a beloved icon’ (The Guardian, 27-Aug-2002).

Movies such as ‘Super Size Me’ have also pointed out that fast-food is ‘physiologically addictive and physically harmful’ (Super Size Me, 2004).

In response, many fast-food restaurants have started introducing more healthy options, like having salad or milk as an option. They’ve also made nutritional information more visible within each outlet. Another step they’ve taken is to involve themselves into more community service projects, such as the Ronald McDonald Children’s Charity.
In this area, Pizza Hut has provided options such as vegetarian pizza, or providing nutritional information on their website.

Need for instant gratification
Critics of fast-food say it has created a culture of instant gratification in people. They point to studies such as those conducted by the Psychological Science Journal (Psychological Science, 2010), to claim that fast food triggers haste and impatience. The lead researchers, Chen-Bo Zhong and Sanford DeVoe, say that ‘it is possible that a fast food culture that extols saving time not only changes the way people eat, but also fundamentally alters the way they experience events’.

Of course, it could also be argued that the culture of instant gratification is what made the culture of fast-food popular. Regardless of perspective, instant gratification and fast-food are inexorably linked.

Influence on industrial practices
Critics of fast-food have also pointed out the detrimental effects of the industrial production of supplies like meat, grains and vegetables. They claim the practices used are inhumane, economically and environmentally unsustainable (Eric Schlosser, 2001). Movies such as Food, Inc. (Food, Inc., 2008), have also highlighted this.

As a result, an entire sub-culture known as ‘Slow-Food’ has arisen in many parts of the world (Slow Food). Founded in 1986 by Carlo Petrini to oppose the opening of a McDonald's near the Spanish Steps in Rome, slow-food strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. Their goals of sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses are in direct contrast to the fast-food agenda of globalization and standardization. Slow-Food can therefore be considered a subversive or oppositional point of view of fast-food culture.

Portrayal in popular culture
Fast-food is such a part of the public consciousness that seeing the logo of a major fast-food franchise brings instant recognition.

Another point would be the creation of fast-food mascots. These ‘ambassadors’ of the fast-food brand, while doing very little to add to the actual dining experience, are also a major part of the culture of fast-food. Again, most mascots of world-wide brands are instantly recognisable.

There have been many parodies on fast-food mascots in media, of which three examples are given below. These three examples utilize intertextuality, codes, and also tap on other cultures as a reference, and as a result, have gained widespread recognition. 

Extra Value Combo Alpha by Lysol-Jones (2007)
Fast-Food mascots are parodied as a video game reminiscent of ‘Street Fighter Alpha’. Utilizes the culture of video games. 

Fast Food Mafia by SilentSketcher (2009)
Fast-Food mascots are re-imagined as members of a Mafioso. Utilizes the mafia culture. 

Left: McDonald’s Demotivational Poster by (2008)
Right: For comparision, The Joker from The Dark Knight (2008)

Ronald McDonald is re-imagined as the Joker, Batman’s nemesis in the film The Dark Knight (2008), who was played by Heath Ledger. 

Pizza Hut has tried to tap into popular culture with the following ad: 

Pizza Hut Ad featuring South Korean celebrity ‘Rain’, who is a pop singer, dancer, model, actor, businessman, and designer, as a Pizza Hut Delivery Man (Rain the Pizza Hut Delivery Man, 2009).

Things I hadn't noticed before
I’ve never realised the extent of impact that fast-food has had on culture until now. Also, I have gained new insight into the various concerns raised as a result of the fast-food culture.

References & Attribution
1. Pizza Hut organization: Web Site.

2. Merriam–Webster Dictionary: Definition of Fast-Food. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.

3. Jim Farrell, (2008). The Evolution of the Quick Service Restaurant. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.

4. Eric Schlosser, (2001). Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All American Meal. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0395977894. Book.
Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.

5. Yum! Brands statistics, (2010). Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.

6. Anna Gosline, (2006). Why fast foods are bad, even in moderation. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.

7. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 27, Number 3 (2004). Fast Food, Race / Ethnicity, and Income: A Geographic Analysis. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from,_Race-Ethnicity,and_Income.pdf. Web Document.

8. Dr. Mark Hyman, (2010). Why Quick, Cheap Food Is Actually More Expensive. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.

9. Brian Halweil, (2006). The Global Spread of Food Uniformity. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.

10. Fast-Food Restaurant Advertising on Television and Its Influence on Childhood Obesity, (2006). Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.

11. Mary Story & Simone French, (2004). Food Advertising and Marketing Directed at Children and Adolescents in the US. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.

12. BBC News, (22 November 2002). McDonald's targeted in obesity lawsuit. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.

13. Fox News, (24-Jul-2002). Ailing Man Sues Fast-Food Firms. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from,3566,58652,00.html. Web Document.

14. The Guardian, (27-Aug-2002). It's fat, fat and more fat. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.

15. Super Size Me, (2004). Movie.

16. Psychological Science, Vol. 21, No. 5 619-622, (May 2010). Fast Food and Impatience. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.
Summarised by: Not Exactly Rocket Science blog. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Document.

17. Food, Inc., (2008). Movie.

18. Slow Food: Web Site.

19. Extra Value Combo Alpha by Lysol-Jones, (2007) [Image]. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Image.

20. Fast Food Mafia by SilentSketcher, (2009) [Image]. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Image.

21. McDonald’s Demotivational Poster by, (2008) [Image]. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Image.

22. The Joker from The Dark Knight, (2008) [Image]. Retrieved December 05, 2010 from Web Image from Movie.

23. Rain the Pizza Hut Delivery Man, (2009) [Image]. Retrieved December 07, 2010 from Web Image.

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