Chewing wastes time: a critical examination of televised "extreme eating"

TitleChewing wastes time: a critical examination of televised "extreme eating"
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Johnson, R. J. K., and F. Nelson
Affiliation (1st Author)Auckland University of Technology Auckland NEW ZEALAND
Section or WGPopular Culture Working Group
DateSat 29 June
Slot CodePOPS3a
Slot Code (Keyword)POPS3a
Time of Session14:00-15:30
Session TitleRaptures of the Real
Submission ID5717

The development of extreme eating as a sport is relatively new on the entertainment landscape.  Using as archetypal texts the ESPN Nathan’s World Record Hotdog Eating Challenge 2012 and the 2012 reporting of the Top Dog Meat Lover’s Pizza Challenge on Canada’s CTV Vancouver Island local news, we interrogate the seemingly unproblematic, uncritical presentation of eating as a sport, placing the phenomenon against the backdrop of the complex traditional social values connected with both food and sport. In this paper we will argue that televised extreme eating competitions appropriate the discourse of traditional sports with the effect that almost anything that can be competitive can be defined as a sport.  We contend that extreme eating redefines the boundaries of sport, turns a normal activity for survival into a spectacle, and opens up a new location for the celebrification of the mundane.  Further, we maintain that the spectacle of extreme eating problematises notions of sin (for example, gluttony and pride), and perpetuates the mind/body dichotomy that has long been a foundation of western thinking.  We explore, also, the valorisation of conspicuous over-consumption within contemporary western society. Situating our enquiry within Wernick’s (1991) critique of contemporary society as a promotional culture, we will conclude that the extreme eating phenomenon is a significant marker of the ever-increasing reach of commercial speech, one where, for instance, advertising can be doubly embodied: once in the act of (over)consuming; and twice in the use of that body to promote the (un)aesthetic labour of the competition itself.
Wernick, A. 1991. Promotional Culture: advertising, ideology and symbolic expression. London: Sage.

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