Wed, Jul 02, 2003 - Page 9 News List

The collapse of culture

A song that has rocketed up the charts in the UK epitomizes the globalization of American fast-food culture and product placement run amok

By Stuart Jeffries  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

ILLUSTRATION: MOUNTAIN PEOPLE

Even before the song was released last week, 100,000 copies had been pre-ordered. Once it appeared in the shops, the disc flew off the shelves so fast that giant UK high-street retailer WH Smith had to order tens of thousands more.

Last week it nestled at No. 2 in the UK pop charts. The song in question is the Fast Food Song by the Fast Food Rockers, and it goes a little like this: "A Pizza Hut a Pizza Hut/Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut/McDonald's McDonald's/You like it you love it/You know you really want it."

The British Dietetic Association has called the Fast Food Song unwelcome and irresponsible -- but that, while true, doesn't matter -- this insufferably catchy number could be the soundtrack of our summer. They're chanting it in the playgrounds, it's all over MTV and no one's banned it from being hummed on public transport.

So this is the world we're living in. It's one in which Roquefort-producing anti-globalization campaigner Jose Bove is arrested with ludicrous force by 80 French police officers at his home for damaging a field of genetically modified (GM) crops, even though he has a record of coming along peacefully when taken into custody. It's also one in which what Bove has called la malbouffe americaine (foul American junk food) is hymned in song by idiots and bought in tens of thousands by British children -- the fattest and most ill-nourished children in Western Europe. It's one in which the UK government, lamentably, hasn't authorized dawn raids on all households owning this single, even though that might be thoroughly justifiable in terms of improving the nation's health. Certainly more justifiable than descending in a heavy-handed manner on a lovable cheese-making surrender monkey.

It's a world in which the song that is No. 2 in the UK chart lists brand names and thus extends globalization's suffocating remit, while the number one song, Bring Me to Life, by American Goth-Christian band Evanescence, has to code its serious message about spiritual reawakening in a lyric that purports to be about romantic love. It is a world that sucks, and then some.

That said, you can get too pious about the fatuousness of popular culture. There have always been novelty singles in the British charts. Who can forget Mouldy Old Dough by Lieutenant Pigeon, Agadoo by Black Lace, The Birdy Song by The Tweets, Grandad by Clive Dunn and some misguided children, that one with Keith Harris and a green plastic bird? I know I've tried.

I could list these songs for several paragraphs, but I will forbear because I know each tune will be popping into the reader's head and will poison the rest of their day. It's hard to imagine that any of these could be trumped by a new song. So hats off to Lucy, Ria and Martin, aka the Fast Food Rockers, for really pushing the envelope for rubbish British culture.

The real problem with our culture is not a dearth of ingenuity but a willingness to lend that ingenuity to devising things that should be beneath contempt. Hence the TV reality show Big Brother. It was Henry David Thoreau who said, "Our inventions ... are but improved means to an unimproved end," something which is true of the Big Mac, the Stuffed Crust Pizza and the Colonel's foul buckets of fowl parts.

But nobody reads Thoreau now, nor do enough of us worry about what the Fast Food Song says about not just our physical health, but the spiritual health of a country where cultural expression collapses into product placement.

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