12/9 Author's Roundtable 2: Dana Polan, Julia Child
Responses from James Hay, Lawrence Schehr, and Jing Jing Chang

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

[On Thursday, December 9, the Unit for Criticism held the second of its Fall 2010 Author’s Roundtables. Dana Polan discussed his forthcoming Duke UP book, Julia Child's The French Chef. The below contributions are from all three respondents: James Hay, Lawrence Schehr, and Jing Jing Chang.]

Thoughts on the Birth of The French Chef as “Popular Pedagogy”: Response 1
Written by James Hay (Institute for Communications Research / Media and Cinema Studies)

There is much to sample on the table that Dana Polan has set tonight. I want to focus mostly on three issues pertaining to his account of Julia Child as a “popular” figure: her relation to television as a “popular” form in the 1960s and 70s, both her and TV’s relation at that time to “popular entertainment” and “popular culture,” and the legacy of these relations to the present.

Dana’s history and interpretation of Child’s popularity emphasizes, particularly in his presentation this evening, the production strategies and stylistic conventions through which her TV program made food preparation entertaining and dramatic. I want to rethink Dana’s historicization of Child, her products, and her media as “popular” or even “populist” by pushing a bit harder than he does the problem of “the popular” at that time, and by pulling in a slightly different direction his references to Child’s program as “popular pedagogy” that made instruction entertaining.

First, let’s consider (following some of Dana’s key points) how Child both problematized and helped overcome the problems associated with TV as a “popular” form in the 1960s and 70s. Although Dana’s explanation of The French Chef adopts the adjective “popular” in order to describe her, television, and the pedagogy of her program, he could amplify what was at stake in or problematic about the program’s relation to a historical discourse about “popular culture” and “mass culture.” These terms were certainly older than the 1950s, but they became central to various, often intersecting, explanations of TV as the engine or meeting-point of various social ills. Dwight Macdonald’s “Theory of Mass Culture” (1953) famously represented the historic precariousness of a United States that increasingly was dominated by “mass culture”--a “degraded” and “homogenous” culture, the epitome of which was television. For Macdonald and other U.S. intellectuals, the cultural uniformity was tantamount to nothing short of a social and political uniformity characteristic in the recent past by Nazi Germany and in the Cold War present by the Soviet Union. “Mass culture” was the pejorative description and negative potentiality of TV that shadowed TV’s positive association as “popular culture.”

Contemporaneously, TV was objectified in the rapidly growing post-war sciences of “mass communication” research, which analyzed the effects of communication “media” on relatively passive and easily manipulated consumers and citizens. In 1961, the year that Macdonald published his Masscult and Midcult and two years before The French Chef first aired, Newton Minnow, the Chairman of the FCC, delivered his famous speech warning broadcasters that commercial television in the U.S. threatened to become a “vast wasteland” of programming. The French Chef was born out of this reasoning about the destructive effects and social ills of television as a mass medium and culture, and out of calls for an enlightened response and alternatives to the excesses of mass consumption. While Child may not have channeled this reasoning, her program was rationalized as part of the campaigns for responses and alternatives.

Minnow’s description of U.S. TV as a vast wasteland lacked nuance since commercial TV programming frequently represented its relation to a “popular culture” by mediating its relation to “highbrow“ cultural forms. A 1956 episode of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (promoted as “America’s favorite TV comedy” and family) involved the two teenage sons becoming subjects of a lesson from their parents about cultural taste and distinctions as the oldest son, David, imports into the household a classical music record from his high-school “music appreciation class” and his younger brother, Rick, seeks to drown out Dave’s serene enjoyment of the classical score with a “jazz” or rhythm-and-blues record that he has brought home. Each son’s battle over his right to play “his” music (as loudly as possible), leads the parents to a liberal solution: getting each son to “turn down the volume” and to appreciate the other’s taste. The construction of the TV home and family through programming that mediated the distinction between highbrow and lowbrow, European classical and American pop culture, Whiteness and African-American inspired music (which Ricky would translate on the show in subsequent years), played out across many zones of television from its inception.

Liberace appeared in various TV venues during the 1950s as a virtuoso, classically trained pianist who could mediate this distinction, even as he often was criticized (Dwight Macdonald’s Masscult & Midcult, for instance) for “popularizing” and degrading high culture. Little Richard, equally as flamboyant as Liberace but a Black performer of music unfit for TV, never appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show even though one of his hits was performed by Elvis Presley on Presley’s debut on Sullivan’s show. The French Chef was born out of and as one of many laboratories on TV for representing “the popular” not only by checking/regulating cultural distinctions but often by mediating the distinction between high, Western European-derived culture and its new place amidst the various strands of “mass”-produced and -distributed twentieth-century U.S. culture. As Dana has noted this evening, Julia Child’s popularization of French cuisine was predicated on her ability to translate it through a big, bold, unflappable, and decidedly un- “haute” style that could be construed as American.

TV’s demonstration of its capacity to represent and mediate distinctions between “high” and “popular” tastes occurred amidst efforts to reform TV by making it more of a “public good.”–particularly by cultivating institutions, initiatives, networks, and programming supportive of “educational TV.” U.S. TV’s development as a commercial medium, rather than as an institution of tax-subsidized “public” broadcasting (typical in the rest of the world), made it a lightening rod for charges by educational associations, education initiatives such as those supported by the Ford Foundation, and some policy makers (in an era of “pubic education”) that TV lacked the ability to provide intellectual and cultural uplift, for children as well as adults whose tastes resembled those of children. Minnow’s charge that TV was becoming a vast wasteland attested to the traction gained during the Kennedy years for educational TV as an alternative to commercial broadcasting.

The loose network of stations affiliated with the National Education Television initiative, which had developed during the 1950s, included the Boston station (WGBH) where Julia Child was interviewed in 1962 about her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), and where The French Chef premiered the following year. The French Chef as “popular pedagogy”thus emerged as part of the campaigns that rationalized “educational TV” as a “public good” and as an improvement over commercial TV’s provision of a “popular culture.” As one front in the campaigns for educational TV, The French Chef brought U.S. TV viewers/consumers closer to models of European public broadcasting through instruction about French cuisine.

The introduction of The French Chef as popular pedagogy, and Julia Child as a populist U.S. purveyor and mediator of French/European cuisine and culture, were in these ways integral to the formation of a national institution/corporation of public broadcasting in the U.S. by the late 1960s. As Dana mentions in passing, Julia Child and The French Chef helped make PBS possible. One implication of this marriage which Dana does not pursue is the disciplinarity of The French Chef as popular education as it became articulated to the goals of public broadcasting. As Laurie Ouellette has noted, National Education TV had “valorized the sophisticated, college-educated, intellectually oriented, implicitly white minority who protested television’s cultural mediocrity while engaging its upwardly mobile aspirants in a pedagogic and frequently disciplinary relationship” (45). The French Chef’s place in PBS’s early prime-time schedule (its programmatic connection to Civilisation, The Forsyte Saga, and Masterpiece Theater) reinforced its operation as what Tony Bennett, following Michel Foucault, refers to as a “cultural technology”–the institutionalization and technical administration of culture, the harnessing of culture to programs of moral uplift and hygiene, and the targeting of unrefined (if not unhealthy) bodies and incomplete, uncultured subjects in order to provide the correct pathways and rules of self-improvement and good citizenship.

Moreover, to the extent that PBS TV programming was rationalized as correcting the lack of “diversity” and “pluralism” in commercial TV (a correction most vividly and famously represented by the PBS children’s program, Sesame Street), The French Chef and its place in the early PBS schedule made it “a site where Whiteness was celebrated and imbued with culture, lineage, and prestige borrowed from European aristocracy” (Ouellette 154). So while Dana is right to point out that The French Chef made French cuisine and culture fit for consumption in the U.S., and although the recipes that Child translated were typically not French haute cuisine, her program also acted on the perception and myth of French-ness as the highest form of Western cuisine and culture, and as something that the American public lacked. What difference would it have made had the program been titled The Italian Chef or The Mexican Chef?

More than in the chapters that Dana has provided from his forthcoming book about The French Chef, his presentation tonight emphasized how the program made food preparation “entertaining” and “dramatic” through a set of narrative conventions and filmic strategies–a visual style that informs even the most recent cooking programs on TV. However, it also is worth recognizing that the program operated (in ways suggested above) as much as “popular science and technology” as “popular culture” and “popular entertainment.” Culture and science are terms that for too long have been opposed, not only as part of the legacy of a distinction between culture and science that C.P. Snow identified during the period when The French Chef was born, but also through a kind of media and cultural criticism that emphasizes the style, representational conventions (genre), and textuality of media and its “culture” over the technical and institutional rationality of media/culture.

Julia Child’s historical relation to Jack Lalanne, whose fitness-instruction program was hugely successful in early U.S. TV, mattered just as much as her relation to “arts and culture” guides and performers such as Alistair Cooke and Liberace. And Lalanne’s mattering in TV’s mediation of popular culture had as much to do with his teaching of body technique and discipline as his show’s theatrical conventions or visual style. Recognizing the technical knowledge of The French Chef is a basis for thinking about the complex and changing ways that TV was imbricated in popular culture’s administration and government of daily life through the health, improvement, and well-being of consumer-students and the social body that they comprised. To the extent that The French Chef as a “popular education” in the techniques of food preparation provided guidelines for the cultivation and government of the self, Julia Child could be said to model a path to citizenship.

As a technology of liberal citizenship, The French Chef and its relation to the birth of PBS provide a useful point of reference for historicizing the subsequent proliferation of food programming and a Food Channel that support a regime of lifestyle-TV formats during the 1990s, as TV abandoned “broadcasting” in favor of “narrowcasting.” It was not that Julia Child simply became old on TV over the 1980s and 90s; she continued to appear in TV cooking programs through the 1990s, many of which were distributed through PBS, and these programs helped anchor her production of books as well as tapes and DVDs.

However, her productions mattered differently as “educational TV” became a dominant TV genre across a rapidly increasing number of cable- and satellite-delivered, commercial TV channels. The Food Channel’s success depended on its similarity to and difference from networks such as the Home & Garden Channel, the Learning Channel, the Discovery Channel, the Do-it-yourself Network, the Fine Living Network, the Arts & Entertainment Network, as well as a bevy of instructional programs on networks not primarily about teaching and learning. These programs and networks typically use instruction to manage lifestyle, and increasingly understand their audience/market as “lifestyle clusters” rather than as a general audience. In this regime, popular culture, and the “public” of “public TV,” have become the subject of new (and arguably more refined) apparatuses of counting–of population management.

Food TV also has been rearticulated through a do-it-yourself culture and a model of entrepreneurial(some might call it “neoliberal”) citizenship that, as Ouellette and I have noted, support and normalize lifestyle and instructional programming as a prominent vein of “reality TV”. Whereas Child began to branch out into other media and products, her enterprise paled in comparison to celebrity chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, Mario Battali, Rachel Ray, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, and Bobby Flay, whose brands became attached to cookware and restaurants as well as TV programs, books, DVDs. Child’s production of books and TV shows was certainly a prototype for the later TV chef as franchise-brand, but her program as “popular pedagogy” and “public TV” was more consonant with a 60's liberal rationality about food/instruction as welfare and cultural uplift for a broad population–about translating French cuisine for popular tastes in the U.S.-- rather than as one performative stage in the lifestyle of a particular taste culture.

Child’s (and PBS’s) provision of welfare was a template for, but operated differently than, recent campaigns such as Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC, a reality TV series wherein the British chef attempts to revolutionize the eating habits of relatively impoverished West Virginia public-school students by demonstrating to them, their parents, the local school administrators, local media, and local policy-makers the virtues of a healthy diet. Whereas Child operated as an educator and translator of French cuisine and culture for a State-supported campaign of popular pedagogy, Oliver operates as a private enterpriser (and indirectly the agent of a media corporation’s “community outreach”) who mobilizes citizens to look after their own health and well-being while repairing the failing public institutions of education.

Child also is the cultural grandmother or godmother of WE-TV’s recent series The Cupcake Girls. As WE (Women’s Entertainment) TV, formerly Oprah Winfrey’s Oxygen Network, The Cupcake Girls is a reality TV series that follows the trials and tribulations of a group of women who attempt to transform their local cupcake business into a franchise. Although the series (following TV shows such as Top Chef) offers demonstrations of food preparation, it embeds those demonstrations in a narrative or contest/challenge about Enterprising women whose independence is performed through their ability to manage and expand their cupcake empire. So, even though Child may be their cultural grandmother or godmother, they are decidedly the off-spring of female media entrepreneurs such as Oprah, Martha Stewart, and financial self-help guru Suze Orman.

One final thought: The empires of celebrity chefs such as Oliver, or lesser known enterprisers such as the Cupcake Girls, are territorialized through a global economy of food/TV marketing and distribution that can be traced back to The French Chef but that is different in numerous ways from the one in which The French Chef was produced, circulated, and “put to work” culturally. Child’s importation and translation of French cuisine and culture made her a kind of “double-agent” in the age of the “British invasion” (e.g., Bond fiction and the Beatles). Her program was born in the New Frontier rationality that articulated welfare and public goods and services (such as educational TV) to an “outer space”–a re-territorialization of U.S. sovereignty in the world through, among other things, communication satellites.

The French Chef debuted the same years that the first communication satellites, Telstar I and II, were launched, and roughly a decade before HBO became the first satellite-distributed TV network. Oliver, however, belongs to an economy of global reality-TV formats and franchises (such as Big Brother and American Idol) that are reinvented for different national markets (Moran, 2009). In that sense, Julia’s instructions for “chicken cordon bleu” provided a recipe for both trans-nationalizing and nationalizing Food TV.

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The French Chef and the Jouissance of Food: Response 2
Written by Lawrence Schehr (French)

When I was thinking about my response today to the phenomenal chapters of Dana Polan’s new book, Julia Child’s The French Chef, I took out my dog-eared and stained copy of The French Chef Cookbook, and it was like a Proustian madeleine. As you know, in Marcel Proust’s magisterial novel, A la recherche du temps perdu, translated as In Search of Lost Time, Proust’s protagonist dips a madeleine – a kind of soft shortbread or dense sponge cake – in a cup of herbal tea and takes a bite. And suddenly, his entire past comes back to him. And that is how I felt reading Dana’s chapters and flipping through the pages of Julia Child’s books – for I had taken out my two weather-beaten volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking as well.

As a child in the late fifties, I liked to watch my mother prepare dinner, and, to her credit, she never threw me out of the kitchen when I was watching her cook, and she always gave me something to do to “help.” A few years later, my parents let me watch Julia Child on television. Now, this was not something that little boys were supposed to do in an era when boys were supposed to be training to become macho men. And look at the results: here I am, a French professor who writes on subversion, perversion, gender matters, and French food. I remember watching those shows intently, and they left as much of a mark on me as did the first appearance of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964 – and I remind you, in passing, that yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s murder – the marches and protests against the war a few years later, and the songs of Pete Seeger; Peter, Paul and Mary; Bob Dylan; and my personal favorite, Phil Ochs throughout the sixties.

So when I finally got to Paris in the fall of 1973, I knew there was a world that I could not wait to explore, one that I have been exploring ever since. Indeed, just three weeks ago, we were in my favorite restaurant in the world, a fusion restaurant in the sixth arrondissement on the Left Bank in Paris called Ze Kitchen Gallery, where we ate a glorious dinner and in which the final course was a spectacular white chocolate and wasabi ice cream. And I have Julia Child to thank in part for leading me to that experience and Dana to thank for helping to bring those Proustian memories back.

While Julia was broadcasting shows on how to make a coulibiac of salmon or “veal fit for a king,” there was an intellectual revolution going on in France as thought moved away from existentialism toward structuralism and, a bit later, toward deconstruction. To use two adjectives that Dana used on page 2 of his chapter, “prosaic” and “quotidian” events and issues suddenly were deemed far more complex, whether it was the understanding of “the raw and the cooked” – to use a title by the founder of structuralism, Claude Lévi-Strauss – or the metaphysics implied by the opposition between speech and writing or presence and absence, as defined by the work of Jacques Derrida. One of the early titles was The Pleasure of the Text by Roland Barthes, but the word pleasure soon gave place to a much stronger, sexualized word: jouissance.

And in retrospect, for me, there has been an intellectual jouissance in thinking about those broadcasts and in leafing through those books; for those events, reinforced by the three chapters of Dana’s book I have read, underlined the fact that, after the canned and frozen fifties, Julia was part of the revolutionary sixties. As Dana puts it, “many viewers ... were being offered lessons in a whole way of living and being and doing.” And, I hasten to add, Julia Child’s method did not only involve a representation of the French logic or method to the recipes – there is an old expression, “If it’s not logical it’s not French.” It also implicated the “French exception,” which, for me, is about that jouissance, the intense pleasure of the show, of the recipes, of the umami of the food that pleases all the taste buds and all five senses. Through Dana’s eyes, Julia Child subtly contrasted French savoir-faire, the knowledge of how to do things, with the Eisenhowerian “niceness” portrayed in the family sitcoms of the time: The Donna Reed Show, Leave it to Beaver, or even My Three Sons, with its tiny bit of gender bending.

Not only did The French Chef promote the glories and pleasures, indeed the jouissances of French food, it also underlined this French exception of savoir-faire combined with blatant sensuality, a very definite no-no in the puritanical United States of the time (outside major metropolitan areas, of course). So even if the waters were being tested in the same time period by films like Some Like it Hot, part of which was set right here in Urbana, the rest of the revolution was not to come until 1968-1969 with the international echoes of May ‘68, the protests at Berkeley and elsewhere, the Stonewall riots after the death of Judy Garland, the hard-hat riots (in which I found myself right in the middle after having protested against the Vietnam War with the “big kids” at NYU), and the like. But to my mind, Julia was already there, as she underlined the importance of gustatory jouissance, that ultimately, thanks to her and many others as well as the times that were “a-changing,” expanded by metonymy to a wealth of other sensory and intellectual areas.

While Dana admirably points out that Julia was “of her times,” he also underlines her difference, whether it is in her approach to food, to television, to her fans – I had the pleasure of reading chapter 6, where Dana talks, in part, about her singular relations to her fans – or to the surrounding culture. While reading the first part of the first chapter, I found myself thinking about the Kennedy Years, a political and social “great leap forward” (to use another expression of the time) after the doldrums of Eisenhower and the horrors of McCarthy, the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the blacklist. And thus, I was quite pleased to find that my mind was running along the same track as Dana’s when he referred, on page 15, to “the widely watched tour of the White House hosted by Jackie Kennedy in 1962,” and later on to President Kennedy. And while I would not put words in Dana’s mouth, I would personally say that Julia Child gave us a tour of French cooking, similar to Jackie Kennedy’s tour of the White House, in that it also opened up a world that was formerly unknown to viewers.

Striking for me as well was Dana’s discussion of gelatin and Jello, in part because Jello has always been anathema to me and in part because I made my batches of chicken stock and beef stock à la Child last week to keep us in good flavor throughout the winter. As I was reading his work and as I was cooking, I thought of how Julia’s recipes for stock (which was itself an anomaly in the age of Monsieur Campbell) implied a historical reference to Brillat-Savarin’s 1825 volume, The Physiology of Taste. Brillat-Savarin is perhaps best remembered for his aphorism, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” In this epoch-making volume, the author mentions a mysterious substance he calls “osmazome,” a concept that is discussed, by the way, by Roland Barthes in The Rustle of Language. Brillat-Savarin defines”osmazome” as the essence of meat that is distilled into a liquid to produce a perfect stock. And this mysterious essence, or quintessence, to use Barthes’s terminology, also looks forward to a term recently borrowed from Japanese gastronomy, the word umami: the full-mouthed taste and the gustatory jouissance of food.

I was impressed by so many other aspects of Dana’s chapters, including his cogent analyses of camera technique and the “fun” of “instructional television,” just to name two, but what stayed with me the most – though I am curious to know if Dana discusses Julia Child’s espionage career during the Second World War – is the revolution in taste, the jouissance, and the umami, of the person, the show, the food, and of this wonderful book.

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Julia Child as American Icon: Response 3
Written by Jing Jing Chang (History)

Dana Polan’s Julia Child’s The French Chef is written in a very clear and accessible language. Just as Julia Child’s cooking show was boisterous and fun to watch, and just as Julia Child time and time again conveyed to her viewers that cooking was fun, I found Polan’s chapters a lot of fun to read.

The main argument of Polan’s book is that Julia Child represents the 1960s Americanized and Americanizing way of being. She was “key to the cultivation of modern American lifestyle and leisure culture in the latter part of the twentieth century.” Her uniqueness grew out of her personality and non-dogmatic “cooking pedagogy. . .which was against mechanical and slavish obedience.” She taught by showing, by doing, and by engaging in a full range of cooking on television, using her bare hands and getting them into her food. Yet at the same time, she was much more than an innovative teacher and cook; she was also a cultural icon of her times.

As “cultural icon,” Child was also part of the motifs of 1960s history, including the physicality of bodily experience. She was also part of a contemporaneous “cult of expertise,” which entailed television personalities becoming “popular teachers.” And as a television performer, Julia Child welcomed viewers into her kitchen through her visual rhetoric and the kinetic spectacle of her direct action, whether killing a lobster or showing her viewers her flaws and mistakes.

Her willingness to let us see her vulnerability allows us to feel intimate with and close to her but not because we’re physically close to her, as in the cooking shows of Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver in which the camera is so close to the action that you can hardly breathe. We feel intimate and identify with Julia Child because she is like the neighbor or friend next door. I agree with Polan that if Child’s original wish to shoot her show with the over-the-shoulder first person point-of-view had been heeded, then we might not have felt this sense of intimacy.

Finally, as a “caring instructor,” as well as entertaining performer, Child’s “non-dogmatic” approach to teaching empowered home cooks and provided not merely cooking lessons but also life lessons on how to have fun, American style. Indeed, cooking therefore was transformed from an act of monotony and entrapment to a productive, and perhaps even politically liberating act.

I remember seeing the film Julie and Julia over the summer on DVD. Meryl Streep once again proved to be the master of all accents. In order to mimic Julia Child’s 6’2’’ posture, Meryl Streep wore heels. This cinematic trick was hidden most of the time from the viewers until at the very end. Indeed, just as Julie Powell could not become the real Julia Child through merely cooking all the recipes from Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Hollywood’s biopic only reinforces how unique Julia Child was.

The kitchen set where Julia Child’s The French Chef was shot is now on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. To do justice to the authenticity of Child’s kitchen in the final scene, the camera pulls back to show the entire kitchen, and Meryl Streep as Child walks into it. As Streep enters, we notice that she is not as tall as she has pretended to be. In fact, she has been wearing 3+ inch-heels all along. At that moment, the fantasy of Streep playing Child was once and for all destroyed.

On the other hand, the personality of Julia Child, her exuberance, her quirkiness, her uniqueness really came through in Polan’s chapters, including her voice, and her 6’2” posture. From just the quotes that Polan cited from Child’s cooking show, it was as if I could hear her voice. What is the difference then between the Hollywood biopic and Polan’s analysis of Child?

Readers of Polan’s book feel intimate to Julia Child, and not just close to her in proximity, because of Polan’s the in-depth textual, contextual and intertextual analyses of both Julia Child and the times that she was part of and contributed to constructing. From the outset, Polan’s detailed description of “Introducing Charlotte Malakoff,” Episode 65 of Child’s The French Chef, draws us into the intimate space of Child’s kitchen, her “joyful, even whacky world.” Polan continues throughout to provide similar detailed descriptions of Child’s actions and words in The French Chef episodes.

Polan also did a wonderful job contextualizing his analysis of Julia Child by discussing other cultural texts and figures of the times: from Hitchcock, to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, from Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi’s The Worlds of Herman Kahn to The Twilight Zone. Child’s unique pedagogical approach was also highlighted along with discussions of other postwar culinary figures such as James Beard, Clementine Paddleford, and books and products such as Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book, the Knox On-Camera Recipes, and the fun products of Jello and Gelatin. So, not only did I learn about Child’s persona but also how her unique personality made a difference in the televisual and culinary landscape in postwar America.

I enjoyed reading the two chapters so much so that I want to learn more about Julia Child. At one point, Polan mentioned that there can be a risk of over-interpretation and over-intellectualizing Child. So, the questions that I will pose below might be pushing a little bit toward that direction. But I’m going to pose them anyway.

The questions I have are along three main themes: Child’s persona, the trope of domesticity and the audiences of Child’s cooking shows.

On page 46, Polan writes: “She was unique, she was different, and that very much made her an icon for the American sixties.” I would like to learn more about Julia Child and her “cultural status” and “cultural significance” beyond the 60s. For instance, What about her presence when she became older and appeared in other cook shows such as the one with Jacques Pépin, i.e. Julia Child & Jacques Pépin Cooking at Home? Did Julia Child still remain an icon for the American way of life beyond the 1960s? Or was she a cultural icon of the 1960s only?

As for the trope of domesticity, after reading chapters 1 and 8, I learned much about Julia Child’s role as a teacher, a television personality and as a cultural icon of American popular culture, and culinary landscape and discourse. These chapters focus primarily on what she taught her audiences in terms of not only cooking but also the American way of life and the potential of cooking in the kitchen and beyond the private space of the kitchen, the living room and the American home. I began to wonder whether “domesticity” can also become part of the political discourse in the U.S. In particular, I would like to know whether Child’s The French Chef could be read as part of America’s growing power not only in the political realm but also in the global media industry beyond the US? Is it possible to complicate our understanding of American-Foreign relations through Child’s cooking show?

I would like to end my response with a couple of questions regarding audiences outside of the U.S. Growing up in Canada, I remember seeing many reruns of Julia Child’s cooking shows. Perhaps due to my own ignorance, I had no idea that Child was actually an American. With her strange accent, I thought she was perhaps British teaching people how to cook French cuisine. If Canadians could watch Child’s cooking shows, were her television shows also distributed to European countries, such as the UK and France? If so, is it possible to learn more about the US in the 1960s by gauging the reception of audiences overseas of Julia Child?

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Make A Comment


Anonymous said...

Schehr writes, "films like Some Like it Hot, part of which was set right here in Urbana," but if I'm not mistaken, no part of the film takes place in Urbana. Though Urbana is mentioned, the characters are waylaid to Florida and never reach Urbana.

Unit for Criticism said...

Greetings Anonymous and welcome to Kritik. We ask that all commentators give themselves a name, even if a fictitious name, and use it consistently so as to avoid multiple "Anonymous" comments from different posters. Many thanks.

Lauren said...

I'd like to be waylaid to Florida right about now...

Sammy Preston said...

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