Let it rain, I hydroplane into fame… My shallow review of My Kitchen Rules

I’ve been criticised — criticised! — by somebody for overthinking everything.  Tonight at dinner, I was accused — accused! — of not simply enjoying Disney films, pathologically needing to uncover the hidden meaning in fluff entertainment (for example, The Lion King is anti-Semitic propaganda about the divine right of kings; &c., &c.).

Said one person: ‘I just want to see you under-think something… just once. […]  That would be thrilling.’

So here’s my review of My Kitchen Rules.

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My Kitchen Rules is all about food and cooking it.  When the food is cooked, people eat it and say if the food was worth eating.  Sometimes, it is not worth eating and the people eating the food say so.  Sometimes, the food is definitely worth eating and the music changes to show how much the people eating the food enjoyed eating the food.

The point of My Kitchen Rules is not to be sent home.  You are sent home if you lose one of two weekly challenges and if you then lose a ‘cook off’ against the team that lost the other of the two weekly challenges.  The target audience of My Kitchen Rules is people who like to watch both people cooking food and people eating food.  The challenges are included to keep things ‘interesting’, but this means that sometimes the show has to broadcast something other than people cooking food and/or people eating food.  The producers of My Kitchen Rules clearly understand that this might confuse the audience, so they make sure that the rules of the current challenge are repeated as often as possible.  I think this is stupid because it means even less time watching people cooking food and/or eating food.

My Kitchen Rules is not the same thing as Masterchef.  In Masterchef, the people cooking the food are individuals.  In My Kitchen Rules, the food is cooked by teams.  Teams are made up of one person who has a personality disorder and another person who is a vegetable.

I like watching My Kitchen Rules because cooking the food often involves spectacular disasters and I quite enjoy Schadenfreude.

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Holy Crap, that’s hard to do.

My Kitchen Rules is not at all about food.  You might think that it’s about food, but it’s not.  It’s about the fetishisation of consumption.  The hint is in the name of the programme: My Kitchen Rules.  On the one hand, we can parse the title with ‘Rules’ as an adjective.  When I say that Ganondorf in Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess totally rules, I mean that Ganondorf is awesome and spectacular.  It’s a laudatory comment.

There are two other alternatives.  It could be a noun.  This is a show about the Rules of my kitchen.  This is noteworthy because (as indicated above) the kitchens belong to teams, yet the title refers to a single owner of the kitchen rules.  The dynamics of each team are nearly uniform: one member of the team is clearly the dominant controller, while the other is more subservient.  The result is a series of studies in Nietzschean Master-Slave morality.

Nietzsche thought there were two families of morality: master morality, where the attributes of the strongest in society where considered virtues; and slave morality, where the actions of the strong were to be controlled to the advantage of the weak.

There are three manifestations of this exploration.  The first is where the teams hold fast to master morality: one member of the team dictates to the other what will occur, either through sheer obstinacy or — in the most fascinating relationship of them all — through the infantilisation of the weaker member.  The latter requires some explanation: there is a team of two women who apparently really like desserts or something.  One of them claims to have some sort of experience with the cooking and eating of food.  The other is a moron.  In order for the team to function, the non-moron subjugates the moron by placing her in a position of minimal responsibility.  In these teams, we are witnessing the will to power of the stronger of the two team members.

The second manifestation is where the weaker of the two tries to establish rules of conduct so that the vegetable member feels like they are valued, even if this results in mediocre food-production.  This is pureset slave morality: the weaker partner cripples the vision and drive of the stronger partner by tricking the stronger partner into agreeing with particular rules of conduct.  Sometimes, the rules of conduct are not even explicitly stated (recalling Marx’ comment about ideology in Das Kapital: ‘They don’t know it, but they are doing it’).  For example, there are two blokey blokes where the rules of conduct are hidden behind the affectation of being ‘good blokes’.

The third manifestation explores ressentiment: the will of the weaker partner is not immediately sensible to them, instead it is filtered through the lens of what the weaker partner believes the stronger partner desires.  In turn, the weaker partner comes to blame the stronger partner for the lack of immediacy of their desires.  Thus, there is a strange couple where the guy is basically a doormat to his wife, who has anger management issues and is also coincidentally quite religious.  He subjugates his will — thus distancing himself from his own desires in order to adopt the desires of the stronger partner — in order to feel esteem, but when they do not succeed in something, he reacts to the mannerisms of his wife.  He — in the deep sense of the word — resents that she is a better partner.  In a recent episode, the wife’s anger management issues causes her to pass out in the heat.  When the doormat presents the team’s dish, he apologises to the people judging his food that the wife was unable to be there to enjoy their appreciation for the food.  He no longer sees himself as worthy of estimation, but as the support to his monster of a wife.

The Rules of My Kitchen, in this sense, is to what extent the two people in each team will structure their moral engagement within this Nietzschean framework.  We’ve even seen what happens when the weaker member of the team transgresses the Rules: the stronger partner shames the weaker partner by discussing them in the third person to the camera, while the weaker partner helplessly sits next to them.  ‘I feel like my teammate, who is sitting next to me, is not pulling their weight and I am left to ensure the perfection of this food.  The person sitting next to me is lazy, incompetent, and/or not worthy of me speaking to them directly.’

The other alternative for the interpretation of the name is that ‘Rules’ is a verb.  The point of the competition is for each kitchen to dominate and subjugate the other kitchens.  We see this most clearly in some of the competitions where executive power is bestowed through seemingly random happenchance to one of the teams.  For example, whichever team happened to kill the most marine life by weight was able to dictate the order in which teams would select their key ingredient for the challenge.  The competition confers upon individual teams strange, arbitrary, and non-justiciable capacities for non-physical violence.  The key point of these powers is to introduce an element of humiliation: powers are used to settle petty grudges and punish teams for crimes both real and imagined.  The end result is that some teams are disadvantaged to the extent that they find it difficult to perform optimally in these strange ‘challenges’.  What we see is less a competition about who can cook the best, and more a competition of who can best navigate the complex political web of the other kitchens who are trying to oppress their neighbours.

Whichever way you look at the word ‘Rules’, it is difficult to think that this is a show about determining who is the best cook.  They have turned the preparation of food into a game of political struggle and it’s the result of these struggles which lure viewers — consciously or sub-consciously — to each episode.

At the heart of this battle is the food itself.  The preparation and consumption of the good is not to satisfy any immediate need involving the food itself.  When I’m hungry, for example, I prepare a sandwich or something.  The utility of the food is its relationship to my hunger (or the hunger of people I am feeding).  When these cretins prepare food, it is not to satisfy hunger, but to dominate and oppress the other kitchens.

Most importantly, the enjoyment of the food is not inherent in the food but instead in relation to its capacity to realise the aspirations of the person who created it.  Of all things, food is the most utilitarian of commodities.  Good food is nourishing and it tastes good.  The food consumed in this show doesn’t have to be nourishing or tasty: it just has to cause shame to other contestants.  This is the fetishisation of consumption laid bare.

There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities. There, the existence of the things quâ commodities, and the value relation between the products of labour which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men‘s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities. [Source: Marx, K Das Kapital vol 1]

This is why watching television and movies is so much more fun when I’m in the room.

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Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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