Feed Me - Sugar, Greed & Addiction. (A film displayed at the HOOKED Exhibition)

October 29, 2018

Feed Me by Rachel Maclean plunges you into a sickly sweet dystopian journey in a world of hardcore contrasts. Walking into the showing you are greeted by soft yellow bean bags, candyfloss pink shag carpeting and baby blue walls. At first, I admire how from the very moment you enter the room you are plunged into an atmosphere designed seemingly by a living angel cake; yet the sweet reception, much like the film, isn’t as it cute as it seems.


The character designs are unnervingly uncanny, dressed in infantile colours -  from chick yellow, barbie pink, to baby blue, they seem almost idealistic in nature - however their intentions and actions, are a far cry from their facade of innocence. The film addresses a number of issues affecting today’s society: corporate greed, the sexualisation of children, addiction to apps & games and the inherent dangers of a world that is under constant surveillance.


The setting of the film highlights a number of criticisms of modern society. The streets of this smog-filled inner-city are cloaked in an eternal night - yet you will find an abundance of colour in the advertisements that plague shop windows. Towering above these streets are iridescent advertisements of products made by Smile Inc. The consistent messages of ‘Feed Me’, ‘UR 2 CUTE’, SMILE, Emojis and heart symbols are littered throughout each scene, and are often juxtaposed with sad faces. This facade of consistent messaging celebrates a sense of ‘over-positiveness’, this is akin to some of the coping mechanisms that can be found in people suffering from addiction. A denial of negative emotions and an excess of positive feelings, can be interpreted as unhealthy coping mechanisms.  


It is clear that colour plays a big part and is heavily used in the setting of the film to indicate who has control of society - in the offices of Smile Inc the rooms are brightly lit, clean and well furnished. Conversely the room where the Little Girl’s Grandma lives is dark, filthy and is shot in grayscale. Equally the residents of the city are clones that carry a sad face emoji upon their foreheads, devoid of colour. Often colour is used to signal emotions. Maclean uses the extremes from grayscale to oversaturated colours to highlight how Smile Inc uses pervasive advertising and addictive consumerism to drain emotion from the city’s populace. In this way Smile Inc is portrayed as an icing-covered corporate vampire - surveilling, manipulating and draining the general public.


Rachel Maclean Feed Me Review

Voyeurism, Corporate Greed & Data privacy


Often, Maclean portrays interesting representations of corporate greed. The CEO of Smile Inc is obsessively shown checking his ‘happiness stocks’. Initially he enjoys his current profit margin until he is goaded by an unnamed character to increase his profits from 50% to 110%. The CEO, whilst seemingly omnipotent in this dystopia, is himself addicted to his own commercial success. Throughout the film, the CEO is portrayed as zealous when he is succeeding, but conversely stressed and burdened by his desires. This addiction to commercial success is often found in busy executives who compromise their health for their work.


In order to obtain his exceedingly unnecessary profit margin, the CEO utilizes a clever marketing strategy - the offer of a ‘free gift’ in order to lure the protagonist ‘little girl’ into being surveilled. The free gift comes in the form of a sad-faced stress ball. During a disturbing scene where the Little Girl is sent to do her homework (a survey by Smile Inc rating her happiness), the stress ball is activated, allowing the CEO to peer into the room where the Little Girl is. Smile Inc’s power is so absolute that it has penetrated the school’s curriculum; with ‘learning’ amounting to data collection of the child’s thoughts and feelings. This in turn is used to help design products aiding Smile Inc’s profit margins. It’s  clear that the free price tag of the stress ball is not what it seems as it comes at the cost of being monitored (via a built-in camera). It’s an interesting use of symbolism as a stress reliever, which is usually used to alleviate anxiety, is in fact used to monitor a person - which would actually fill a person with anxiety.


Much like addiction, the ‘no-strings attached’ stress ball offers a chance for short-term gratification; but is the prelude to something much darker. This reminds me of a real-world scenario where this has been shown to play out. Addiction to smartphones & smartphone applications has surfaced over the past few years, with children going to the greatest extent to achieve their virtual goals, at the expense of their real-world accomplishments. Most of these applications are free, but are they? These applications have been found to be in violation of data privacy: an enquiry by the Guardian revealed that 4.8% of applications on the Google store had displayed “clear violations when apps share location or contact information without consent”, with 40% sharing personal information without applying reasonable security measures.


Applications like these usually amass revenue by displaying advertisements, 18% of these applications were seen to share “persistent identifiers with their parties for prohibited purposes such as ad targeting.” Much like in the real world and in the film, advertising can be seen to represent a celebration of consumerism. Problematic consumer behaviour is often normalised in our society. Gambling stores, betting shops and casinos are commonly found on our high streets. Advertisements can fuel other addictions and video games and smartphone applications have recently come under fire, for promoting gambling. In-game purchases such as ‘loot boxes’ have encouraged children to virtually spin the wheel (loot boxes are in-game purchases that a user can obtain which allows them to receive at random a number of in-game items). These may include customised outfits for characters, in-game currency or augmentations to improve their game performance. Doesn’t this sound very similar to the input and output of slot machines?


The Exploitation of Happiness - Feeding Addiction


In two scenes, the film presents the Little Girl performing at a talent show (in the same light as the ever popular X-Factor & Britain’s Got Talent); singing #‘If you’re happy and you know it’. In the first scene, riddled with imagery that portrays her in a sexual light, she is seen with a smile on her face and full of boundless energy. In a following scene, she attempts to sing it again, with disastrous results, as she fails to perform the song in the same fervour; crying on stage she is shunned and boo’d by the audience. At the end of the performance, one of the judges remarks that she has fallen from grace and is no longer ‘cute’, thereby lacking the ability to succeed.


This scene invokes the thoughts of the ongoing debate whether children should appear in talent shows. Historically, children who have been engaged in show business from a young age, have often been known to become addicted to drugs and suffer from mental health issues. The nature of show business can frequently expose children to sex, drugs and alcohol. Notwithstanding this, children are frequently faced with feelings of rejection, judgement and remain in the pervading public eye. This is before they are emotionally, mentally and physically developed enough to deal with these negative circumstances.


The exploitation of children for corporate profit runs deeper than we believe. Sugar has been identified as a main cause of heart disease, amongst other illnesses. Yet if you walk into any corner store, supermarket or shopping mall, there are aisles dedicated to marketing sugar-filled products to children. Why is it that in our modern age of ‘information’ we seem to lack the clarity to face these issues head on?  It’s clear that the sugar coated, icing frosted sweet exterior, that runs through the film’s characterisations of the environment serves a deeper meaning. Seemingly we too, even as adults, benefit from the rush of chemicals that eating confectionaries gives us. We wish to be fed too.


Ultimately, the title ‘Feed Me’ can be looked at in a number of ways. Who feeds who? Corporations intent on feeding their profits, exploit others. We too as consumers offer ourselves up so we can feed our own addictions: through surveys, smartphone app permissions or our own innate desire for well marketed products. Overall the film stands as an exceptionally well crafted critique of addiction in modern society, allowing us a chance to gaze through a icing-frosted mirror; into the Candy-Crush loving, X-Factor binging, Gaming addicted, Facebook ‘Like’ chasing society we live in today.

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