Some of the biggest celebrities these days seem to be chefs (I remain as yet undiscovered!). The Food Network seems to be one of the most popular channels and innovative cooking shows abound. Friends tell me how much their children enjoy watching.
Great, I thought, finally some harmless television programming, some family entertainment. They regale me with stories of The Cake Boss’s creative masterpieces and Rachel Ray’s simple entrées. I feel like I’m missing all the excitement.
So on a recent hotel stay, I took the opportunity to tune in. But instead of being thrilled and energized by what I viewed, I was dismayed and discouraged.
The program we watched was called "Chopped" (I think). It was a competition between chefs requiring the gradual elimination of contestants until the winner finally emerged.
This is not so new – and perhaps neither is the rest of the elements of the show. But what I found disturbing was the behavior of the judges. It seems to be de rigueur that the judges of these competitions display their nastiest sides, that they actually highlight this unpleasant aspect of their personalities. They seem compelled to attack the chefs with the most vicious verbal weapons in their arsenal. I don’t want to contemplate what that does for their character.
But it gets worse. The Torah prohibits us from embarrassing someone in public. This type of shaming is akin to murder, we are told. Yet this appears to be the very essence of the show (and all similar popular talent contests). It’s no longer enough to eliminate a contestant. It has to be done as cruelly as possible. It has to make them squirm. It has to thoroughly humiliate them on national TV.
There are certainly kinder ways of judging and even of offering constructive criticism, but I guess the powers that be at the networks – along with the viewing public – deem that less entertaining.
All of the sudden I am no longer sanguine about all the cooking shows children are watching. Their impact is not innocuous or benign as I had imagined. Instead they teach cruelty and meanness along with a destructive attitude.
These chefs create attractive and tasty concoctions but it is never enough. There always something slightly off, slightly imperfect. And so our children are taught to be dissatisfied instead of appreciative, to be negative rather than positive.
I found it painful to watch this show but I imagine that after a steady diet (bad pun), you become immune. You don’t even notice. That is a tragedy in and of itself. Worse would be to begin imitating the behavior, to view the condescension of the judges as normal and appropriate, to think that cruel and sarcastic rebuke is normal social behavior (to assume, God forbid, that this is how we treat parents or spouses whose meals just don’t measure up to some elusive standard.)
First these shows create an unachievable ideal of the perfect meal (using only three ingredients of course!) and unduly emphasize physical pleasures and perfection. Then they create a serious stumbling block to good character and kindness towards others in the spiritual realm.
It’s just not worth turning that television on – although I still wonder whose cupcakes turned out the nicest (isn’t war a strong word to apply to a cupcake competition?).