The Two-for-One Meal

Richard Linklater chews on 'Fast Food Nation' and 'A Scanner Darkly'

Linklater: It's both! I walked into a theater with 2,000 people in black tie, which is pretty antithetical to our movie. But I enjoy the disconnect. And I have to see the trajectory of my own life in it. I was that teenage girl [the character of Amber in the movie] who worked at shitty restaurants and didn't know much of anything. And I was an offshore oil worker for two and a half years: I know what it's like to put on the hardhat and the steel-toe boots and be at the absolute bottom of the food chain of a big industry—the expendable labor of an industry.

CP: Do you also identify with Don, the marketing executive [played by Greg Kinnear]?

Linklater: I'm probably closer to him, yeah. Don is like most of us who incorporate disturbing facts into our psyches and then carry on with business as usual. I think we all battle against living in some kind of elitist or cynical denial. I mean, I agree that Guantanamo was horrific, but I didn't take to the streets. I'm busy. I got mouths to feed. I'm "fighting the good fight." I'm guilty of torture, in a way.

Let's hear it for the vague blur:  The animated Linklater
Warner Independent Pictures
Let's hear it for the vague blur: The animated Linklater

CP: Was there pressure from the financers of the movie to have Don "take to the streets" in some way? Or did you feel that pressure yourself?

Linklater: To have Don become radicalized wouldn't seem too real to me. The standard Hollywood narrative is the inspiring tale of a guy who made a difference; that's what the Hollywood narrative is for, and we've all seen it a million times. We wanted to say no to that. In fact, this film doesn't carry through on almost any of its setups [laughs]. That seemed like the right thing to do with this. If the hero in your movie does something to make things better, then you as an audience member feel like you don't have to do anything, you know? Don isn't a hero. He disappears from the narrative altogether; he kind of overstays his welcome. His story is replaced by Amber's story—her coming of age, her new awareness.

CP: Do you think kids have a greater capacity for change?

Linklater: Yeah, they're less attached. But they've got the least means. They don't own media, they can't run ads. They've got all the energy and correct thinking to a large degree, but they don't have any power.

CP: At a lot of schools, they have the choice between McDonald's and Pizza Hut.

Linklater: It's there from the very beginning. All a kid has to do is watch a little bit of TV, drive by a McDonald's, and he's asking for a Happy Meal—with the little toy and all that. It's hard to combat. It's our culture.

CP: Do you think it's possible to break up this insidious, incestuous relationship between public schools and the fast food corporations that get huge contracts to pump this crap into kids nationwide?

Linklater: I don't know. A lot of schools are starting to ban sodas; it has been proven that all the sugar is no good for kids, that it's a big part of the obesity epidemic and diabetes among children. People have demonstrated that there are healthier alternatives—and that those alternatives don't even cost more money. But in the same way that it's convenient for schools to have contracts with KFC or McDonald's or whoever, it's easier for us as consumers not to think about it. I was a kid once—I couldn't wait to get to junior high so I wouldn't have to eat the plate lunches. I could just get my own lunch with a Coke and a Ding-Dong, maybe a sandwich, you know, some white bread and a piece of ham, maybe, and a dessert, some kind of ice cream.

CP: It's funny to consider that you got through it—despite the Ho-Ho and Coke diet. I ate the same way as a kid and I'm, you know, maybe a little damaged, but I'm doing all right.

Linklater: I guess I could say the same: I'm doing okay. But I was a pretty crappy student who was tired all the time, wasn't thinking well, had no sense of priorities. I don't know. I guess you survive. Is it a personality thing? Do some people realize at some point that they're being lied to and want to look for alternatives, whereas other people just go along and toe the party line?

CP: What seems hardest to fight is the convenience of fast food.

Linklater: Yeah, but it's a myth! The only efficient step in that whole chain is your actual purchase. At the drive-thru window—boom—you can have a hamburger in your mouth in two minutes, for 99 cents. But once you fully realize that that's the only efficient element, and you realize that everything else associated with it is kind of a disaster, that it's subsidized by our government and everyone is ignorant of it, then you can have a change. [Fast food] is horrible for the environment; it's certainly horrible for the animals, for the workers, and, ultimately, for you. It's not good for your body.

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