When thinking on how food is portrayed in Pop Culture, the first image that popped up in my mind was the introduction movie of the Flemish mini soap “Van Vlees en Bloed”, which should be translated literally by “Of Flesh and Blood”. I think this introduction movie is one of the best examples of how people can use food to tell a story. But also of how the context and the setting in which food is presented to us, creates the biggest part of its meaning.
“Van Vlees en Bloed” is a tragicomedy in 7 episodes and was broadcasted on Flemish television during 2009. The mini soap gives us insight in the lives of a classical butcher family in a small village in Flanders. The soap had a huge success and even won a prize at the Festival de television de Monte-Carlo. The tragicomedy is made by different storylines which are all based on very simple elements and very common events of daily life. The public gets caught by the quarrels between the three children of the old owner of the butchery when she is at the point of dying and a greedy son-in-law wants to sell the butchery to get his part of the heritage. The viewer is made part of the adultery of the butcher with one of his customers and feels the frustration of the butcher’s wife when her husband pretends to be impotent. He follows the romance between the youngest butcher and the girl who works in the butchery on Sundays and the ambitions of the second butcher when he wants to win a bicycle competition organized by the village. He gets irritated like the butcher gets irritated by the very annoying client who comes every morning to the butchery to buy the same 100 grams of salami.
All these very simple storylines of love, adultery, jealousy, greed and the struggle to keep the butchery going are presented by very recognizable actors (by recognizable I mean that they look like normal people, not like models) who speak in Flemish dialect. That’s to say, that they use the language people really speak in small Flemish villages, instead of the Dutch standard language which people are taught at school and which is normally used by actors in movies. The makers of the program clearly choose this type of language to make the distance between the viewer and the events shown in the television program as small as possible. In the same way, all dialogues are kept extremely plausible. A Flemish viewer watches the program laughing constantly but not because of special tricks or special jokes the different characters make. If this program is highly comical, all the humor is created by very simple material, by absolutely ordinary conversations which all Flemish viewers see and hear every day in their own lives.
This search for making a wonderful television show which keeps people stuck on their chairs to see the end of it by using only the most simple elements and no special effects what so ever, is what one can see as well in the introduction movie of the program. Once again, the makers of the program succeed in creating an absolutely captivating atmosphere by showing only extremely common things: meat and the butcher’s hands and instruments. Moreover, in my view they succeed in summarizing in only one minute the whole atmosphere and context of the whole mini soap. Because what is it all about? The program is about a butchery, which becomes immediately clear from the introduction movie since it only shows images made in the butchery. But from the first seconds, the viewer feels already that this isn’t going to be just another reality soap about butchers in Flanders. And that’s because of the music which immediately captures the public.
The music is the very first thing that jumps on the screen even before the viewer has been able to see what is presented (because together with the first notes of music, you get the first image but this image is still blurred). Than the image gets sharper and the spectator can see that we are in a butchery. But not a normal butchery. A butchery where meat moves and falls and curls according to the notes of the music with which the program started. A music which itself isn’t innocent. Because if the whole television show will be absolutely Flemish, even in the smallest details (like the use of the Flemish dialect instead of the standard Dutch), the music clearly isn’t. The music is a kind of tango-like, sensual but also very playful lead that seems to direct the whole introductory movie. It sounds like warm and exotic countries, like seduction, like sensuality but not a too serious one. The music fills the screen and directs the meat and the movements of the butchers hands and instruments. It’s the music which makes the steak fall down. It’s the music that makes the hamburgers get crushed. The music which makes the sausage fill itself with meat. And it is this exotic, sensual, non-Flemish music which promises the audience that there will be more to see than just meat in a simple, Flemish butchery even if that’s all the movie shows.
Thanks to the way in which the meat is presented in the introduction movie, the audience understands the themes of the mini soap before even having seen one minute of the real program. By the way in which they see the meat getting directed by the warm and playful tango-like music, they can expect the same to happen to the meat of the characters they will see in the television show. And so it happens. Like the meat in the introduction movie has to follow the direction of the tango-music, the butcher can’t control his own “meat” and falls and curls according to the smiles of his sexy Dutch customer (again, she’s not Flemish! She’s an exotic element in the Flemish context). The meat, HIS “meat” doesn’t have any power and can only obey to this exotic sensuality. It can only follow and fall. Like the marriage of the butcher falls in ruins when his wife finds out. But nothing is ever definitely ruined in this mini soap. Things can twist in a second. And it’s not because a scene starts with a sensual, elegant tango that it will also end with it. Like in the introduction movie where the music ends with a kind of big, comical “dot”, in the mini soap as well, things can go in one direction only to head completely in another one shortly after.
By watching just this one little movie of one minute where you can only see meat, you can understand the themes, atmosphere, colors and direction of a whole mini soap of more than 7 hours. Just because of the fact that a simple, basic food element like meat is presented in a context and manner which is highly unusual, we understand that this television program which presents itself through a meat movie will not actually talk about meat. Thanks to the music and thanks to the extremely elegant images which turn the meat into sensual dancers or protagonists of a bigger show, the audience clearly understands that something much more interesting than a boring butcher tail is waiting. Therefore, I think the introduction movie of “Van Vlees en Bloed” really deserves to be included in a cours which talks about food in Pop Culture.