Friday, November 28, 2008

Eternal Refluffenance

One of the San Francisco Chronicle’s two above-the-fold articles today was simple, clear, and predictable: “More Mouths to Feed,” about the increased attendance at food banks and shelters this year due to the worsening economic crisis. (The headline for the online edition is even more to the point: "Lines for free Thanksgiving Meals growing.") “Every time the stock market goes down, Thanksgiving attendance at places like Glide Memorial Church and St. Anthony Dining Room goes up,” reads the second paragraph in its entirety. You can imagine the rest of the article: more people are collecting free meals this year; food donations are down, but the number of volunteers is up. These kinds of stories are templates tweaked every year to accord with current events, adding little that is new. People are in need every year, some years more than others, sometimes for different reasons. Sometimes there is more to give them, sometimes there is less. Today’s paper draws a connection between the current state of the stock market and the increased attendance: “the market went way down, and attendance went way up.” But this connection is fuzzy. Did the people seeking a free meal lose money in the stock market? One would think not. One man says he was a real estate agent in Chicago last year, but “that was last year.” Where will he be next year? We know where the Chronicle will be.

One new element has been introduced this year. A father and his three sons sit at a table in the picture that accompanies the article. The father wears a casual, button-down shirt and sports neatly combed dark hair speckled with gray (his sons are all extremely blond). He has a thinly-trimmed mustache that accentuates the downward turn of his mouth as he gazes at the son to his left. The boy, probably around nine years old, looks darkly across the table at another diner whose hat and hands offer evidence of his presence along the bottom edge of the picture. His expression is difficult to read. He looks scared and unhappy, but that might be a photographic misrepresentation—a face made in an instant that’s captured on film but doesn’t reflect the subject’s true feelings. The man’s other two sons seem engaged with eating. One sits on his lap, stuffing food into his mouth; the other has bits of food in each hand while he stares at the tray in front of him. The father sits in the middle, splitting the difference between these two sides. He is not smiling. But on the table in front of this small family, along with a pumpkin and a potted, flowering plant, is a sign in a small plastic stand with a sign that advises diners “SMILE! THIS TABLE MAY BE FILMED OR PHOTOGRAPHED BY MEDIA.”

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