Class Discussion on *My Year of Meats*

Class Discussion on “My Year of
Nov. 21, 2011
How does Jane’s ethnicity influence her view of
How do her reproductive issues affect her
sense of hope?
How can we say that she is idealistic before the
beginning of her year of meats/ what is she
idealistic about?
“I’ve always blamed my tendency to vacillate on my
mixed ethnicity. Halved, I am neither here nor there,
and my understanding of the relativity inherent in the
world is built into my genes” (p.314).
“That’s the thing about involuntary infertility-it kills
your sense of future, so you hide in the here andnow.”
– “You equate the loss of posterity with the loss of
hope” (p.159).
She [Shonagon] inspired me to become a
documentarian, to speak men’s Japanese, to be
different. She is why I chose to make TV. I wanted to
think that some girl would watch my shows in Japan,
now or maybe even a thousand years from now, and
be inspired and learn something real about America”
In her attempt to protect herself emotionally,
Jane indulges in convenient acts of editing.
Where can we see this happening?
Do we feel that Jane really connects with
people, or does she perhaps keep them at bay?
And if so, how?
Does Jane feel the need to be in control and in
what ways does she allow herself to lose
“’Can we cut out the boinnggg?’ ‘No. Anyway,
that’s dishonest too.’ ‘Well, then we can’t send it. If
she calls, tell her the show got canceled.’” (p.30).
“Why hadn’t I realized? If I’d just dealt with it
earlier, I could have talked them into agreeing, as a
subversive political statement or something. But
now it was too late. Too late… My heart sank. My
ghosts. My baby. Sloan still didn’t know. I hadn’t
dealt with this at all. But then again, why bother?
Why make a big deal about it when the problem
would surely go away by itself?” (p.178).
“Few men could make me feel diminutive. Sex
became sleek and narcissistic… I never felt
submissive and certainly never lost control.
Until Sloan. He overwhelmed me… The word
“masterful” comes to mind, but he could be
that. In the motel room in Nebraska … Sloan
took charge. In life, I am the most competent
person I know. It can get in the way. But Sloan
was such a master of sex that my competence
in life was irrelevant. He relieved me of choice.
And self-consciousness. That was the charm of
Is the dawning of hope the beginning of crisis,
and if so, how?
The loss of the baby is clearly the true crisis.
What happens to Jane’s sense of her own
accountability at this point in her life?
“It was the first time I’d heard him say the
words. ‘Our baby.’ I had steeled myself against
this notion of ‘our.’ That was the agreement I
had made with myself. I could have the baby,
provided I root out all desire for ‘our.’ This
baby would be mine, no strings attached. But
when I heard Sloan say ‘our baby’… it was like
conjuring. It made me gasp. I didn’t know how
to respond” (p.221).
“For the first time, I think I was aware of the
danger I’d walked into, the effect it might have
on the baby. I needed to make a choice”
I cried on and on, fed by the reservoir of all my
dread made real. My thwarted progeny. My
poor hope. I had robbed it of viability by my
lack of conviction. Of course, it was my fault. It
was all my fault” (p.293).
How does Jane feel about her illness?
How does Jane feel about her treatment of
other people in the course of this year?
Is hope reintroduced into her life, and if so,
As a DES daughter, I need hope for my outcome. I
don’t know if I’ll ever be able to bear children of my
own, but still, I’m one of the lucky ones… and I made
it” (p.360).
“I neglected to tell you this before the shoot, probably
sensing that you wouldn’t go along with it… it was too
late… I know these aren’t adequate excuses… All I can
do is apologize and ask you to forgive me and promise
to make it up to you somehow” (p.212).
“Sloan and I parted in Memphis knowing that we
would try once again to forge our respective
uncertainties into something that resembled a family
and a future” (p.355).
When Jane accepts the job producing My
American Wife! is she selling out? And if so,
“On the one hand I really did believe that you could use
housewives to sell meat in the service of a greater truth. On
the other hand I was broke after my divorce and desperate
for a job” (p.176).
“Of course I knew about toxicity in meat, the deforestation
of the rain forest to make grazing lands for hamburgers. Not
a lot, perhaps, but I knew a little” (p.334).
“Although my heart was set on being a documentarian, it
seems I was more useful as a go-between, a cultural pimp,
selling off the vast illusion of America to a cramped
population on that small string of Pacific islands” (p.9).
How can we describe her early disappointment
with the show?
Is there any hope associated with this
“I was learning. This was the heart and soul of My
American Wife!: recreating for Japanese housewives this
spectacle of raw American abundance” (p.35).
“The BEEF-EX people are very strict. They don’t want
their meat to have a synergistic association with
deformities. Like race. Or poverty. Or clubfeet. But at
the same time the Network is always complaining that
the shows aren’t ‘authentic’ enough. Well, I’ve been
saying if only they’d let me direct, I’d show them some
real Americans. So this is it, Sloan. This is my big
chance…” (p.57).
Once Jane begins directing, how does that
affect the narrative of the show? Is the focus
still on the meat?
What does Jane realize about the truth in
Is there a truth in documentaries, and can there
be such a thing?
How does the discovery of the toxic chemicals
in meat affect Jane’s work?
“I’d never get another meat like this, so beautifully
integrated into the core of the family narrative.
Documentarians are suckers for good narrative, since we
have to wait patiently for them to happen and can’t just
make them up from our imaginations” (p.137).
“I wanted to make programs with documentary integrity,
and at first I believed in a truth that existed – singular,
empirical, absolute. But slowly, as my skills improved, and
I learned about editing and camera angles and the effect
that music can have on meaning, I realized that the truth
was like race and could be measured only in everdiminishing approximations. Still, as a documentarian, you
must strive for the truth and believe in it wholeheartedly”
“When Miss Helen blurted out that remark
about chicken necks causing Mr. Purcell’s voice
to change and his breasts to grow, I was
shocked. I knew about antibiotics from the cute
doctor in Oklahoma, and I guess I knew that
hormones were used too. I just never gave it
much thought before… It was a discovery that
ultimately changed my relationship with meats
and television. It also changed the course of my
life” (p.123-4).
When Jane was producing the show, was she
being a documentarian? If not, what happened
to change this?
How do narrative and truth intertwine in the
making of her first “real” documentary?
What is Jane’s new attitude toward her own
pillow book? What are the similarities and/or
differences between her and Shonagon?
“Ueno wants beef, and beef he shall have… The DES
stuff was only the tip of the iceberg. Why didn’t I
pursue this? I call myself a documentarian, but I’ve
learned nothing about the industry that’s paid for these
shows” (p.202).
Editing my meat video was hard. It was not a TV show,
which was what I’d become accustomed to. It was a
real documentary, the first I’d ever tried to make, about
an incredibly disturbing subject. There were no recipes,
no sociological surveys, no bright attempts at
entertainment. So how to tell the story?” (p.334).
“There’s no denying, I thought. In the Year of
Meats, truth wasn’t stranger than fiction; it was
fiction… Half documentarian, half fabulist…
Maybe sometimes you have to make things up,
to tell truths that alter outcomes” (p.360).
Whatever people think of my book, I will make
it public, bring it to light unflinchingly. That is
the modern thing to do” (p.361).
How does Jane’s worldview expand from how
we saw it at the beginning of the novel?
How does Jane’s increasing awareness of
widespread ignorance motivate her to act and
think at the end of the book?
“Akiko’s fax threw me for a loop… up until
now I’d never really imagined my audience
before… Now it hit me: what an arrogant and
chauvinistic attitude this was. While I’d been
worrying about the well-being of the American
women I filmed as subjects, suddenly here was
the audience, embodied in Akiko, with a name
and a valuable identity” (p.231).
“I would like to think of my ‘ignorance’ less as a personal
failing and more as a massive cultural trend, and example of
doubling, of psychic numbing, that characterized the end of
the millennium. If we can’t act on knowledge, then we can’t
survive without ignorance. So we cultivate the ignorance, go
to great lengths to celebrate it, even. The faux-dumb
aesthetic that dominates TV and Hollywood must be about
this. Fed on a media diet of really bad news, we live in a
perpetual state of repressed panic. We are paralyzed by bad
knowledge, from which the only escape is playing dumb.
Ignorance becomes empowering because it enables people
to live. Stupidity becomes proactive, a political statement.
Our collective norm” (p.334).
EDITING – If the truth is subjective, how much of
her early “editing” was unethical?
CONTROL – How does relinquishing control
and/or learning to share control improve Jane’s
TRUTH – What have Jane learned about truth and
its representation?
ACCOUNTABILITY – How does Jane’s ability to
take responsibility for her own detrimental actions
help her hold the world, the meat industry and the
people in her life accountable?

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