By Izzy Kornman
Another modern example of Sinclair-esque topics can be found in the near-constant assault of disgusting pictures of the hot dog manufacturing process. Personally, I have been a vegetarian for around eight months now and before that, I ate exclusively kosher hot dogs, so none of this reporting shocks me. That said, I still find the entire process disgusting, and continuously wonder why people ingest these monstrosities so ignorantly.
In contrast to Sinclair’s narrative approach, articles on hot dogs like this , this , and this tend to go straight to the facts, often employing actual video footage or staggering statistics. Interestingly, these reports have not successfully stopped people from eating hot dogs, nor have they elicited a strong reaction from the FDA or any other relevant association. So what is it about The Jungle that proved so revolutionary in relation to the hot dog muckraking of today?
Perhaps the timing of the revelations proves the most differentiating: 1906 versus the 2000s. Certainly information flows more freely now than it did then, with any information we could think to want just a few clicks away, and all the information we did not know we wanted just as easily accessible. In a time when scandals go unnoticed in the face of newer, higher-profile scandals, meat packing plant nightmares can no longer captivate our attention.
Or maybe statistics and video, while much more straightforward, do not interest us the way a good story does. Sinclair weaves his findings and experiences seamlessly into a tale of woe and discovery so captivating that it forced governmental regulation and remains required reading a full century later. To the general American public, Sinclair’s melodramatic mode of storytelling resonates much clearer than a series of numbers.
Is it possible, though, that we as a people are just sick of it? Lately it seems that everything good in life drowns in a sea of horror and allegations. All of our favorite clothes allegedly come from sweatshops in third world countries full of child labor and disease; every politician that makes the news does so through misdeeds and embarrassment; every childhood role model from Disney channel and the like has publicly abused drugs or some other equally disheartening thing. If we take every modern Sinclair-esque exposure to heart as equally valid and earth-shattering, we would be forced to alter our worldview multiple times per day.
Most likely, I think, people enjoy hot dogs. Ignorance may actually be bliss to the majority of people who actively avoid reading articles about what goes into their favorite ballpark snack. They prefer to mindlessly indulge in hot dogs or Nike clothes or Hershey’s chocolate or any of the plentiful products we all appreciate and choose to ignore the ethical or health-related qualms that we encounter.
Sinclair wrote in a time when major scandals were scarce and fixable. He brought up an issue and, for the most part, the FDA handled as much of it as they could. We can attribute this widespread reaction to the fixable nature of his subject matter or to the general outcry for a solution, or some combination of the two. Essentially, the hot dog reporting of our time can be equated to the infamous trip that many middle schools take to a meat processing plant; one or two kids will throw up and become lifelong vegetarians, but the rest will be upset for a while and then go home and eat a steak. Sinclair paved the way for muckraking and provided the archetype, but the last one hundred years since he published The Jungle have largely desensitized us to this kind of approach.