field work exemplar



What does a successful Field Work Paper look like? Read a student example from our course:

Field Work: The Rainforest Café (c) Shanley Erin Kane 2006 (All Rights Reserved. This may not be duplicated in any form.)

The dictionary of culinary consumer culture in the United States suggests a fairly wide range of definition where the various ambiances, rituals, and social codings corresponding to the term “café” are concerned. In our cultural lingo, the term “café” has a wide variety of identity options available within it, ranging from the quaint coffee shop, to the casual dining space, to the al fresco pavilion featuring bread baskets and scrolling menus. “Café” has a distinctly European association, the aura of high culture and leisure activity; yet it can also stand for a greasy breakfast diner with fast turnover and a line of short order cooks. Despite this multiplicity of readings, the term “café” still suggests a fairly strict distinction between it and other enterprise; namely, that its primary territory is that of the gastronomic art, with other inclinations (casual conversation and people-watching included), revolving around this singular essential purpose, and inseparable from it. In this way is the term “café” in the context of “The Rainforest Café” a purely misleading term.

The Rainforest Café bills itself as a restaurant in name alone. In fact, The Rainforest Café is whole-heartedly dedicated to the task of creating itself as more than just a simple place to sit down and have some “Lava Nachos” or a “Paradise Pot-roast”. The façade is the first step the Rainforest Café takes in constructing its identity as no mere restaurant, but rather a locale in which to experience a genuine encounter with nature. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary (its terrifically urban setting and capitalistic intent, its cartoons and stylized depictions of animals), this institution sets itself up as a true safari, an actual contact point with the natural world.

This effect is initially achieved by the considerable lengths the restaurant goes to in creating a metal and physical separation between the urban world and itself. The building is decked out entirely in murals and three dimensional renderings of jungle and animal: a gigantic frog perches over the signboard; huge mushrooms protruding from the plant motif of the walls imitate the shade of trees; gorillas peer out from entanglements of vine. Enclaves of living exotic-looking plants are sprayed with a cooling mist as the building casts a dusky shade over its entrance, marked with benches, a bulletin board featuring its menu, and, curiously enough, a wooden sign proclaiming “Your Adventure Begins Here.” This business sets itself apart from the surrounding McDonald’s and skyscrapers with elaborate decoration, by creating a sense of oasis. This is its first step in creating and presenting itself as actual nature, a world outside coarse, artificial city living.

The construction of “café as nature” elaborates indoors, and is erected both through the transformation of the consumer identity into that of a tropical adventurer and through the continued representation of the natural world. These aspects are achieved simultaneously through the organization of the business. In the gift shop, columns parading as trees hold up a dense thicket of vines and stuffed animals to peer up at. Walking through the racks of merchandise, one feels one is walking through a forest. The roars of leopards and the hoots of monkeys play from speakers in the ceiling, making it seem as if the animals are all about you. A gigantic waterfall in the entrance makes soothing crashing noises against its plastic rocks. Consumers approach the hostess stand through a frayed rope divider meant to look like a vine, where they are greeted by an employee dressed up in an outfit that resembles the khaki uniforms of lion hunters on TV. To be seated, consumers follow their “guide” through a huge archway composed entirely of salt-water fish tanks- perhaps containing the only true “nature” to be found. This archway contributes to the sense that one is passing into another world, another place. Through these and other devices, The Rainforest Café becomes more than a restaurant. It becomes an actual natural environment, and its patrons genuine forest adventurers.

This construction is cemented with a quick look through the gift shop. Photo booths proclaim “Create a Unique Souvenir: Put Yourself in the Picture.” A rack of The Rainforest Café’s own brand of jewelry proclaims “Souvenir Pins”. There are lunchboxes and straws, pajama pants, stuffed animals- but there are no binoculars or educational books on the jungle ecosystem; no bug containers or magnifying glasses; no watershoes or trail mixes. In short, nothing is sold that would assist in or encourage a consumer’s interaction with nature, the real nature outside of the store. Through a combination of presenting The Rainforest Café as an expedition to commemorate with a souvenir token and excluding merchandise that would help explore the environment, The Rainforest Café presents itself not as an access point to nature, but as nature itself.
To an adult, these assertions may seem ridiculous. After all, The Rainforest Café is clearly not a genuine ecosystem. But the key to The Rainforest Café is that its success depends on children. Its gift shop is dominated by children’s apparel and trinkets- they occupy the foremost area of the store. Cartoon characters abound. Children are seated at every table. This is not a place for adults. This is a place for adults to take children. Childhood- a period marked with an inability to accurately distinguish fantasy from reality. It is worth asking: even though a parent knows The Rainforest Café is not nature, does their kid?

(c) Shanley Erin Kane 2006