The luckiest nut in the world

Nut selection

Year: 2002

Writer / Producer / Director: Emily James

Production company: Fulcrum TV

Type: Animated film (22.53 minutes) first shown in the ‘Alt-TV’ series on Channel 4 TV in the UK.

Availability: free online (22.53 minutes on Vimeo [embedded below]; 8.11 minute version on YouTube, myspace)

Page reference: Cook, I. (2011) The luckiest nut in the world. ( last accessed <insert date here>)



A singing peanut and his gang of shelled friends explain that sometimes free trade is just nuts (Source: Fulcrum TV nd link).

Using a mix of songs, animation and archive footage an American peanut looks at how his experiences are compared to other nuts around the world. The end result is an amusing look at Trade Liberalisation and why it works for some countries but not for others (Source: IMDb 2002 link).

Mr Nut does this all in song … [which] is intercut with original animation, existing cartoons, propaganda films, public information films and bits and pieces from the anthropology archive (Source: Anon 2002a).

The film follows an animated American peanut, who sings about the difficulties faced by nuts from developing countries. Supported by a mixture of animation, music, our American peanut takes the viewer through the stories of the cashew, brazil and ground nuts – all of whom suffer as world trade is liberalized. But it is a different story in America – where the peanut is protected by tariffs and heavily subsidized, and worth over four billion dollars a year to the American economy. Certainly the luckiest nut in the world. The film helps people to understand how the pressure to embrace ‘free market’ economics, with it’s promise of a wealthy, abundant market place has actually driven many countries further into poverty (Source: James 2002a link).

Hosted by a drawling, guitar-strumming American peanut backed by an ensemble of close harmony nuts that resembled a bizarre experiment in genetic modification involving the acapella gospel group Take Six, the programme focused around the numerous inequalities and incidences of unethical practice that blight international trade in nuts. The stories of several third world nations and their struggle to successfully export cashew nuts, brazil nuts and groundnuts in the face of poor monetary advice and deliberate economic sabotage were related, and then contrasted with the corresponding history of the American peanut, which has been heavily subsidised and supported. … The American peanut kept up his narration throughout, constantly handing over to the other nuts to try out their harmonies on a harsh economic fact, and occasionally handing over to a cheap-looking sock puppet to explain the meaning of complex monetary terminology in simple terms. All of this was intercut with redubbed archive footage, eschewing the lazy innuendo-laden “comedy” that usually gets applied to similarly manipulated archive film in favour of basic facts about international trade being read out in boring or comically accented voices (Source: Worthington 2002 link).

The Luckiest Nut in the World stars an animated barbershop quartet of nuts singing backup for a guitar-strumming peanut with a cowboy hat and a Texan drawl. It’s a program that wouldn’t look entirely out of place as filler between live-action segments on a children’s program. But forget Sesame Street – these nuts are admonishing international institutions for unfair trade practices that prevent struggling Third World countries from catching up with the West. This quirky 30-minute doc by London-based American director Emily James aired on U.K. broadcaster Channel 4′s ‘Alt-TV’ in August 2002. The three-year-old strand’s mandate is twofold: to give new directors a break, and to experiment with the documentary form (Source: Wong 2003).

Inspiration / Process / Technique / Methodology

Animated films are increasingly being used in ways where the focus is on communication or in a social-political criticism and commentary. Many of these films are non-narrative animation, utilised to critique abstract, historical or contemporary socio-political, economic and industrial agendas, systems and practices … Films such as these not only represent the integration of aspects of radical thought and utilitarian thought in their conception, exhibition and distribution, but, they also integrate tools of propaganda and persuasion. … A contemporary example is Emily James’ documentary animated film The Luckiest Nut in the World (2002, UK) … (Source: Lavine 2010 link).

“It’s important to give a nod to what you’re doing. I’m presenting a strong opinion using techniques that were also used to persuade people” [Emily James] explains. “It’s like sampling in music – you appropriate it, but it maintains its origins and allows me to have my tongue in my cheek and not become too preachy.” One difference between James and the propagandists whose material she has appropriated is that they had a lot more money to play around with. So how did she manage on a £40,000 budget? “Well, it was time-consuming,” she explains. “Most people do films for ‘Alt-TV’ in six or eight weeks. I took six months. And it wouldn’t have been possible if we’d paid people properly – I had to call in favours from friends” (Source: Anon 2002a).

When the pressure on young television makers is to play safe and stick to familiar formulae, finding a prime-time slot to tell your own story in your own way is like winning the lottery. In an increasingly crowded and constricted field of programme ideas, Alt TV offers new television producers and directors the opportunity to make half-an-hour of prime- time television in their own idiosyncratic way. The results are an eclectic mix of stories and styles. In The Luckiest Nut in the World a singing peanut presented the second programme of the series. … Alt TV gives new programme makers an opportunity – in fact actively encourages them – to experiment with highly personal films, some moving, some entertaining, some hilarious. It has provided an invaluable stepping stone for talented new directors on their way to larger and more testing projects – another example of Channel 4 offering something new and different to its audience while fulfilling its role as the R+D lab of creative television in Britain (Source: Channel 4 2002, p.27).

I had been reading a lot about global economics and simply became obsessed with the idea that one could make a film which would give people enough economics and history with which they could engage, while still being thoroughly entertaining. I must have pitched a dozen different ideas on the subject before I came up with the concept for The Luckiest Nut (Source: James 2002b link).

The film was made in the summer of 2002, commissioned by Channel 4 as part of their alt-TV strand (I don’t think it exists anymore). My studio at the time was a very pokey bedroom in a Dalston flat. I remember doing the recording sessions with the various singers (I voiced the barbershop nut chorus, but the main characters like the peanut were done by actors) and it getting absolutely boiling in there. I always love writing lyrics about complicated and not-often-sung-about subjects –something I’ve been called upon to do quite a few times in my career. In fact, before all the more traditional scoring work took off, this was my main thing (Source: composer Schweitzer nd link).

Among Ms. James’s “issue” films: a free-trade explainer called “The Luckiest Nut in the World” that she made for Britain’s Channel 4 in 2002. An eight-minute version was later picked up for use in classrooms – especially meaningful to James, whose career was inspired by an animated history film she saw in primary school (Source: Collins 2006 link).

Discussion / Responses

No longer stuffy, didactic or earnest, the new breed of documentary … is attracting audiences who would normally shy away from the genre. These films prove you can make a non-fiction film entertaining and provocative, even if it’s about tragic events. But is a documentary still a documentary when the narrator is a singing peanut suffering from Western liberal guilt? (Source: Hughes 2004).

It’s somewhat disorientating to say the least to see a whimsical, faintly surreal animation straight after an ordinary weekday edition Channel 4 News, but as it soon became apparent, … The Luckiest Nut in the World was much more than just a whimsical, faintly surreal animation. Cleverly drawing in its audience with a prolonged introduction that made it look as though the viewer was about to enjoy half an hour’s worth of the adventures of some talking nuts, this … had weightier issues on its mind. …  this was no mere exercise in preachy tautology, and neither was it couched in the sometimes off-putting over-earnestness of the sort of programme that would normally tackle this kind of subject. … Coming across like a strange fusion of Victor Lewis-Smith and Mark Thomas, … The Luckiest Nut in the World was a programme that was impossible to ignore on any level once you’d started watching it. On the one hand, it was impossible to avoid smirking at the animated nuts singing “the IMF, mmmmmmmmmmmmm, they put their foot down!”, yet at the same time it was also impossible to avoid taking in the blunt facts that the programme was relating or fully understanding the unfair nature of the trade practices at work in the world today. It’s easy to ignore a graph charting an economic downturn if it’s presented to you with the cold graphical style, ominous narration and sparse editing that characterises literally dozens of programmes per week. It’s much harder to ignore it, however, if it splurges onto the screen like some escaped Nickelodeon graphic and is explained to you by a chorus of singing nuts. Far from alienating any viewers who weren’t particularly interested in the subject matter, the programme actually drew them in, entertaining and amusing them while never losing its grasp on the need to make its point as unequivocally and effectively as possible. Some may sneer and deride this as a “dumbed down” way of tackling a serious topic, but the blunt truth of the matter is that a lot more thought and intelligence went into the planning of … The Luckiest Nut in the World than goes into the average identikit production line current affairs documentary. The intention here was clearly to reach out to a wider audience than might normally be expected for a show with such heavyweight subject matter, and the makers took a dazzling and refreshingly different approach to accomplishing this feat. Certainly, it’s likely that more than a few stragglers left over after the news and channel-surfers who had grown tired of Match of the Day will have found their interest sufficiently aroused to persuade them to keep watching. What’s more, they probably learned quite a lot in the process (Source: Worthington 2002 link).

I work for an environmental charity, but I do dislike all these `greens’ who harp on about the evils of world trade and organisations like WTO, IMF, The World Bank as if they were Satan on earth! So this short really won me over because it took a reasonable line, was fun but actually said what all the hippies say! Using nuts as an example of a commodity the film looks at several examples of how free trade has failed to be just that. We are taken on this journey by a country- singing, all-American peanut who has been protected by free trade. He looks at several other cases from Africa and South America where the nut trade has collapsed due to free trade and the influence of organisation like the WTO, IMF, The World Bank and even the EU itself. This is all delivered with animation, puppets and songs – all with a great sense of fun and wit that amazingly comes across despite the subject material! It is very funny and very educational. Whereas many protestors against globalisation tend to just group together and chant slogans to no great effect (how am I supposed to learn from you?) this actually sets out the facts and shows you why it may not all be a great idea. The animation and editing is superb, the voice artists are great and the songs are clever and funny. It’s such a mix of styles and content but it works very well. Overall I really enjoyed this and felt I learnt from it. Next time you see armies of teenage protestors throwing stones at the police, with their point lost in a sea of violence, switch off the news and instead try and find this short film which will make the case against Trade Liberalisation in a much better way (Source: bob the moo 2002 link).

Using jaunty music, animation and old films, Emily Joyce managed to convey clearly the complexity of a difficult subject to comprehend. I had an economics teacher who managed to explain macro and micro economics by illustrating examples using Vimto as his “cash crop” but a film like this would have helped enormously. It certainly sinks in and can be easily remembered (Source: Anon 2002b)

The purpose behind making this film is interesting–how global economic policies might have negative unintended consequences for small and less advantaged countries. Not exactly a “sexy topic”, I understand and I respect the filmmaker’s attempt to make the topic more interesting to a wider audience. The problem is that this talking peanut (yes, a talking and singing one at that) is really, really dull and not especially inspiring. For little kids, the whole thing would look cute but make no sense because it’s an adult topic. For older audiences who could perhaps understand the topic, the presentation will probably turn them off since it looks like a film for young kids. A nice try, but dry and dull and not especially inspiring (Source: planktonrules 2008 link).

Our class couldn’t stop laughing at it. But, it’s not that great once you watch it like a gazillion times over (Source: MusicComesAlive nd link).

Leave it to my social studies teacher to find a video like this:-S haha oh well easy homework.. kinds (Source: Polkadot1213 nd link).

I liked this video. / It told me things that were blatantly obvious, but used music and nuts. Overall quite enjoyable. / this is so boring!!! / your boring!!! / lol we had to watch this at school / Same here, it was TERRIBLE! / SAME ! / all your movies are boing / / the format made it almost unwatchable. also: [****]  yea for america being better at capitalism / i .. want.. the … song / this guy really likes nuts / Some of the information in the video is not exactly correct. Some other people pointed em out though but the video was good. / i only liked the song at the begging XD / peanuts aren’t nuts, they’re legumes, like beans and peas / sings happily ‘they spend more on debt then education and debt combbbbinnnneeedddd’ lol nice (Source: ReggieRoden et al nd link).

Frightening on so many levels. (Source: Anon 2002c)

For Adorno, the purpose of dialectical thinking is ‘to pursue the inadequacy of though and thing’ (1973: 153). Adorno wants to prise open the gap the gap between thought and thing, to see how the former ‘lags behind itself as soon as we apply it empirically’ (1973: 151). In other words, if to think and to identify are critically interwoven, to think critically is to give a concept ‘a turn towards non-identity’, and this ‘is the hinge of negative dialectics’ (Adorno 1973: 12). Contradiction ‘indicates the untruth of identity, the fact that the concept does not exhaust the thing conceived’ (Adorno 1973: 5). One aesthetic mode which explores this gap between concept and thing as tragicomedy is satire. For example, the short film The luckiest nut in the world (Emily James II 2002 GB) combines animation, documentary footage and the musical genre to illuminate the yawning contradiction between what the discourse of neoliberalism imposes on Third World countries and a route out of poverty and the actual outcomes, which turn out to be more poverty. Our narrator is a singing American peanut, complete with boots, guitar and a ten gallon hat. The peanut has had his conscience pricked (and is thus representative of the Western side of the anti-capitalist movement) by the evident inequities between his pampered and protected situation and the fate of Third World nut producers who have seen their industries implode after following World Bank and International Monetary Fund advice to open up their markets to international competition. The immanent critique of a concept like ‘trade liberalisation’ is also then a critique and reworking of the generic materials of mass culture whose ‘innocence’ and naivety are juxtaposed (with comic and tragic effect) with brutal realities. As Walter Benjamin famously notes, cultural documents of civilisation, whether they be high art or 1950s newsreels, are also (disguised) documents of social barbarism. The task of critique is therefore to ‘brush history against the grain’ (Benjamin 1999b: 248) (Source: Wayne 2003, p.230-231).

Impacts / Outcomes

… the most singular success in my mind was when Christian Aid in the UK used the film and its characters in the “Trade Rules are Nuts, Let’s Crack’m!” campaign. The fact that the film has been picked up in this way and is still being shown to help people see the follies of free market economics is a source of endless gratification to me (Source: Emily James in Anon nd link).

Dear Tony [Blair]

You’ve said a lot about the importance of ending world poverty but words are not enough. To really tackle poverty, we need to change the way world trade works – at the moment it’s absolutely nuts! Poor countries are forced to open up their markets to foreign competition and are not able to give their own producers the help they need.

Please will you use your authority to call for trade rules that are weighted to benefit poor countries and communities? I look forward to seeing how trade rules change.

Yours sincerely

(Source: text from postcard in the ‘“Trade Rules are Nuts, Let’s Crack’m!” campaign pack for young people)

The first-time director behind The Luckiest Nut In The World – the Channel 4 film presented by a singing peanut that was feted in the broadcaster’s 2002 annual report – has secured a four-part series for C4.Producer/director Emily James’ 4 x 30-minute as yet untitled series will spotlight the behaviour of European multinational giants in the oil, pharmaceutical, food and plastics industries and contrast it with the image being pushed by their relevant PR departments. One example could be oil giant BP ’s recent “green washing” rebrand.The series, which will be presented by a glove puppet, has been dubbed “a cross between (comedian) Mark Thomas and Sesame Street”. Each film will blend animation and live-action and will be set in a studio with a puppet audience. The series will take its irreverent tone from the puppet presenter’s pro-corporate voice. James said she was also hoping to create a subtext about the manipulation of public opinion by entertainment television. Commissioned by C4 editor, independent film and video Jess Search, the series will be made by Fulcrum Productions and executive produced by the indie’s joint managing director Christopher Hird. No transmission date has been set but it is due for delivery in April next year. (Source: Anon 2003a).

For the past two years, Emily's attention has been focused on her feature project Just Do It - a tale of modern-day outlaws, a behind the scenes look at environmental direct action. Gaining unprecedented access, the film tells the story of the activists who put their bodies in the way to fight against climate injustice. Their adventures will entertain, illuminate and inspire (Source: Shacham 2011).

References / Further Reading

Anon (nd) The luckiest nut in the world. Share the world’s resources ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

Anon (2002a) The world’s gone nuts: a subversive look at global peanut farming. Time Out (London) August 28

Anon (2002b) Nuts meet world economics. Western Morning News (Plymouth), August 31, p.16

Ann (2002c) Critics’ choice, Television. The Sun August 30,

Anon (2003a) C4 to scrutinise multinationals. Broadcast May 8

Anon (2003b) Special issue: Is trade fair? (based on The luckiest nut in the world). Secondary Schools: fairground Issue 24, Spring (London: CAFOD). ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

bob the moo (2002) Entertaining and educating - great film. 26 October ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

Collins, C. (2006) Guerrilla video gives power to the people. Christian Science Monitor April 21, p.12 ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

Channel 4 (2002) Review: Channel 4 Television Corporation report and financial statement 2002. London: Channel 4

Fulcrum TV (nd) The Luckiest Nut in the World. ( 20Nut.html last accessed 4 April 2011)

Hughes, F. (2004) DOXA delivers the best new documentaries. North Shore News (British Columbia) May 21, p.37

IMDb (2002) The Luckiest Nut in the World. ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

Lavine, S. (2010) Aspects of social activism in animated films in the UK. Paper presented at the 9. Přehlídka animovaného filmu / 9th Festival of Film Animation, Olomouc, Czech Republic ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

Polkadot1213 (nd) The Luckiest Nut in the World: comments. ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

James, E. (2002a) The Luckiest Nut in the World. ( last accessed 4 April 2002)

James, E. (2002b) Media that Matters: Good Food. The Luckiest Nut in the World. Arts Engine ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

MusicComesAlive (nd) The Luckiest Nut in the World: comments. ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

planktonrules (2008) Making a not especially exciting topic even less interesting! 29 April ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

ReggieRhoden et al (nd) The Luckiest Nut in the World: comments. ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

Schweitzer, D. (nd) The Luckiest Nut in the World. ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

Shacham, L. (2011) pers comm. 19 July

Wayne, M. (2003) Marxism & media studies. London: Pluto

Worthington, TJ. (2002) Alt-TV: The Luckiest Nut in the World. ( last accessed 4 April 2011)

Wong, D. (2003) A strand apart. Realscreen July 1, p.18

Compiled by Ian Cook (last updated July 2011). Trailer embedded with permission of Emily James.