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Conspiracies and Cannibalism: Animals and Advertising

Boost, a cell phone company, is currently running a commercial showing two animated pigs enjoying a dinner of sliced ham in an upscale restaurant. One pig asks if it's "wrong" they're eating a "fallen friend" and goes on to tell us that what's really wrong are the hidden charges in other cell phone plans. See it here

Dairy Queen promotes its Popcorn Shrimp basket with an animated commercial; dad munches happily away on a big bucket of "popcorn," mom joins in, both agree it tastes wonderful, until they realize the kids are gone. Panic and despair follow when they realize they're eating their kids.

Burger King used animated chickens in a staged cock fight match to promote their Tender Crisp and Spicy Tender Crisp chicken sandwiches. Burger King's use of cockfighting was seen as glorifying the inhumane act, and animal welfare advocates protested. In a surreal and disturbing aside, Burger King has a "game" you can play: Subservient Chicken. You type in a command, and a person in a chicken suit, in a living room, obeys. It's very creepy. The deeper message is that we not only get to eat chickens but control their actions in undignified ways; we are their masters!

Wienerschnitzel, a fast food hot dog chain, advertises a terrified hot dog running for its life. Merchandise is available on their website, including a running for its life hot dog antenna topper. And speaking of games, you can "Push the boundaries" on the web site in "Wiener World" (yeah, I know) where "Boundary Pushers of the Day," people eating dogs in unusual places, are featured.

National and smaller, independent restaurants often promote their food offerings using the very thing they kill and sell to us to eat. On the surface, it's presented as humor, nothing more. The chicken, fish, cow or pig joyfully entices us to partake of him.

Just below the surface is the idea of the mascot representing another realm where the spirit of the sacrificed animals calls to us, bewitching us to eat its own kind. Below that, however, is a symbolic exorcising of guilt; by using the very animals we're killing and eating as a happy and enthusiastic ambassador, we don't have to deal with our responsibility in the process. Our self-indulgence and often times sheer gratuitous is quieted by the use of goofy, dorky, funny, slapstick animal caricatures eating their own and sacrificing themselves, and they're happy to do it. Paradoxically, at the same time the use of these animals behaving in ecstasy over their sacrifices gives us justification and the go-ahead to eat away.

I was surprised to find there are blogs out there devoted to this very idea of the downright weirdness of animal images promoting the eating of their brethren. Young and Hungry is one, with citations of an excellent article on this topic by Mark Morton, who wrote a piece for Gastonomia. Unfortunately, the article is not available on-line. There's also the blog Suicide Food which is about:

What is Suicide Food? Suicide Food is any depiction of animals that act as though they wish to be consumed. Suicide Food actively participates in or celebrates its own demise. Suicide Food identifies with the oppressor. Suicide Food is a bellwether of our decadent society. Suicide Food says, "Hey! Come on! Eating meat is without any ethical ramifications! See, Mr. Greenjeans? The animals aren't complaining! So what's your problem?" Suicide Food is not funny.

There many great examples of this animal imagery weirdness at Suicide Food; one is the photo of a little plastic sign that sits atop your steak at Cabana Las Lilas, a famous restaurant in Buenos Aires. Shaped like a cow, the sign says "Estoy jugoso" -- "I am juicy." The Frank Sinatra hot dog is another good one. In a surreal way of course.

Another good article is from Enter the Octopus blog. In the post "On Cannibalism and Ritual Feasts in Advertising Art," Matt Staggs comments, of the cannibalistic imagery in food advertising:

It also reminds me of Da Vinci's "The Last Supper," perhaps the best-known example of the sacrifice that serves itself. . . This motif does have precedent in even earlier mythology. Ancient tales are rife with stories of cows and pigs that regenerate their flesh even after the hardiest of human predations.

Depicting animals in often goofy, anthropomorphized ways isn't limited to American culture; we find examples of this all over the world (as the above plastic cow from Buenos Aires shows.) This isn't about eating meat, well, it is of course, but also the mindful actions of the individual when we choose to do so.

All this distancing from the realities involved in getting the meat from its source -- a living creature -- to our stomachs provides another function; that of numbing us to animal welfare issues in general, including cloning and other Big Science animal exploitation and experimentation. We won't question the tactics of GM, (genetically modified foods) pharmaceutical companies, corporations, and practices like putting ground dead animal carcasses into pet food and animal feed. (And, until Obama's recent banning of the practice, "downer" cows in our meat; downer cows are diseased and injured cows led to slaughter and added to the beef we consume.)

If we eat cloned meat, either unknowingly or with full appreciation, we gladly clone our pets and farm animals and don't stop to consider not only the health issues involved but the spiritual. If we do that, we run the risk of coming across as superstitious religious fundies, or fringe loonies like the Raelians and no one wants that.

Synchronicity abounds in the esoteric world, and it made an appearance with this column. Richelle told me, after I was working on this piece, that her column this week is about commercials. I haven't read Richelle's column yet, because I didn't want to be influenced. So now I'm off to read hers, and see what her unique and always well written perspective is on advertising.

Next Trickster's Realm column: animals that glow, and not because they have to.

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