About a week ago, Nick and I were enjoying a nice dinner at home when a Red Bull commercial came on TV. You’ve probably seen it, but just in case, here’s the gist: A pilgrim and a Native American walk toward a pen of farm animals. A pig, cow, and sheep all share a can of Red Bull and magically grow wings to fly away before the humans can slaughter them. The last animal in the pen, a turkey, tries to drink from the can, but it is empty. He shakes the can desperately and lets out a sad little squawk. In the next scene, the happy pilgrims and Native Americans are sitting down to a cheerful Thanksgiving dinner of turkey corpse. That’s right: Red Bull gives you wings.
This commercial hit me hard. I know, I know, it is just a stupid commercial, a crudely drawn cartoon meant to be funny. They’re not supposed to be taken too seriously. But the commercial was in such poor taste, and poked fun of slaughter in such an unfunny way, that I found myself still upset with it days later. All obvious elements of “humorous” irony aside (but real turkeys can fly! Red Bull didn’t exist back then!), what the ad really does is make light of a creature’s helplessness and panic before an inevitable death.
It’s difficult to write about this, because the stereotypes of vegetarians/vegans automatically work against me. We are often dismissed as self-righteous, picky, preachy, weird, snooty out-of-touch idealists and overly sensitive party poopers. We are granola hippies and spoiled yuppies. It is very hard to overcome these stereotypes. Actually I don’t know how successful I have been so far in overcoming them, though I try to act as easygoing and agreeable as possible. It’s sad though, because feeling like I have to act this way, as I’m sure other veggies do too, prevents me from fully embracing and sharing one of my core values.
Basically, the Red Bull commercial was an extra dig during a holiday that is already a little awkward to deal with. I can only assume that some non-vegetarians out there also found the ad to be in poor taste and just kind of sad. Is this the way we are going to continue to treat Thanksgiving? As a funny time when you sure don’t want to be a turkey! When the president pardons one each year but then eats another? Where we continue to ignore the deplorable conditions of factory farms and the revolting ways that turkeys and other animals raised for food are modified and mutilated to be as cheap as possible? Not to mention the environmental impacts and the physical and mental health effects on the workers?
See, I already sound like a crazy hippie zealot. Even though there is plenty of evidence to back this up. Even though it is something I care very deeply about.
It’s hard. But sometimes people get it right.
Thank goodness for the Simpsons. I play the Simpsons “Tapped Out” game on my iPhone and I am admittedly a little addicted. They are currently running a Thanksgiving-themed content update that follows poor little Lisa’s plight to save Springfield’s turkeys from becoming Thanksgiving dinner. The dialogue between Lisa and Homer, as well as characters like Moe and Cletus, is clever and funny. They poke fun of Lisa and Homer. We see Homer as the quintessential hungry American, and Lisa as the “self-satisfied” animal lover. Both personalities are fair game for observant wisecracks. (They also continue to poke fun at me, the game player, who continues to waste hours earning XP and $ and the occasional donut.).
I have a silly confession here (also, spoiler alert if you play Tapped Out and don’t know what happens to the turkeys yet). I looked online to read about the parts of the content update that I haven’t reached yet, because I wanted to make sure the turkeys were ok. And guess what? (Unless what I read it wrong), they are! It’s a very sweet and funny story.
And yes, I know the turkeys in Tapped Out aren’t real – and that they’re not real in the Red Bull commercial either – but there is a larger, more powerful message at play in both examples. Red Bull and the Simpsons chose very different lenses with which to examine our Thanksgiving traditions. There is a way to shed light on real issues while keeping the tone lighthearted. There is also a need to be serious once in awhile, and while I know a product advertisement is generally not the right time, I hope that mainstream corporations will eventually recognize a slowly increasing but steady demand for ethical treatment of and mutual respect for humans, cows, pigs, sheep, and turkeys alike.
P.S. Nick and I visited Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen earlier this year. Even though it poured during our visit, we had a great time. We decided to adopt a turkey this year (we adopted Tulip). You can learn more about their Adopt a Turkey Project here.