Art would be easy if it weren’t for all the damn context. Case in point: earlier in September, Chipotle, owners of a chain of burrito joints, released a three minute video that’s gone viral. It’s the story of a Scarecrow, a cog in the machine of a corporate giant. Crow foods is the makers of –oh, just watch the video first.
Not a bad piece of corporate art, which is to say, it’s a solid piece of advertising. There is an honest attempt here to broach the complex topic of food politics. It’s problematic though. It wrestles with serious issues, true, but while trying to sell you burritos and a videogame. GMOs, an over-abundance of antibiotics in our food, the cruel, detached inhumanity of the system, are all targets, yet the exploitative way the short explores the topic is rankling. Behold the disgusting beef-like products. Gaze in horror in at the cow with the cutesy-eyes, and it’s so damn gentle.
When I reviewed Del-Toro’s couch gag for “The Simpsons” what I loved most was it made the show dangerous again. But this? There isn’t a hint of danger here, not a drop of Del-Toro mischief. When I think of large scale corporate evil, I tend to associate it with fascism, dictatorships, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I have to admit though, this approach has become cliche. It simplifies a complex issue, dehumanizes those involved (yes, they are human) and invites its own cliches. The short eschews all of this for a Fisher-Price aesthetic, coupled with a rendition of “Pure Imagination” covered by Fionna Apple. For the culturally illiterate, it’s originally a song from “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.”
Change is wistful, dreamy, we’re all so close to getting the chocolate factory we always wanted. It just takes a little vision and the willingness to chop our own food. It comes across as childish (psst, you’ll feel better if you buy our video game!)
Then again, one has to consider the audience. It isn’t me. I’m the converted. I’m a believer in locavorism as a solution. I’m educated on the gross evils perpetrated by the factory farm system but is the average Chipotle customer? What about their kids? Should Chipotle scare the poop out of little children, by showing them the worst of the worst, by showing this?
That cow has a giant hole! Stuff like this is done in the name of efficiency. It’s done in the name of producing more meat, more milk, more, more, more! This is why we have antibiotics, ammonia, and pink slime in our food. This is why people go vegan. This is why people go paleolithic. This is why there’s so much fear and trepidation concerning the modern human diet. Combining graphic imagery with the Fisher-Price vibe would have made from some truly unsettling imagery! It would have, in addition to damaging their bottom line, turned away customers. Customers Chipotle could have otherwise educated. There’s a lot of people out there who don’t know anything about the evils of the factory farm system, but, damnit, some of them want a burrito, and when they do, they go to Chipotle. If only the blasted thing weren’t trying to sell you a video game (notice this is sticking point for me), then their pitch as champion of a counter system would carry much more weight as a child friendly plastic toy short piece on food, the present, and the future.
It reminds me of Fincher’s “Fight Club” in this regard. It remains one of my favorite films, but there is a line of criticism that has dogged the film since its release: it is an act of hypocrisy. How can a film be against the system when the film itself is the product of the system, a deeply intrenched piece of commercial film making generated by the Hollywood system? In respect to “Fight Club”, this critique overlooks the guerrilla warfare of using a piece of the system of against itself.
The Scarecrow is stuck in a similar situation. This is capitalism critiquing capitalism. This doesn’t invalidate the message. You might as well say teachers can’t critique the education system because they’re part of it. When in truth, their insider perspective provides us with a viewpoint to which those on the outside simply don’t have access. Credibility though is attached to motive. Fight Club succeeds because its will satirize everything, even itself. The Scarecrow? Ugh, that damn video game.
So this is what I, your humble reviewer recommend. Watch the video with your son, daughter, nephew, etc. Use it to start a conversation about food and food ethics, but please, pause the video before the sales pitch. And if you want to have a conversation about the power of advertising, show them the whole video, but show them this video too.
Written By David Arroyo