This is undoubtedly one of the stangest videos I have seen in a long time!
The scene is a graduation class in Japan, where students receive their diploma. Otherwise I won’t give any spoilers, my comments are below. Just watch it for yourself first!
(note: there are no animals used in this video, and no images of animal abuse).
Graduation class of 2014
It’s a very special day, the first day of a new journey: the students receive their ‘diplomas’ and hear their final destination, the job they have to do. This is what they’ve worked for all these years. “But an end is also a beginning” is the thought of a girl graduate, central in the video.
The nose rings already lead to suspect they are not just ordinary students. Indeed, we learn it’s the graduation ceremony of the ‘cattle of 2014’. One graduate’s destination is Yamada farm, another one is off to a Rodeo Park in Texas. The graduates are not called out by their name, but by their number. The girl that was reassured by her friend that she will be popular everywhere she goes, is very happy to be leaving for Yokohama zoo. Hurray! A boy who has to go to work for Tanake beef is sad, and a gasp goes through the audience as his destination is proclaimed.
Girl number 90, central in the video is called to approach the stage. Her thoughts go out to her past, how she has worked harder than anyone else. “Going through hell, in order to be special“. Saddened that her chances were called skim by a teacher, she was reassured by her mother that she is not ‘skim’ but has something very special: ‘puff out that chest and let them have it!’. She is anxious to hear her destiny, and thrilled to hear that she is assigned to … a milk coffee company. The audience is in awe and applauds. “Give them your richest milk and keep it flowing” the principle says to her.
In the end it turns out this is an advertisement for a coffee company, proclaiming to be “Freshly ground coffee with the creamiest milk“.
I have watched the video several times now. The first time I watched it I thought it might even end with an animal rights or vegan message (I had no clue what it was about). So I was surprised to find out it was a commercial for milk. I must say I am still baffled by it. Here are some thoughts that crossed my mind.
the myth of happy animals
The animal industry often uses the argument that animal rights activists mistakingly attribute humanlike characteristics or feelings to other animals. In other words, attributing emotions to animals is deemed anthropomorphic and unscientific. Their claim is we cannot talk about animals as being sad or afraid, lonely or anxious, as these are human characteristics, human emotions, and animals don’t have those kinds of emotions .
Yet the industry incessantly uses anthropomorphic images of ‘happy animals’ in advertisements for milk, meat and other animal products. This commercial has an interesting twist, in that the animals are now even ‘played’ by humans. Animals are portrayed as willing participants, happy and proud to serve their life in a zoo or rodeo. If the graduate ends up as beef, he has only himself to blame, it’s his own fault, he hasn’t worked hard enough. Only the best, the good looking and hard working will get a good job. A good job in this ad is providing humans with spectacle (the rodeo, zoo, bullfighting) or giving them culinary pleasure. They are portrayed as being proud to sacrifice their lives for us.
My point is of course not to deny that animals have feelings: being afraid or happy of course does not stop at the human species border. But that the attribution of such feelings of pride and honour in this context is very misleading.
I think portraying them as ‘happy animals’ serves humans to ease their conscience about eating meat and abusing animals. If we can portray the animals as willing participants, proud and honoured to serve us, it is much easier to devour a steak. Afterall, they led a happy and meaningfull life, didn’t they?
It would be interesting to see a sequel to this commercial. The life the graduates go to lead. At the zoo, at the rodeo, at the farm and in the slaughterhouse. How number 90, the girl central in this commercial, and destined for the coffee brand, is repeatedly raped and inseminated to get pregant over and over again. How her baby is taken away from her right after birth, so humans can take her mother’s milk to make ‘the creamiest’ coffee milk. How she will end up in the slaughterhouse in a couple of years time, at a point when she is not producing enough milk any more. I guess we won’t see that sequel.
objectification, fragmentation and the absent referent
I also found there to be a very sexist undertone in this ad. It reminded me of the groundbreaking book The Sexual Politics of Meat, by ecofeminist author Carol J. Adams. She shows how a process of objectification, fragmentation, and consumption enables the oppression of animals so that animals are rendered being-less through technology, language, and cultural representation. Male dominance and animals’ oppression are linked by the way that both women and animals function as absent referents in meat eating and dairy production, and she shows how feminist theory logically contains a vegan critique.
In this ad, the cattle graduates are ‘objectified’: they are numbers, not named. They are absent referents, as Adams has called it. Number 90 plays the leading role: a beautiful young lady. Objectification leads to fragmentation. A great deal of attention goes to the young lady’s breasts, bot visually and sexually: ‘puff out that chest’! it is said repeatedly. Portraying her body – her breasts – as consumable. She is not ‘skim’, she is not giving ‘skimmed milk’, but producing ‘the creamiest milk’. Also giving the impression that she wants to be ‘milked’. She is a willing victim, wanting to be consumed, wanting to be raped.
In that respect, I found this ad offensive to women – of any species – human or cow.
I have read very varied reactions to this video, ranging from f*cked up, disturbing, to stupid, and otherwise brilliant and also that the makers of this video probably don’t realise that they will make people think about the use and abuse of animals in agriculture.
What do you think? Can this ad, despite its sexist undertone, and unintentionally, make people think about the plight of animals?
You can also see the video here on you tube:
That was very interesting and your comments were very enlightening. I did expect an animal rights related message at the end and I was pretty shocked when I found out what it was about (to say the least). Your idea of a sequel is brilliant but I guess we’ll have to settle for the usual objectifying of both women and animals…sick sad world.
thanks for your comment. Yes, the first time I watched it I was also sort of expecting an animal rights related message. Twisted!
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I very much liked your idea about fragmentation and objectification, about the girl presented as being consumable!
I have to say, though, the first idea that flown in my mind after I had watched the ad was simply: “WTF?”
To tell the truth, I don’t think the ad has to do anything with the plight of animals. The company is using milk und by doing so supports the use of animals for culinary purposes. Moreover, what does achievement and hard work so emphisized in the ad have to do with animals fate?
I think the ad is criticizing the society frenetic about hard work, achievement and success, the high role marks play in the life of students. The number that are used in the ad instead of names represent the conformity, the society where children are rised to think alike, where personality doesn’t matter, but instead what one is capable of, how good and useful one can be for their society. imho 🙂
Thanks for your comment viktoriasworld!
Yes, I was also very baffled after I first saw this commercial. So strange.
This ad indeed has nothing to do with the plight of animals, in that the intention of this video is to promote a brand of milkcoffee. But unintentionally, it can make people think about the situation and fate of animals in agriculture. I already saw a lot of comments from people who thought (while watching this video and before knowing what this ad was about) that it was maybe a video for animal rights or veganism.
There’s indeed so much more that can be read into this video, like you say, also thoughts about the education system, and the emphasis on hard work and personal succes.
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It’s been over half a year since I first saw this video and it still leaves me feeling uncomfortable. I left a comment on the video when I fist saw it and still occasionally get replies. Younger guys especially don’t know what all the fuss is about, whilst most women find it awkward in a sexist way. I have a Phd in art theory so I’m used to analysing symbolism and I’ve lived in Japan for the last 8 years, long enough to see how the image of the Japanese school girl has become highly sexualised here in manga and porngraphy.
I’d like to see the ratio of how many women drink canned coffee from vending machines in comparison to tired salary men on their way to work. I see men rushing on their way to work each morning grabbing a can of coffee, whereas women tend to drink it fresh at home or with friends in cafes. I’d bet the target audience is middle aged salary men, hence the advertising company’s creepy association of school girls breast milk with their cheap canned coffee.
The whole animal rights aspect of this video almost feels like distraction from the advertisers real intention of sexualising a can of coffee to their male customers. This is not saying that a coke bottle has the attractive shape of a woman’s body, this is something very different and that’s where the sexism lies. The fact that the girls own mother takes such as active role in promoting her daughters sexualised product is also awful, and says a lot about Japanese culture and how much work needs to be done here to counter the sexism in this country.