Viewers of burrito chain Chipotle’s new (and much-discussed) animation, “The Scarecrow” — ostensibly, a brave and innovative critique of factory farming — will immediately recall another factory: the magical candy land paradise of the film, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. The association comes from Chipotle’s selection of the song “Pure Imagination,” which famously accompanies Wonka’s unveiling of his edible wonderland. The song features prominently In Chipotle’s captivating new video, with feel-good lyrics like “Want to change the world? There’s nothing to it!” contributing a heady dose of atmospheric virtue where the advertisement’s message is otherwise confusingly vague.
The Scarecrow’s storyline recapitulates the disenchanted factory farmer theme of Chipotle’s wildly popular 2012 animation, “Back to the Start,” whose “happy meat” message was made indisputably clear by the farmer’s decision to convert his factory farm to a free-roaming enterprise; a kinder, gentler exploitation operation. In this new video, the protagonist is also a demoralized factory farmer, but unlike the farmer in “Back to the Start,” whose epiphany compels him to embrace “humane” animal farming, the scarecrow’s moral reckoning leads him to grow vegetables and to open a small produce stand. The conspicuous absence of any “happy meat” animals, or any animal products at all, in the scarecrow’s vegetable wonderland, has led some writers to speculate about what kind of message Chipotle is really trying to send. Is it possible, as is the case with vegan-owned Whole Foods, that one or more of the higher-ups at Chipotle harbors hopes for a vegan world, even while promoting and profiting from animal slaughter? Or is this just another bid at capturing the benevolence of so-called conscientious consumers who like the taste of animal exploitation too much to give it up, but who will pay to feel better about their choice to participate in it?
The folks at Funny Or Die are betting on the latter. Their straight-shooting send up of “The Scarecrow” pairs the original animation with a sardonic remake of “Pure Imagination,” whose unforgiving lyrics strip away the rhetorical lather of slogans like “Cultivate a better world” to reveal the same old corporate brainwashing behind the green-washing trend:
Come with us, and you’ll be/ In a world of pure imagination/ With an ad made for you/ By a giant corporation./ We’ll begin; drop you in/ to a great, high budget animation/ What you’ll see will be pure… manipulation.
Whether or not you agree with the cynical “Scarecrow” spoof, one thing is clear. Cultivating a better world is not compatible with enslaving, exploiting and killing other beings for profit and pleasure. Choosing to harm others not because we have to, but just because we can, is a fundamental rejection of human decency and compassion. While meat, milk and eggs may be noticeably absent from Chipotle’s latest ad, they’re still abundantly present in the foods the restaurant offers. If the folks at Chipotle are truly interested in cultivating a better world, and in promoting ethical food choices, they’ll have to do more than just leave animal products out of their advertisements; they’ll have to leave animals off the menu entirely.