on animals (reposted and revised from February 1, 2009)
It usually seems to me that a high percentage of Super Bowl commercials feature animals of some sort. I have theories on the appeal of seeing happy, funny animals in the context of consumerism and consumption (in addition to the point, noted by Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, that kids love animals and a lot of advertising to children features animals). Mostly I think they provide comfort: by seeing animals as either happy and contented creatures, or as comical and silly figures, people can feel mildly comforted about consuming them. Suicide Food examines advertising featuring animals that want to be eaten, or that are eating their own food product, and suggests there is thematic comfort in such images. I think perhaps the animals don't need to be suicidal to provide that comfort--happy animals mean we don't have to feel bad for exploiting them (they're happy, after all), and funny animals suggest they're hardly worth any dignity anyway (they're just ridiculous and silly, after all).
This year Denny's screaming chickens made a rare explicit connection between consuming animal products and animals suffering. But the comedy (chickens in human contexts acting like people and looking ridiculous while screaming) still kept the necessary distance between guilt and consumption (and at any rate focused on eggs, where the animal does not need to be killed for the product and we can imagine it being happy even if that isn't so, rather than meat, which we cannot deny requires the killing of the animal).