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Flip the Script: From Villain to Hero

Originally published on Meatingplace.

Every good drama requires a victim, a villain and a hero.

Think unsuspecting swimmers at Amity Island, one big angry shark and police chief Martin Brody in “Jaws.” Or damsel in distress Nell Fenwick, the evil Snidely Whiplash and the dim-witted yet lovable Dudley Do-Right who always saves the day in the “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.”

Animal activists have been casting the meat industry in the role of villain for decades and we’ve been too happy to play the part. Animals (or the environment or human health) are the victim and the activists are the hero. The predictable script goes something like this.

Opening Scene: Take 1

People Who Love Animals (PWLA) have called a news conference where they show video of “horrific abuse” on a factory farm. The abused animals are the victim and the activists cast themselves as the hero, coming to the rescue of the defenseless.

“We’re outraged by the cruel and heartless actions of these corporate villains who only care about profit!” said Betty Bigheart, local president of PWLA. (The scriptwriters are counting on the meat industry to be callous and uncaring, to play the role of villain.)

Andy Angryman responds on behalf of the farm. “We’re the ones who should be outraged! We produce the food you eat every day, and if we’re not profitable, you don’t eat. You should be thanking us, not attacking us!”

PWLA captures it all on video and promotes their heroic work online to solicit additional donations. Once again, the activist rides in to save the victim from the cruel and heartless villain. (Cue theme from Indiana Jones.)

But what if we flipped the script? What if we refused to play the role of villain, and instead took the leading role as hero? What might that look like?

Here’s a draft script that puts the meat industry in the hero role, wearing the White Hat.

Opening Scene: Take 2

Bruce Broadshoulders comes to the latest PWLA news conference where the activist group is releasing a new video taken at his farm. Betty Bigheart opens the scene with her usual line, waiting for Bruce to play his role. Instead, he stands and opens with, “It’s very difficult for me to watch that video. My family and I have been raising animals for three generations and what I saw here today makes me sick. It is completely unacceptable and inconsistent with what we expect from ourselves and our employees.”

Betty senses she’s losing the crowd, so she interjects, “you’re only saying that because we caught you on tape abusing animals!”

Bruce nods and lowers his head. “I’m glad you did, Betty. If that kind of thing is happening on our farm I want to know about it. In fact, we’ll be redoubling our efforts to train our employees and to monitor what happens with all animals. I’d like to meet with you to discuss our plans and how we can improve so this never happens again.”

The media in attendance – hoping for something akin to the next episode of Jerry Springer – pack up their cameras, disappointed that there were no fights.

Others applauded Bob and made his commitment the headline of their stories.

Stories Worth Writing

While not every story is the same, the characters and roles in this drama are very familiar. What would it take for the meat industry to rewrite the script and cast itself as the hero in every tale about animal welfare, diet and health, worker safety and the environment?

How can we claim and own the ethical high ground on these important issues and tell our story before someone casts us in the role of villain again?

We have the essence of those stories today, and they are stories worth writing.