It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was a foam triangle of yellow cheese, it was a set of flocked black ears.
Other than a few close Rose Bowl games in the Barry Alvarez era of Wisconsin Badgers football, there's really never been much of a Wisconsin-California rivalry. California always seems to get the built-in advantage. They had gold, they have the Pacific, redwoods and mountains. Everything keens to the superlative in the Golden State.
But there's one thing that's been in Wisconsin's corner, seemingly since Joliet and Marquette drifted down the Mississippi. We do dairy like nobody's business. It's not just our opinion, either. It's not just our license plates that call the state "America's Dairyland." Cheeses from Wisconsin won 28 Best of Class awards to a scant three for California cheeses in the 2008 World Championship Cheese Contest.
And yet here's California, shouting "Real California Cheese" from the mountaintops as if there was somehow a wide understanding or assumption that any kind of California cheese was automatically some sort of good thing. Sure, they stumble onto a good one now and then. I'm personally a fan of the chipotle cheddar from Bravo Farms, but in the world-class cheese arena, I suspect that's the equivalent of a Hardee's Six Dollar Burger.
The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) has been working through its inferiority complex for some time now. You've seen some of the spots in its Happy Cows advertising campaign if you've watched pretty much any network television in the last eight years. The tagline "Great milk comes from happy cows; happy cows come from California" was introduced in 2000 with the weight of a $33 million ad budget. We've had to bear witness to such oddities as cow flirting (watch), cow foot massages by virtue of a minor earthquake (watch), and cows kicking footballs (watch), which is of course infinitely more unnatural than Clydesdales kicking footballs (watch).
The ads have been snotty and snarky, and generally irritating to those of us who know for what these spots are compensating, but they hadn't really gotten mean. At least, not until 2004. Then, we were treated to perhaps the first shot directly across the bow of Midwestern dairyworks. Sadie the Cow was making a break for it, heading from somewhere snowy and cold on the way to California (watch). Trudging through the weather, she'd made it about 20 yards in two weeks.
Two years later, they made an ostensible return to that spot, with a "new girl" arriving in the sunny California pasture (watch). Making fun of Wisconsin weather? The stereotypical accent? C'mon, California -- don't you have writers over there? Couldn't you come up with something better than a bovine rehashing of Mean Girls? I guess we could have expected an attack on regional stereotypes, especially from a state full of aspiring but mediocre screenwriters, insecure actresses, and smiley glad-hands with hidden agendas (thank you, Tool).
The newest campaign from the CMAB is a reality show-style series of bovine audition tapes, and it has given California a chance to play "tweak the stereotype" with any number of American demographics! Take, for example, the teenaged Alicia, who appears to be on the verge of running away from home to seek her fame. Or Jenn from somewhere in the Deep South, whose mother is pressuring her to perform a la toddler beauty queens. Urbanite Destynee (whose "audition tape" has not yet been released) appears to be a mashup of cultural identities along the lines of Sharpay from High School Musical (don't ask me why I know that).
Of course, the most cruel-hearted spot in this campaign is the tape for "Kirsten" -- note the Scandinavian etymology -- a desperately upbeat young lady from a familiar snowy and cold somewhere (watch). Under apparent threat of wolf attack and death by exposure, she doesn't say where she's from in the ad. Only by going to the CMAB audition site do we discover the cow's Canadian. Call me paranoid, but the Fargo accent, the name, the snowy climate, and the track record of these ads taking swipes at the Badger State, all say "Sconnie" before "Canuck." No worries, though, since there are a few other entrants from somewhere in the Midwest that fit the bill too. Of course, it's also possible that California flinched.
If that's the case, California, get ready for more; we've got your number. You've got weather -- congratulations. We've got all those awards I mentioned before. We're still making more cheese than you, even if you've still got the edge on overall dairy production. And 98% of US dairy farms may be family-owned, but yours just don't feel like it. You had to make commercials to give your cows names; a lot of ours already did, and that was when the cameras were off. The whole dynamic is suspiciously similar to a certain East Coast baseball team, who buys up all the best talent and gains attention by sheer immensity, but hasn't won the World Series since 2000, and hasn't even made it since 2003. You don't want to be like the Yankees, do you, California?
Anyway, you have your own problems to deal with. Your theme parks are overhyped and overpriced. There's smog in many of your major urban areas. It's made worse by smoke from your frequent wildfires (we're glad, of course, that they're back under control now). And don't forget that there's a sizeable sliver of your state that is pretty much constantly shearing off of the main body and wreaking a lot of havoc. It's no foot massage, from what I understand.
It's hard to not get annoyed by your advertising shenanigans, California. You're the popular kid who makes himself untouchable by ridiculing everyone around him. But, I gotta ask. Other than all the World Championship awards, and the global reputation, and that unflinching friendliness you seem to mock, and let's not forget those three Rose Bowl wins, what did Wisconsin ever do to you?