MILK MEN provides a corrective to both the highly romanticized and demonized portraits of dairy farmers that circulate in the mainstream media. Two stereotypes predominate, and both are gross distortions of the reality. One image—enlisted routinely in dairy commercials—evokes idyllic pastoral scenes inhabited by simple people tending their contented cows. These scenes invite nostalgia for a pre-modern way of life where humans lived in perfect harmony with animals and nature. The second image—the one most often drawn by anti-dairy critics—casts the farmer as an animal abuser, pushing over-bred cows until they drop and producing large vats of drug-laden milk. Whether the cheery bucolic scene or the darkly cast world of the CAFO, both pictures miss the complexity of this form of work, with its mix of business skills, animal science, technology, engineering, and social networks required to keep the enterprise going.
Women involved in farming also are either stereotyped or invisible in mainstream films. Once associated with “milk maids,” the embodiment of wholesomeness and fecundity, dairy farming did become by the 19th century a primarily male occupation. Yet women continue to play important roles in agricultural production, whether as farmer’s wives and daughters equally involved in the dairy or, increasingly, as inspectors and scientists.
Whether in community theaters, schools or film festivals, documentary films are ideally suited for generating dialogue. MILK MEN challenges conventional stereotypes of farming communities, and establishes through the language of film areas of common ground between urban and rural communities. From intergenerational obligations to ethical dilemmas in farming practices, the film brings the historical knowledge of farmers into social questions at the very heart of modern life.