Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The PETA People Are At It Again!

I've come around to the conclusion that the advertising director for PETA is some sort of fetishist, and uses the promotional messages PETA sends out on a regular basis in order to facilitate his (or her) own ha-has. Very little else explains the incredible degradation of human beings (and, in many of those cases, specifically women) in an attempt to bring some attention to the cause of Animal Rights. After all, these are the people who bring us a strip tease quiz game,who use a beheading in the news in order to make a point about animal deaths, who equate the horrors of the Holocaust with animal cruelty (that is the one that gets my personal Gold Medal for absolutely horrific advertising), and who consistently place women in "shocking" positions like the animals PETA cares so much about:
And this one:
And my personal favorite out of this particular ad campaign:
The last photo especially is something I would expect to see on a show like Bones or any one of the numerous CSIs. It seems clear that there is some serious antipathy for women going down here; not that PETA doesn't use men in their ads. See?
But Rahul Khanna there is fully clothed, unlike, say, her:
And when they do have nude male models, like Dennis Rodman:
those men still tend to look more in control and more assertive than the women:
who are, like in the photo above and the one with Charlotte Ross, in passive poses meant to emphasize their femininity; which is, unfortunately, traditionally directly related to a woman's vulnerability. I could write (and there have been, by others) whole pieces about PETA's photo ad campaigns in relation to a continued and pervasive sexist and racist attitude that floods their thinking; and how PETA seemingly continues to value animals over their women models. Instead, though, I would like to direct some attention to PETA's newest 'ingenious' campaign, and that would be a letter to Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream: 
Dear Mr. Cohen and Mr. Greenfield,
On behalf of PETA and our more than 2 million members and supporters, I'd like to bring your attention to an innovative new idea from Switzerland that would bring a unique twist to Ben and Jerry's.
Storchen restaurant is set to unveil a menu that includes soups, stews, and sauces made with at least 75 percent breast milk procured from human donors who are paid in exchange for their milk. If Ben and Jerry's replaced the cow's milk in its ice cream with breast milk, your customers-and cows-would reap the benefits.
Using cow's milk for your ice cream is a hazard to your customer's health. Dairy products have been linked to juvenile diabetes, allergies, constipation, obesity, and prostate and ovarian cancer. The late Dr. Benjamin Spock, America's leading authority on child care, spoke out against feeding cow's milk to children, saying it may play a role in anemia, allergies, and juvenile diabetes and in the long term, will set kids up for obesity and heart disease-America's number one cause of death.
Animals will also benefit from the switch to breast milk. Like all mammals, cows only produce milk during and after pregnancy, so to be able to constantly milk them, cows are forcefully impregnated every nine months. After several years of living in filthy conditions and being forced to produce 10 times more milk than they would naturally, their exhausted bodies are turned into hamburgers or ground up for soup.
And of course, the veal industry could not survive without the dairy industry. Because male calves can't produce milk, dairy farmers take them from their mothers immediately after birth and sell them to veal farms, where they endure 14 to17 weeks of torment chained inside a crate so small that they can't even turn around.
The breast is best! Won't you give cows and their babies a break and our health a boost by switching from cow's milk to breast milk in Ben and Jerry's ice cream? Thank you for your consideration.
Tracy Reiman
Executive Vice President
I tend to think that a commentator by the name of kristin over at Feminocracy is partially correct when she says, "With this stunt, they want to make people see the parallel between human and cows [sic] milk. In today's society people think human breast milk is disgusting and unfit for an adult to consume, they want people to have the same reaction to cows [sic] milk." At the same time, PETA invokes the image of a Swiss restaurant that actually has begun to use human breast milk in their recipes; the restaurant is part of an exclusive resort, so this isn't just happening in some strange underbelly of the restaurant business. This is an actual event, so the point kristin makes about the consumption of human breast milk is slightly nullified, or at the very least altered, by the very practice PETA is referring to in a positive manner.

Which leads me back to my first point about PETA and fetishism. It seems to me that there is a strange amount of fetishism present in many of PETA's ads, from chaining women (and some men) up, to putting them in cages, to recreating a bloody death scene, to describing a beheading and invoking the specter of a human who was recently beheaded, and now this recent "Let's drink human breast milk" light bulb moment. There may be something to be said about this kind of fetish, but since it simulates sadism and since it requires the degradation of human beings to fulfill it, I am not on board - especially in an ad campaign meant to further a cause against cruelty and exploitation, even if for them that reprieve should only be granted to animals. Because what PETA's ads do is force us to focus on the sadistic positions they have often placed women in; I suppose the logical leap for them is that this is just as bad as what is happening to the animals. But for those of us who place human beings and their suffering and their death on another plane, that connection does not come quite so quickly if it comes at all. For those of us who value women and their autonomy, the ads do very little other than to cause us to react in revulsion.

I have no doubt that the overall aim of PETA is a good one; that doesn't mean that I am going to stop eating meat or eating my ice cream, because I won't. But there is a balance to be struck between ensuring animals are treated well for the span of their life - however long that may be - and the opposite end of factory farming and keeping baby calves in stalls barely large enough to hold them in order to ensure their supple flesh stays that way. I am against factory farming. I am morally opposed to veal, and I boycott its consumption when I can. And part of that comes from thoughtful discussion at home and thought provoking and inventive messages, like the "Meatrix" campaign:

What PETA does is hold up a fun house mirror to us and tells us to see ourselves in it, even though we have been distorted and are no longer recognizable. That doesn't help their cause, it doesn't help the animals who are suffering, and it instead perpetuates other issues many of those who could - in better circumstances - have been PETA's allies are fighting so hard against. And that breeds resentment and places the attention where the attention is not due: on the ad campaign's construction rather than the message held therein. And that is the opposite of good for the animals.


John said...

mmmm. Perhaps I'll stop by Ben & Jerry's after I eat my roast beef sandwich during today's lunch.

PETA knows that sex sells, or at least gets people's attention. I'll admit that I chuckled at the "chicks" in cages at the top of this post, but I'm still going to eat meat and dairy products. If all they wanted to do was to get your attention and remind the world that they exist, then it's a solid campaign. If they're actually trying to change someone's mind, I can't call it a success.

Anonymous said...

I hate PETA so much. They're completely alienating their core demographic in order to appeal to 18-34 year old frat boys who aren't interested in them. All it'll do is raise awareness and ire.

John said...

... did the Mighty Crankosaurus just call me a frat boy? I'm speechless.

petpluto said...

Well, you do fall into the 18-34 range! And you were a member of an organization with Greek letters, if I'm remembering correctly...

Seriously though, I think she was commenting more on the fact that PETA structures their campaigns to appeal to the lowest common denominator always, and instead alienates those who would be more likely to accept that their point of view about animal rights isn't insane.

That doesn't mean that everyone who finds one aspect of their campaign humorous or inoffensive is an 18-34 year old frat boy, but that is the mentality they seek to engage in ad campaign after ad campaign -like the "stripper quiz".