PETA: People for the Unethical Treatment of Humans



I owe the title of this post to Diana, who came up with it last night in response to my twitter rant against PETA's latest advertising campaign. In this campaign, a woman who is quite evidently physically beaten is shown the day after her 'attack' by her boyfriend, whose new-found sexual energy has come from becoming a Vegan. So the message is: 'ladies, convert your boyfriend to Veganism and you too can get attacked with violent sex!' Or perhaps the message was directed at the 'lads': 'hey guys, look what Veganism can make you do, isn't it cool to beat the crap out of your girlfriend and prove your manhood through sexual violence?' Either way you look at it, it's making light of the physical abuse suffered by many women around the world.

The reason I started ranting about this campaign on twitter last night is that a friend of mine sent me the link to the video above. She works as a counsellor with victims of domestic abuse and rape, and she knows I've been thinking about writing a formal journal article on PETA's long history of virulent sexism and misogyny in their advertising campaigns. But the more I thought about it, the more dissatisfied I was with the idea of 'saving' my critique for a journal article that will probably only be read by a handful of academics. This is an issue that needs to be talked about in every outlet I have at my disposal, including this blog.

PETA has created so many stupid and just plain cruel campaigns, that it's hard to know which one to target first for discussion. But I'll describe one that stands out for me. It's the 'Holocaust on your Plate' campaign. In it, they used images of Jews and emaciated victims of Nazi concentration camps as a 'brand' for their animal rights, comparing meat-eaters and those in the meat-production industry to Nazis. I don't need to tell you why this is wrong. But let's talk about it anyway.

When a close family friend who is also a Holocaust survivor first saw this campaign, my family and I received a very distressing and tearful phone call from him. I think it's hard for me to explain just how cruel it is to use images of Holocaust victims in such a way. I know personally that every time our family friend sees images of Holocaust victims, he is reminded of the horror of the camps. And his nightmares start again. And he has to go through the trauma all over again. But more importantly for him, PETA's campaign showed such a careless disregard for the suffering of victims.

Images of Holocaust victims should be sacred, they should be protected by a barrier of historical respect. This is why I refuse to show the images from PETA's Holocaust campaign on my blog. The idea that an organisation would use these images as advertising is not only offensive, but also, ignorant. The end just not justify the means, I don't care how valid you think your cause is. Because if you create more victims than you help, you are guilty of the same crimes which you seek to stop. What such use of Holocaust imagery does is decontextualise the origins of these images, ignoring a long and specific history of anti-Semitism. It also turns the victims' bodies into commercial products. How on earth does that aid the cause of animal rights? How does the blatant abuse of human victims gain sympathy for animal victims? In other words, was there any point to such a campaign other than as a shock-tactic or an attention-seeking exercise? It doesn't really compel anyone to consider how animals are treated, it just perpetuates further cruelty. Images of Holocaust victims should never be allowed to be used in any form of advertising, for whatever reason.

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But we have seen this is a shock-tactic used by PETA over and over again. They recently exploited the history of slavery in America, they routinely objectify women's bodies in their ad campaigns (just google them and you'll see how much of this goes on), and they feed a cultural logic of blatant misogyny where women's bodies are there for a spectator's gaze, or to be abused, dehumanised and overly-sexualised to the point where 'woman=porn object'. As Mimi Seldner points out in her article for Ms. Blog, 'That's the bind PETA (People for the Exploitation of Tits and Ass?) keeps putting feminists in, as well as other women and women-loving people. Does "it's for a good cause" excuse exploiting, dehumanizing and sexualizing women?' No, it doesn't.

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PETA's latest campaign raises many similar issues that were raised by their Holocaust campaign. My counsellor friend pointed out that every time the women she counsels view images of women being abused in a manner that makes light of it, they retreat back into the trauma. It's like a form of slow torture where you're constantly reminded of what happened to you, and how little the rest of the world cares about what you've suffered. I fail to see how this helps animals in any way. I guess PETA doesn't grasp the simple concept that two wrongs don't make a right.

So in case it isn't clear, here's a message to PETA: One day, I hope you will graduate into the state of adulthood where respect for victims of various injustices goes hand-in-hand with respect for animals. In the meantime, if you continue to create this crap, we will continue to call you out on it. Because perpetuating sexism, misogyny and racism, or making light of victims of historical genocide or abuse, is not a particularly clever technique to further your cause. You do not help animal victims by harming human ones. You do not bring positive change about by creating new victims. Until you start treating humans ethically, I want nothing to do with you as both a human being and an animal lover. Go sell your racist, sexist and cruel crap elsewhere.

There are many other animal organisations that do fabulous work. So to end on a positive note, maybe anyone who is reading this post would like to leave a link to any animal organisations that are run ethically and deserve some donations. Go ahead and write the links in the comments section of this post. All comments are moderated on this blog, so I do check whether links are spam or whether they are actually valid comments. And while we're on this subject, go ahead and link any other organisations you may be involved in or that you think deserve some attention, whether they fight for animals or any other living being. As far as I'm concerned, we're all in this together and we need to treat every living thing ethically in order to further our own particular cause.

Image credits (from top to bottom): Wyatt Cenac of The Daily Show interviews PETA VP, Lisa Lange, about PETA's failed attempt to sue SeaWorld under the 13th Amendment banning slavery; Sasha Grey for PETA redone (view the original here).