PETA needs to sit down, shut up, and go away

I have previously condemned People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for its mass “euthanasia” of adoptable companion animals, accusing it of “tak[ing] on the role of a god.”[1] The organization still hasn’t taken the hint, even as yet more evidence has come to light, even as people who oppose animal rights gleefully point to its supreme hypocrisy.[2]  Refusing to discontinue what, given an anti-speciesist premise, can certainly only be compared to the Holocaust or other genocides, it has instead sought to suppress opponents with frivolous lawsuits.[3]

PETA’s claim that it has no choice is untenable. First, the animals that were entrusted to PETA, in most cases, were adoptable. Second, a no-kill movement in animal shelters has been gaining traction across the nation.[4] Homes can be found. Animals do not need to be killed. And one would expect that an organization concerned for animals would be at the forefront of a movement to save their lives rather than a laggard.

But bizarrely, PETA continues to garner considerable support from within the vegan and animal rights community. They abhor the mass euthanasia to be sure, but they point to all the good that PETA is alleged to do.

That doesn’t hold up either. First, there is little evidence that PETA’s campaigns featuring scantily clad models (mostly women) have the intended effects of persuading (young) men to go vegan, let alone dissuading (older) women from wearing furs. I’ll quote Mary Elizabeth Williams in a Salon article at length:

As Jenna Price reveals in Friday’s Canberra Times, aside from all the other negative effects of unrealistic, oversexualized advertising, a heaping serving of T&A is just plan ineffective when you’re “selling ethics.” Two new University of Queensland studies on “Using Sexualized Images of Women” have found that when subjects view sexy PETA ads, “Intentions to support the ethical organization were reduced for those exposed to the sexualized advertising” and “that behaviors helpful to the ethical cause diminished after viewing the sexualized advertisements.” In one of the studies, researchers found that men who viewed the ads were likely to report arousal (shocker), but that they were no likelier to support the cause itself. Renata Bongiorno, the lead researcher on both studies, says, ”There’s a negative link between dehumanization and the treatment of others, it reduces concern … If you are using images that are dehumanizing, it’s likely to backfire.” So, bikini girls making out with vegetables doesn’t end slaughterhouse abuse?

In a critique in Salon earlier this year, Erika Nicole Kendall said that groups like PETA are “trolling … because it works … Something about an ad campaign that turns women into pretty props, naked means to a noble end apparently endears us more to broccoli than simply talking about what the broccoli can do for you.” And PETA campaigns coordinator Claire Fryer fired back this week against the Australian report, saying that “fully clothed” campaigns “never grab the headlines, garner attention, or get TV airtime as ones with sex appeal do.” Of course naked bodies are a reliable way of grabbing eyeballs. I get that. I wrote about Miley Cyrus’ nipples this week. Believe me, I get it.[5]

But the researchers which Williams cites are not the first scholars to arrive at such a conclusion.[6] PETA’s defense seems to amount to the notion that any publicity is good publicity. While that may work for neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations, the animal rights movement extends the notion of social justice to include non-human animals; our appeal should not be so much to those who already feel alienated from society, but rather to those within society who face a dissonance over human treatment of non-human animals.

Such a dissonance arose yesterday when, citing a rationale reminiscent of the eugenics movement, “saying that giraffes had to be selected to ensure the best genes were passed down to ensure the long-term survival of the species,” a Copenhagen zoo euthanized a healthy young giraffe and, as schoolchildren and other visitors watched, dissected and carved up his carcass to feed to lions. This was, we are to understand, an educational event as the children learned about the giraffe’s anatomy.[7]

But where the Copenhagen zoo does not represent all zoos—indeed, several zoos had offered to save the giraffe[8]—PETA plays an outsized role in the animal rights movement. It has made a spectacle of itself, and, unfortunately, the entire animal rights movement, not only with such dubious campaigns involving women’s bodies but more mundane yet more ridiculous—and ridiculed—campaigns such as that to save “sea kittens” (relabeled fish).[9]

PETA is a disaster for the vegan and animal rights movements. Because it has been so successful in garnering attention, it diverts attention from more rational organizations. And with its mass euthanasia campaign, it shows its true colors: It is the best friend the livestock and vivisection industries ever had.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “PETA is a lousy god,” So, I’m Vegan. Now, What?, May 30, 2009, https://vegan.parts-unknown.org/?p=54.
  2. [2]Alexandra Myers, “Documents: PETA kills more than 95 percent of pets in its care,” Daily Caller, February 24, 2012, http://dailycaller.com/2012/02/24/documents-peta-kills-more-than-95-percent-of-pets-in-its-care/; Nathan J. Winograd, “Shocking Photos: PETA’s Secret Slaughter of Kittens, Puppies,” Huffington Post, April 2, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-j-winograd/peta-kills-puppies-kittens_b_2979220.html
  3. [3]Julia Marsh, “Claws come out as PETA goes after anonymous online commenters for shelter kill claims,” New York Post, May 24, 2013, http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/claws_come_kills_shelter_peta_goes_rkK9NKluuT53huumRp4L5K; Mark R. Whittington, “Now PETA Wants to Sue People Who Leave Anonymous Comments,” Yahoo!, May 25, 2013, http://voices.yahoo.com/now-peta-wants-sue-people-leave-anonymous-comments-12153950.html
  4. [4]Michael Winerip, “PETA Finds Itself on Receiving End of Others’ Anger,” New York Times, July 6, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/us/peta-finds-itself-on-receiving-end-of-others-anger.html
  5. [5]Mary Elizabeth Williams, “Surprise, PETA! Sex doesn’t sell,” Salon, December 20, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/12/20/surprise_peta_sex_doesnt_sell/
  6. [6]Carol L. Glasser, “Tied Oppressions: An Analysis of How Sexist Imagery Reinforces Speciesist Sentiment,” Brock Review 12, no. 1 (2011): 51-68.
  7. [7]British Broadcasting Corporation, “‘Surplus’ giraffe put down at Copenhagen Zoo,” February 9, 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26098935
  8. [8]British Broadcasting Corporation, “‘Surplus’ giraffe put down at Copenhagen Zoo,” February 9, 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26098935
  9. [9]Lindsay Barnett, “PETA wants to rename fish ‘sea kittens’,” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2009, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2009/01/sea-kitten-peta.html; Meredith Barnhill, “PETA’s sea kittens site hacked by Omaha Steaks,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, January 31, 2009, http://blog.nola.com/checkitout/2009/01/petas_sea_kittens_site_hacked.html; Dave Gilson, “PETA Says: Save the Sea Kittens,” Mother Jones, January 16, 2009, http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2009/01/peta-says-save-sea-kittens; Amelia Glynn, “Sorry PETA: new study highlights benefits of eating ‘sea kittens’,” SFGate, July 22, 2009, http://blog.sfgate.com/pets/2009/07/22/sorry-peta-new-study-highlights-benefits-of-eating-sea-kittens/; Elizabeth Landau, “Would you eat a sea kitten?” CNN, January 16, 2009, http://scitech.blogs.cnn.com/2009/01/16/would-you-eat-a-sea-kitten/; Lauren W. List, “PETA: Too scandalous for TV and saving ‘Sea Kittens’,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, January 29, 2009, http://blog.nola.com/checkitout/2009/01/peta_too_scandalous_for_tv_and.html; Matthew Moore, “Fish ‘should be rebranded as sea kittens’,” Telegraph, October 23, 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/3247689/Fish-should-be-rebranded-as-sea-kittens.html

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