There is a part of me that knows better, that understands writing
this column is exactly what they’d want. This kind of press is cheap, and I
hate making it easy.
chalk one up for PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Think
what you will of their message, there are none better at milking every ounce of
ink and airplay out of a buck. The formula seems almost too simple, but few
execute it as well: shock the conscience publicly and cheaply, call the press,
and watch the fun.
It’s an effective strategy, even beautiful in its cunning. A cursory glance at
the news this year finds comparisons of circuses to slavery, claims that meat
causes impotence, protests at Indian embassies over that country’s fledgling
meat industry, even an attack on Hilary Clinton (!) for taking campaign
donations from a furrier.
Silliness is no obstacle. PETA is presently asking the Green Bay Packers
football team to change their name, saying it promotes violence and bloodshed
because it refers to meat packers. Their straight-faced suggestions: the
“Pickers” (as in fruits and vegetables), or “Six-Packers.”
One of the organization’s greatest publicity coups required only a
few protesters ranting about rats and rights. The rats in question were
barbecued by the cast of the wildly popular CBS show “Survivor.” I thought a
good rat feed served those greed heads right, but this is an organization whose
founder, Ingrid Newkirk, believes “There is no rational basis for saying that a
human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They’re all
That’s hard to top, but their most bizarre effort might be “Jesus Was A
Vegetarian,” comprised of little more than a few billboards, a web site, and a
press conference. The campaign’s provocative name and a mural depicting Jesus
with the phrase “Thou shall not kill” was all it took, though a sloppily
assembled mishmash of scripture can be found at the PETA web site.
Scoffers like to think they can find anything in the Bible, but support for
vegetarianism requires hallucinogenic mushrooms with that salad. One must at
least ignore Jesus’ participation in Passover meals, which involved the
slaughter of a lamb, and his multiplying loaves and fishes to feed the masses.
Then there was that pesky vision of the Apostle Peter.
In Acts, Peter was shown “something like a large sheet” containing
“all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of
the air. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ ‘Surely not,
Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The
voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made
Christians should not feel particularly put upon, however. PETA has material
aimed at Jews and Moslems as well, likely no better grounded in the theologies
of those religions than the “Jesus” campaign.
The “Got Beer” fiasco was launched in Florida just as spring break
hit. A parody of the popular “Got Milk” promotion, PETA ran ads in college
newspapers featuring models with beer-foam mustaches pushing the notion that
beer is healthier than milk. Turns out it also results in more DUI arrests,
which local authorities did not find amusing.
Less amusing still was last month’s “Unhappy Meal” stunt, where PETA activists
stalked McDonald’s restaurants passing knockoffs of the familiar Happy Meal box
to unsuspecting kids. The “toy” inside was a mangled, bloodied plastic animal.
If PETA were right about meat consumption causing aggressive behavior, I suspect
a few parent-type carnivores might have found a creative alternate use for the
group’s sick prize. As it happened, no incidents were reported.
Alas, when it comes to parody, PETA can dish it out but not take it. Last month
they won a court case against a web site called “peta.org,” a spoof dubbed
“People Eating Tasty Animals.” The site’s owner intends to appeal, saying
parodies are Constitutionally protected free speech.
Ironically, PETA better hope so. It’s about all they’ve got.
© 1997 – 2002 Brent Morrison