Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Got veg?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Though I do not always approve of its tactics, nor of its targets, I respect and admire PETA. And though I am not a vegeterian, let alone a vegan, I am moving in that direction, having given up most meat -- I still eat chicken, turkey, and fish. I am hardly an absolutist in this regard -- on eating, that is -- but I am certainly adamant in my objection to animal cruelty, much of it practised by the food-processing industry.

Regardless of my own inclinations, however, I could not resist posting this enticing photo from The Globe and Mail: "Actress Alicia Silverstone appearing naked in a print ad to promote vegetarianism, produced by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals."

It's an awfully persuasive image, isn't it?

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share


  • Michael,

    It's your old student here. Been reading your blog since you told me about it and have felt compelled to respond until today.

    I really hope this was humour. I have been offended by PETA ads for years now. But I'm in the middle of a thesis chapter deadline, and I cannot write much.

    But I will say that PETA has a sordid history of constructing their ad campaign imagery using almost entirely white semi/nude female bodies, of stereotypical body size (ultra thin)-often Playboy models- in traditional, degrading porn poses (go figure-PETA is in bed, literally and figuratively, with Hugh Hefner). There is no diversity in their imagery and they reiterate racist and patriarchal norms about beauty. They trade on injustice for another.

    Not to mention that they also reiterate that the women worth listening and paying attention to are the ones who are deemed sexy and valuable through the sale and passive display of their bodies.

    It's not that I think PETA can't use nudity in their campaigns; they just don't do it right.

    "I don't liberate animals over the bodies of women."-Carol J. Adams, feminist and animal rights activist


    By Blogger lindabeth, at 1:56 AM  

  • Hi L.B. Nice to run into you here.

    Yes, I was trying to be humorous, although vaguely so. My views on PETA -- and I think you're right in your criticism -- are somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, I do deplore many of their tactics, and that includes what you mention here. Another is its often tacit support for what is far more militant activism. Although I would consider myself a proponent of animal rights, I do not support all forms of animal rights militancy.

    And yet I do think that PETA has done a great service in raising awareness of animal abuse and the struggle for animal rights. True, images like this one may be seen as an expression of "racist and patriarchal norms about beauty," as you put it, and I do find that disturbing, but one imagines that Ms. Silverstone posed of her own free will and that PETA itself thought that such an image would be effective. That is not to say that one woman's free will and one organization's motivations remove such an image's negative aspects. Once an image enters the public space, it doesn't much matter what the motivation was. Pornographers and those in their movies may (or may not) be acting out of their own free will, but what matters, ultimately, is how their pornography is perceived, and internalized, by viewers. And that is the case here. This image could serve to reinforce troubling our society's deeply troubling norms about beauty, sexuality, womanhood, etc.

    And yet I can't help but think that there is another side to it, that PETA may very well have found an effective marketing strategy. Animal rights activists are often viewed as terrorists, of a sort. And vegetarians are often viewed as dirty tree-hugging hippies. If an image like this -- a beautiful, if admittedly sexualized (if not pornographized) Alicia Silverstone -- can boost the image of vegetarianism and raise greater awareness of animal cruelty and the struggle for animal rights, then I'm not so sure it's all bad.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 9:43 AM  

  • It's an awfully persuasive image, isn't it?

    I'll tell ya when I pull up my pants ... Heh.

    By Blogger Fixer, at 6:27 PM  

  • So I'm really upset right now because I just spent a bit of time writing a long, well thought out comment back, complete with links, and I mistakenly closed the tab, losing it all. Sorry if my argument this time is less clear.

    This is not a new thing for PETA. The have been doing this kind of marketing for the last 15 years. So I don't think they are doing it to fix any sort of "image problem."

    Their marketing over the said 15 years, after getting "in bed" with Hefner has been consistently racist, sexist/patriarchal, and heterosexist. They portray beauty according to patriarchal norms; beauty is defined as white and young (plus quite often blond, and necessarily naked), while racialized women are usually depicted as exotic animals. The images also necessarily assume a straight (white) male viewer. They conform with our preexisting notions of gender and sexuality (i.e. women's bodies only are the representation of sexuality) that continues to perpetuate inequality. It also perpetuates the idea that women have to get naked to be taken seriously. Or better said, the only time we take women seriously (read: pay attention to) are when their naked, or at least sexualized. (I swear, if I read one more story that criticized Hillary's appearance or laugh or anything unrelated to her politics, I'm buying an island and living in isolation!)

    The problem is not with the women or the use of nudity necessarily. The problem is that the whole of PETA's marketing campaign(s) over the last umpteen years has consolidated in a way that amounts to a clear campaign of racism, sexism, and heterosexism, to say nothing of ageism, weightism (Carnie Wilson only appears after having lost weight and even then she isn't quite thin enough to "bare it all"), etc....

    PETA used to be closely tied to feminism, and ideologically I see why. But PETA has become distinctly anti-feminist in its continual insistence on marketing their cause using women's bodies (and only women's bodies, whitewashed and enhanced) as objects, in perfect step with the rest of consumer culture.

    This ad is quite telling. While it is trying to say that humans and animals have the same body parts and so should be treated the same, it actually indicates quite the opposite: that women and animals are indeed treated the same-both as objects of consumption. I mean GEEZ!, if PETA had wanted to equate respected humanity with animals as living creatures, they should have used a man!

    And when violence against women is such an epidemic, why are ads such as these being used to advocate PETA?

    If PETA is not participating in the racism, heterosexism and objectification that pervades consumer media culture, then where are all the men? Lesbians? Older folk? People of color depicted as people? Intelligent (and maybe attractive too!) women who aren't celebrities? Where are all the human beings advocating animal rights? Why must one cruelty be traded for another?

    Anti-oppressive movements have an awful history of subjugating others within their own ranks. The Civil Rights movement discriminated against women, the women's movement did the same with lesbians and the lower classes, and the gay and lesbian rights movement has really been more of a white gay rights movement. I cannot excuse PETA doing the same just because it may bring more "awareness" to their cause. Collusion with oppression is never a justifiable means to fight oppression. And come on, are we seriously thinking that someone will look at these ads and say, "NOW I understand why animal cruelty is wrong!" No-they are thinking the same thing as the previous commenter did.

    I expect much more out of anti-oppressive movements than this. And they alienate who could be a big supporter of their cause-feminists.

    And to bring it all back to Hefner, the actual TV ad for Silverstone reeks of Playboy tv late-night infomercials.

    Excuse me while I vomit. And google islands for sale.

    By Blogger lindabeth, at 7:15 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home