If I had a nickel for every time I shook my fist and cursed to the heavens because PETA did something that made me angry, I’d have a lot of nickels.
Think Progress recently covered what they call a “new low” for PETA: teaming up with notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to promote serving vegetarian meals in prison. The piece reminds us about just what kind of character PETA is heaping praise on:
Arpaio earned his reputation as a notorious county sheriff for both his harsh treatment of inmates and racial profiling of Latinos. Arpaio’s “Tent City,” an outdoor jail with electric fencing can hold more than two thousand immigrant detainees. Because the heat can rise to 137 degrees during the summer months, the tent structure serves primarily as brutal physical punishment. Arpaio said that he reserves punishment for those who have been convicted, yet the population consists of mostly pre-trial inmates, some of whom have low-level offenses like driving without a license. As he said in the past, Arpaio is an “equal opportunity guy, I lock up everybody.”
It’s highly doubtful that Arpaio, the man who tried to punish inmates by making them wear pink underwear (get it, because being associated with something stereotypically feminine is humiliating!) is doing this because of some profound moral stance. In fact, the sheriff’s office cited saving taxpayer money as a major motivator, and a reporter who visited the prison kitchen reported that the food looked disgusting.
Any responsible organization is going to think not just about advancing its agenda, but doing so in a way that doesn’t undermine other important fights for justice. If you look under the bus where PETA has been throwing people, you’d see a long list besides the immigrants and prisoners harmed by Joe Arpaio.
- Women. This is one of PETA’s favorite tactics. From painting women colors and parading them around and stuffing them in cages, to having women prance around in bikinis and caress vegetables, PETA unabashedly and unironically objectifies women.
- Black people. PETA has inappropriately compared animal cruelty to slavery and lynching, and dressed people up in KKK outfits to protest a dog show.
- Jewish people. PETA appropriated graphic pictures from the Holocaust in ad campaigns.
- Overweight people. They placed ads comparing overweight people to whales in order to convince them to go vegetarian.
- Poor people. They offered to pay water bills for Detroit residents who faced the threat of having their water shut off–if they would go vegan for a month.
I’m sure I’m leaving some other truly offensive campaigns off the list. Then there are those that are offensive for being straight up dumb–like trying to change the name of the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco or asking for permission to paint Osama bin Laden’s compound.
This isn’t one ill-considered campaign idea that can be brushed aside. This is a clear pattern of willingness to offend and sacrifice any other group or cause to get attention for PETA. Bitch Magazine recently talked with PETA about their egregious tactics, but sadly (though not surprisingly) didn’t get anything resembling satisfying answers.
If these stunts truly helped PETA advance their agenda, then that achievement would have to weighed against the broader damage they are doing. In my mind, that would still not justify undermining so many other progressive causes.
But do these actions even do anything concrete to advance the cause of animal rights? Do men watch a woman fellating a cucumber and then decide to become a lifelong vegetarian? Do people see the NAACP condemning PETA’s campaigns, and take action to stop animal cruelty because they respect their ability to say or do whatever it takes to get attention? Whatever the old saying about publicity, getting a bunch of attention for being “edgy” and offensive surely isn’t changing the face of animal rights in this country. Plenty of other organizations toil behind the scenes to make real policy change, and find creative ways to get attention to their causes that don’t exploit or offend, and PETA could do the same if they cared about a broader progressive vision.