Philobiblon: Peta: Is any publicity good publicity?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Peta: Is any publicity good publicity?

A dissection of the tactics of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which specialises in extreme stunts and advocates universal vegetarianism.

I became engrossed with its media tactics, which, to sum them up would be to say they say and do anything at all to draw attention. It sounds simple and obvious enough -- anything at all -- but it clearly isn't, or other groups would be following its lead. Other than the ACLU, which progressive advocacy group (yes, PETA is progressive) garners a regular share of news coverage across the country on a daily basis? Not a single one.

PETA goes after places, people, events and ideas of social meaning and finds a way to seize the headlines -- or create its own. It will do whatever it takes to expose people to its point of view. When PETA asks an agricultural town to change its name from say, Cowtown to Liberated Cowtown, it knows that a bored reporter in the surrounding region will fall for it and write a story about it, and that a bunch of readers sick of stories about septic tanks and cattle prices will fall for the headline. Somewhere in that story will be the sentence: "A PETA representative told the mayor that killing animals is wrong."

With that sentence, PETA scores a victory.

The question is, of course, whether such tactics don't put off as many people as they attract. I'm broadly pro-animal rights, and think a fair measure of the degree of civilisation of a society can be its treatment of animals, but the extreme image of some aspects of the movement -such as Peta - makes me rather wary of saying or doing much about it.

I'm not a vegetarian, because I think, if you go back to basics, humans' place in the ecosystem is as omnivores. Not eating necessarily a lot of meat - for lots of reasons, environmental, health and human rights, eating large amounts of meat (say every day) is not defensible, but going to great lengths to avoid doing so seems to me unnecessary.

I try to buy meat from ethical sources - where animals are treated well. (Having studied agricultural science and worked on a number of farms in Australia I know that is far from always the case. (A couple of the worst horror stories: caged sows eating their own piglets, probably a result of the stress of not being able to even turn around, and poor cross-bred ewes carrying 18-months' wool in the heat of an Australian summer, being eaten alive by fly maggots.)

So I'm in many ways a natural animal rights supporter. But Peta, with its current tactics, isn't going to win me over.


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