Vegetarian porn

The always-surprising folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have announced some details about their latest public awareness campaign: porn! Yes, that’s right. Porn. For the ethical treatment of animals. So obvious I’m sure the people over at the ASPCA are wondering why they didn’t think of it first.

By way of explanation, PETA – no stranger to racy ad campaigns, including those “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” photos – claims that their sexually charged publicity material has often been their most successful. So they thought it would make good sense to step things up a notch, and produce actual porn. For the animals, you see.

While there’s porn out there that’s made with specific ethical principles in mind, this is the only case I know of – though I’m not exactly a porn scholar – in which the porn itself is intended as a way of communicating an ethical or political message. One wonders how exactly they plan to accomplish this. How do you make porn that evokes thoughts other than “hey, check it out – porn!” (etc.)?

You can read more about PETA’s porn adventures (and see some. . .interesting pictures from PETA’s previous campaigns) here.

23 thoughts on “Vegetarian porn

  1. I try to refrain from eating immorally produced animal products for ethical reasons (I’m not a vegan, but I often eat as one), but PETA’s ad campaigns usually seem so counterproductive and ridiculous to me. I’d be embarrassed to be associated with them….

  2. Though this is an empirical issue, in my anecdotal experience many of PETA’s ad campaigns have done more harm than good. So I agree with mm. I hear many meat eaters opine that their ad campaigns do nothing but alienate them, and in fact I often hear that, out of petty spite, meat-eaters will eat more meat when exposed to PETA ads.

    Now I’m a vegan, and animal ethics is important to me. I realize that PETA has done some great work (especially in cosmetic testing) but I do not associate with them in any fashion (other than the lifestyle association). Their methodology seems very seriously flawed. The only people they convince are those that were apt to be convinced already (so would likely end up changing lifestyles anyway). Everyone else they just push away. I guess at this point they’ve given up on the older generation, and are aiming at the younger generation that has grown up with porn just a mouse click away. Perhaps I’m being hasty in my assessment, maybe their ad campaigns do work, but in my experience they do not.

  3. I very much agree. I often think that PETA confuses memorability with success. I know a lot of people who remember the “I’d rather go naked” ads. I never met anyone who changed their minds about the permissibility of wearing fur as a result of those ads.

    One thing that’s particularly striking about many of PETA’s sexualized ad campaigns is the extent to which they objectify and sometimes demean women. Scantily clad women are put in cages, placed naked on their hands and knees in small enclosures, tied down under plastic wrap, and so. Some of the stunts are explicitly (and disgustingly) misogynistic. The justification, of course, is that they’re using these images to publicize the plight of animals. But you might’ve thought that we could publicize the plight of animals without subjecting women – even under a publicity stunt pretence – to the outrages we perpetrate against animals.

    This is, of course, an excellent excuse for me to tell everyone they should read “The Sexual Politics of Meat” by Carol J. Adams. Because it is excellent.

  4. I’ll just second everything that’s been said. PETA is an embarrassment to those of us who care about animal eithcs. I’ll add that I reckon the group is run largely by very young Uni kids itching for a fight. itching for a fight, rather than thinking carefully about ethics.

  5. The philosophical nature of this blog warrants a counter-argument on behalf of PETA. PETA states, repeatedly, that, “Our mission is to get the animal rights message to as many people as possible.” These provocative ad campaigns do just that. Under the banner of “no publicity is bad publicity,” they are talked about more consistently than any other animal right organization. Is their publicity bad publicity? Is it true, as J.R. says, “Though this is an empirical issue, in my anecdotal experience many of PETA’s ad campaigns have done more harm than good”?

    As an empirical issue, PETA’s membership has not been adversely affected. Their membership has continued to grow since 1980. With more than 2 million members, they are the largest animal rights group in the US. A Google search for “PETA” returns 151 million hits. The sober HSUS does not even top 3 million in a comparative search. Is their message counterproductive? That depends on their goal.

    The overarching goal of the group is to end meat eating. The goal of their provocative ad campaigns is, “to initiate discussion, debate, questioning of the status quo, and, of course, action.” The Google hits, not to mention this very discussion, are evidence that they are accomplishing this goal. It lends a good deal of weight to their claim that, “It is sometimes necessary to shake people up” to get people talking about how animals are treated. In my experience, most people would rather not talk about the questionable means by which their food is produced. Their method seeks to overcome such reluctance.

    Would any of this justify the objectification of women? No, I do not believe so. Nevertheless, are they objectifying women? Is it the case, as magicalersasatz says, that, “The justification, of course, is that they’re using these images to publicize the plight of animals. But you might’ve thought that we could publicize the plight of animals without subjecting women – even under a publicity stunt pretence – to the outrages we perpetrate against animals.”? There certainly are many ways to publicize the plight of animals, but the message PETA is sending is that these staged images provoke (rightly) condemnation. They are sexist, misogynistic, exploitative, etc. They are fully aware of this, as is Carol Adams in “The Sexual Politics of Meat.” Their point is that we do not react this way when non-human animals are in the same positions-naked, bleeding, caged and so on. The performers/activists, I would assume, are also aware of this message. If their action is a purposeful representation meant to elicit a reaction, it is difficult to see how their behavior is sexist/wrong, while an actor playing Don Juan is not responsible for promoting misogyny, nor is Nabokov indicted for promoting pedophilia.

    Does this message go over people’s heads? Probably. However, it doesn’t do what it is supposed to-it gets people talking. That is all. They have other tactics for other goals. This may define PETA for most people. It may even get people to ignore them or not take them seriously. I do not think PETA has a problem with that part of the population. Even giving people the wrong message about an animal rights group still puts animal rights in their consciousness. They also try to develop campaigns that are difficult to ignore. As far as who “runs” PETA, they have a large staff. Their director, though, in Ingrid Newkirk, is far from a “very young Uni kid” as brynhild reckons. The information I have used here I found very easily. Actually looking at their claims and motivations is important.

  6. Nevyn, you beat me to it, and did a better job than I would have. As we acknowledge, it is an empirical issue. So I looked via google for marketing sites that discussed PETA ads and they think the ads are remarkably effective, roughly for the reasons Nevyn says.

    One other thing the sites pointed out is that PETA is very good at getting free advertisement through media reporting on some outrageous activity.

    There’s an underlying point that seems to me important; in lots of ways, human beings don’t work the way we are inclined to think, we aren’t terribly good at understanding other individuals or even sometimes ourselves, and we often don’t give enough thought to the possible consequences down the road. There are many ways, I think, in which the recent discussions of the pluralist guide brings this out. I’m certainly not thinking of Linda here especially, but more of all the others who thought that there were simple ways to do a much better job, such as surveying the department, something fraught with problems that a philosophy education typically tells one nothing of. Or those who demonized her (in my opinion) without much thought to the psychological/gender dynamics that make demonizing possible.

  7. Another way of stating the point, I think, (agreeing with Nevyn and Anne) is that PETA’s position is that human animals and non-human animals have basically the same moral status, such that the gruesome death of the one is the same as the other.

    The risk of PETA’s campaign is that it will end up being a reductio against their position. And, when I look at PETA’s ads, that’s exactly what I find. I find them to be a reductio against the view that human animals and non-human animals have the same moral status. When I viewed their references to the Holocaust, I had a pretty strong reaction: that the Holocaust was far, far worse than a comparable slaughtering of non-human animals.

  8. Also, I posted yesterday, but I think my post was caught by the spam-filter because it contained a link. I pointed out that there are lots of attempts out there to send political messages through pornography. And one of the more prominent attempts to do so is called “vegporn” (close to the title of this post). It’s basically a pornographic website where all the actresses/actors are vegetarians or vegans.

  9. Whether PETA’s previous ad campaigns have been effective is certainly a complex empirical issue (and not settled by, e.g., membership statistics – which may well have grown largely because the plight of animals and issues of animal welfare are becoming more widely known; people may be joining PETA *in spite of* rather than *because of* the ads – we don’t have counterfactual information of what the membership would be without those ads). Whether PETA’s previous ad campaigns are upsettlingly sexist is a complex philosophical question. Personally, I find some of them to be so. Take this one, for example: https://secure.peta.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=3205

    The female body is clearly being objectified in order for the ad to make its point. You’re supposed to find the picture sexually alluring (and then, I guess, stop and think about the plight of animals). But the sexuality of the picture is achieved via – very explicit – objectification. And this is a pretty tame example. They get a lot worse.

    But all this being said, the key issue here is not whether PETA’s previous ads are successful or permissible. The question is whether *porn* could really be used to publicize an animal welfare message. I’m doubtful. And even if it could, would it really be a good way to communicate that message?

  10. Sorry your comment didn’t show up, Matt.

    I’m not familiar with vegporn – and I’m not going to try to remedy that – but is it actually porn that’s trying to communicate a political message via the porn itself? I mean, there’s lots of feminist porn out there that has an ethical/political agenda. But the porn itself is simply a tool to illicit sexual arousal (like. . .well. . .most any porn). That’s not the same as attempting to communicate political content through the porn itself.

    I guess I can’t see how having all the actors be vegans is an attempt to transmit a political message via porn. Seems more like porn with a some background political/ethical structures in place (much like feminist porn).

  11. It seems that a reasonable argument can be made that PETA is fueled in part by this very dynamic and they are exposing said dynamic. If people don’t “get it,” (i.e. take it as misogyny rather than pillory), that would only give them more impetus to continue. As an undergrad, I studied under Sarah Hoagland, and she never would let me or anyone else forget the underlying dynamic. I would even suggest, iconoclast that she is, that Dr. Hoagland would see a great deal of the effects of this dynamic in several of the responses right here: that it’s a result of a wider conceptual coercion that helps blind us to the deeper message. We recoil at caged women but simply tsk tsk at caged factory farm animals. To call it “objectification” is to cover up this uglier truth with a label we can all righteously condemn.

  12. That’s a good question. My understanding is that it’s more like the model you describe, where the porn is there for sexual arousal but there is a separate section where the actresses/actors talk about why they’re vegetarian or vegan. But that knowledge is not from viewing the content: it’s from reading the descriptions of the content offered by the owner(s). I *think* attempts to transmit political messages through the porn itself is fairly isolated to feminist porn sites that try to counter certain body norms: depicting women outside norms for acceptable weight and depicting women who have hair where biology places it but social norms say it shouldn’t be.

    But I’d be interested in hearing about other types of examples.

  13. Countering body norms goes beyond feminist porn. Suicide Girls counters body norms by celebrating tattoos and piercings in porn. Mixing that message into sexual arousal does not de-politicize the message. If anything, it may stamp the message all the more indelibly.

  14. Taking the position whole hog (pun intended), in this case Feministe gets it wrong. Just as porn is not inherently objectifying as feminist, lesbian (made by lesbians for lesbians), and amateur (consensual) demonstrate, neither is it inherently objectifying for women using their naked bodies to push a political message. As McLuhan said, and as I believe the case is with PETA, the medium is the message.

    I am not ignorant to the “sex sells” aspect of marketing, something annejjacobson pointed out in marketers’ applause of PETA’s ads. I am sure this plays a role. Nevertheless, that does not weaken the argument that most people find non-humans locked naked in a box as an unsettling reality to be avoided, but a human animal in the same condition is repugnant and objectifying.

    Jill at Feministe says PETA’s message hasn’t been, “Hmm, I guess making cows produce milk for us is kind of cruel;” it’s been, “Breast milk in ice cream?! Gross!” What she does not realize is THAT IS THE MESSAGE. You ARE having breast milk in your ice cream. Just because it comes from a non-human mammary does not make it something else. This is the point; human? Gross! Sexist! Objectifying! Non-human? Hmmm…gee, interesting point you got there….wanna get a burger and talk it over? PETA surely uses sex appeal, shock and outrage to grab attention. Though again, this does not mean that how they are accomplishing this is morally wrong. In itself, it is not.

    Is it a failure that this wider message is lost in the shock? Maybe, but an incorrect assessment still gets people thinking about animal rights and better ways to promote them. Feministe points out several and this is another good to the wider objective.

    By tying sexuality to vegetarianism, PETA is not objectifying women or setting back feminism. PETA is showing the world how society has objectified animals for food, fashion and entertainment. Even, as Adams would say, sexualized and fetishized meat itself. As uncomfortable as it should make people feel, if Adams is right and we sexualize meat, and meat is animals, then we are sexualizing cow and pigs, chickens and ducks, minks and foxes. That should make people uncomfortable, and that is what PETA wants.

  15. You can objectify women without intending to objectify women. The arguments above tend to argue about PETA’s aims, goals and intentions.

    I have yet to see a convincing argument that what PETA does has no objectifying effects.

  16. If you grant the absence of intent, I’m not sure we can say PETA is objectifying women. What we have instead is someone finding the ad objectionable, which is part of the idea, so no problem there. If creates an environment of objectification, or rather, adds to that preexisting environment, I’m not sure what to say. If I produce a painting of an assault, and my intent as the artist is to show the brutality of domestic violence, do I contribute to a violent milieu? It seems a stretch to chastise me for adding to the problem in such a case. If an African American filmmaker make a movie about racism, is she contributing to racism? If a liberal politician argues that rancor in government is fueled by biased reporting, do we say that his comment has divisive effects?

    Intent is important to how we assess. If domestic violence, racism and acrimony increase, do we confer blame to the artist, the filmmaker and the politician? It seems vastly unfair to do so, especially when what they are doing is trying to expose the problem. If exposing problem A adds to problem B, and my point is that A is intimately related to B, I don’t see how that’s a critique. It just seems to add to the strength of my point that A and B are very very similar. In fact, to say I bear responsibility to adding to B is to not only miss my point, but to show how big of a problem B really is.

    Patriarchy is so entrenched in our society that even feminists can fail to see how the same tactics are being used elsewhere with impunity. Failure to appreciate this dynamic is itself a product of repression. When voices for the suppressed are accused of causing repression, it shows how deep the subjugation has gotten.

  17. I do not understand the antecedent of Nevyn’s first sentence in #17. How does one go about granting absences of intentions?

    It is not the case that if X is supposed to be objectionable, then there’s no problem with X being objectionable. The aim being espoused is not transparently good. And it may overshoot its mark. It may be objectionable for reasons that exceed the one for which the expression aimed.

    I’m not sure we can say PETA is or isn’t objectifying women, but I am sure that intent is only one important dimension. When voices for the oppressed are accused of causing oppression, it may rather show that the self-anointed voice appealed to handy narratives lying around in order to make a provocative point or joke regardless of how it would play into oppressive narratives. When a man at my bus stop sees the Pamela Anderson ad for PETA and says “Fuck yeah!,” my concern about what her ad accomplishes does not indicate that my subjugation is so deep I cannot think straight. Rather the reverse.

  18. Kate: Well said. When I said “If you grant…” I mean if you grant the premise that PETA does not intend to objectify women. I think what you say about handy narratives is brilliant. I contend that PETA is using the misogynist narrative to point out how this very same narrative is operating in how most of society views animals raised for human use.
    When I say that there’s no problem with X being objectionable, I use the word as a synonym for “unpleasant” or “unacceptable.” That’s exactly what I’m claiming PETA wants to do in order to make the speciesist point; that what’s morally repugnant for X is morally repugnant for Y. I’m not giving a pass to objectification, in which I don’t see them engaging. I agree they may be overshooting their mark. I simply maintain that there is indeed a mark.
    I also agree that intent is only one dimension, and that how we use oppressive narratives can be dangerous and contentious. At the same time, I have troubling getting in the way of anyone trying to use that narrative to fight oppression or bring oppression to light. I can’t fault African Americans for attempting to “take back” the word “nigger.” I can’t fault the Slut Walk marchers either, even if some guy at the buss stop point as them and says, “Fuck yeah!” If I did, if I failed to see how the protesters were manipulating and exploiting the narrative, I think it would be because of the damage that narrative has done to my environment. Those are the feminists to which I refer.

  19. Oh, Nevyn, she sheepishly replied, the “handy narratives” phrase is borrowed from Hilde Lindemann’s fabulous work (see especially _Damaged Identities, Narrative Repair_). Lots to think about the rest of your post, thanks! Will try to return to this conversation tomorrow when less sleepy.

  20. […] Vegetarian porn (feministphilosophers.wordpress.com) Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged Alanis Morissette, Disc jockey, Fox FM, List of men's magazines, MAXIM, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Rose, Six Degrees. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  21. Nevyn, there is surely an important difference between a group trying to undermine images/words associated with *their own* oppression (as in ‘reclaiming’ strategies for words like ‘crip’ and ‘queer’) and using the oppression of one group to make points about the oppression of another (as PETA does with the treatment of women and animals, respectively). It’s generally accepted that the undermining or reclaiming projects can only successfully be undertaken by members of that particular group. White people have, on occasion, attempted to ironically or sarcastically use the n-word to make a point. It doesn’t work. It’s a very different thing for a white person to use the n-word – even ironically – than it is for a black person.

    If what you claim is PETA’s strategy was in general acceptable, then it would be equally permissible for them to run ad campaigns that featured black people in chains, black people being whipped, etc. That is, it would be acceptable to use the narrative of slavery (humans treated as property) to make a point about the way we treat animals (as objects, as property). But such an ad campaign would clearly be objectionable, and would rightly be accused of being racist (racist in what it evokes, despite not being racist in intent). For similar reasons, a lot of us have problems with the way PETA depicts women. Yes, they’re trying to make an analogy. We get that. But those images carry sexist and misogynistic messages – despite PETA’s best intentions.

    All that being said – it seems clear that PETA’s aim is not (or at least not always) for the viewer to be shocked or upset by the images they present. The images linked to above seem clearly intended to be viewed as sexually arousing and provocative. Your attention is drawn by the fact that you find the picture sexy, and then you’re supposed to think about the message (while, ostensibly, still finding the picture sexy). But PETA can only do this – can only intend these images to be sexy and alluring – if they are happy to endorse, or at least allow for and use, the objectification of women that is involved in finding the pictures sexy. PETA doesn’t want you to be horrified when you see Shilpa Shetty doing her best feline in a cage. They want you to be turned on – the image is clearly intended to be sexy. They also want you to think a bit about animals in cages, sure. But the image doesn’t communicate “putting things in cages is horrifying”. It communicates “hey, Shilpa Shetty in a cage is hot” and then carries a caption that says “but animals in cages aren’t hot”.

    And I have a hard time seeing an argument that putting a woman dressed as a cat in a cage, taking pictures of her clinging to bars, and intending those pictures to be sexy and arousing doesn’t involve the objectification of women. I’m old fashioned that way.

  22. magicalersatz: You make several really great points. However, I see a couple problems with restricting the use of a dominance narrative to those oppressed by the narrative. One problem is that there are cases, such as the Slut Walks, where a patriarchal narrative is manipulated by both men and women-both of whom have been well-represented in the marches. I have no problem using the word “queer” as a primarily heterosexual man. The word has been embraced by much of the GLBTQ community, taking away its former sting, especially since “Queer Eye” came to TV. “Fag” isn’t there yet, but I see that changing too.

    There are cases where it fails, where a word or image has too much baggage, but we don’t consider someone making that failure as promoting racism or anti-Semitism. We see them instead as misusing the discourse. A word used by community X means A, and means B when used by community Y. If a member of Y uses the word in the same context that members of X use it, we know the speaker doesn’t mean B. But no matter how uncomfortable or inappropriate, the speaker is not “being racist” or “racializing” community X. Similarly, I contend PETA is not objectifying women by using the power narrative. There’s something very different between the two, though.

    One difference is in how PETA is using the narrative. They’re not trying to “normalize” or “reclaim” the narrative. They’re using it with all its negative baggage to argue that the reasons we find this objectionable in the first place apply to this other practice. They know the objectification narrative is there, and they want you to see how it broadly applies. You should be outraged, and again, that’s the point. So of course the ads have over-the-top sexuality; they’re blatantly representative of everything that’s wrong with the power discourse.

    Another difference is that, at least in the links you use, it is the people that have been harmed by the power discourse (women) who are employing the narrative to serve their own ends. It seems that you would agree that women would be free to, and even be empowered by, exploiting the very narrative that’s been used to repress them.

    I’ve been arguing that PETA is attempting to show how pervasive the power narrative is in our society. I’ve also suggested that the feminist backlash is evidence of that. I’ve argued that we are outraged by this discourse, that the dominance narrative is bad in and of itself, yet we allow it to operate freely in other areas, only expressing our righteous indignation when we see the narrative at work in a familiar way.

    Just to suggest how deep the conceptual coercion goes, consider the language of “women’s rights” and the “women’s rights” movement. The patriarchal legacy is embedded in the very notion of “women’s rights.” It suggests at least two things: 1.) There are rights for “women” and there are rights for “men.” There isn’t a call for “human rights,” that’s a different struggle (some in the LGBTQ activist community have picked up on this, calling marriage equality a “human rights” issue). 2.) Women don’t “have” rights. Rights have to be “conferred” by men. Men are the gatekeepers of “rights” and give them to women. Feminists often refer to suffrage as when women “got the right to vote.” But if rights exist, people have them all the time. They may be restricted, we may disallow their exercise, but they are not a commodity to be dispensed at the convenience of the dominant group. The language of “women’s rights” is itself patriarchal. I see PETA making an analogous point.

Comments are closed.