You know, we're all going to die someday. Even if we work — if that's what you call it — for PETA. Even PETA's President, Ingrid Newkirk.
Newkirk has thought ahead. She doesn't want to be buried. She doesn't want to be cremated.
She wants her corpse used to make a point. A very belabored point.
And it will. Just not, perhaps, the point she was anticipating.
Newkirk has drafted and published an attention-seeking last will and testament in which she directs that her corpse be divided up and used to score various rhetorical points about animal cruelty to advance PETA's agenda:
Upon my death, it is my wish that my body be used in a manner that draws attention to needless animal suffering and exploitation. To accomplish this, I direct that my body be donated to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front Street, Norfolk, Virginia 23510, to be used in whatever manner it chooses in order to accomplish the specified purpose, with the hope that most of my body will be put to use in the United States, with parts also dispatched to awaken the public consciousness of governments and citizens in the United Kingdom, where I was born, in India, my beloved childhood home, and in Canada, Germany, and France.
What kind of things should PETA do with the corpse? Well, there's cannibalism:
That the “meat” of my body, or a portion thereof, be used for a human barbecue, to remind the world that the meat of a corpse is all flesh, regardless of whether it comes from a human being or another animal, and that flesh foods are not needed;
b. That my skin, or a portion thereof, be removed and made into leather products, such as purses, to remind the world that human skin and the skin of other animals is the same and that neither is “fabric” nor needed,
There's feng shui:
c. That in remembrance of the elephant-foot umbrella stands and tiger rugs I saw, as a child, offered for sale by merchants at Connaught Place in Delhi, my feet be removed and umbrella stands or other ornamentation be made from them, as a reminder of the depravity of killing innocent animals, such as elephants, in order that we might use their body parts for household items and decorations;
And there's whimsicality:
j. That a little part of my heart be buried near the racetrack at Hockenheim, preferably near the Ferrari pits, where Michael Shumacher raced in and won the German Grand Prix;
The last is, perhaps, the most honest, as it is openly personal and idiosyncratic, designed to please her and convey her feelings and for no other ostensible purpose. The rest is the same, only dressed up as meaningful activism. If PETA were to do any of these things — or even if people were to read this will — folks would say, "Wow. There's someone who is serious . . . wait, wrong word . . . there's someone who believes very strongly that animal cruelty is bad." Thus Newkirk's core belief — that she deserves recognition, and a form of immortality, for feeling so very strongly that we ought to be nice to animals — will be vindicated.
However, if Newkirk genuinely expects her performance art to "awaken the public consciousness," then she's in for a disappointment, at least to the extent that dismemberment by wild-eyed activists does not interfere with experiencing disappointment in the afterlife. Her error is one of proportion, and one that is at the heart of the vast majority of PETA's increasingly desperate attention-seeking advertising approach.
PETA's public relations strategy depends upon the premise that if people knew how badly animals are treated behind closed doors so that we might eat well and wear leather and go to the circus and so on, we would rise up and become Cirque-du-Soleil-appreciating vegans in shitty plastic shoes. But PETA lacks a sense of proportion — it seems willfully indifferent to the fact that humanity already routinely shrugs off far worse suffering inflicted upon people.
Hence Newkirk thinks that people will recoil from leather if they see her skin is made into a coat, ignoring the fact that within a span of a lifetime people were actually made into lampshades without inflicting any perceptible dent in Kenneth Cole's end-of-year profits. Newkirk can be forgiven for forgetting this; to the folks at PETA, the Holocaust is not so much a watershed event in the history of man's inhumanity to man as it is a useful analogy to keep in your back pocket in case someone is mean to chickens. Similarly, Newkirk thinks that making her foot into a gravely inadequate umbrella stand will call attention to elephant's feet being made into umbrella stands for decoration, and thus stop Westerners with awful taste from buying imported ones. But Westerners already buy billions and billions of dollars' worth of imported merchandise made by children laboring under the most execrable of conditions. Wide documentation of abysmal sweatshops does not slow Nike down. So what chance does Newkirk have of making us worry about Dumbo needing a prosthesis?
Newkirk thus continues the time-honored PETA tradition of insisting that animals should be treated more like people, yet being indifferent to or ignorant of the fact that people routinely get treated like shit without anyone getting too exercised about it. PETA takes this tactic to its apotheosis whenever it uses women in advertising:
With images like this, PETA invites us to consider what it would be like if women were treated like a piece of meat. In doing so, PETA ignores the fact that women routinely are treated like a piece of meat — metaphorically, in the media (a trend eagerly pursued in envelope-pushing fashion by PETA itself), and physically, in a world where battery is rife and largely unpunished. PETA's analogy doesn't begin to work unless you refuse to acknowledge that fact. PETA thus invites us to focus on the comparison of animal suffering to human suffering to the exclusion — and minimization — of human suffering.
This isn't the only way to go about it, of course. PETA could run a very powerful advertising campaign focused on the concept that a society that inflicts needless cruelty on animals is a society that finds it much easier to inflict needless cruelty on people. PETA could focus on the fact that wanton cruelty to animals, in individuals, is often a vanguard of sociopathy towards humans. PETA could make the argument that an essential element of getting our house in order towards our fellow men is not inflicting needless pain to anything that feels pain.
But arguments about people are sticky and complicated. Arguments about being nice to animals are easy. PETA will continue to take the easy, attention-seeking course. That's why Newkirk's corpse — barbecued by PETA per her last request — tastes like chicken to me. It tastes banal.
Edited to add: PETA seems intent on proving my point. They are upset that in a video game involving shooting very large numbers of people, you can also shoot dogs.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- A Response To Marc: Institutions, Agendas, and the "Culture War" - January 13th, 2016
- Lawyering Is About Service, Not Self-Actualization - January 11th, 2016
- Lawsplainer: Was FAU Prof. James Tracy Fired in Violation of His First Amendment Rights? - January 7th, 2016
- Defy, Defy, Defy. - January 7th, 2016
- President Obama And The Rhetoric Of Rights - January 5th, 2016