Why PETA makes me want to eat a barn owl

What's better than domestic violence imagery? Sexy domestic violence imagery!

 

 

There's a poem by Wendy Cope I absolutely love, called "Kindness to Animals". She says that if she became a vegetarian and stopped eating lamb, she'd be both a better person -- and thinner. It concludes:

But the lamb is not endangered
And at least I can truthfully say
I have never, ever eaten a barn owl,
So perhaps I am OK.

Well, nothing makes me want to eat a barn owl more than PETA, the People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals. Flushed with the storming success of their "we'd rather go naked than wear fur" supermodel billboard (it turned out Naomi Campbell wouldn't, by the way, as she has modelled fur several times since), they decided years ago that nakedness was the key to ending animal cruelty. If you don't believe me, and you're not at work, have a Google.

They even have a whole page, Veggie Love, dedicated to boasting about how their recent adverts were "too hot" (read: too lazily objectifying) for television, with one banned from the Superbowl slot for featuring a woman "rubbing pelvic region with pumpkin".

Further down the page, they trill: "'Veggie Love' isn't the first PETA video banned from the airwaves. Check out our other videos that have been deemed "too hot for TV"!" Because you know what's definitely proven to stop people being cruel to animals? Masturbation, that's what!

So far, so "sex sells innit and our advertising agency is lazy". But one of PETA's key messages -- that vegetarians make better lovers -- has taken a disturbing new twist with their latest campaign.

"This is Jessica," begins the video, over footage of a woman in a neck brace shuffling painfully down the street. "She suffers from WVAKTBOOM - Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom out of Me... a painful condition that occurs when boyfriends go vegan and can suddenly bring it like a tantric porn star."

Er, what? At this point I watched the video again. Was it really tossing around domestic violence imagery in an effort to persuade me to give up eggs and milk? Apparently so. Men who go vegan will become such sexual adepts that they will injure their partners.

As if that wasn't offensive -- and unpersuasive -- enough the advert has more. The way Jessica is shot is consistently sexualised. There's a lovely frame of her bum walking up some steps, painfully, and ohwouldyoulookatthat she's forgotten to put her skirt on. In she wanders to see her sex panther of a boyfriend, who looks deceptively pale and weedy, and she's in her bra and pants. Because what's better than casually using images of violence against women? SEXY images of violence against women!

As a journalist, I'm reluctant to blog about adverts like this, because they are the corporate version of trolling -- if you draw attention to them, you're doing their publicity work for them.

But unlike say, the Ryanair advert banned this week for objectifying its staff, this PETA advert doesn't in the slightest make me want to go vegan. In fact, quite the opposite. So not only will I happily call them out, but I'm going to smother myself in foie gras and panda steaks.

Hat-tip to @rosamundurwin for pointing out the advert. Follow me on Twitter: @helenlewis

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.