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.

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Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s echoes of New Labour

The fall of Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP.

If there was one thing the SNP and New Labour had in common, it was the hope. Both offered themselves as a burning torch of optimism to publics that had become tired of the same old gang running things in the same old way. Both promised a fairer, more equal society and fearless embrace of the modern world with an appealing freshness and energy. The voters bought it: both won big, repeatedly.

The thing is, if you’re elected on a mandate to be different, you’d better be different. In many areas, for a long time, New Labour managed to be just that. The smiling PM with the huge majority pushed through bold policies, some of which even worked. Tony Blair’s strategy was so successful that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems reshaped themselves in his likeness.

But, as some say, it’s the hope that kills you. When the inevitable attritional realities of governing start to weigh; when you make, as you will, bad decisions; when the list of enemies grows long; when you’ve simply had your time; you’ll fall like all the rest. Only, when you’ve soared so close to the sun, you have that much further to plummet.

The fall of Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP. The debate on 21 May between the Scottish party leaders was, I think, a foretaste of a sure outcome – a public that until recently was politically and emotionally invested in the Nats is growing restive. In time, this will turn to disenchantment, then anger, then revenge at the ballot box. That is the unbreakable cycle of democratic politics.

Some of us have warned since the start that the SNP had over-promised and could only under-deliver. Its raison d’être is independence; everything else is just another brick to build the path. And so its education reform cannot be either brave or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions, or parents.

The same goes for the NHS, and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done – all they could have done, given their nature – is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: “It’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs.”

Yet the voters show signs of wearying. Middle Scotland is either ignored or maligned by the middle-class socialists who drive the nation’s political debate, but it is where elections are won. The SNP has secured the support of enough of these people to win every recent election in style, but somewhere along the way the party seems to have forgotten this was a mandate not for independence, but for good government. Ten years in to SNP rule, each new audit of public services seems to wail like a warning siren.

So, during the debate, it was Nicola Sturgeon, not the Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, or Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, who found herself in the audience’s cross-hairs.

There were the teachers, who complained about the damp squib that is the Curriculum for Excellence, the SNP’s flagship education policy; who pointed out that a fifth of primary pupils are leaving without basic literacy and numeracy skills; and who warned that lowering the standard of exams in order to push up the pass rate was not a mark of success.

Then there was the nurse who said she had been forced to use food banks (the existence of which has been used repeatedly by the SNP as a stick with which to beat the Conservatives and Westminster). “I can’t manage on the salary I have [which is set by the Scottish government],” Claire Austin told the panel. “You have no idea how demoralising it is to work in the NHS.” She delivered the killer line of the evening: “Do you think your perceived obsession with independence might actually cost you . . . in this election?”

The list of reasonable criticisms of the SNP’s governance is growing. The ideological obsession with free university tuition for Scottish students is increasingly seen as a sop to the better-off. Sturgeon’s demand for a quick second independence referendum, when a worried Middle Scotland was focused on what Brexit might mean for its future, was tone deaf.

The SNP has another problem (one that New Labour, for all its flaws, didn’t face): its doctrine of infallibility. The Nationalists’ constitution explicitly prohibits SNP elected members from criticising the party, its policies or each other. Although total unity is useful when you’re on the climb, it starts to look bonkers when the cracks are showing.

The word “cult” has long dogged the SNP. The party has tried hard to normalise its electoral appeal while keeping the flame of independence burning, but this has been a difficult balancing act. The pro-independence mob is an ugly thing when unleashed (and it has suited the leadership to open the cage door at times). After the debate, Claire Austin found herself at its mercy as the Nats briefed – wrongly – that she was the wife of a Tory councillor. The SNP branch in Stirling said, Tebbitishly, that if she was having to use food banks, “Maybe she needs to tighten her belt a bit more?”

Joanna Cherry, a QC, MP and the SNP’s home affairs spokesperson, was forced to apologise for spreading “Twitter rumours” about Austin. The ravening horde has largely kept its head down since the 2014 independence referendum, but it hasn’t gone away – it is not enough for the SNP’s critics to be debated: they must be destroyed. This isn’t the behaviour of a normal political party.

I have a feeling that when the SNP does fall, it will fall quite quickly. Its belief in its infallibility, and its inability or unwillingness to do self-deprecation or apology, will increasingly exasperate voters. There is nothing to suggest the current public policy failings will be addressed, and many signs that things will get worse.

How then do you arrest your fall? The SNP offered hope and promised it was different, and the voters believed it. The sense of betrayal could make for a very hard landing indeed. 

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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