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.

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder