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.

Getty Images
Show Hide image

Should London leave the UK?

Almost 60 per cent of Londoners voted to stay in the EU. Is it time for the city to say good by to Brexit Britain and go it alone?

Amid the shocked dismay of Brexit on Friday morning, there was some small, vindictive consolation to be had from the discomfort of Boris Johnson as he left his handsome home in EU-loving Islington to cat-calls from inflamed north London europhiles. They weren’t alone in their displeasure at the result. Soon, a petition calling for “Londependence” had gathered tens of thousands of names and Sadiq Khan, Johnson’s successor as London mayor, was being urged to declare the capital a separate city-state that would defiantly remain in the EU.

Well, he did have a mandate of a kind: almost 60 per cent of Londoners thought the UK would be Stronger In. It was the largest Remain margin in England – even larger than the hefty one of 14 per cent by which Khan defeated Tory eurosceptic Zac Goldsmith to become mayor in May – and not much smaller than Scotland’s. Khan’s response was to stress the importance of retaining access to the single market and to describe as “crucial” London having an input into the renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU, alongside Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It’s possible to take a dim view of all this. Why should London have a special say in the terms on which the UK withdraws from the EU when it ended up on the wrong side of the people’s will? Calling for London to formally uncouple from the rest of the UK, even as a joke to cheer gloomy Inners up, might be seen as vindicating small-town Outer resentment of the metropolis and its smug elites. In any case, it isn’t going to happen. No, really. There will be no sovereign Greater London nation with its own passport, flag and wraparound border with Home Counties England any time soon.

Imagine the practicalities. Currency wouldn’t be a problem, as the newborn city-state would convert to the euro in a trice, but there would be immediate secessionist agitation in the five London boroughs of 32 that wanted Out: Cheam would assert its historic links with Surrey; stallholders in Romford market would raise the flag of Essex County Council. Then there is the Queen to think about. Plainly, Buckingham Palace could no longer be the HQ of a foreign head of state, but given the monarch’s age would it be fair to turf her out?

Step away from the fun-filled fantasy though, and see that Brexit has underlined just how dependent the UK is on London’s economic power and the case for that power to be protected and even enhanced. Greater London contains 13 per cent of the UK’s population, yet generates 23 per cent of its economic output. Much of the tax raised in London is spent on the rest of the country – 20 per cent by some calculations – largely because it contains more business and higher earners. The capital has long subsidised the rest the UK, just as the EU has funded attempts to regenerate its poorer regions.

Like it or not, foreign capital and foreign labour have been integral to the burgeoning of the “world city” from which even the most europhobic corners of the island nation benefit in terms of public spending. If Leaver mentality outside the capital was partly about resentment of “rich London”, with its bankers and big businesses – handy targets for Nigel Farage – and fuelled by a fear of an alien internationalism London might symbolise, then it may prove to have been sadly self-defeating.

Ensuring that London maintains the economic resilience it has shown since the mid-Nineties must now be a priority for national government, (once it decides to reappear). Pessimists predict a loss of jobs, disinvestment and a decrease in cultural energy. Some have mooted a special post-Brexit deal for the capital that might suit the interests of EU member states too – London’s economy is, after all, larger than that of Denmark, not to mention larger than that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined – though what that might be and how that could happen remain obscure.

There is, though, no real barrier to greater devolution of powers to London other than the political will of central government. Allowing more decisions about how taxes raised in the capital are spent in the capital, both at mayoral and borough level, would strengthen the city in terms of managing its own growth, addressing its (often forgotten) poverty and enhancing the skills of its workforce.

Handing down control over the spending of property taxes, as set out in an influential 2013 report by the London Finance Commission set up by Mayor Johnson, would be a logical place to start. Mayor Khan’s manifesto pledged to campaign for strategic powers over further education and health service co-ordination, so that these can be better tailored to London’s needs. Since Brexit, he has underlined the value of London securing greater command of its own destiny.

This isn’t just a London thing, and neither should it be. Plans are already in place for other English cities and city regions to enjoy more autonomy under the auspices of directly elected “metro mayors”, notably for Greater Manchester and Liverpool and its environs. One of the lessons of Brexit for the UK is that many people have felt that decisions about their futures have been taken at too great a distance from them and with too little regard for what they want and how they feel.

That lesson holds for London too – 40 per cent is a large minority. Boris Johnson was an advocate of devolution to London when he was its mayor and secured some, thanks to the more progressive side of Tory localism. If he becomes prime minister, it would be good for London and for the country as a whole if he remembered that.  

Dave Hill writes the Guardian’s On London column. Find him on Twitter as @DaveHill.