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Sunday, May 08, 2005

The other side...

My friend and fellow blogger Rahel is a bit of an animal nut. 

Before anyone gets the wrong idea about that statement, let me assure you I use the word 'nut' in the most positive possible sense. You have to understand, Rahel would probably throw herself in front of a bus to save a cat without a moment's hesitation (my parents are also nutty this way...albeit about their dogs).

With this in mind, I was a bit surprised that she posted about PETA's (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) recent 'Holocaust on your Plate' ad campaign (no I won't offer a link... you can 'Google it' if you aren't sure what I'm talking about)... and came down firmly against PETA. 

Rahel's one unanswered question in her post revolved around what to make of the unprecedented apology PETA issued over the ad campaign.

As many of you already know, I'm a giver (no need to thank me)... so I feel honor-bound to step up and offer my well-considered opinion on the subject.

First a little background: 

PETA is an organization that wrote a letter of complaint in response to the PLO strapping explosives to a donkey with the goal of killing a bunch of real-live human beings.  PETA never mentioned the intended Israeli targets of the exploding donkey... but rather requested from 'His Excellency' President Arafat, to please consider sparing the donkey next time.

As media-savvy activist organizations go, PETA is arguably the biggest media whore that has ever existed.  No cow is ever too sacred to slaughter (so to speak), and no imagery is ever too shocking to present to the public. 

However, the rule most deeply engraved in PETAs tablet of commandments:  'Never Apologize!'

Their well-thought-out PR formula posits (correctly IMHO) that shocking / offensive images generate strong reactions... strong reactions generate lively discussion... and lively discussion generates publicity.  Since their goal is to garner maximum publicity for their agenda, it stand to reason that the more shocking the ad; the better.

So when PETA recently issued its latest ad campaign entitled 'Holocaust on your Plate', they naturally lapped up the predictable international outcry it generated. 

Of course the usual suspects from the Jewish community reacted in predictable knee-jerk fashion (despite their own unwitting role in watering down the historic lessons of the Holocaust by using its iconography and terminology to support an endless string of unrelated agendas).  But interestingly, even typically unsympathetic commentators such as CNN seemed to express rumblings of 'now they've gone too far'.

This was just the kind of media circus on which PETA has always thrived... so I was more than a bit annoyed when everyone began falling over themselves to see who could go public with the most extended public demonstration of rightous indignation.  The free publicity generated by all that outrage seemed like it would never end.

Finally, the din began to subside, and I had high hopes that we would be rid of these clowns until they came up with a new and unique way to slaughter someone else's sacred cow.

Clearly I was counting my [hickory-smoked] chickens too soon.  PETA had one more trick up their sleeve.

The final shot of their Holocaust on your Plate' campaign was fired predictably on International Holocaust Remembrance Day (how did we not see that coming?!). 

By issuing an unprecedented apology on a day when the world's attention was nominally focused on the Holocaust, they offered the talking heads of the media the elusive 'other side'.  By this I am referring to the media's inexplicable need to present the other side of absolutely every story... even those without a logical 'other side'. 

One of the real conundrums of reporting on Holocaust Remembrance ceremonies is that one can't end the segment with lines like, "But it is worth noting that nearly as many Germans perished during WWII as were allegedly killed in the concentration camps."  That would be too far for even CNN to stretch its 'even-handedness'.

But along comes PETA, with arguably the smartest marketing strategy in the history of the world, and suddenly Xmas comes early for all the talking heads!  They were handed that elusive 'other side' to one of the few stories that truly doesn't have one. 

As I flipped through the various international news coverage of the ceremonies, I was horrified to see many of them end their coverage with the announcer looking straight into the camera and saying something like, "In a related story, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals today issued an apology for their 'Holocaust on your Plate' ad campaign which featured images of ...". 

Just like that, PETA was able to simultaneously solve a dilemma for the various media outlets, generate countless new viewings of its intentionally shocking ads... and actually ended up looking like the good guys in the process.

Or I could just be full of sh*t.  Your call.


Posted by David Bogner on May 8, 2005 | Permalink


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David, it ain't you that's full of sh*t.

Posted by: Elisson | May 8, 2005 1:54:56 PM

PETA is a horrid organization that is representative of much that is wrong with people with good intentions gone bad.

I blogged about their fake apology because I wanted to point out the inconsistencies and crocodile tears approach they took.

The point you make about not giving them press/attention is sound, but in this case I felt that it was important not to allow them to redirect the attention. What they did was wrong.

Posted by: Jack | May 8, 2005 5:54:59 PM

PETA is probably the most evil organization that exists that hasn't murdered anyone. On my spectrum for various levels of evil, they should be hit by a truck.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 8, 2005 9:14:00 PM

Elisson... Whew! That's a load off! :-)

Jack... I wish we could hire away whoever is doing their media consulting. That guy/girl is a frickin' genius!

Doctor Bean... That scale is a neat tool. I'll have to keep it in mind. Being long-winded I'll probably add some gradations to it (e.g. "that person should be tied up naked inside a pen full of hungry calves").

Posted by: David | May 8, 2005 9:32:14 PM

"Media whore" is correct. PETA staged a demonstration here in Austin that featured a naked woman standing at a busy street corner. The message? Who knows? The "NAKED WOMAN" headline was all they wanted anyway.

Posted by: Mirty | May 9, 2005 12:47:30 AM

Well, if it's *my* call, then someone in this story is definitely full of sh*t, and it's not you. You're just weird (I guess if anyone can spot the 1970s Doonesbury reference, it would be you) ;-)

Posted by: Simon | May 9, 2005 1:04:28 AM

As a vegetarian and an animal rights activist and rescuer, PETA makes me boiling mad. They don't raise awareness of issues concerning the abuse of animals. Rather, through their repeated off-the-wall shenanigans (trying hard to keep the language clean here) they make people who support legitimate animal-related causes look like nut cases by association --"oh, right, you must be one of those crazy PETA people." They turn people off, they close people's minds, and they deflect the focus from their legitimate points.

Posted by: katie-yael | May 9, 2005 4:26:00 AM

ok, forget this PETA, i know of another PETA that we can go for. it's not as popular, but with your help, that can happen. it's Yeshiva University's version of PETA--People for the Eating of Tasty Animals.

"can i get an Amen here?!"

Posted by: Tonny | May 9, 2005 5:34:19 AM

Tonny: Amen! If G-d didn't want me to eat cows, He would not have made them out of meat!

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 9, 2005 5:59:05 AM

I like my steaks cooked medium rare. Yum.

Posted by: Jack | May 9, 2005 8:40:57 AM

Mirty... I have have no problem with any organization being a media whore. I'm in marketing so I have nothing but admiration for a successful campaign. I do get upset when someone uses the holocaust to advance their own agenda... and we play right into their hands.

Simon... I'll have to go back and look over my old Doonesbury's...thanks.

Katie-Yael... As I said to Mirty, I have no problem with PETA as an organization. If they have done anything to make companies more accountable about how they use animals, then most of the antics will have been worth it. But as a Jew, I feel stupid that we didn't see through their plan to co-opt the holocaust. In fact we helped them do it with our outrage.

Tonny... Meryl Yourish (see my blogroll) came up with a funny event... something like 'Eat an animal day', and makes a big deal of it every year. All's fair ... I say. :-)

Doctor Bean... Just so we're clear, there are cannibals who would consider that an invitation to make you an entree.

Jack... You seem like the adventurous type. Try this treat that a couple of Scandinavian friends introduced me to:

Cut yourself a thick slice of bread fresh. Now take a raw steak and use a sharp knife to cut little slivers of meat all over the bread (stop when you have a layer about a half an inch thick). Now take a nice sharp onion and use the knife to completely cover the layer of steak in a thick layer of onion slivers. Now take a raw egg yolk... whip it up and drizzle it over the onion. Add salt & pepper... and eat! Make sure the meat and egg are very fresh or you will have a tummy ache (or worse) in the morning.

Posted by: David | May 9, 2005 12:18:08 PM

What a B.S. apology! The problem with their campaign is that they make a kal v'chomer ("light and heavy" - a talmudic analytical tool where you learn something difficult by comparing it to something obvious). They said that since you object to starving Jews and keeping them in cages, SURELY you will object to starving chickens and keeping them in cages, since chickens are AT LEAST as good as Jews.

Their apology couldn't have been weaker or more tasteless. They only apologized for upsetting people and not for the elements of their statement. They don't actually know why it's offensive.

If you've written to them about this campaign, you'd get an equally offensive statement: "but our biggest supporters are Jewish and they like the campaign!" Their moral ignorance is beyond comprehension.

"For every animal you don't eat, I'm going to eat three."

Posted by: velvel | May 9, 2005 5:43:04 PM

Velvel... Whoa cowboy! Why don't you tell us what you really feel? :-)

Of course their apology was a sham! It was carefully timed to maximize the opportunity to ride on the media coverage of Yom HaShoah. that's what had me all hot and bothered.

I like your proposal... Not only am I going to eat 3 animals for every one they save... but I have the merit of having brought a strict vegetarian (my wife) over to the dark side! She now enjoys roasted animals almost as much as I do.

Take that, PETA! :-)

Posted by: David | May 9, 2005 5:54:35 PM

That sounds pretty tasty, it is now officially on my list of things to try.

Posted by: Jack | May 9, 2005 6:52:59 PM

Actually, the PETA idiots are worse than the people that they harass. Take a look at

Posted by: Sabba Hillel | May 12, 2005 9:06:32 PM

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