PETA's cynical and exploitative porn stunt

Sex and slaughterhouses? For once, the animal-rights group should persuade people without relying on naked pictures

Published August 22, 2011 5:59PM (EDT)

Nobody serves up sex and horror like PETA. The 31-year-old animal rights group has long been as famed for its publicity-courting shock tactics as its advocacy -- serving up a bevy of naked celebrities and begging-to-be-banned campaigns featuring hot chicks doing things with vegetables that your girlfriend will probably only do on your birthday. Now the group that loves to push the envelope is at it again. While many companies and organizations are racing to preregister .xxx addresses before the domain launches in December -- effectively shutting down the potential for a or -- Reuters reports that PETA is promising to launch "as a pornography site that draws attention to the plight of animals." What does that even mean, exactly? If it's anything like PETA's "Veggie Love" campaign, it'll be lots of softcore writhing juxtaposed with horrific videos of slaughterhouse conditions. Good luck getting off!

PETA certainly isn't the first organization to notice that sex is a great attention getter; it's just one of the more blatantly persistent ones. Spokeswoman Lindsay Rajt told the Huffington Post this week that "We live in a 24-hour news cycle world and we learn the racy things we do are sometimes the most effective way that we can reach particular individuals." You see, folks? It's our fault. PETA could just ask us nicely to consider how zoos and aquariums and circuses treat their creatures, or invite a balanced dialogue about sustainable food consumption -- but that just doesn't generate traffic like the remote possibility of inducing a boner does.

You don't have to be pro-cruelty to find PETA's tactics distasteful. You don't have to be anti-porn, either. I love vegetables and nudity as much as the next person. But I can't help noticing PETA's consistent triumph and lack of self-awareness in its eagerness to exploit women for its own ends. Sure, men show up occasionally in the PETAverse, but really, the organization has been the kind of purveyor of T&A that could make the beer industry blush. Here's some ass. Now have some tofu. Don't you feel all noble and empowered and virtuous?

What PETA consistently fails to take into account is the difference between getting attention and truly raising awareness. I'm not saying the organization hasn't made strides toward animal protection. I do, however, question the correlation between its successes and its tackiest stunts. There's a wide, wide world of porn out there, much of which does not include a heavy-handed message on "the plight of animals." "Plight" in fact is not ripe with erotic potential. "Plight of donkeys" even less so.

Few among us -- even those unschooled enough in porn to go looking for it on an animal rights site -- like a switcheroo. We don't like to be offered a free meal and spend it listening to a sales pitch. We don't like the promise of something healthy and sexy (a perfectly reasonable pitch for vegetarians to make, by the way) served up with images of slaughter. Nobody likes a scolding, or an ambush, or worse -- an ambush scolding. Likewise, there's a special kind of repugnance that comes from being on the receiving end of corporate cynicism. So whenever PETA trots out the old "We're only doing this because sex sells" line, it comes off as wildly cheap, lazy and base. If you can't make your point without having bikini girls fellate zucchini, you are seriously just not trying hard enough. You're insulting the very people you claim you want to enlighten. And if we want the feeling of being screwed, we can watch real porn for that.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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