Human faces on jackets, human teeth on shoes and human blood oozing out of bags. These realistic-looking skin jackets were among the inventory in the recently launched faux clothing store called ‘Urban Outraged’ by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Their shop featured a “collection” of clothes made from “human” leather, including bloodied jackets with human faces and boots with human teeth. Each item is also named after the “slaughtered” human whose skin was used.
In an official statement, PETA said, “People are rightfully horrified by the idea of wearing human skin and the thought of it should make everyone’s stomach turn just as much as wearing the skin of a cow, goat, sheep, or any other animal.”
Apparently, the above had to do with questions PETA asked related to animal slaughter: “When it comes to ripping off skin, a living being is a living being. Why is it okay to raise sheep just to shear off their wool? Why is it okay to kill a cow for leather? Why aren’t you horrified by what’s already in your closet?”
Do these scare tactics help the animal rights movement?
Archana Naidu, Founder, All for Animals Foundation, notes that some of PETA’s campaigns including the latest around “Urban Outraged” are extremely eerie, bizarre and illogical publicity stunts. “It is true that the campaign will roll many eyes but these tactics may not really encourage people to take action as it lacks a philosophical or ethical context,” says Archana. “I, for one, would like to ignore such a campaign as I find it extremely ridiculous. Their campaigns depend on moral shock or appeal to the people’s guilt and empathy, but it doesn’t strengthen their commitment to the cause. How does such a campaign drive positive change or compassion towards animal rights?”
Some people, like Rupa Obulreddigari, a vegan and founder of Alt Mart, a vegan e-commerce marketplace, empathise with PETA. But she believes that with this campaign, PETA is aiming at publicity and not awareness.
For one, Rupa believes such pictures will only cause angry reactions when everyone notices, giving PETA people’s mind space. “Their focus is on getting people’s attention,” adds Rupa. “The brutality involved in the dairy and meat industries must be highlighted. Artificial insemination in cows so we can have dairy products to fulfil our needs is ‘rape’. Slaughtering animals and denying them the right to live is murder. And this must happen in parallel. One cannot single out non-vegetarian but must be patient in including them in conversations without intimidating them.”
It’s one’s choice, don’t judge
PETA believes that if one cares about animal welfare, going vegan is not a choice but a necessity.
But many believe being vegetarian is a choice. Some may agree with the concept and some may not, but the larger question playing on people’s minds is if it’s fair to single out non-vegetarians as monsters?
Archana of the All for Animals Foundation believes otherwise. “Food is a matter of an individual’s choice. There cannot be a moral position on it. People can follow what they like and it’s illogical to brand someone as monsters if they choose meat over veganism,” she says.
While Rupa also believes that being vegetarian is a choice, she has more questions aligned with PETA’s mission. “However, isn’t it encroaching on another being’s right to live? Is choice only applicable to humans? If human rights matter, so do animal rights! That’s what we vegans stand for. How we communicate it is merely about differently expressing how we perceive the suffering of animals,” she adds.
The gory images are off putting
Rupa admits being especially turned off by gory images. “I don’t believe in shock value for getting people to understand something. Sometimes, it’s uncomfortable merely because it’s the truth. It pricks us all when we are challenged about out habits and lifestyle, doesn’t it?” she asks.
However, she also believes there could be other ways of sending out such messages. “Although graphic images and videos grab attention, these tactics may not actually encourage people to take action. I don’t have the strength to sit through them. But we all intuitively know what to expect to see in them,” adds Rupa.
According to Barry Glassner, a sociologist and author of The Culture of Fear, while fear-mongering is effective, it’s dangerous. “It’s an unfortunate reality, but fear sells,” Barry had told a western publication recently when speaking about the PETA campaign. “It’s the quickest way to grab someone’s attention and have them listen… and any organization whose mission is to heal the world shouldn’t sully it with fear campaigns.”
Closer home, Nirali Bhatia, cyber psychologist and psychotherapist, shares her views on the PETA’s use of fear in the campaign. “Fear is an extreme emotion (commonly understood as reaction). However, it’s persuasion, emotions and trust that trigger decision-making,” she points out. “The campaign is to sensitise people and not induce fear. If fear-invoking images would work, smoking products would lose buyers. I believe the outcome is to emphasise on being human (not literal) and equally sensitivity to all living beings. Visuals can trigger distress but captions do give it appropriate direction to think about.”.
What can be done?
If a local NGO like “All for Animals Foundation” can play a significant role in being advocates of animal rights, and work against animal cruelty and suffering, why can’t PETA play a constructive role in a global context?
“Particularly, if they stepped in to work on issues that need attention, like rhinos and elephants being poached to extinction or questionable practices like putting highly intelligent animals like dolphins into zoos, they could make a change” says Archana.
Rupa believes there has to be a more inclusive lifestyle — through products, meetups and knowledge exchange as well as policies for animal welfare. “And that can happen only when there is a collective mass pushing for it — animal rights organizations, businesses and environmentalists and vegans,” she adds.