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PETA, Sex, and Shock: A Note on Misguided Marketing

Over the past few years, I’ve evolved from a staunch carnivore to someone a bit more understanding of why some people shun eating meat. In fact, I was able to stay more or less pescetarian for the good part of a year, up until I got sick of my very limited choices when eating out (bangus sisig, bangus sisig, calamares, bangus sisig, shrimp tempura, sizzling squid, bangus sisig, bangus sisig, bangus sisig, tuna sandwich, bangus sisig).

And while I am back to gorging on slaughterhouse stock for the time being, I can still grasp why those with far leafier diets choose to eat the way they eat, with a stance against animal cruelty and/or the desire for better health being the main reasons. For the sake of my own health, I do wish I were as disciplined (and rich) enough to go pure vegetarian for the long haul. (And damn it, longganisa, you sweet, garlicky temptress!)

This, then, is why I felt perturbed after watching the following commercial for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA):

Confused? Underwhelmed? A vague sense that you were somehow violated? Yeah, I felt those, too.

(If you can’t see the video here, check it out on Youtube.)


People for the Exposure of Tits and Asses

PETA has long been known for their provocative campaigns. Most everyone have seen the ads featuring naked celebrities with the caption, “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” Also, the organization has long been caricatured as that angry little group of people throwing red paint at fur coats. These actions, among many others, have caused quite a backlash against PETA, for however good their intentions may be, accusations of being sexist, or sensationalist, or just plain asshole-y, are thrown in their direction quite often.

Some may justify their tactics by saying that shock and awe are necessary to catch people’s attention, especially considering today’s collective apathy-tinged attention deficit disorder. And sure, it will catch people’s attention, but that’s only a fraction of what it takes to truly promote a cause that you believe in. That’s what PETA—especially whoever’s running their marketing and PR arm—doesn’t seem to understand properly.

After you get people’s attention, you have to give a reason that’s legitimate and substantial, a reason that will make people really, truly think about the decisions they’ve been making. Should people opt for PETA’s advocacy, it should not be because a physically attractive celebrity is speaking up for it, or because throwing paint at rich, fur-encased people satisfies their monthly schadenfreude quota, but because these people were actually compelled to sit down and assess the information offered them through these campaigns.


A sore point

The recent commercial, for instance, only seems to proffer the following message: men who go vegan instantly become healthy and virile enough to be experts at incredibly rough, night-long sex, so much so that their partners’ bodies become bruised, battered, and very, very sore due to all that vigorous fucking, but the partners kind of like it anyway, so it’s all good then, join PETA, yipee-ki-yi-yay.

Now, I like a good dirty joke as much as the next pervert, but watching that video just left me cold. And vaguely angry. All those shots of the girl’s butt—especially the ones with the sunlight winking in between her legs as she stumbled sorely up a flight of stairs—that insinuated a very violent night of sex, was not that funny, nor that sexy. My natural reaction each time I saw those shots was to wince. And question whether the girl was a masochist, an unwitting victim, or an idiot.

These kinds of shock tactics come off as tacky, juvenile, ineffective, and sometimes, like in the case of this particularly crass, frat house joke of a commercial, even counter-effective or distractive. Did PETA seriously think that violent tantric sex was a universal selling point for a major lifestyle switch? Did PETA seriously think this was going to win them serious members? Did PETA seriously think that watching that commercial would make people think about going vegan, and NOT about masochism or female objectification or domestic abuse or all the countless other issues that the commercial actually brings up, albeit in a frustratingly coy way? Electrocuted pigs, environmental sustainability, and my Body Mass Index were the very least of my concerns after seeing that commercial.


The smarter sell

There are far more reasonable, dignified, and downright compelling ways to promote what I think is a solid advocacy, so why can’t PETA just go down that direction and avoid pissing people off? Imagine if PETA’s campaigns focused more on really detailing the actual health and/or ethical benefits of adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet. (Snazzy animated infographics campaign on Youtube, anyone?) If they scrapped all the gimmickry and promises of sore vaginas and focused on solid evidence, then they would deserve positive attention and respect.

Documentaries such as Food, Inc. and Earthlings, which focus on revealing what really goes on in the food industry, made me think twice about what my meals were made of. These films’ harrowing footage of live pigs hanging from hooks and getting their necks slit open, or cows riding what I can only describe as the Ferris Wheel of Blood and Pain, do rely on shock value to a point, but they also serve the purpose of informing and educating viewers. Yes, these films are biased—many documentaries are—but at least they try to treat their viewers as intelligent creatures with the capacity to form opinions, and not as a bunch of horny morons.

Again, I’m not a vegan, and I highly doubt that I ever will be. I’ve weighed my options and have sided with the caveman in me, but I respect and admire vegans/vegetarians/pescetarians all the same, because I was exposed to decent media that helped me to understand why there is veganism/vegetarianism/pescetarianism in the first place. A cause I am behind, however, is making PR, marketing, and advertising even just an iota more intelligent than it currently is. I would very much like to see more campaigns that rely on solid evidence; that have an earnest desire to inform rather than provoke; that challenges people to make their decisions based on fact, not fiction; and that have fewer close-ups of asses in post-coital distress.

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The Truth about Cats and Dogs and Vivisection


The 1998 report issued by the Department of Agriculture listed 140,471 dogs, 42,271 cats, 51,641 primates, 431,457 guinea pigs, 331,945 hamsters, 459,254 rabbits, and 178, 249 “wild animals”: a total of 1,635,288 used in experimentation.

– Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: HarperCollins 2009).


The term vivisection was unfamiliar to me until I started to look into animal rights issues. These days, when I choose to avoid the term vivisection and use ‘animal experiments’ instead, I sense that people aren’t particularly aware of the difference between the two terms. There is simply a lack of information surrounding the issue. Many seem to think that animal tests are used sparingly, only in life-saving circumstances such as research for HIV/AIDS, and that in these situations, animals are treated with utmost care for their “contribution to science.”

The fact that we are using animals — sentient beings — in the first place poses an ethical question. They are basically treated as mere objects and tools — “models,” as industry journal Lab Animal refers to them. What makes it worse is that these experiments, even under the highly-esteemed medical research category, are practically useless. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, “nine out of ten experimental drugs fail in clinical studies because we cannot accurately predict how they will behave in people based on laboratory and animal studies.” [1]

Examples of Vivisection

Vivisection consists of military tests, psychological research, product testing, and medical research.  The following examples of animal testing are selectively derived from book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.

One experiment used a flight simulator called Primate Equilibrium Platform to test how exposures to radiation and chemical warfare agents affect the ability of monkeys to fly an aircraft.  To train monkeys, electrical shocks had to be administered up to one hundred times a day or a total of thousands of electric shocks throughout the experiment. Once monkeys had learned to operate the aircraft, they were then exposed to lethal or sublethal doses of radiation or chemical warfare agents. This was where the real experiment began. The end result was that the monkeys showed symptoms of loss of coordination, weakness, and intention tremor.

Another experiment consisted of beagle dogs being fed varied doses of explosive TNT throughout a period of 6 months. This was conducted under the direction of the U.S. Army Medical Bioengineering Research and Development Laboratory at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Maryland. The result was that the dogs experienced dehydration, emaciation, anemia, jaundice, low body temperature, discolored urine and feces, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, enlarged livers, spleens, and kidneys. As if this wasn’t or cruel enough, the test conclusion was that “additional studies of TNT in beagle dogs may be warranted.”

In the field of psychological research, many experiments used animals as subjects in controlled experiments, rather than studying available data in depth through actual human behavior. One such experiment was conducted by Professor Harry F. Harlow. In his experiment to determine the lifelong effects of maternal deprivation, depression was induced by allowing baby monkeys to attach to abusive surrogate mothers. They reared female monkeys in complete isolation, after which they were impregnated with a technique accurately called “rape rack.” The test result was depressed baby monkeys reaching out for help from surrogate mothers who treated them even worse.

In product testing, a common test for cosmetics, bathroom, and household products is called LD50 or “lethal dose 50 percent”. The point of the test is to find out what amount of the substance will kill 50 percent of the test subjects when force-fed. The very intention of this test is to kill half of the animals and to conduct the testing again and again until the 50% kill-ratio is achieved.

The Draize eye irritancy test is another common product testing methodology. As the name suggests, products are tested in animals’ eyes. The animals are restrained so they are unable to move, scratch, or rub their eyes — so the “integrity” of the test can be retained. It is not uncommon for eye swelling, ulceration, infection, bleeding, and even total loss of vision to occur. It is important to emphasize that the testing bears no relevance to the actual situations wherein the products are to be used. A Draize eye test can be used to test deodorant, for example.

Many experiments under medical research are conducted not for any breakthrough findings, but merely to satisfy an intellectual curiosity, with these experiments’ outcomes already known. As an example, Yale University School of Medicine students conducted an experiment on kittens by placing them in a “radiant-heating” chamber, which resulted in convulsions. Their report said: “The findings in artificially induced fever in kittens conform to the clinical and EEG findings in human beings and previous clinical findings in kittens” (italics mine).

Cruel, Faulty Science

Saying no to vivisection is not being anti-science. On the contrary, we cannot rely on the accuracy of animal tests in many occasions. As a data point, in a toxicity test involving 56 substances, 45% of findings from animal tests cannot be replicated in humans. Even with medicine we use today, the effects differ significantly among animals and humans.  Acetaminophen, for instance, is “poisonous to cats but is a therapeutic in humans; penicillin is toxic in guinea pigs but has been an invaluable tool in human medicine; morphine causes hyper-excitement in cats but has a calming effect in human patients; and oral contraceptives prolong blood-clotting times in dogs but increase a human’s risk of developing blood clots.” [2]

Because vivisection is used as the standard for medical testing today, we have wasted a lot of money, time, animal lives and human lives. Take, for instance, the linking of smoking to lung cancer.  When the correlation was reported based on an epidemiological study in 1954, it was dismissed because the result could not be replicated in animal experiments. It took 30 more years for the initial finding to be accepted — that is 30 years’ worth of animal and human lives that could have been saved. [3]

Another misleading experiment was the study on a drug called Mitoxantrone. When tested on beagle dogs, the drug did not show links to cardiac failure, and so it was approved for human testing. Later on, “data from 3,360 patients receiving mitoxantrone included 88 reports of cardiac side effects with 29 cases of heart failure.” [4]

Because much variance can be derived from experimentation among different species, vivisection is also an easy way for research practitioners to manipulate experiments for their own interests. All researchers have to do is switch species until their desired outcome is derived. If their experiment on rats did not produce the desired result, they will repeat the experiment in rabbits, and then in cats, and then in dogs, and then in monkeys, and so on, until they find the results that will get them their research grants and funding. By this time, countless animals would have suffered and died with no guarantee of any significant finding.

There are many other examples of vivisection as bad science, and the bottom line simply is that because of our attachment to using animals for experimentation, we are not only being cruel to beings who are sentient enough to feel pain, but we are also impeding progress in the medical field.

Speciesism: Animals as Property

The reason vivisection still exists today is not because it is necessarily an effective means of research, but largely because of speciesism. Speciesism is the discrimination towards species other than our own. Speciesism allows us to justify the harm we do to animals by clinging on to the false belief that our interests and trivial concerns precede the comfort and preferences of others. Even as non-practitioners of medicine, many of our schools and universities require dissection of frogs, cats, and other animals in basic biology classes.  We can all agree that such experiments are not necessary in the advancement of knowledge as a whole, for we are merely studying what is already known. The reason we continue to do this is because as speciesists, we see nothing inherently wrong with this practice. This further desensitizes us as our own educational institutions force the idea that animals are mere objects, tools, or properties.

To end vivisection and other forms of animal exploitation, we have to reject the property status of animals, an animal rights theory introduced by Gary L. Francione. It is not enough that animals are “treated better,” for properties remain a sign of ownership, where the owner has the right and privilege to do whatever he or she pleases with the property. It is always a relationship of power and dominion over that which is owned.

Even if vivisection can lead to valuable medical findings, it still cannot be morally justifiable in the same way that experimenting on brain-dead human beings or newly-born babies cannot be morally justifiable. In the subject of morality, the question is not skill or intelligence or likeness to humans. The only qualifying criterion is sentience or capacity to feel. We cannot own anyone who has the capacity to feel, and we certainly cannot experiment on them without their consent.

What Does This Have To Do With Me?

You are unconsciously contributing to animal cruelty — and I say this with certainty if you wash your hair with shampoo, shower with soap, and brush your teeth with toothpaste.  It is horrific to think that in the name of a new variant of shampoo, animals have to suffer and die (and they most certainly die, as animals are normally “discarded” after the experiment has concluded.)

If you think you’re being a good Samaritan by donating to a cancer research fund, again, this has everything to do with you. Find out if the charity you are donating to is still using vivisection or has advanced to in-vitro, tissue cultures, cell cultures, computer simulations, and other non-invasive procedures. Not only are these methods less cruel, they are also more relevant to human health and medicine.

The power in being a consumer is that we vote with the currency most understood by businesses and corporations — profit.  There are many injustices in the world, but the injustice of animal cruelty is a very direct one that we can stop. It is one that we either choose to sustain or choose to boycott. It was said in the documentary Earthlings that “it takes nothing away from a human to be kind to an animal”. But when I really think about my own choices to boycott animal cruelty, my motivation is not so much of kindness but one of justice. One does not have to be an “animal lover” to oppose suffering. One does not have to be a radical activist to create positive change. It could start with the shampoo you use today, that is how ridiculously simple it is. The truth about vivisection is that it cannot be justified, nobody deserves it, and nobody benefits from it. The truth about cats and dogs — and monkeys and rabbits and rats and guinea pigs and all other animals — is that they are sentient, just like you and I.



[1] Food and Drug Administration (2006, Jan. 12). FDA Issues Advice to Make Earliest Stages of Clinical Dug Development More Efficient. Press Release. Retrieved March 2008, from

[2]  and [3]  Problems with Animal Research.

[4] Beagle Dogs Mislead Cancer Research


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