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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.

Images from,, and

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What Animal Suffering Means to Me as a Non-Vegan

I cause the death of animals for my pleasure. Not directly, but ultimately, because the butcher or fisherman would not end the lives of sentient beings if not for consumers like me. And yes, for my pleasure and my pleasure alone; I cannot justify the killings in the name of survival, because I know I can very well afford and survive on a purely plant-based diet that would even result in me having a healthier body and a longer life.

If it’s any consolation, as much as possible I try to eat only those animals that live in the oceans, animals that were not raised in cramped captivity in order to minimize production cost and maximize profit for the growers. My philosophy is that all animals die; what matters is how they live. A lapu-lapu (grouper), for example, would experience the same gruesome death whether in the jaws of a bigger fish or some other sea predator as it would in a fisherman’s hook, net, or spear so it could end up on my plate. And no matter how it died, it was lucky to have lived free to swim in the ocean, infinitely luckier than the farmed chickens and pigs who were forced to spend all their lives in tight cages and never got to see the sun or breathe fresh air except on their way to the slaughterhouse. Bottom line, by eating fish I am not adding to the overall suffering of sentient beings in the world.

Every once in a while, however, my beloved mom cooks her specialty, which is humba (braised pork legs), and other meat dishes. While I do not crave for meat (I prefer the lighter taste of seafood), I cannot afford to break my mom’s heart by shunning her dish in the hope that such an act would result in fewer animals dying in the long run (by eating animals that were miserably bred in captivity, I take part in perpetuating the inhumane meat industry where animals suffer unimaginably). Besides, her cooking is really great. Call me a speciesist if you must because that’s what I am, and I value my aging mom’s feelings many times over the physical pain of non-human animals. Even the thought of an animal’s lifelong suffering distilled into a piece of meat only manages to make it lose some of its appeal, but never my appetite.

A vegan once asked me why, in spite of my keen awareness of animal suffering, I continue to eat them. While I can justify eating fish and seafood, at least to myself, I regret to say that such awareness never caused me to totally give up meat, including farmed meat. What it did, however, was to make me grow cynical of man’s morality and compassion. It seems most of us are capable of loving only our own kind – or even only our own kin. Which reminds me of the Old Testament where God commands His people to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (probably because in those times their neighbors were mostly their kinsmen) but to kill the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.

But what I really find disturbing is seeing people gather around the table and pray in front of a lechon (whole roasted pig) and thank God for the bountiful blessing they are about to partake. Here lies the body of a dead animal who never once got to enjoy a natural life of freedom and whose death was predetermined by this very occasion. Instead of a thanksgiving prayer, a eulogy would seem more appropriate.

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