DOROTHY RABINOWITZ'S MEDIA LOG
Got a Sense of Humor?
Rudy Giuliani is the butt of PETA's latest joke. Maybe the organization itself is just a prank.
BY JAMES TARANTO
OpinionJournal.com, Monday, August 28, 2000
Here's a prediction: Sometime soon, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will be exposed as a hoax, the work of a tiny but brilliant group of media-savvy satirists.
The evidence is circumstantial but compelling. For one thing, the organization's ideas are impossible to take seriously. PETA is not just a militant counterpart of the Humane Society, advocating kindness to fauna. It claims to believe that animals have rights--a philosophically incoherent position. Whether you believe rights are endowed by God or established by the state, it makes no sense to talk of the rights of nonhuman creatures. Only human beings can even conceive of animals as having rights, which is why we will never see a class-action lawsuit called Prey v. Predators.
PETA's actions often seem like practical jokes, designed to win attention, not support. In June eight PETA demonstrators (out of a claimed membership of 600,000) held a protest outside a CBS office in New York, after contestants on "Survivor" roasted and ate a rat. "Rats have rights! Survive on veggies!" the octet chanted. One of them, a woman with the unlikely moniker RaeLeann Smith, told the Associated Press: "You have people who think it's fun to trap rats, cut off their legs, skin them and eat them. There's nothing funny about that. It's disgusting."
Well, yes, RaeLeann, it is disgusting--but only because rats are disgusting. If PETA really wanted to win people over to the cause of "animal rights," it would devote its public efforts to more sympathetic critters--lovable cats and dogs, majestic tigers and elephants--while helping vermin quietly and behind the scenes. This strategy has worked marvelously for endangered-species advocates.
PETA's biggest attention-grabber this year has been its "Milk Sucks" ad campaign, which, depending on your point of view, is either a hideous affront to good taste or an exuberant jape at the expense of those who take themselves too seriously.
Earlier this month PETA unveiled a billboard featuring an image of New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani wearing one of those "milk mustaches" made famous by the California Milk Processor Board's "got milk?" ad campaign. "Got prostate cancer?" the PETA ad said. "Drinking milk contributes to prostate cancer."
Refusing to be cowed, Mr. Giuliani took to the airwaves Thursday to denounce the group. But he couldn't help looking ridiculous as he denied that milk gave him cancer. "I'm considering suing them," he harrumphed. "What they are doing is outrageous--exploiting my illness."
In March another antimilk ad drew a similarly chest-thumping response from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a group that, like Mr. Giuliani, does not count among its strengths a capacity for self-mockery. "Got beer?" asked this PETA ad, which encouraged college students to quaff a few brews in lieu of moo juice and listed seven reasons beer is better than milk (echoing a puerile joke to the effect that beer is better than women). In a letter to PETA, MADD's executive director urged the animal-rights group to "please do the right thing and stop asking students to drink alcohol."
I like beer and have never cared for milk, so my gustatory sympathies in this dispute lie with PETA. But there's no doubt that MADD has the moral high ground. It's a lot more unethical to get behind the wheel while in your cups than to drink a cup of milk. And there's the difference between these two groups. MADD is humorless because its cause is deadly serious; PETA is hilarious because its "cause" is ludicrous.
Still not convinced PETA is a hoax? Then consider this: One of the anti-"Survivor" picketers paraded around the sidewalk outside CBS dressed in a giant rat suit. If PETA really believed in the essential dignity of rodents, it would view such antics as horribly tasteless and insensitive--the equivalent of a minstrel show at a civil-rights rally.
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