zerode – a sensibility


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I quite enjoy these pictures, but the dour, humorless leftist in me can’t help but raise some objections…

When PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was objecting to the meat industry, there was a real critical and subversive edge to their use of naked women to draw attention to the fact that the “meat industry” is in fact the slaughter of other creatures on a massive scale. Marking out sections of a woman’s body with the lines of the different cuts of meat had great rhetorical power. Those lines cut both ways: they drew attention to where those shrink-wrapped cuts of meat really come from (this or that area of the body of another living creature), while at the same time pointing to our objectification of women, our “meat market” attitude towards women.  So—at least potentially—those PETA anti meat eating ads simultaneously critiqued our unethical treatment of animals and our unethical treatment of women.

But as PETA ad campaigns have branched out to look at issues like spaying/neutering pets, the circus, and leather and fur, the double edge of that critique has been blunted. Now it sometimes feels perilously close to all those other advertising campaigns based on the premise that “sex sells”—using those attractive unclothed or semi-nude bodies to hook us. The fact that what they are selling might be something we see as good shouldn’t change our response to how this message is conveyed. If using objectifying images of women to sell cars or beer or whatever is wrong, then it is still wrong when those images are being used to “sell” the idea that our treatment of animals in the circus is bad.

A related issue is the use of porn stars such as Sasha Grey and Jenna Jameson as tools in the PETA marketing machine…  Back in the day, vegans and “people for the ethical treatment of animals” would have been natural allies with, or even the same people as, those attacking patriarchy in general and porn in particular. I think that the original feminist critique of porn got it wrong in all sorts of ways, but given the fact that women and girls are still routinely trafficked, around the world, and essentially sold into slavery as part of that other meat industry, the sex trade—an industry in which porn plays a role—we clearly need to spend a bit more time thinking about such old school feminist concerns as the objectification of women, attitudes towards sex and sexuality, the sex trade… and porn.  The PETA ads simply blow off all these issues in their concern to save the fluffy bunnies.

I am also a bit troubled by PETA’s call to spay/neuter our pets.  I think we should spay/neuter our pets. I also think that spaying/neutering is, when you get right down to it, “elective” (in the sense of not medically necessary) surgery performed on animals against their will in order to make it more convenient for us to have pets—literally cutting them to fit our lifestyle.

I don’t think there’s any easy way around it: if we are going to keep pets, particularly in built-up areas, then they really do need to be spayed/neutered. But it is something we do to them, which it seems unlikely they would choose, to make them fit into our world, our lives, our needs.  It may be that there is no way to reconcile a truly ethical treatment of animals with our desire to keep dogs and cats in our city apartments and suburban homes. If so, we should face that fact; we should at least be talking about it. But PETA gets its funding and support from animal lovers, and saying that pets are possibly simply unethical would cut into their base.

Finally, in keeping with journalistic standards of disclosure, I should say that I own pets, and the dogs and cats have always been spayed, own porn and consider myself a feminist, and recently started eating meat again but feel guilty about it… Make of all that what you will.

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.


What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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