Did you miss the PETA demo in Harvard Square on Saturday? Alas, I did, too. Organizer Laura Ray told me that about 25 PETA-niks (supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) showed up to pressure Harvard into finding homes for the 2,000 animals at its soon-to-be-closed New England Primate Research Center.
“We’re trying to persuade them not to send these monkeys to other labs, but to retire them,” PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a separate conversation. “That would require a mammoth effort, but Harvard should damn well fund a sanctuary for those animals; they owe it to them. Right now it’s up in the air what will happen to these primates — fellow primates, I mean.”
Classic PETA. It’s not enough that Harvard agrees to shut down its massive medical research facility. Newkirk & Co. want the World’s Greatest University to build a first-class monkey hotel! This is why everybody hates PETA. This is why I love PETA, why I always have, and why I suspect I always will.
What do I like about PETA? It’s all in Revelations 3:15; “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot . . . So then, because you are lukewarm, I will spew you out of my mouth.” Lukewarm PETA is not. I love its zeal, passion, and energy. I love its sense of humor and willingness — nay, eagerness — to take on all comers. Big Pharma, the fashion industry, heck, the Department of Defense hold no terror for PETA. “PETA Video Expose Reveals the U.S. Military’s War on Goats,” screams a headline from its publication “Animal Times.”
A smiling Joaquin Phoenix graces the cover of the most recent issue, next to the headline, “Try to Relate to Fish.” Phoenix stars in a brief PETA video, which shows him drowning underwater. “We [suffocate] more than 1 trillion fish every year,” intones the vegan actor. “Put yourself in their place. Try to relate.”
Ridiculously over the top? Of course. But extremism in defense of the furred and finny is never a vice where PETA is concerned. The organization gleefully exploits “good” celebrities such as Jessica Chastain and Woody Harrelson (“Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrities”), tireless animal-lover Bob Barker, a rotating bevy of supermodels clad in lettuce bikinis, and Alec Baldwin, who has inveighed against circuses and factory farming on their behalf.
Ex-“Baywatch” babe Pamela Anderson has been fanatically loyal to PETA, most recently narrating a four-minute long anti-KFC rant on a website called Kentuckyfriedcruelty.com. Anderson loves to participate in soft-porn PETA-mercials that are quickly banned by institutional bluenoses, e.g, the city of Montreal and CNN. The censorship hoo-ha generates a viral publicity windfall; score another round for the animal people.
Know them by their ham-handed enemies. In May, the Globe’s Michael Kranish profiled influence-peddler Richard Berman, head of the Center for Consumer Freedom. Flush with cash from anonymous donors, the Center operates the anti-PETA website petakillsanimals.com, which correctly reported that “the world’s most notorious animal liberation group kills large numbers of dogs and cats in its Virginia animal shelter.”
“Yes, we euthanize some animals in our shelters,’’ Newkirk says, “but we save more animals than most shelters do. Sheltering isn’t our primary business.” Newkirk says Berman’s strategy is to “kill the messenger” on behalf of his food and drug industry clients: “He works for people like Philip Morris, Outback Steak House, and KFC, but he doesn’t have to report any of that.’’
Anonymous attacks are hardly PETA’s style. Favored targets includes medical schools (vivisection), New York City’s Central Park horse carriages, the notorious Canadian seal hunt, and even the Children’s Television Workshop, whom it accused of shilling for the corporate egg industry.
SeaWorld is a favorite PETA target, in part for “enslaving” killer whales to perform for crowds in San Diego and Orlando. PETA even filed a lawsuit arguing that SeaWorld’s captivity of named plaintiffs, the orcas Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka, and Ulises, violated the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibits slavery.
“We did not prevail but neither did any of the first human slavery cases,” Newkirk said. The defense never rests. SeaWorld recently went public, and PETA bought a few thousand dollars’ worth of shares. Would you like to guess who’s going to show up at the annual meeting in a Shamu costume, draped in padlocks and chains? Perhaps Pamela Anderson herself. I can hardly wait.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.