It's a pretty well-known fact that PETA has a long history of being stupidly and needlessly offensive in their ongoing efforts to draw any sort of attention, positive or negative, to their dubious cause. I am hardly anti-vegetarian or anti-vegan -- in fact I have been both vegetarian and vegan at various times in my life -- but PETA’s approach too often seems to value style over any substantive message about the broader effects of what people choose to eat and wear.
Tempting though it is to list PETA’s many deeply problematic “awareness” campaigns of the past several years, which have ranged in offensiveness from quietly body-loathing to overtly racist, that would make for a post far longer and more depressing than I’m into writing.
Besides, this current campaign is bad enough on its own.
Launched to coincide with Valentine’s Day, PETA’s most recent offering is a short video and website warning women of “BWVAKTBOOM,” a phenomenon in which women are being seriously injured. This incredibly awkward acronym stands for “Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom Out of Me.”
To be fair, PETA is no stranger to using explicit sexual references to sell its ideology, but this case is a little different, because the video, done in the style of a public service announcement, seems to strike some uncomfortable parallels with domestic abuse.
See for yourself:
In the clip, a woman staggers slowly down a city street, bruised and wearing a neck brace, and seeming to be in constant pain from every movement. Through quick flashbacks we are led to understand that her injuries occured from wild sex in which her head was literally put into a wall, resulting in a large hole that her boyfriend is currently attempting to repair. When she arrives home again, we see she’s only wearing her underwear under her coat, and she throws a bag of (ostensibly vegan) groceries at her (ostensibly concerned) boyfriend. She then smiles at him sexy-like.
Now, ain’t nothing wrong with rough sex between consenting adults. Truly, there ain’t nothing wrong with ANY type of sex that happens between consenting adults. But this ad skates perilously close to the edge of decency by employing imagery that could just as easily indicate partner abuse as it does a good sexy time. With its PSA-like context, the clip intentionally conflates the two issues and in so doing muddies the waters of what is acceptable and consensual and what is not.
The portrayal of an injured and seemingly confused woman staggering down on a public street in only underwear and a coat, taken together with a head-sized hole in a wall, could suggest a narrow escape from a violent attack, and in many real-life instances that is exactly what these pictures would mean.
But by misleading viewers in the early scenes and showing a clearly battered woman in obvious pain, and then showing, oh, she was asking for it, and she even LIKES it, so what’s the harm, thereby reinforcing the ugliest side of rape culture, the clip proves troubling at best. Is it cool to make fun of domestic abuse and/or rape? Sometimes it may be, but sometimes it is not. I believe this video falls into the latter category.
PETA does this stuff on purpose, trust. This organization has demonstrated time and again that they seek people’s offended reactions because it means greater exposure for their misguided crusade, and they seem to be equally as happy with the most vicious and outraged criticism as they are with any other kind of attention. The thing is, it’s entirely possible to be a stauch supporter of animal rights, and to be fiercely vegan or vegetarian, and still be critical of PETA’s chosen approach to these issues.
So what do you think of this ad? It is cute, horrifying or something in between? I know that by sharing this at all, I am giving PETA their coveted pageviews, but I think that this is an important enough issue that it's worth unpacking here. Let's hear all of your varied reactions in the comments.