All right, I swear to all the gods in the universe that if Sinéad O'Connor turns up wearing some fucking fur I'm going to lose all faith in humanity. Why, you ask? Certainly not because of anything Sinéad's done, first of all. I've mentioned my crazy love of her in the past, but before Sinéad, another female singer had my heart and changed my life with this insanely amazing album.
From the time I was nine years old, Janet Jackson was my idol. I dressed like her, I pissed off every last redneck in my small-town school by spouting the anti-racist mantras I learned from Rhythm Nation, and as an adult, I've cried myself to sleep many a time listening to her amazing song What About (be warned that the video, while powerful, could be triggering) and found healing in songs like Better Days and Enjoy. I still adore the hell out of Janet and credit her with shaping my political beliefs -- without her, it's safe to assume this blog wouldn't exist because I wouldn't care enough about racism, sexism and other -isms to see the error of PETA's approach. Hell, I probably wouldn't even be vegan at all. After all, I was 12 when I became a vegetarian, but I was nine when Rhythm Nation made me aware of the world around me. If you're not familiar with the album, at least watch the video for the title track. You won't regret it.
So imagine my dismay when I found out that Janet is posing for a line of ads for luxury fur company BlackGlama. It's especially shocking because she is (or was, I guess) supposedly vegan. Not to mention she's well known for being an animal lover, and her song God's Stepchild even mentions that as a child she often used her "four-legged friends" as a conduit for speaking to God. It doesn't make any sense on so many levels – it doesn't fit the type of style icon she is, it doesn't fit her image as an animal lover, and it doesn't match with her overall reputation for compassion that makes me and others love her so much. And it's pissed off a lot of people -- including PETA. Not surprisingly, PETA's statement is where I start spitting on things and forgetting my disappointment with Janet:
"It's amazing what celebrities will do when their careers are on a downslide, but we didn't think that Janet was this desperate. Surely, she knows enough about suffering and unjustified death to recognize that both occur in the production of a fur coat. We are asking her to think again and to donate these stolen skins to be used as bedding for animals orphaned by other human-caused disasters, such as loss of habitat," PETA spokeswoman Amanda Schinke said in a statement.
Okay, let's start small. That crack about Janet's career? First of all, where the hell are the careers of PETA's celebrity spokespeople? I haven't seen any of them starring in a blockbuster movie, or performing on the finale of American Idol, or headlining the Essence music festival. In fact, it seems to me that the last really big movie Alicia Silverstone starred in was 1999's Blast From the Past -- and I don't say that to insult Alicia; despite her PETA support, I really like her. Also, let's not forget that ageism, misogyny and racism are a big part of why Janet's music career has waned in the last several years -- I really hope I don't need to explain this, but in case you're confused, start by heading to your local beach and counting how many male titties you see casually and uncontroversially on display.
But what really gobsmacked me was the "unjustified death" comment, which caused me to scream the F word with so much enthusiasm that I accidentally launched a spit attack on my entire desk. Because, PETA, are you saying what I think you're saying? I...wow. How do you think Janet's gonna listen to you now, when you're bringing her DEAD BROTHER into this out of absolutely nowhere? (Either that or they're talking about slavery, which doesn't exactly improve the situation.) Did it ever occur to you that this is why nobody listens to you, why you're a water cooler punchline? Plus, given Janet's past commitment to compassionate causes, maybe you shouldn't have gone into this with the attitude that the only thing you have to gain is pissing her off. If PETA approached Janet respectfully, there's a good chance she'd listen, as she did when she stopped using a panther in her Rhythm Nation tour after animals rights groups protested. The bottom line is, PETA doesn't deal respectfully with the people they disagree with, and then they have the audacity to wonder why fur keeps coming back into style every few years. It's because people stopped wearing fur out of fear, not genuine moral conviction. PETA's like the Dutch kid with his finger in the dam, temporarily stopping the leak but doing nothing to help in the long term (and, quite possibly, HARMING in the long term). This whole debacle, particularly Janet's former veganism, also proves why you can't use celebrities as reason to go vegan, because if you're using someone else, particularly a famous person, as your moral compass, you'll never really commit yourself to a cause; for many, their commitment to a cause will forever be linked to the commitment of their idol, and that's never going to work in the long term.
And what the hell kind of bizarre-ass phrasing is "unjustified death," anyways? I mean, is that as opposed to justified death, like when somebody breaks into your home to kill you and you whack them in the head with a frying pan? How did we get from fur to killing home intruders anyhow? Now you've made everybody so confused that they forgot what the topic was. Good job, PETA.
It also occurred to me as I was agonizing over this that, wait a minute, what about Audrina Partridge, who was a PETA spokesperson before advertising for Carl's Jr? Do you think PETA slams her on their blog, or their favorite spokesobject, Pamela Anderson, who helped at the launch of a steakhouse/strip club in New York last year? Nope, because if you've done a photo shoot for PETA in the past, they'll never criticize you again, it seems. And let's not forget the time Olivia Munn showed up at a PETA event wearing leather boots and the PETA staffers actually defended her.
It also seems that they won't criticize you if you're a part of, shall we say, certain demographic groups. After all, aren't there tons of celebrities who wear leather that PETA isn't going after? WTF is up with that? Frankly, I'm so sick of the "fur is worse than leather" argument that claims it's worse to wear fur because leather is a byproduct of the cattle industry, and using the whole animal is apparently A-OK as long as it's a white dude doing it. Doesn't it make more sense to say that if we deal a blow to the leather industry, we also deal a blow to the cattle industry? You're taking out two targets at once if you actually try to take on the leather industry. Activist multitasking! (But given PETA's difficulty understanding the connectedness of human and animal struggles, I can't say I'm surprised that they don't get this connection, either.)
So, is PETA consistent on the no-animal-skins front? Puh-lease, you do remember who we're dealing with, right?
Behold, the dudes whom PETA apparently has no problem with: Vin Diesel wore a leather kilt while co-hosting MTV Europe Video Music Awards in 2003, and has often been photographed in leather, such as this photo where he's wearing leather pants and a leather jacket. And with how often Nathan Fillion wears leather jackets, you'd think they're his natural habitat -- just look him up on Google Images. Neither Diesel nor Fillion are mentioned anywhere on PETA's blog. 50 Cent loves his extravagant fur coats, but his only mention on PETA's blog is flattering. Adam Lambert wears so much leather so often I'm surprised the damn stuff isn't coming out of his pores, yet he's also AWOL on PETA's site.
But of course, when PETA chooses to excoriate a celebrity for wearing leather, it's a woman -- Jessica Simpson. They call women who wear fur "fur hags" but have no equivalent term for men who wear fur or leather. In fact, if you look on the right hand side of that link, you'll see that all the contestants for their 2010 Worst Dressed List are women. Now, they have called out Kanye for wearing fur, but don't think I haven't noticed that the only dude they've called out recently just so happens to be black. And, they made sure to call his girlfriend "sleazy" while they were at it, because a party wouldn't be a party at PETA HQ if nobody was being sexist and racist, amirite?
I guess what I've really taken out of this is that I wish, more than ever, that we had an animal rights organization as prolific as PETA that could discuss these issues RESPECTFULLY and be taken seriously. I don't want someone I admire so much to roll her eyes and turn up her nose at PETA's statements, but given the heinousness of that statement, I can't say I'd blame Janet. I'm still hoping she'll come to her senses and stop this nonsense and donate Blackglama's money to a decent animal rights group (like one of the ones in my blogroll!) but I'm not going to hold my breath. I will, however hope that Janet remembers her words about critics who said Rhythm Nation didn't matter: "Even if only one person out of all those who listen to the album makes a change, that's an accomplishment." Because if even one person who sees this fur ad buys a fur coat, that's NOT an accomplishment. That's 240 more dead, tortured animals who absolutely did not deserve such a fate.
Note: Often I'm taken aback at the way in which animal rights activists interact with each other, both in person and online. I made the change requested by a commenter in a comment rejected for its holier-than-thou tone, but let's not be condescending about it, shall we? (See how patronizing and snooty that sounded, commenter?)