Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Attention, please

When contemplating the latest stunt by People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA), I found myself thinking about how the standard advice for dealing with jumping dogs has changed.

Bear with me here.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, trainers advised people to curb their canines' liftoffs by doing nasty things such as kneeing them in the chest, putting pressure on their front paws, or stepping on their hind feet. Now, of course, we know better: the most effective way to deal with doggie jumping is to not give the dog the attention he's seeking. Turning away or walking away from a helicopter dog is far more effective than those old-fashioned responses. Not only are those tactics at least borderline abusive, but they also require the person to interact with the dog--which is exactly what the dog wants. And from the dog's point of view, any interaction is better than no interaction.

PETA seems to be in constant need of attention and interaction, too, as evidenced by ads that include sky-high shots of nude celebrities proclaiming they'd rather be unclothed than wear fur. But the group's latest stunt doesn't deal with nudity; instead, it involves appropriating celebrities' images without the permission of those celebrities. Among those whose images have been hijacked is First Lady Michelle Obama, as explained here.

Some folks, notably my good buddy Steve Dale, ask whether we're inadvertently helping PETA by paying attention to the group's sleazy tactics. It's a legitimate question. If one follows the withdraw-attention-from-the-jumping-dog credo, one might reasonably conclude that we should just ignore PETA's slimy end-justifies-the-means way of promoting its cause. By ignoring PETA, we'll render the group irrelevant -- or so such thinking might go.

But here's the thing. The jumping dog does so in all innocence. He has no awareness that he's doing something wrong. He just wants to get closer to the person he's jumping on. After all, when he was a puppy, his people loved to pick him up and snuggle their faces close to his, right? Why wouldn't those people want to engage in similar snuggling now? And why not make it easier by meeting those people face to face, so to speak?

PETA, however, is not so innocent. The group knows full well what it's doing. In his blog, Steve notes that PETA prez Ingrid Newkirk admitted to appropriating Obama's image without her permission, and said that Obama's consent wasn't sought "because they know she can't make such an endorsement." (emphasis mine) If PETA knows Obama can't do so, why are they pretending that she can? Why are they deliberately misleading people? And, given that the group is misleading people, shouldn't they be called on it?

I think so. Sleaziness for a cause one believes in is still, well, sleazy. In order for PETA to become irrelevant, people need to know that the group employs misleading, slimy, unethical tactics. Only when enough people understand that will there be the critical mass needed to consign PETA to the dustbin of irrelevance. If Steve and I and other writers can help bring about the latter outcome, then let the typing begin -- or, rather, continue.

Meanwhile, keep turning and/or walking away from your helicopter dog. Sooner or later, if you're consistent, he'll come in for a landing. I promise.

Update: Apparently PETA's not alone in its White House image hijacking. Weatherproof, an outerwear company, commandeered the President's image for a Times Square ad. More here.

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