As the saying goes, politics makes strange bedfellows. A few years back, everyone was buzzing about the ubiquity of "hell houses" -- the religious right's blustery approach to scaring people into morality. But somewhere between the first and last "tsk," PETA was busy shouting "eureka."
If high school theatrics can move someone to salvation, maybe it was time for a vegan come to Jesus. PETA's new video booth, coming to town Saturday for SXSW, isn't short on vaudeville. Passersby will be lured into a particularly verdant Woodstock, only to be assaulted with a "firsthand look" at their factory farming video. With PT Barnum chicanery, the animal rights group is asking "can you spend 60 seconds in hell?"
The ole bait and switch. Well played PETA.
Yet somewhere along the way, it has become unclear just what they are selling. Saturday's events will bring in a host of diversions that don't exactly scream "ethical treatment." Bikini-clad barkers will serve vegan sandwiches, a bodypainted "Mother Earth" will slink and skulk, and all involved will frolic in a "Clean Your Conscience!" sidewalk shower. It's like Porky's, just without all the pork.
With its reliance on celebrity endorsement and Madison Avenue hucksterism, it's easy to forget that the group does have a few good points. There are indeed environmental concerns with meat consumption; factory farms are in need of reform. Yet the overt misogyny of PETA's demonstrations –- e.g., it's OK to treat women like meat, as long as no one actually eats it -- undercuts the org's own message, making it hard to seal the deal with progressive allies.
But PETA insists on drawing on the chiaroscuro of a spaghetti western. One either munches celery on angelic lettuce clouds or eats foie gras in fiery damnation. Self-examination is difficult when one doesn't understand nuance. Maybe they would be more effective if buckled down to less photogenic activism. If they are looking for a sit-in, it's time to seize the moment. Early reports from SXSW are alleging that the visiting Grumpy Cat isn't all that happy.
PETA Video Booth (Sat., 4pm, E. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Congress Avenue; Sun., 4pm W. 27th and Guadalupe St., Mon., 4pm, W. 21st and University St.)