Oh, people for the ethical treat ment of Animals. Years ago, friends and I wrote to you, and you sent us those free buttons, stickers and pamphlets. That was sweet. You showed me those videos from inside slaughterhouses, and at first I hated you for it, but soon enough I thanked you. We've had good times. But lately it's feeling like we're on different paths.
I think it started when you began using all those naked women in your "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" campaign. Did you even read that copy of The Sexual Politics Of Meat I sent you, the one that links patriarchal oppression to the culture of meat?
You've got a lot of wonderful things to say. But you don't listen nearly as well as you talk.
I've stood by you through quite a bit, including that business last week when Dundas Square wouldn't give you a permit for your Holocaust On A Plate display - a set of placards featuring shots of Holocaust victims juxtaposed with agri-tortured chickens.
I'm sure it wasn't easy for Holocaust On A Plate's Jewish curator, Matt Prescott, to put together, nor for Jewish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer to make the observation on which the exhibition is based: "In relation to animals, all people are Nazis." So I stuck up for you.
I even called Lisa McGee, general manager of the Yonge-Dundas Square board, to see what she had to say about your insistence that the board gave you a permit only to revoke it later. She wouldn't comment.
I wasn't swayed by the e-mail the board sent you, saying the display would contravene the city's display policy ban on events that "exploit the bodies of men, women, girls or boys solely for the purpose of attracting attention." That reg sounds like it was intended mostly to stop wet T-shirt contests. It hasn't had much effect on the gigantic soft-porn advertising across the street put up by Eaton Centre parent company and original Dundas Square boosters Cadillac Fairview.
You were right to go for a change of venue and seek a permit - which you received - from Queen's Park for the same day. There, you were asked by security to remove the placards. I phoned legislative security services manager Rick Boon to find out what happened and agreed with him that some people would have been offended by the more graphic archival pictures. Still, how often are abortion protestors threatened with censure for their pictures of stillborn fetuses?
Some of my friends still believe you have a lot to offer the world if you'd only learn to mellow out. Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Union (CCLA) even agreed to defend your right to free expression and the use of Dundas Square.
"It's not our business to weigh in with opinions on these things," he told me. "This is a free-speech issue, and unless (the Dundas Square board) can point to something that actually justifies otherwise, they should give PETA the space." (He noted in the CCLA's press release, however, that his organization is "troubled by the facile comparisons that are often made to the Holocaust.")
But not everyone is going to see it that way. "It diminishes human tragedy more than anything I've ever seen,' says Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress. "It doesn't violate hate laws, but it violates social norms. Society has a lot to teach PETA about the ethical treatment of human beings.'
And Farber has a point, PETA. Some of those depicted are probably still living - or their loved ones are. The trauma is very, very fresh. Remember when legal counsel for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum wrote you a cease-and-desist letter, saying you've gone far beyond the terms of "fair use" associated with the photos from their archives?
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council chair Fred Zeidman made it clear why. PETA "has chosen to ignore common decency," he said in a press release, "and to desecrate the memory of Holocaust victims, survivors and their families in its perverted effort to generate headlines."
I understand that you feel trolling for headlines is a less perverted endeavour than the disassembly-line castration of pigs without anaesthetic or the horrendous burning off of chicks' beaks so they won't kill one another while packed together in crates. "Simply because these animals look different from dogs and cats," as PETA member Ben Goldsmith put it, "people remain silent."
But did you ever stop to think, PETA, that people aren't silent, just unaware? And that going around shouting about a second holocaust won't get them to listen? After my own exposure to material on factory farms, I can see how the obscenely rational horror of the death camps came to be a metaphor for modern abbatoirs. Factory farming was a post-war creation as surely as the pesticide industry was a spinoff of the burgeoning chemical weapons industry, giving new illustrations of Hannah Arendt's phrase "the banality of evil."
I can see you're not reducing Jews to the status of chickens but paying factory-farm chickens the compliment of comparing them to the Jews of Treblinka. But, PETA, that's a subtle distinction, and I see it because I already agree that chickens are equal to humans. Which means you're boring me and you're pissing everyone else off.
You're probably thinking this is another attempt to get you to change into something you're not. But I'm done trying to reform you - and that's why I'm breaking up with you. It's not you, it's me. I want to be able to look chickens in the eye, but I want to do the same with people.