Being Right – When Vegetables Get Steamy

Kate Hicks

PETA truly amazes me. They manage to convince their audience of the legitimacy of their message while simultaneously employing as their advertising manager someone I can only imagine is a 14-year-old boy. Who considers throwing ketchup on women wearing fur coats (fake or otherwise) an effective method of persuading others to join a cause? No really, I want to support an organization that just vandalized my personal property.

Regardless, those People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have lately devoted their attentions to a new campaign. We know they have always directed their efforts to impart upon the world the advantages of vegetarianism over an omnivorous lifestyle. Certainly, I cannot argue against their goal. Informing the populace about the health benefits of a meatless diet does, in and of itself, no harm to me. And when decrying the merits of their newest television advertisement, intended to air during the Super Bowl, the organization argued rather sensibly that the onslaught of ads for beer and greasy burgers needs a balance. Perfectly legitimate, right?

Well, yes. Until you see the ad. Somehow, when I think vegetarianism, I don’t picture a scantily clad woman rubbing asparagus up and down her bare stomach. And yet, PETA proposes that this is just what we should imagine when we consider a diet of greens and tofurkey. Aside from the well-known advertising cliché that “sex sells,” PETA also intended for their “Veggie Love” spot to promote their claim that vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters, and therefore have better sex.

Now I’m not here to say whether or not this is true. I’m merely concerned that PETA felt it appropriate to air a highly provocative, dare I say nearly pornographic ad for vegetables during one of the most watched television events of the year. And as my friend Alex (a lifelong PETA supporter) pointed out in a protest letter to the organization, how does appealing to our libido promote the safe and ethical treatment of animals?

Another friend told me that she saw nothing wrong with it – it’s PETA after all. They’re always coming up with wild ideas about what constitutes legitimate publicity. In fact, she said that she “liked the ad,” and “didn’t see the problem.” While eating lunch on another occasion, a girl in the group also said she didn’t see the issue here — it’s just an ad, and they have a good cause.

But what if a highly sexual advertisement appeared that advocated for preserving Guantanamo Bay? I know, this is absurd. Bear with me, though. For those of you who see nothing wrong with the PETA ad, what would you say if some conservative non-profit organization created an ad that used sex as the primary hook? Am I correct to say you might feel outraged?

Let’s say you decide to argue that this is different — everyone knows PETA is trying to be provocative, and no one really takes their ridiculous campaigns seriously. Besides, no conservative group would ever design such an ad. But that’s not the point. Whether promoting vegetables or a venue for holding captured terrorists, there is something fundamentally wrong with believing it’s acceptable to subject families, with children, to these lewd images. I can only imagine my family, among them my 11-year-old sister, gathering around the television with the chips and salsa only to see a woman taking a sensual bubble bath with broccoli.

I applaud NBC for banning the suggestive ad. However, they also banned a pro-life ad created by CatholicVote.org and sponsored by the Fidelis Center for Law and Policy, both of which are organizations that lean right. The ad depicted a video of an ultrasound, and a voiceover explained that this child would grow up with a single mother, eventually becoming the first black President of the United States. By implying that the baby in question actually was President Obama, and that he endorsed the ad, it went a step too far.

Poor execution aside, NBC’s reasoning for banning the ad stemmed from their policy against airing politically-driven advertisements. The network banned the PETA ad, however, as a result of the highly sexual nature, not for political reasons. Given that PETA is obviously an interest group with a political agenda, this represents an inconsistency of policy on the part of NBC. I have to ask — would the PETA ad have aired were it suitable for family programming? Logically, if NBC stuck to policy, no. But then, what’s logical when we live in a world of sexy vegetables?