Friday, March 21, 2014

PeTA Perpetuates the Sexual Politics of Meat and Classism in their Most Recent Pokémon Parody Game

By tevie Lynne

PeTA released their latest Pokémon parody game, Pokémon Red White and Blue, in late 2013. PeTA have a very valid criticism of Pokémon in so far as Pokémon reflects and perhaps reinforces the speciesist idea that nonhuman animals are ours to use. However, there are a few things I wish to specifically focus on in their new parody, namely classism, sizeism and sexism.

Their latest parody game is loosely a sequel their earlier game Pokémon Black and Blue, a parody of versions Black and White. The aesthetic of PeTA's most recent parody game mirrors the first: all the scenes are dripping with obscene amounts of blood. PeTA's acceptance of and indeed over-top violence in this game warrants its own article.

The story in Red White and Blue follows newly liberated Pikachu, identified by the broken shackle around his neck, bandages, and a chunk missing from his ear. The game opens with a cow-like Pokémon, Milktank, being beaten up by McDonald's mascot, Hamburglar. Hamburglar has slipped through into the Pokémon universe to capture Pokémon to use in McDonalds products. Pikachu
steps in, defeats Hamburglar and saves Miltank. Pikachu and Miltank then follow Hamburglar back to the real world where they discover that McDonald's is using cute Pokémon toys to sell animal products to children. Together, they find various people who are involved in exploiting animals and use physical violence to overcome these “enemies”.

While I agree vaguely with PeTA's critique of McDonald's as a corporation using manipulative advertising to indoctrinate children, there are several elements of this game that are intensely problematic.

The “Fat” McDonald's Customer vs. the “Attractive” PeTA Protesters 

When the Pokémon first enter the “real world” they come across a McDonald's with a customer standing outside.

It's important to note that the McDonald's customer is portrayed as wearing ill-fitting clothes, is covered in food stains, and is also larger than the other characters depicted in the storyline. Here, PeTA are drawing on fat-shaming stereotype of larger people being slovenly and disgusting.

It's not as if PeTA aren't well known for being sizeist. Their 'Save the Whales' campaign remains one of their most offensive ideas to date.

To strengthen the association of the McDonald's customer being “gross”, after battling and defeating the McDonald's customer, the party encounters a group of PeTA protesters outside McDonald's. None of these figures has a similar body shape to the McDonald's customer. Jigglypuff even asks “Are you all so attractive?”

By inference, being larger, like the McDonald's customer is “not attractive”.

The Evil Slaughterhouse Workers – How PeTA Perpetuates Classism and Racism 

Part way through the game, one of the enemies the liberated Pokémon encounter are two slaughterhouse workers. They are characterised by menacing facial expressions, wearing white coats, and carrying meat cleavers. They are splattered with blood.

The portrayal of slaughterhouse workers as being an evil enemy of Pokémon and animal liberation reeks of classism. In the United States, slaughterhouse workers are predominately poor people of colour, an unknown percentage of whom are undocumented and as such have limited access to workers rights (Source: Food Empowerment Project).

In addition, slaughterhouses are environments which are psychologically damaging to people as well as being horrific for nonhuman animals. One study in the United States looking at 581 counties discovered that “slaughterhouse employment increases total arrest rates, arrests for violent crimes, arrests for rape, and arrests for other sex offenses in comparison with other industries.”

In Australia, the Northern Territory has recently proposed a scheme for making prisoners work in a new abattoir opening up later this year, despite evidence that slaughterhouse work is psychologically damaging and leads to increased crime rates.

PeTA by setting up slaughterhouse workers as the enemy in this game clearly have no idea about ways in which structural oppression ensures that lower class, people of colour, undocumented migrants and even potentially prisoners, are forced to carry out psychologically traumatising work.

Slaughterhouse workers are not the enemy of the animal rights movement and it's ignorant to suggest that is the case.

Jigglypuff as Lettuce Lady and the Sexual Politics of Meat 

One of the battle moves PeTA has designed for Jigglypuff is “Lettuce Ladies”. This is most certainly not a move present in the original games. When you execute this move, Jigglypuff turns to the camera, suddenly holding two lettuce leaves as a “bra” over her chest before lashing out at the opponent.

In Carol J. Adam's seminal text, The Sexual Politics of Meat, she defines the sexual politics of meat as “an attitude and action that animalizes women and sexualizes and feminizes animals.”

PeTA have done exactly that with the character of Jigglypuff.

Here Jigglypuff is clearly sexualised, drawing on the common and ineffectual campaigning technique by PeTA of placing women out in public covered only by lettuce leaves. But here Jigglypuff is supposed to be “liberated”, but is instead being sexualised as feminized object.

This type of gendering of the oppressed non-human animals as feminine in imagery often appears in animal exploitation advertising. For example:

But the vegan movement is no stranger to sexualising and objectifying women.

As Corey Wrenn has written: “The vegan movement also favors the tactic of turning women into consumable objects in the exact same way that meat industries do.” She also notes why this is problematic from a systemic level: “Instead of empowering women on behalf of animals, these approaches could be disempowering women by preserving a patriarchal framework.”

In the Pokémon parody PeTA do to Jigglypuff what the meat industry does to the bodies of animals. Just like this image of a sexualised pig, PeTA are repeating similar structural oppression of nonhuman animals:

Photos from Carol J. Adams' blog.

Typical PeTA Tropes 

Critiquing Pokémon for its reflection and potential promotion of speciesist values is a valid undertaking. Critiquing McDonald's for using cute Pokémon toys to manipulate children is also a valid undertaking. However, PeTA's latest Pokémon parody replicates similar oppressive structures as found in some of their other campaigns – including, but not limited to: sizeism, classism, and sexism.

PeTA is sadly a broken record, continuing in their contributions to oppression while all the while being the most well-known “face” of the animal rights movement.

Stevie Lynne co-hosts Team Earthling Vegan Radio, a weekly Australian podcast.