Two stories have been jumping very aggressively from the internet into my face lately and aroused and aggravated my skepticism. First, that an artist is starving dog; and second, that PETA is offering $1 million for in vitro meat.
Costa Rican artist Guillermo “Habacuc” Vargas may or may not have starved a dog to death as a piece of art (alongside “175 pieces of crack cocaine alight in a massive incense burner”) in August 2007 at the Códice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua, and he may or may not be doing it again at the the Bienal de Artes Visuales de Honduras 2008. Real information is spotty, and this one article from the Guardian (which mostly implies that it was just a stunt and no one was starved to death) seems to be the only actual reportage about any of it.
Habacuc’s primary goal is getting a lot of attention, and that’s certainly working. As of this writing, 2,206,525 people have signed an online petition demanding Habacuc be banned from the Bienal (an additional 666,241 people have signed the embarrassingly slapdash English version.) And it took some serious Googling skillz to find out anything about the Bienal that wasn’t about Habacuc. I’d argue that the public’s outrage is the main component of the piece. It’s up to you if you want to help him or not. Personally, I’m mostly upset at the ratio of outrage to investigation on the part of the pro-animal community. Do we want to be taken seriously or be a bunch of raving ignorant people?
PETA seems to agree with me, and quite rightly points out that “if we can muster up this degree of outrage about one incident of animal suffering, why are we any less horrified by the billions upon billions of similar or worse cases of abuse that we can personally help to prevent?” Good question. But perhaps they’re also jealous of all the attention Habacuc is getting. PETA’s latest ploy is their offer of a $1 million prize to the “first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012.” Like many vegans, I have conflicted feelings about in vitro meat (and about PETA, for that matter), but mostly I see this as a pure publicity stunt. 2012 is really soon for something like this. And $1 million isn’t all that much money for something like this. I don’t think PETA’s actually going to inspire anyone to develop better “fake” meat faster, and I think they know that. But the promise of $1 million is a quick way to get a lot of press attention and discussion.