No one has the emotional energy for PETA's "human leather" campaign right now

Not during a pandemic, guys.

PETA / Urban Outrage / Twitter
Too Far

Despite the global shitstorm we’ve all faced these past few years, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), continues to find new ways to trigger us. Recently, the animal rights organization has been trying to get Urban Outfitters to stop selling products made of animals in their stores. Now they’ve launched a satirical online store selling trendy-looking human skin clothing and accessories — called Urban Outraged — meant to underscore their grisly (but very valid) point that all leather is made of the skin of real living beings and that UO should stop profiting off murdered animals.

PETA’s tactics against Urban Outfitters and their sister companies, Anthropologie and Free People, escalated slowly and strategically. It all started with some Tweets last year. By February, PETA had made an explicit video about animal cruelty in the fashion industry. In October, they started holding protests outside the company’s retail stores. Yesterday, PETA announced the grand opening of their false online storefront selling clothes made of human skin. Yep. Don’t worry, it’s not real, but the fake products look exactly as disturbing as they sound. If that seems extreme to you, well, you’re not the only one. Overnight, the Twitterverse exploded in disgust.

“I understand the ‘shock’ value, but we have literally been watching each other die for 2 years, this is nothing PETA. Do better,” wrote one Twitter user. Others pointed out that this campaign is ham fisted in more ways than one. “Bit insensitive considering this literally happened to black slaves and jews during the holocaust,” wrote another. The general attitude towards the campaign was summed up, though, in this one tweet, “No seriously go fuck yourselves you pieces of shit.”

Here’s the thing: I’ve been vegetarian for decades and I am here for militant vegan tactics. I stan making people face gruesome realities and I am 100% the target audience for twisted dark satire that exposes human cruelty, especially if it also makes a mockery of consumer capitalism. And yet, for the second time this year, PETA has lost me. Yes, I do think Urban Outfitters — a former employer of mine, ironically — should stop selling leather, and also no one has the emotional energy for this “strategy” that betrays an almost inconceivable level of privilege.

It feels important to note a couple of things here. First of all, the site is so slick and well-produced that it really does feel like American Psycho-level satire. You can’t look at it without simultaneously feeling disgust and a compulsion to buy. Just like at Urban Outfitters. But, ultimately, the cleverness and sophistication of the branding are for me the downfall of the project. What a massive waste of money and creativity. All “Urban Outraged” really makes me want to do is turn PETA’s own style of questioning back on them: How many people were harmed as a result of this campaign?