Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The Meat Dress
Lady Gaga wore a meat dress at the VMAs. I'm not sure I even need to say this. Most of you either saw it as it was happening or later on in the event coverage. What I do need to say, just briefly, is why we should all be recognizing a little something wrong and hypocritical here. A lot of this has probably been said, but I believe that people need to say their piece about stuff like this as often as possible. The fact is, we are the voices of the consumer-- of pop music and of meat-- and we have a chance to change the way people play the game if we lobby hard enough.
First, I applaud Gaga for her work with gay rights groups and for the statement she made by making victims of Don't Ask, Don't Tell her dates for the night. I think that's a really wonderful thing and despite the fact I'm not a general fan of hers, I can respect that kind of move. It's something I wish we saw being done more often by celebrities. However, the irony here is that on a night she rallied so hard in her own way for human rights, she managed to do something very ignorant of animal rights.
I was speaking to Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Professor John Sanbonmatsu the other day for a piece I'm doing with Pulse Magazine. It's about his work to get people to think about animal consumption in a new way. I'm going to paraphrase here since I don't know if quoting him violates some sort of policy, but he said that people often get offended by the idea of animal rights when it comes to food because confronting the realities of how food is produced involves actually placing some blame on yourself. People don't want to believe that eating a steak makes them complicit in a very cruel, destructive system (both to life and to the environment). He went on to say that it's also offensive because people are then required to ask themselves who really gave them the right-- according to him, no one-- to cause suffering to other animals on such a mass scale. While I am a vegetarian now, I do believe that eating meat is natural. I don't believe it's natural or humane the way we're obtaining it, and I believe that it undermines our idea of what it is to be human. If being human is somehow "better" than being another kind of animal, how do we justify mass cruelty to other sentient beings?
I'm getting a little away from the point, which is that Gaga, who seems to pride herself on being "the most judgement-free human being on the Earth" and doing so much work to try and this atmosphere of peace and freeness and equality, is taking a step backward. Though she claims this outfit wasn't meant to offend anyone vegan or vegetarian and was just a message about fighting for our rights we'll become as valueless as the meat on our bones. Whether she meant to or not, the combination of that statement and wearing real dead animals is truly telling of underlying disregard for life. If the "meat on our bones" have no rights and she's wearing animal meat to make the statement (she could have worn faux human limbs or something), it would follow those animals don't have rights.
The outfit's designer confirmed that this outfit is genuine meat. 50 pounds of it. The newest statistics I could locate (provided by the USDA in 2006) projected the 2006 per capita beef consumption in America at 66 pounds. That statistic may be different by now, but think of it. If that's true, Gaga was wearing close to one person's year supply of beef on her body. The designer said that the dress is meant to be worn once, then saved to dry up and eventually be displayed. 50 pounds of food. Obtained from a butcher. Meaning its original purpose was to feed someone, not clothe a billionaire. I know that people wear leather (personally, I do not), but leather is not food. Leather was not created to feed someone. And this world is full of people who are literally starving. Making a statement would be going to the VMAs in your underwear and explaining that you were going to wear a meat dress, but instead you sent 50 pounds of beef to an impoverished community so that children didn't go hungry for a few days. What I'm saying is this wasn't a little bit of beef. This was food that could have fed a lot of people. It's very First-Wold-centric to go around wearing food and then tossing it in a closet for a later date.
Not to mention, of course, as far as shocking statements go, the meat dress has been done to death. Even by Gaga herself. She just appeared on a magazine cover swathed in meat, after all. For a performer who prides herself on being new and interesting every time we see her, this was a major misstep. You can find plenty of meat clothes just by Google searching. Artist Jana Sterbak famously did a show on meat clothing. On top of the waste and the anti-animal rights message it flaunts, it's kind've cliche, and isn't Gaga supposed to be the exact opposite of that? (I would argue she really isn't, but then again I'm not a fan in general).
What I'm asking here is not for you to agree with me. And I'm certainly not attacking those of you who do eat meat. We can all choose what we want to eat and put into our bodies and what systems we want to buy into. What I ask, however, is that we take moments like these and really think about what they mean and ask ourselves hard questions. When I was much younger, I loved animals and my heart broke at the idea of eating them-- but I did it anyway because it was "too hard" to be vegetarian. As I got older I realized that we have to be honest with ourselves. I wanted to be the kind of person in practice as I was in theory. Being mature is sometimes admitting when we're wrong. We don't all have to go about things the same way, but we should really be actively thinking about how we live our lives.
Right isn't always easy. When I see Lady Gaga wearing 50 pounds of food that will never even fill the stomachs it was intended for in a world of starving people, I feel disgusted. And I feel like it's her way of taking the easy way out. Wearing meat was shocking, but not for the right reasons.
What are your thoughts on the meat dress?