Skip to comments.PETA vs. J.Lo: Behind the scenes of a campaign
Posted on 05/22/2005 9:30:01 AM PDT by wagglebee
He was close now.
Patrick Kwan shuffled forward with the line, his eyes on the woman signing her name to the jackets of her new compact disc and making small talk with the fans led one at a time to meet her.
He clutched a CD himself. He had shivered for hours through a snowstorm for the chance to spend hours more in this second queue to be one of 500 fans whod actually meet Jennifer Lopez. The payoff was now at hand. A man in a suit told Kwan to raise his arms. He did so. The man gave him a quick pat-down, nodded him on.
Kwan wasnt really a fan of the actress and singer. Just the opposite: He was an interloper from Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and like the three other activists whod insinuated themselves into the line, he was outraged over Lopezs unrepentant fondness for fur coats, her dependence on fur in her new Sweetface clothing line, the orgy of fur in her latest music videos.
A dozen of Kwans PETA brethren were outside in Times Square, demonstrating against the star with shouts, signs and images of animals being skinned alive.
It was up to Kwan and company to talk to Lopez directly.
To impress on her the error of her ways.
Or, failing that, to ruin her day.
By PETAs standards, the confrontation planned for the March 1 release of Lopezs latest CD bordered on the polite: No one was to strip bare, nor spatter the stars fox-fur poncho with tofu-cream pie, nor menace her with an animal carcass.
The days events, along with the succeeding campaign, would lack an iconic gimmick, such as the Unhappy Meal packed with bloodied toy animals that PETA distributed in 2000. It would fail to generate the hue and cry that greeted the infamous Got Beer? promotion, in which the group urged college students to forgo milk for alcohol. No one would sneak into an animal research lab or be hustled into a squad car while dressed as a chicken, chimp, goose or vegetable.
But targeting Lopez would share a most important trait with PETAs earlier stunts: It would not go unnoticed.
In coming weeks, the group would picket her Pasadena, Calif., restaurant and wind up on TV. Its volunteers would taunt the star at the premiere of her new movie, Monster-in-Law, with signs reading Monster in Fur and land in The New York Times and on The Associated Press wire. Protesters would welcome Lopez to The Tonight Show with a giant inflatable beaver and earn mention from Jay Leno.
Billboard magazine would OK, then pull, a PETA ad about Lopez; the New York Daily News would devote a column to the affair. Word of PETAs feud with Lopez would attract buckets of magazine ink. The group would come face to face with her outside the Late Show with David Letterman. The British press would chronicle every detail.
All of which would come as little surprise, for as it marks its 25th anniversary, PETA finds itself among the most media-savvy radical groups in the world. Its spokesmen are skilled quote machines. Its campaigns make unfailingly good copy. It has turned a once-fringe cause into entertainment with such success that it is now that rare breed of organization, let alone nonprofit, instantly and internationally recognized by its acronym.
Lopez was unaware, as she signed CDs, that this juggernaut was aimed her way.
Patrick Kwan would be her first clue.
The decision to target Lopez was born 19 days before, around a conference table at PETAs headquarters on the Elizabeth River waterfront. On the agenda: what many in the building were simply calling the video.
A few days before, one of PETAs European allies had passed along 30 minutes of raw videotape recorded on visits to fur farms in northeastern China. It was purported to be the first such footage to reach the West and startled even PETAs hardiest veterans capturing, as it did, men beating animals senseless with pipes, and a fox stomped to death, and a killing ground littered with severed feet. In one seemingly endless sequence, a man hung a raccoon dog by its back legs, slit it open and ripped its skin away, all as the animal writhed and yelped. The segment closed with the dog pink and bloody and blinking at the camera with the only hair left on its body: its eyelashes.
Ingrid Newkirk, the groups president and co-founder, considered it extraordinarily gruesome. Lisa Franzetta, head of PETAs fur campaign, called it the worst Ive ever seen. Lisa Lange, the vice president for communications, said she had sobbed.
The question was how to best get it before the public. The seven staffers at the meeting , and three others linked by speakerphone, bandied calling a press conference at an upcoming fashion convention in Las Vegas or trying to land a story in The New York Times. They weighed going after a department store that sold fur versus a fashion designer who promoted its use.
Finally, inevitably, the conversation came around to a favorite tactic: publicizing the tape by tying it to a celebrity singer Beyonce, perhaps. Better yet, a bigger star, one whose fashion persona relied heavily on animal skin and whod long drawn PETAs ire.
J. Los new album is coming out, noted Dan Mathews, a former model who joined PETA as a receptionist and is now a vice president approaching his 20th anniversary with the group. Shes launching it at the Virgin Megastore in New York on March 1.
The announcement prompted a flurry of suggestions. PETA activists could visit record stores and plaster Lopezs new CD, titled Rebirth, with stickers reading J. Lo Fur Ho. They could produce a TV spot marrying pictures of Lopez in fur with the footage from China. They could go after her on the Web, picket her restaurant, dog her every step.
MTV had scheduled a special on her for Feb. 24; maybe PETA could buy a spot during the broadcast. Shes showing up on the 'Today show, too, Lange, who works from an office in Los Angeles, said over the phone.
If we have five people, Mathews said, we could spell 'Fur Ho in the window.
Lange reported that shed found a picture of Lopezs restaurant on the Web. Its name, Madres, was projected in light against the buildings side. A chuckle went around the table: PETA could project the video on the same wall.
Let me ask this question, said Tracy Reiman, another vice president. Are we sure we want to go after J. Lo? PETA had mulled targeting the star before, only to opt against it: Lopez was engaged to actor Ben Affleck at the time, and half of a couple the group judged too unassailably cute to take on.
In her new video, she wears five different fur coats, Franzetta replied.
If anything, 'Fur Ho isnt strong enough, Lange said.
She really is the scum of the earth, Reiman agreed, to wear this stuff when she knows where it came from.
The meeting ended with the broad outline of a plan: PETA would stage a protest at the Rebirth launch. In the meantime, a staffer in New York would pitch the China video to the New York Daily News, hoping for front-page play the following Thursday, Feb. 17. That would coincide with a news conference at which the video, edited to maximize its effect, would be released to the rest of the media.
Staffers in Norfolk would further edit the video to a rapid-fire 30 seconds and package it as a Jennifer Lopez fashion DVD, which would be handed out to unsuspecting fans at the singers public appearances.
Mathews summarized the work ahead. I say lets see how vicious we can be, he told the group, and use it as a message to all our other potential targets.
A PETA campaign is a fluid undertaking. Overall strategy is often in play even as it unfolds; details are tweaked until the last second. So it was in the days that followed: Via e-mail, the meetings principals agreed that they wouldnt wait until the Rebirth launch to announce Lopez as a target. Theyd do it at the news conference on the 17th, then demonstrate outside her restaurant that night.
But on Monday, Feb. 14, the groups New York-based senior media officer had some bad news. Daily News is not thrilled, Michael McGraw e-mailed the others. I have not met with them yet, but deal is: they are underwhelmed that we have a shocking new tape, all the more so that its from China. His newsroom contact had told him that it was nothing new that PETA has gross tapes and wants designers to stop using fur.
Lange decried the newspapers indifference. They never report on the gruesomeness and then say weve got nothing new to report (when its never been reported!), she wrote in an e-mail. However, we are not giving up. Trying to figure out how we can do the 'serious angle and if that falls through it will be all JLo.
Within hours, the plan had morphed again. The campaign would start not with a New York news conference or with Lopez, but in Vancouver on Friday the 18th, the eve of an annual fur auction in the Canadian city.
The Vancouver Sun of Feb. 19 carried the story on page 29: As fur buyers from around the world gather in Vancouver for a huge pelt auction next week, so will animal welfare activists who plan to alert consumers to what they say are horrifying conditions at fur farms.
The video earned no mention from the American media. Undeterred, PETA refined its plans yet again: The tapes U.S. premiere would come at months end, on a sidewalk outside Macys flagship store in midtown Manhattan. Jennifer Lopez would get her due the following day.
Monday, Feb. 28, 1 p.m.: A few snowflakes, the vanguard of an approaching storm, swirled in the icy gusts raking Herald Square. Mathews, underdressed in a light chenille sport coat, stood pink-faced near a Macys entrance on Sixth Avenue, holding a shiny red coat trimmed in brown fur.
Were here, he announced, to issue a consumer alert. A few reporters and cameramen, most representing Asian media, formed a tight crescent on the sidewalk before him, eyeing the video now displayed on a pair of body screens portable monitors strapped to the chests of female PETA activists who stood, stone-faced, on Mathews flanks.
China is the worlds biggest fur producer, Mathews told the gathering, yet it lacks any animal welfare laws. On the screens, the skinning began. A couple of the reporters blinked, as if double-checking their vision. Not only are the animals alive while theyre being skinned, but theyre fully conscious, Mathews said. If you buy a fur coat here at Macys or anywhere else, theres a good chance it came from an animal that has been skinned alive.
A couple of Macys executives were whispering into cell phones a few yards down the sidewalk, clearly uncomfortable with the situation, but none made a move to interrupt. Were here not only to urge people to avoid buying fur coats, Mathews said, but to even avoid coats that have fur collars or fur trim. He opened the coat to advertise its Tommy Hilfiger label.
The body screens depicted a shoe pressing hard on a foxs neck. Oh, my goodness, one of the journalists said. A passerby stopped, muttering, Damn. Another in a shearling jacket whimpered.
The snow intensified as a knot of pedestrians grew around the screens, transfixed: two guys in leather jackets; a man in a coyote-ruffed parka; a woman in a boiled lambs-wool coat, clutching a leather briefcase; three traffic cops.
A couple of guys in Yankees caps stopped. What they doing to that dog? one asked. His eyes bugged. Oh, my God.
That cant be real, a woman said.
It is, an activist replied.
No, the woman said. She covered her eyes with her hands.
Over a late lunch, Mathews spent 20 minutes on his cell phone, first with a reporter from the Daily News, then with Jeanette Walls of MSNBC, pushing stories on the next days demonstration. The effort would yield an MSNBC report that opened, Jennifer Lopezs fur is going to fly, and quoted Mathews as saying that, Lopez may be able to get the images of bloody, skinned foxes still alive and breathing out of her head, but we doubt all her fans will.
Subtlety has never been PETAs style. In October 1999, it bought anti-McDonalds billboards depicting a skinned, blood-soaked cows head, along with the legend: Do you want fries with that? Another ad portrayed ailing New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani with a milk mustache, over the slogan: Got prostate cancer?
A vegetarian pamphlet depicted Christ slashing a calfs throat at the Last Supper, in answer to the question, What Wouldnt Jesus Do? A T-shirt spoofed a slogan of the National Cattlemens Beef Association with Beef Its Whats Rotting in Your Colon.
Little is nuanced about the groups demonstrations, either. In February, Franzetta, the fur campaigns boss, was jailed for handcuffing herself to another animal rights activist, bathing herself in fake blood and taking over a front window at Pradas flagship store in Italy. A few weeks before, she was busted in Korea for protesting in painted-on leopard spots, and little else.
One of the things youll see about PETA activists whove been at it for a while, Lange said, is that they have no fear.
Thus, Lange has been arrested while dressed as a chimpanzee and as Mother Goose and has marched through Paris with her hair shellacked into a 2-foot spire. Reiman has sledge hammered a sedan while wearing a rabbit costume. Mathews has been hauled to jail while marching naked in Paris, nearly so in Hong Kong and wearing only SpongeBob SquarePants boxers in Harvard Square.
All got results, at least in terms of press coverage. Weve learned, Mathews said, that two people in their underwear and a banner gets a lot more conversation going about an issue than a thousand people and a march.
Not surprisingly, such stunts also ignite debate about PETAs ultimate effectiveness; what grabs headlines, as often as not, are the groups methods rather than its message. How much conversation about an issue actually results is debatable.
Mathews views the antics , including the targeting of celebrities, as necessary tactics in a society obsessed with being entertained.
A lot of people might not be able to name who the secretary of defense is, but they all know that Britney Spears is pregnant, he said. Were not above lowering the intellectual tone of our debates, as necessary.
The groups topmost leadership is unabashed about using the most provocative, the most head-turning message we can. Newkirk said she realized soon after co-founding PETA in suburban Washington, D.C., that success followed publicity, good or bad: Media mockery that greeted the groups first protest made it the talk of the whole town.
So it happens that PETA sometimes embraces the kind of public relations disaster another company might flee such as when Mothers Against Drunk Driving angrily denounced the Got Beer? campaign in 2000. I think that was grand, Newkirk said. We owe MADD on that, because they put that campaign on the map.
Thats not to say that the group is entirely without boundaries. Despite worries at the initial meeting that they werent nasty enough, the Fur Ho posters were produced, only to be nixed by Newkirk. Somebody got carried away, she said. I think it was crude.
Lange said she had to agree with the decision. We have to be classier than J. Lo, she said. Which, of course, is not particularly hard.
Tuesday, March 1, 5 p.m.: Franzetta and Moni Woweries, PETAs local grass-roots coordinator, met their troops at 46th Street and Broadway. Kwan was among them. A slight, 23-year-old Brooklyn Heights resident, hed been an animal rights activist since elementary school and was emerging as a particularly reliable soldier in PETAs cause; hed spent most of the night camped out at Virgin with three other activists for passes to Lopezs autograph session.
Volunteers of that stripe are prized: PETA might have, by its own figuring, 800,000 members who provide it with close to $28 million in annual income, but relatively few walk the line. In New York, Woweries had 25 to 30 on whom she could count to make a scene.
As dusk approached, PETA divided its forces. Franzetta pulled Kwan and his cohorts away, briefing them on their roles in the coming excitement: They were to engage Lopez, to ask her quietly, respectfully how she could not only wear fur but design with it, when to do so sent animals to unspeakable ends.
Franzetta expected that theyd be interrupted before they delivered the message in toto. At that point, they were to ratchet up their volume and stay loud for as long as Lopez could hear them.
Woweries, meanwhile, handed out Fur Scum placards and 800 DVDs to the remaining volunteers, and strapped one into a body screen. Virgins front doors were defended by a squadron of beefy security men stationed behind a waist-high portable barricade. Thousands of fans pressed against the barrier and clogged the nearest several lanes of street. Horns honked. Rankled cops tried to keep the crowd moving. Into the thick of this shifting humanity, Woweries led her little band.
Their reception was cool. Go away, haters! one fan screamed as soon as the Fur Scum signs appeared. You guys suck! yelled another.
Suddenly a cheer went up, TV cameras washed the sidewalk in a hard blue-white light, and the crowd surged forward. The guards had to leap against the barricades to keep them from toppling. Shouts of Jennifer! and We love you! punctuated a prolonged shriek.
Then the lights died, and the screaming stopped, and cops yelled at people to move along. A strong current carried the crowd northward; the PETA crew stood firm against it, handed out the DVDs as hundreds swept past. Fans snapped them up.
A cop in a helmet approached Franzetta. Just do me a favor, he said. Just move your people out of the traffic. Just go against the wall. He pointed to a lounge next door to Virgin. The protesters drifted that way, taking their time. Hey, J. Lo, what do you say, two of them chanted, How did you kill your fur today? Gasses! Trapping! Anal electrocution!
Inside the store, Kwan and his three confederates joined a line that snaked across Virgins street-level third floor, descended an escalator to the second and meandered among several aisles of compact discs. A few fans at a time were led to another escalator, on which they descended to the stores lowest level. Lopez sat behind a table on a small stage there, bathed in bright light. Her new album thumped over the stores speakers.
After more than two hours, Kwan reached the head of the line. A security man led him toward the stage, took his copy of Lopezs CD, passed it to the table. Another man waved him to a point opposite the star. When he got there, she was already signing his CDs jacket. Shed removed her fur poncho and was wearing a fuzzy, cream-colored baby doll that bared her shoulders. Her skin was golden, butterscotch-smooth. Her smile dazzled.
Kwan leaned toward her to speak.
This is what the fans still waiting in line saw: Kwan said a sentence or two, and a security man grabbed him by the shoulder. Kwan yelled as he spun free; his words were trumped by the blasting music. Another security guard lunged. Kwan slipped out of his grasp. A phalanx of black shirts converged on him, a couple men clamping onto his arms, others his legs, and now Kwan, still yelling, writhing wildly, was carried away from the table.
Wow, look at that guy, a fan across the room said. Hes going completely crazy.
Whats wrong with him? another asked.
I dont know, the first fan said.
Kwan and his escorts disappeared up the escalator. The security men dispersed. Lopez went back to signing her name. So went the opening shot in PETAs crusade.
The second came a couple minutes later. John Phillips, a 19-year-old resident of midtown Manhattan and four-year activist, reached the table just as a lull occurred in Lopezs album meaning that others caught some of what he screamed as he was manhandled: Why are you still wearing fur? and Shame on you! Shame on you!
Oh, the same fan across the room said. Its those fur people.
Outside, Franzetta gave TV interviews while a volunteer called attention to the body screen. See how they make fur! he yelled at passing pedestrians. This is how innocent animals wind up in Jennifer Lopezs bank account!
Kwan and Phillips were tossed outside, giddy with excitement. The security men hadnt been gentle, but neither was hurt, nor in jail.
PETA had much to celebrate. The demonstration made news around the world, and the campaign would continue to do so in coming weeks. In one memorable example, Us Weekly ran a Celebrity Feud roundup in which wrestler Hulk Hogan judged the winners. She better not wear any animals, Hogan said of Lopez. PETA wins, hands down.
As to whether the effort has actually accomplished much well, that remains to be seen. Lange wrote to Lopezs agent in March, asking for a meeting, insisting that PETA would rather sit down and be polite, which I promise you we would be, than fight. No meeting took place.
Nor did the group hit on a way to interest the press in writing about the China fur farm video, except as an aside to the Lopez story.
Lopez herself saw a bit of the footage May 5, when she was approached by an activist carrying a portable DVD player at an Atlanta radio station. Jennifer watched the video in horror for about 10 to 15 seconds, a PETA spokeswoman reported, before her security guards jumped in.
As of Saturday, however, she had not sworn off fur.
And one last piece of advise for PETA:
J. Lo is way too stupid to understand that it is HER furs that you are talking about -- just ask her for a big check and forget about her.
PETA doesn't try to save any animals. They are a Lobby Group that uses fuzzy animals as a front of operation.
You read this and realize that one day these people will be terrorists.
A wacko Brit. Fug PETA and all that they do.
These people already are terrorists. I live less than ten miles from PETA's headquarters in Norfolk, I've seen the crap they do first hand. My office is less than a block a way for what has always been their favorite billboard to show their disgusting images.
I've seen a picture of her fur......and it aint endangered.
Wonder if the Nazis at PETA will show pictures of themselves killing puppies and kittens at their headquarters.
This animal was being prepared to eat, and I doubt Jlo uses dog fur in her designs. I've seen the same treatment of dogs in Korea, with the animals hung on "fattening" poles and fed at the meat market, before being sold to the "discerning buyer". That being said, it's a terrible and painful way for any animal to be killed and I find it disgusting beyond words.
A representative from PETA will be on Talk Radio in Springfield, Missouri tomorrow ( Monday ) Morning.
KSGF, 1260 AM, 104.1 FM has talk show host David Vincent Jecho on from 6 am to 9 am CDT, M - F.
Sometime during tomorrow's show a person from PETA will be on this call in talk show.
I hope Vince has alloted a lot of time for this person, usually the longer they talk to more their foot they put in their mouth.
Hmm, contrast this sympathetic coverage with the coverage of "anti-choice fanatics" or whatever they are called.
Britanny Spears is pregnant?
Thought E.L.F and A.L.F. were already listed as terrorist?
PETA isn't far behind. Once shared a video store que with a PETA nut ( buttons, decorated jacket). As luck would have it, my daughter asked me what the sequal to "Babe" was to be called. I answered: "Bacon". Clerk laughed. Guy left in a huff. Small victories.
I'd pay to see that.
We are talking about a deeply committed group of people here.
Let those PETA people go to China to protest and see how long they last. They don't care about human life and I seriously doubt that most of these people care about animal welfare either. They just like to make a scene and create chaos.
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