TRIGGER WARNING: THE ABUSIVE CONTENT OF THIS VIDEO MAY UPSET SOME VIEWERS:
To briefly summarise what happened: On the 24th of April 2012 Lush and performance artist Jacqui put on an endurance performance in their Regent Street store showing tests that animals are regularly put through, but on a human actor (Jacqui). The scenes were brutal, and they intended to shock; at first I admired to the campaign, until I read this in their response:
“…we performed a version of oppression in which we are all complicit, to challenge women and men to consider the dark secrets of a beauty industry that insists it exists to make us ‘feel good’…
It was a performance of violence (not violence against women) where – unsurprisingly – the oppressor was male and the abused was vulnerable and scared.
We felt it was important, strong, well and thoroughly considered that the test subject was a woman. This is important within the context of Lush’s wider Fighting Animal Testing campaign, which challenges consumers of cosmetics to feel, to think and to demand that the cosmetics industry is animal cruelty free. It is also important in the context Jacqui’s performance practice: a public art intervention about the nature of power and abuse. It would have been disingenuous at best to have pretended that a male subject could represent such systemic abuse.”
I haven’t experienced anything more than verbal abuse in a relationship before, so seeing an image of a female (I had only see some photographs of the performance by this point) being tested on didn’t set off any alarms (I actually assumed there must have been other people being tested on…). As a vegetarian who cares for animal rights, I am a supporter of Lush’s campaign against animal testing. But when I read this, however, suddenly my opinion of the performance dramatically changed.
I do not agree that the person being tested on needed to be a woman to have the same level of impact, and I do not think it was right for Lush to use violence against women to aid their performance about human relationships with animals. Domestic abuse against women is a worldwide problem; according to Refuge “One in four women is abused during her lifetime; one in nine is severely physically abused each year; two are killed each week.”. The fact Lush believe that it was beneficial to their campaign to play on this reality is not acceptable, and the fact that (with those statistics in mind) there were no trigger warnings to be found in or around the store was a foolish and inconsiderate mistake to make on Lush’s behalf.
PETA recently released a advertisement campaign whereby they used blatant imagery of domestic abuse to claim that veganism turns boyfriends into rough-sex machines that can give it so hard, they can break their girlfriend’s neck. I think they were trying to say that Vegan guys can be “masculine” (which they equate to being rough and abusive in bed?) too even though they live off veggies, or maybe it had something to do with the fact they think vegetarians and vegans are better in bed because on average they’re skinnier (because you have to be skinny to be good in bed, if you didn’t already know ¬_¬). Whatever their intention or motivation was, the advert’s blatant stupidity made it so unbelievable I can’t even begin to take it seriously. Lush’s performance on the other hand was not stupid, it was designed with the intention to exploit people’s opinion on domestic abuse, which is a cause for serious concern.
Violence against women is not parallel against violence against animals in animal testing centres, and using the male-on-female abuse model was not an ingenuous way of having an impact on walkers by. If a performance’s purpose was to challenge people’s attitudes, knowledge and understanding of abusive relationship between humans and animals within the animal testing industry, then it should have kept specific to humans and animals. Basically, I’ll quote an F word tweet to literate my point “Other people’s triggers aren’t buttons to be pressed in exchange for political capital.”.
Not only that, but their insistence on using a male-on-female abuse model means that they are projecting some sort of acceptance of this model as the norm, when that is in fact not true. Heterosexual women are not the only victims when it comes to domestic abuse; according to the male charity Parity over 40% of domestic abuse cases are inflicted on men, but often go ignored by the police as it isn’t taken so seriously. With this taken into account, for the performance to have an ingenuous impact the subject did not to have to be female.
That said, the whole thing should not have had to rest on domestic abuse at all. Some of comments on their response blog claim that it is silly for us to get hyped up over the fact the specimen being tested on was a female, because apparently people would have reacted the same if it was a male:
“People are angry because using a woman as the subject is degrading, and people would have been angry if the subject was a man because of the neglect of women. What are they supposed to do, find someone who was born without a gender? Isn’t that just as stupid?”
As a former Drama student who has dealt with trying to create a gender-neutral character before, I can tell you it is possible; a good actor/actress, make-up, and costume can go a long way (I feel silly even having to point out something seems so obvious to me). They could have even had both male and female scientists and subjects being tested on to detach themselves from the subject of personal abusive relationships amongst humans. The scenes would have been just as shocking (if not more so, in my opinion) and far more beneficial to their campaign had it have been kept human specific and/or gender neutral. To show humans, of both genders or gender-neutral, as the weaker species, would have been more powerful and less damaging in my opinion.
Lush have also stressed the need to use a female victim because women are more often associated with the cosmetic industry and therefore it wouldn’t have worked so well if it was a male because men apparently won’t care because they don’t buy it as much. Lush’ own twitter account retweeted this:
@idioglossia People need to remember “cosmetics” include everyday items: toothpaste & deodorant not just make up. @FightAnimalTest #fightinganimaltests”
Cosmetics are used by just about everyone, and thus campaigns like this should be aimed at everyone. If they think it was important to mainly aim this campaign at women, then surely that is detrimental to their aim to demand “consumers of cosmetics to feel, to think and to demand that the cosmetics industry is animal cruelty free”? It makes people forget about all the non-female specific cosmetics that are tested on animals, that people purchase every day, and that’s not really helping the campaign out at all is it?
And finally, the lack of trigger-warnings surrounding the performance was more than just a rookie mistake. Any decent producer of a performance (whether that be on screen, in a theatre, or on the street) should have a message surrounding the performance before, during, and after, warning of any content that may upset some viewers. It’s a standard procedure and I fail to see what the reasoning was behind why Jacqui and the Lush Regent Street store decided not to do so, especially if they intended to play on something as sensitive and widespread as domestic violence. Even if this was kept gender-neutral and human-and-animal-relationship-centred, the need for a trigger-warning of some form (leaflets being handed out on the street? A huge sign around the site? Warnings in and around the store days before it took place? No?) should have gone out without hesitation. Some feel like a warning would have lost the performance shock-factor, and this is what I say to that:
When you’re at a play and the programme/poster/flyer warns you of a rape scene, you’re still going to be pretty damn shocked by the rape scene, but at least the warning would have given you the opportunity to choose whether or not you wanted to exposed to that. The victims of domestic abuse walking down regent street should have been given this choice. Obviously in any performance art piece intending to shock isn’t going to be able to avoid not upsetting someone, but they should at the very least have shown some consideration and tried to avoid that.
So at the end of this, am I going to stop buying from Lush altogether? No – but I can understand why someone who has experienced violent domestic abuse would. Given my knowledge of Lush’s previous campaigns, their history, and what they stand for, I am willing to hope that this was an inconsiderate mistake that they will not repeat again. Apparently Tasmin Osmond (the co-ordinator of this campaign) is a new employee at Lush (which fits, seeing as this is nothing like any of their campaigns before). Art that intends to shock like this can often go wrong, and (again) having studied drama I know all too well that even with the best intentions a performance is not always going to be received in the way the artist may have hoped. But Lush should apologise for this – without the “we don’t regret anything because it had good intentions” bit added to the end. The fact is that it did upset people, it went wrong, they could have done a lot more to prevent this and therefore they should publicly accept and apologise profusely for that.
If they had concentrated the performance on the power and abuse relationship between humans (as a species, not split into gender) and animals (what the actual campaign is about), with the appropriate trigger warnings, then I would have loved this performance. But (to quote Susuana Albena) “you cant ethically go about liberating one group through the objectifying another”. It saddens me that something with great potential had to go so, so wrong.
Nevertheless, I still urge people to sign their petition here . This tactic was not right, but that doesn’t mean the fight against animal testing is wrong.
Related articles/blogs/news updates on this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/27/lush-animal-cruelty-performance-art
(I much prefer their video’s when they’re like this ^)
Update: I have seen many comments on the Twitter feed that some people think this was intentionally and wrongly erotic, and some have even compared it to Playboy Bunnies. With this I totally disagree. Go on Lush’s website, or read the Lush Times, and you’ll see that sex is never used to sell their products. Except maybe when they talk about sharing baths, and how some of the essential oils they use were once aphrodisiacs, but that is completely different to having a half naked woman selling cleaning products with the tag line “Being clean never felt so dirty” or something equally ridiculous. Neither was this in anyway comparable to PETA’s “veg*nism is sexy” campaigns like this, or this. This can be related to domestic abuse (because they said so themselves), but people shouldn’t be accusing them of purposefully intending to create something erotic. It was explicitly horrible, and brutal, and clearly not intentionally a turn-on (unless maybe you are into BDSM, and think skin coloured body suits are in anyway sexy).