Saturday, 28 April 2012

Magical Intent Strikes Again!

I was in London not long ago, and I made my regular trip to Lush in Covent Garden. While I was there, as well as the usual demonstrations of bath bombs and face masks made of porridge oats, I was asked to sign a petition regarding the EU prohibitions on animal testing for cosmetics. The person who asked me to sign was, admittedly, a little hazy on the details other than that they considered animal testing for goods which are not medically necessary to be a Bad Thing.

Well, I signed the petition, and then investigated a little more. So far as I can tell, the EU has been gradually introducing legislation to prohibit using animal subjects to test for particular reactions to cosmetics. In 2013, the third phase of this is supposed to kick in – though let's be clear: a lot of it has already come into effect. The legislation was agreed in 2003 (though it had been in the works since 1998), and a wide swathe of tests have already been banned. The particulars of the last bit of legislation include prohibiting the import of cosmetics which have been tested on animals and banning the remaining toxicity and carcinogenicity tests.

The outcry from the cosmetics industry, and the basis on which they are appealing for a delay to the legislation, is that there are not viable alternatives for carrying out these tests. This does sound like an almost valid reason for people who aren't strongly committed to animal rights – after all, you can argue that it sounds far more practical for toxicity tests to be carried out on animals, rather than people where the effect of failed trials could be horrific. But this is exactly the same argument that was made in 2003 and 2009 – when other toxicity and irritancy tests were prohibited. The industry has been accused of dragging its feet – after all, there has been a 14 year warning that this will happen. A last minute claim that there are no viable alternatives (but that, maybe, there just might be one by 2017 if you delay the legislation...) sounds like a last attempt to delay standards that they do not want to comply with.

 So, after that research, I was pretty happy with having signed that petition. But that wasn't what I wanted to write about. Today, I saw the video of the live performance 'endurance' art [trigger warning for violence and abuse] that Lush put on in a shop window, in which a woman playing an 'animal subject' was put through various tests by scientists, which included restraints, shaving her head, injections, forcing substances into her mouth and which concluded by having her carried out of the shop and placed on a pile of bin bags by the side of the road.

Well, damn. Suddenly, I'm kind of regretting signing that petition. The video talks about how shocking it was to the passersby, how they got so many people signing their petitions, so I will have to agree that it can be effective, but the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Like the PETA adverts have for years, this is using a woman as a reasonable stand in for an abused animal.

Even worse, the Lush campaign manager is apparently fully aware of how problematic the performance was – she has already faux-pologised in a blog post, in which she explains that nothing other than a woman being abused by a man in a shop window could possibly have accurately represented the systemic abuse in animal testing. The “important, strong, well and thoroughly considered” decision to have an abused woman at the centre of the piece was apparently deliberately made with an awareness of the context in which images of the abuse of women have been used by campaigning groups in the past, which said campaign manager of course entirely condemns, because she sees this one as being different due to there being no intent to titillate or capitalise on the attention it would get due to being a ten-hour display of violence against a woman.

 Is this really a case of intent being not-as-fucking-magic as people think? I would challenge that campaign manager to analyse why precisely it made so much sense to carry out the performance in that way – why, for instance, there weren't images of animals instead (surely just as horrific and rather more to the point).

What on earth makes her think that HER campaign makes this acceptable, when she is doing the exact same thing as PETA? And, if a campaign features a man hurting and humiliating a woman for ten hours, is it okay to reap the attention so long as you didn't mean for it to benefit from that? If you don't WANT your art/protest/campaign piece to be seen as part of a wider cultural context in which images of violence against women are are used excessively for advertising and campaigning, does that mean that it shouldn't count?

 Well done for being aware of the problems, Lush, but saying that you were aware that it was problematic and then went ahead anyway doesn't get you any brownie points.