I was going to leave this as a comment on Katharine’s post, but I run this joint, so why not take advantage?

I used to completely agree with Katharine (and commenter Mike) that tactics like PETA’s are counter-productive. In fact, I once wrote a post on it. Why do they always make the most extreme statement (wearing fur is like being a Nazi) and champion the most obscure causes (fish have feelings)? Don’t they have enough legitimate, mainstream issues — like, say, the horrific conditions at huge mega-dairies — to be a sober voice at the table with the grown-ups? Why the clowning?

I’ve started to come around to their POV, though.

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We live in a postmodern media environment. There’s a lot of information flying around and it’s harder and harder to make sense of it, particularly since the mainstream media has virtually abandoned its role as arbiter. It used to be that the road to having your views accepted was to plug away in the trenches, slowly building up support and credibility. Eventually the gatekeepers of the media would take note and give you a hearing.

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But we no longer have neutral arbiters, and everything happens at light speed. Every side has their partisans, and the partisans’ job is simply to be heard, to get their view Out There. Consider the Swift Boat slime campaign against Kerry during the election. The charges were rebutted repeatedly, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that the charges were inflammatory, salacious, and repeated at high volume over and over again. They were out there, in the media ether, and it cost Kerry big.

This is what PETA understands. It doesn’t matter that in a calm, reasoned discussion, there would be better issues to start with than a fish’s feelings. What matters is making a claim that is sufficiently theatrical to get the media’s attention — getting the notion that animals have feelings out there. Even if it strikes most people as ridiculous at first, it has entered the media ether. It is something-people-are-talking-about. Eventually it starts to seem less ridiculous.

The right understands this dynamic very, very well, and use it to their advantage. Something starts as ridiculous and provocative; through sheer repetition, it becomes less so. Eventually something like cutting taxes during war time becomes no biggie.

PETA is one of the few progressive organizations that get it. They play the media better than most other progressive groups. Maybe we should be learning from them.

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Free the fish!