The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

PETA protest
PETA protestors outside NASA Heaquarters on November 19. (credit: D. Day)

Gorilla theater

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was created in the 1980s by a bunch of activists who thought that the groups that represented their interests weren’t energetic enough. PETA’s issues include opposing animal testing and promoting a vegetarian lifestyle. In the 1990s the group realized that they were not getting their message across, so they started engaging in more theatrical protests. Their most famous campaign involved getting a number of famous supermodels to appear nude in various ads with the slogan “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” But one of the criticisms of PETA by similarly-minded groups has been that too often their shocking theatrics so overshadowed their message that the message got lost.

On Thursday, November 19, PETA staged a protest outside of NASA Headquarters. But in this case, they may have gone too far in the opposite direction: their theatrics were so underwhelming that they might have failed to make their point.

Their theatrics were so underwhelming that they might have failed to make their point.

PETA was protesting government plans to irradiate squirrel monkeys in order to simulate the conditions astronauts would encounter on a mission to Mars. The protest consisted of six people. Five of them dressed up as monkeys, with paper monkey faces, and crouched inside of cages set up at the corner of NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. A sixth protester holding a sign stood nearby. I talked to him. He was very polite. The word “LOVE” was tattooed on the fingers of one of his hands.

Other than the six quiet PETA members hanging out under a cold overcast November sky, there were a couple of bored DC Police officers standing on the corner. Perhaps a dozen NASA employees or other office workers stood a few hundred feet away, as if terrified by the young protesters dressed as monkeys. NASA employees received an email telling them to stay away from the protest.

As a way of advancing their message, the whole event was rather lame. At some of their other protests in Washington, PETA has had young women showering on city streets, attracting a lot of (mostly male) attention. While this got them some press—which is always the goal of these things—it also tended to obscure their message, which apparently had something to do with the amount of water wasted on meat production or something like that.

Clearly PETA needed some coaching for their NASA protest. After all, there is a lot of excellent source material for such an event. Where were the pictures of space monkey Ham? Why not have a gorilla in a spacesuit? Or an astronaut in chains, being led by some centurions from Planet of the Apes? At the very least, they could have used some drums. Six people standing around with signs and not making a fuss didn’t add up to much monkey business.