JUNE 17, 2012 8:33AM

PETA - coming to a bar and a village near you

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 Finning in Upper Bavaria

Time for a change? Finning, Upper Bavaria

I HAVE NO IDEA how many animals PETA (“People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals”) has actually saved from the butcher's knife, but the group is certainly skilled at getting its message into the media and the public discussion, as they proved once more in Bavaria last week.

Founded in 1980, the Virginia-based PETA organization has been uncovering pervasive cruelty of animals and lobbying against the meat and fur industries ever since. It is most notorious for its 2003 “Holocaust on Your Plate” poster campaign, which compared the meat industry with the Nazi horrors of Auschwitz and Treblinka. This action really got the fur flying in Germany and Austria, where any kind of Holocaust denial or relativization is a punishable offence – “incitement of the people” is the technical term over here for displaying caged chickens along with starving Jews in a Birkenau barracks. The campaign was accordingly banned and the posters removed from public sight.

 Holocaust on your plate

"Incitement of the people"?

Aside from the inevitable anti-fur and anti-animal experiment posters, the German branch of PETA has taken a cleverer route, demanding that towns and products change their names to reflect a more PC attitude toward the natural world. In March of this year, for example, the group lobbied the popular schnapps manufacturer Jägermeister (literally the un-PC “master hunter”) to rename its cult beverage Waldmeister (a.k.a. the natural herb woodruff), an ingredient in many herbal concoctions. The Jägermeister people, who have been in the business since 1934, politely refused.


Is this a politically incorrect beverage?

Last week, the group addressed a letter to the mayor of the Upper Bavarian town of Finning, demanding yet another PC name change. This has become something of a PETA tradition: Back in 2001 the organization petitioned Fischen (“fishing”), Bavaria to change its name to Wandern (“hiking”), and two years later the American branch asked the town council of Hamburg, NY to rename their fine city Veggieburg.

 Human meat

Classic PETA

So what’s wrong with the name “Finning,” you might ask? It turns out that “finning” is an international fishing term for the cutting of shark fins. Sharks are finned alive for the Asian shark fin soup trade and the bleeding, dying animals are thrown back into the water to be torn to ribbons by larger creatures. So that is why Peta wants Finning to rename itself “StopFinning.”

So far, the locals are having none of it. For one thing, the town’s name, dating back to 818 AD, has nothing whatsoever to do with sharks (which are pretty rare in Bavaria, I might add), but instead reflects an ancient Bavarian noble family, the de Vindings, who once founded it.

In one of at least half a dozen interviews last week, Finning mayor Fritz Haaf agreed with PETA that 

animal protection is a very important issue that affects us all. But renaming ourselves StopFinning is a complete non-starter. Finning has existed for over 1,200 years. And even if a tiny Upper Bavarian town of less than 1,700 would rename itself, I don’t believe that would save even a single shark on the other side of the globe.

 So it looks like there won’t be a StopFinning coming to a Google Earth near you any time soon. Even so, PETA has once more gotten its message out into the world and onto thousands of blogs (including this one). Impressive.


"Weapons of mass destruction: Billions of animals are killed because people want to eat meat. Stop the slaughter."

Renaming towns to get a point across is always a clever strategy, and it’s surprising people don’t do it more often. It's not that there aren't plenty of precedents: The Canadians renamed Berlin, Ontario as “Kitchener” during the anti-German hysteria of 1916. The Russians renamed St. Petersburg (already transformed into Petrograd at the start of World War I) as Leningrad in 1924. The East Germans renamed Chemnitz as Karl Marx City in 1953, and the Vietnamese changed Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City in 1975. Of course, Leningrad and Karl Marx City have reverted back to their original names, although I’m not holding my breath regarding Ho Chi Minh City and Kitchener.

But if you thought PETA’s shark trick was a pretty sharp idea, probably the cleverest such exploitation of a town’s name was an Austrian brewery’s decision two years ago to take advantage of the notoriety of the nearby village of Fucking to start producing a beer by the name of Fucking Hell (hell = lager beer), as I wrote about here. What’s more, the brewery didn’t cut the village in for even a cent of the profits. Ouch!


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I'm all for animal protection myself, but even so I don't think I'd appreciate it if someone renamed my district of Berlin, "Tiergarten" ("animal garden" or "enclosure") as "Tierschutzgarten" ("animal protection enclosure") under pressure from some lobbying group, no matter how good their intentions might be.
Had to laugh at the proposed Waldmeister, which can also be loosely translated as woods master, if I'm not mistaken. Apparently no one considered the sexual connotation of being a Master of Wood.
Much of PETA's strength lies in shocking people through their very creative media projects.

The weakness underlying that strength is that the shock value declines with each repeated exposure.

As far as implementing anything, PETA is not very effective. Others will follow and be more successful.

PETA has been successful in opening the door to a new way of thinking about Animals and how we relate to them.

I don't judge PETA.
@another steve
Yes, they've been great at creating awareness (viz. the posters with human corpses in plastic wrap, as on a supermarket meat counter), but you're right that the novelty wears off fast.
As a Green I've dealt with a lot of PETA leadership out here in California, interesting experience... their connections with American celebrities drive most of their publicity. They're very good at what they do, the only folks I know of who do a better job are Green Peace.
There were the same genuises who demanded the town of Fishkill, NY, change its name. "Kill" is Dutch for "creek."
Ouch, indeed! I agree with Steve. Again, a very clever post, Alan. R
PETA is pretty adept at getting attention and even though almost everyone thinks they go "too far", they keep the issue in the public consciousness. I sure had a laugh at Fucking Hell. Do they export?
Yes, F.-H. beer is apparently brewed mostly for export, since the joke doesn't make a whole lot of sense in German. You might ask your local liquor store if they can provide it. Otherwise, I hear it's a huge success in Britain.
@Patrick D Hahn
Fishkill - ha ha. That's brilliant! Truly classic PETA.