Thanks to PETA, I'm a bad, fish-killing dad
The People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals dropped in from L.A. Tuesday on one of their stunt tours, arguing that fishing is animal abuse. Lots of people think the group is crazy. But is PETA waning or winning?
Seattle Times staff columnist
If PETA comes to town, but nobody gets naked, does their protest make a sound?
This was just one of the philosophical questions raised Tuesday when People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals dropped in from L.A. on one of their stunt tours, arguing that fishing is animal abuse.
"This is one of the capitals of fishing, so we wanted to bring this message here," said PETA's Hayden Hamilton, who stood near Olympic Sculpture Park at lunchtime with a sign that read "Don't Let Your Kids Become Hookers."
Nobody paid much attention. Runners ran by; bikers biked. Nearby, a line of eager diners snaked into the Waterfront Seafood Grill, which was selling, for $136, a menu item under the name "Seafood Bacchanalia."
"Maybe you guys need to get naked?" I ventured.
"We're getting naked, but on Wednesday, in Spokane," Hamilton said. The plan there is for the PETA gals to take off their tops and lie like dead fish in front of a sushi restaurant.
So, moving on to philosophical question No. 2: Is PETA waning? Or winning?
I mean we all know they're nuts. If you enter the words "PETA is ... " into one of those Web browsers that completes your sentence, the most popular suggestions for the next word are crazy, evil, stupid, a joke, dumb, ridiculous and a few others I can't print.
But here's the thing. PETA was in Seattle this time to suggest that fathers are bad dads if they take their kids fishing. "Your Daddy Kills Animals!" reads the cover of a PETA comic book, showing a maniacal cartoon dad gutting a fish.
"Ask your Daddy why he's hooked on killing," the comic counsels.
Outrageous, obviously. Yet this was exactly the topic of conversation among the dads the last time I went fishing: How a new generation doesn't always view these customs the same as we do.
My brother was in from Chicago, so I took him fishing for salmon off Shilshole. We have fished all our lives, so the barbarism of it is second nature. Once you reel a fish into the boat, you bash it over the head with a club. Then slash its gills to bleed it so the meat stays fresh.
We took photos of ourselves victoriously holding aloft coho and pink salmon, our coats smeared with blood. Later we started a fire in my backyard and smoked the fish for seven hours while downing a bottle of whiskey.
Good clean fun, I say. But my kids found it puzzling. Perhaps even disturbing.
The captain of the boat said he took a family out fishing recently, and when the freshly caught salmon got the club in the head, the kids burst into tears.
It's true I have a hard time explaining to my 11-year-old pacifist daughter why clubbing fish to death with my brother counts as family bonding, but we would never consider doing the same with, say, sea lions. Or even other animals we eat routinely, such as pigs or cows. PETA's point about fish is: What's the difference?
I guess my answer is that my animal-treatment ethics are situational. Fishing and hunting are fine, probably because that's how I was raised. It'd also be hypocritical for me to get all worked up about the killing of animals that I love to eat.
But it's not hard to imagine this culture shifting. You can sure feel it sliding in PETA's direction on some of its other longtime causes. Such as: Why in the world do we still have circuses and zoos?
Back at the protest, Hayden Hamilton insisted PETA is winning, despite the line at the seafood joint. Their stunts, nude or not, wiggle into the public consciousness, bit by bit or maybe generation by generation, because "people have qualms, deep down, about the way we treat animals, for our amusement. That's what is really crazy."
Hmm. Well, it's too late for me. I'm doomed to be Bad Dad. But I wouldn't be shocked if one or two of the consciousnesses she's talking about happen to live in the same house as me.
Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com.
About Danny Westneat
Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
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