How to hit narcissists with the anti-fur message

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2004:

How to hit narcissists with the anti-fur message
by Irene Muschel

Here we are, 30 years after the
publication of Animal Liberation by Peter Singer
and Man Kind? by the late Cleveland Amory marked
the beginning of the modern-day animal rights
movement, and it is impossible to walk anywhere
in New York City, still the global hub of the
fur industry, without seeing people in fur
coats, jackets, accessories, and especially
fur trim.
Stores that never sold fur before are now
selling it, often without identifying the
animals it came from. The labels just say,
“Real fur, imported from China,” or “Genuine
fur.” This could be dog or cat fur. Although
importing dog or cat fur garments is illegal,
items priced at under $150 are exempt from the
federal requirement that furs be accurately
I am left with feelings of despair and
anger that the animal rights movement has failed
so miserably in this area, through the use of
futile, self-defeating tactics, the absence of
vigilance, not monitoring what works and what
does not, and rigidly refusing to change methods
to become more successful.

What is going on here?
If the empirical evidence exists that the
old protest methods have not discouraged wearing
fur, why are animal rights groups–in a panic
reaction to the resurgence of fur– spending vast
sums of donor dollars doing more of the same?
Several factors contributed to the
continuing torture and killing of animals for the
vanity of fur-wearers, but at the top of my list
is animal rights movement support for fake fur.
Fake fur was first introduced as an
alternative to real fur nearly 50 years ago by
the late Lady Dowding, the founder of Beauty
Without Cruelty.
No longer prominent in the U.S., Beauty Without
Cruelty was among the first organizations to
campaign vigorously against wearing fur.
National chapters are still influential in India,
South Africa, and other parts of the world.
Cleveland Amory endorsed the BWC anti-fur
campaign long before he started the Fund for
Animals, and before he wrote Man Kind?; so did
Christine Stevens, the late founder of the
Animal Welfare Institute.
The idea behind fake fur, which arrived
amid an advertising-driven tide of enthusiasm for
plastics and other synthesized materials of all
kinds, was that people might be more easily
dissuaded from their desire to wear beautiful
animal skins if they were made aware of the
availability of a comparable alternative.
Remember that this campaign approach was
introduced just as nylon, Naugahyde, Fibreglas,
polyester, polyethylene, and Styrofoam won
consumer favor, nearly 20 years before the rise
of the environmental movement made “natural” a
selling point, and several years before the 1959
Walt Disney animated film 101 Dalmatians
demonstrated that fur-wearing could be attacked
The leading animal welfare and animal
rights groups of the 1970s and early 1980s
vigorously promoted fake fur with no evident
application of critical thinking, while real fur
sales soared to new highs every year from the
mid-1960s until the fur sales crash of 1988-1989.
The crash, during which U.S. retail fur sales
plummeted to half of the 1988 volume by 1991,
immediately followed a change in message from
“wear fake fur” to “don’t wear fur, or anything
that looks like fur.”
This winter PETA, relentless in the
fight against fur, has an enormous lighted
billboard in Times Square, showing a beautiful
woman wearing fur, captioned “Fake it–for the
animals’ sake.” When I saw it, it took my
breath way. It gives spectacular visibility to a
pro-animal message where thousands of people can
see it all day and all night. The intention is
great–but why that image?
Promoting fake fur is a major tactical
mistake, we should know by now, because it
encourages more people to want to wear fur. It
looks like real fur and has all of the same
associations with beauty, fashion, glamour,
status, and money, in an era when plastics long
since lost any fashionable cachet. Promoting
fake fur glues together the perception of wearing
animal skins with the hope of personal
enhancement. People who might never think of
buying fur are seduced into doing so by this
The animal rights movement should be
working to debunk the seductive connotations of
fur, rather than strengthening them.
Advertising should promote the concept that
wearing fur, real or otherwise, makes the
wearer look ugly, odd, crazy, inappropriate,
desperate for attention, and cruel–like
Cruella, the only prominent fur-wearing screen
personality from whom the fur industry has
struggled to disassociate itself.
Fake fur takes as a verity that people
will want to wear animal skins and that this
attitude must be accommodated. Yet there is
nothing encoded in our genes about wanting to
wear fur. As advertising promotes it, so
advertising can discourage it. Our message
should be that the only place an animal skin is
admired and appreciated is on the animal.
Animal advocates should never promote the
idea that animals have attributes that people
should want and take away for themselves. That
is exactly what fake fur does. It resonates with
the human history of killing animals for food,
clothing, and shelter, echoes the current
practice in some parts of the world of torturing
and killing animals to enhance health or
sexuality, and subtly adds to all this the idea
that wearing fur will bring other personal
Fake fur hinders activism. Many animal
advocates are now afraid to approach people
wearing fur because they do not know if it is
real or not. If they do approach a fur-wearer,
often the response is a quick, dismissive “It’s
fake,” even when it clearly is not, from the
look of the garment and the attitude of the
person wearing it. So, all dialogue is stopped.
Another failure of anti-fur campaigns is
adequately addressing the issue of who is wearing
fur. People who wear fur either do not know
about the cruelty involved in obtaining it, or
do not care. For people who do not know,
pro-animal organizations offer an enormous amount
of information, including fact sheets, graphic
photos, and literature, all available on some
excellent web sites. Every aspect is covered.
However, activists do not appear to
understand that this information has no impact on
narcissists, who do not care. The Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
published by the American Psychiatric
Association, lists as the traits of a narcissist
“a grandiose sense of self-importanceÅ preoccupied
with fantasies of unlimited success, power,
brilliance, beauty, or ideal love,” who
“requires excessive admiration, has a sense of
entitlementÅ lacks empathy,” and “shows arrogant,
haughty behaviors or attitudes.” This is exactly
the sort of person toward whom most fur ads
appear to be directed. Pictures of leghold traps
and skinned animals have no impact upon this kind
of person–who is, nonetheless, vulnerable to
other anti-fur tactics, which lower the
status-enhancing value of fur.
What kind of advertising have animal
rights groups created in recent years to target
this prominent type of fur-wearer? None! On the
contrary, they have nurtured the narcissists by
promoting their self-aggrandizing associations.
The message that fake fur can make one beautiful
convinces the narcissist that only “the best,”
i.e. real fur, can provide a feeling of
superiority. A different theme must be created
for such people.
The locations where anti-fur messages are
placed need to be considered. Having lived in
New York City all my life, I have never seen any
sustained, highly visible anti-fur advertising
in any middle class or upper class residential
neighborhood. This is amazing to me. People
strut in their furs to stores, restaurants,
schools, churches, synagogues, etc. with total
impunity. There is no counterforce. It is as if
there were no animal rights movement.
There are, of course, activists who do
on occasion engage in protests at events where
fur is common, and set up tables distributing
anti-fur literature. But all of this is sporadic
and limited. The overwhelming majority of fur
wearers never see these messages. How do the
leaders of the animal rights movement expect
these people to learn? In order to be
successful, anti-fur campaigners must saturate
middle and upper class residential neighborhoods,
to affect people where they live and most want to
impress neighbors and friends. Huge anti-fur
billboards maintained on buildings and telephone
kiosks in residential neighborhoods on a
permanent basis would be a constant reminder of
the facts of fur to those who are capable of
caring, and with a different message could
attack the status of fur as perceived by
The anti-fur message must be repeated
year-round. The feverish activity that now
occurs during “fur season” is not sustained or
pervasive enough to make a lasting difference.
Just as a healthy individual must have
the ability to evaluate his or her own life in
order to live more successfully, a healthy cause
must examine itself constantly, monitoring its
tactics and effects, if it is to succeed in its
aims. The cause cannot grow unless the leaders
attempt to understand the dynamics of why people
do what they do and thus evaluate what works and
what does not.

Editor’s note:

U.S. retail fur sales, adjusted for
inflation, have actually not increased in dollar
volume since stabilizing in the mid-1990s at
about 30% below the peak level sustained in the
mid-1980s. Fur sales in the winter of 2002-2003
came to $1.7 billion, equivalent to $1.3 billion
in 1990.
However, there has been a significant
change in the U.S. retail fur-selling strategy.
Furriers a decade ago tried to compensate for the
collapse of the middle income market by pushing
the most costly furs. The current strategy
represents a return to the marketing strategy of
the 1970s and early 1980s, which aimed at high
volume sales of low-priced furs to first-time
buyers, with the idea of getting new buyers of
inexpensive furs to upgrade to pricier garments
The cheap furs of the 1970s and early
1980s used trim from rabbits, muskrats, and
nutria. The cheap furs of today use imported
furs of unspecified origin–and often these furs
are unacknowledged byproducts of the Chinese and
Korean dog and cat meat industries.

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