People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals apparently believes fellow humans are undeserving of similar respect. It has now embarked on a campaign to openly vilify a man with slander, unsupported evidence and deceitful videos, thus threatening his livelihood.
Consider the case of PETA vs. Jerry Brown, aka The Monkey Man. For more than 20 years, Brown (a Lancaster resident) and his capuchin monkey, Django, have entertained thousands of children and adults with music, vaudeville songs and magic tricks. Django shaking hands with children or giving them a quick kiss on the cheek or nose has been an invariable highlight.
Brown and Django have appeared at elementary schools, Halloween events, birthday parties and other venues; they brought good cheer to innumerable audiences in various regions of the country. For me, it was the annual Spring Fair at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
But some venues have now stopped inviting Brown and Django. They cite PETA’s allegations that Django is a victim of abuse and cruelty. Brown is accused of exploitation and torture, since Django’s teeth were removed when she was an infant, and she now is forced to pose for photos and hear loud noises while strangers touch her. The monkey is also on a leash. PETA thus demands that Django be released to an accredited sanctuary and has circulated an online petition for fellow advocates to pressure Brown.
PETA’s case is flimsy, albeit pernicious. First, it asserts that no animal should be used for food, entertainment, work or clothing. Animals belong in their natural habitat rather than a domestic environment. However, the “accredited sanctuary” illustrated by PETA is not a return to the wild — it is a glorified man-made cage for monkeys.
The second charge is that Django is coerced to do “cruel song-and-dance acts” to amuse paying audiences. PETA’s website offers two examples indicting Brown. One is of Django getting nervous among a young audience and Brown calming her. PETA calls this a primate’s aggressiveness toward children. Yet the petition does not cite one child (or a parent) who testifies to being threatened or harmed by the charming Django.
These allegations against Brown could just as easily be directed toward the declawing of house cats, the neutering or spaying of pet dogs, kennel contests in which purebreds are forced to maneuver hoops and ladders, or training horses to run in circles with jockeys strapped to their backs — among other examples.
Given PETA’s rigid orthodoxy, perhaps all pets should be forbidden and returned to their natural habitat. As any zoologist will attest, though, a lifelong domestic creature returning to its natural habitat would meet a quick demise, including Django.
PETA’s case against Brown belies a myopic view of human civilization. According to University of Pennsylvania professor James Serpell, in his insightful book “In The Company of Animals,” cultures throughout history have always embraced a fluid and interactive relationship with animals.
Cavalry horses, grazing sheep, carrier pigeons, therapy pets, trained eagles and dogs sniffing for drugs or dead bodies have been integral to human life. Serpell considers these varied activities to be indicators of mutual contribution to a good society, rather than abuse or cruelty.
PETA clearly seems indifferent to facts and justice. Many activists have already damaged Brown’s equipment while his attention is turned to audiences. PETA seemingly does not even have the civility or curiosity to ask these children and adults about the alleged misdeeds of this popular entertainer.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by PETA’s aggressive campaign against Brown. After all, while protesting the use of animals for work, its website invites young people to become interns with one of its organizations — but without pay. So, in PETA’s world, you cannot make animals work, but you can have young people work for free.
In 17th-century New England, a witch hunt occurred when an accusation implied partial guilt. And partial guilt justified partial punishment.
Punishing Brown without a fair hearing, under the guise of animal rights, is PETA’s current method. In that sense, its persecution of this Lancaster resident is today’s real witch hunt.
Alexander E. Hooke is a professor of philosophy at Stevenson University in Maryland. He co-edited “The Twilight Zone and Philosophy” and is the author of the new book “Alphonso Lingis and Existential Genealogy.”