Tyler Vendetti
April 14, 2013 5:30 am

“Give me…fierce! Show me your claws! Growl! Good, good. Keep going. You’re a tiger. Be the tiger. Now be the tiger with a tiger. Yes, use that one, right next to you. Hold it up to your face. Twist it around. A little to the left. Perfect. We’re going to make millions with this one.”

Not every model hears these words on the job but Kate Upton might be an exception. In a recent issue of Harper’s Bazaar magazine, the American model was asked to pose with a number of wild, and endangered, animals, including two baby gibbon monkeys and a Bengal tiger cub. While this may seem like a typical marketing strategy, the public is in an uproar (slight pun intended) over the use of these creatures as a creative ploy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love baby animals. In fact, in elementary school once, I borrowed a picture book from the library called “Baby Animals” and then never returned it. (Admittedly, I had lost the book which is why I didn’t return it but this secret stays between us, Internet. I have a reputation to uphold.) However, there is a difference between using animals appropriately in ads, such as commercials that cannot physically be made without the animal in question (try getting a human to eat that Purina One dog food you’re trying to market), and using them inappropriately. Upton’s advertisement seems to fall under the latter.

First of all, half of the creatures in these photos look like they were tricked into this job and are expecting the jungle gym they were promised to materialize somewhere beyond the frame. I feel bad for the production assistant who has to tell the Bengal tiger that she’s not getting an antelope to chase around.

Second of all, according to PETA, the monkeys used are never supposed to be separated from their mothers at such a young age as this can often lead to emotional trauma and developmental problems. While I don’t normally side with PETA on the off-chance that someone might think I’m associated with them and, therefore, think I’m crazy, the organization does have a point here. When a marketing campaign goes so far as to put the creature at a risk simply to attract a wider audience, that’s where I draw the line.

That’s what I find most repulsive about this campaign, I think. Bazaar is not encouraging some sort of environmental movement in using these endangered creatures. They are not promoting the protection of the rainforest or the donation to a wildlife fund. Rather, they are advertising clothing, which, besides looking partially like something you would find on Jane in the movie Tarzan, has absolutely nothing to do with wildlife. Until Harper’s petticoats develop the ability to bite its consumers, they have no right to market the product with animals because until that point, they are not relevant enough to be incorporated. Or, in simpler terms, animals are friends, not bait for consumers.

Notice how I don’t blame Kate Upton in any of this. Sure, she had the choice whether or not to accept this job. Yes, she probably recognized its controversial nature. However, a job is a job, whether you’re a multi-million dollar model or a fresh-out-of-college grad trying to make a living. Plus, if she didn’t accept the proposal, someone else would have. I mean, if someone offered me a large sum of money to take pictures with a bunch of cute, exotic animals, I would be posing with the creatures before they even had the time to finish organizing the cash into a nice leather suitcase. I can’t blame Kate for doing the same.

I might even suggest that this photo-shoot was a good thing (WAIT, DROP THE PITCHFORKS, HEAR ME OUT). By taking pictures with these endangered animals and sparking controversy in the first place, the Zoological Wildlife Foundation (the company that rented out the animals) and Bazaar magazine brought the issue to the forefront of national attention. They started a conversation about the appropriateness of using animals for this purpose, a conversation that might prevent it from ever happening again in the future. If there is any silver lining tangled up in this haystack, that would be it.

But what really is the problem here? Should we be blaming the magazine for proposing such a ridiculous idea in the first place? Or should we turn our attention to the animal renting company that gave out these creatures like props? Or is Kate Upton at fault for going along with the idea, knowing her participation would ensure the issue’s success? Does it even matter?

Regardless of what happens in the future, my opinion still stands. Next time a photographer asks you to “be the tiger,” it’s okay to leave the real creatures out of it.

Image and story via The Huffington Post.

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