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City Lights: Art didn't deserve butchering

November 15, 2012|By Michael Miller
(Courtesy John Patterson )

Two of my greatest passions had a nasty scuffle recently in Huntington Beach. Animal rights won on the street, while artist rights scored a knockout in the media.

At times like these, it smarts to be in the middle.

For those who missed Chris Epting's last In the Pipeline column — and the spate of sympathetic followups in the local and national media — here's a recap: A mural on a liquor store wall, which faced a McDonald's near Edinger Avenue and Edwards Street, got an unrequested paint job recently. The bottom of the mural, which featured Ronald McDonald and other characters hanging out in Surf City, had the word "vegan" superimposed in large black letters.

Who the perpetrators were, we may never know. But there's no question who's getting bad publicity right now. Consider the headline of Gustavo Arellano's piece in the OC Weekly: "Vegans Vandalize Beloved Huntington Beach Mural with McDonald's Characters On It." And then the Huffington Post "Vegan Graffiti On Beloved McDonald's Mural."

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In our nation's headlines, there's now a war going on with "vegan" on one side and "beloved" on the other. And as one who abstains from both steak and crime, I write this column with more than a little trepidation.

Let me start with an anecdote. A few years ago, at an animal rights convention, I had a spirited debate with three or four activists over a T-shirt on sale at one of the vendor booths. The shirt sported the words "[Bleep] Speciesism" — speciesism being the notion that one species (i.e., humans) has free reign over others. We differed on whether that slogan was an effective way of converting skeptics.

I argued that it wasn't, and in doing so, I cited the example of Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought racism and violence by spreading a message of tolerance and peace. One of the keys to rallying support for a cause, I said, is to adhere to a high behavioral standard. If King had built his campaign around threats and profanity-laced rhetoric, he might have lost the general public's support — namely, by creating an image of civil-rights crusaders as violent malcontents.

Others in the group argued the opposite. The key to getting the public's attention, they said, is to jolt it to awareness rather than impress it with nobility. Before long, our debate sounded like a war between adages. "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" or "It takes a thief to catch a thief"? "Blessed are the meek" or "Nice guys finish last"?

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