Saturday, December 17, 2011

Do Bill Maher and Jon Stewart get free passes to exploit the use of chimps in advertising?

Maybe guys like Bill and Jon simply don’t know that using chimps in gratuitous efforts to promote their products actually hurts conservation education efforts. Maybe they don’t know how hard and how passionately animal welfare advocates are working to get marketers and filmmakers to stop exploiting chimps for crass commercialism. Or maybe they just don’t care.
Maybe Jon and Bill think that just because they didn’t personally interact with the apes, using the images of chimps is okay. It’s not.

According to a study conducted by Steve Ross, images putting chimps into human settings is not okay. Steve followed up on 2008 survey data showing that “the public is less likely to think that chimpanzees are endangered compared to other great apes, and that this is likely the result of media misportrayals in movies, television and advertisements.” Steve’s new research found that people “seeing images in which chimpanzees are shown in typically human settings (such as an office space) were more likely to perceive wild populations as being stable and healthy compared to those seeing chimpanzees in other contexts.”
In other words, ads like those used by Maher and Stewart hurt our ability to convince the public that chimps are endangered and need our protection.
Bill Maher recently resurrected his old ad showing three chimps wearing Santa hats and religious necklaces, to promote his movie about religion. Yeah, we get the joke, Bill. But I hear you are a board member of PETA (although PETA is less than transparent about their board members!) and, if you are, you have no excuse for not taking the PETA Great Ape Humane Pledge. Didn't anyone explain this to you when you first came out with this ad? The pledge, taken by responsible advertising and marketing firms, is very simple. It says that they will not use live great apes for advertising, entertainment, or any other purpose.
Jon Stewart, your use of a chimp in an office setting is even more enduring than Maher’s ad. For the cover of your book, Earth (The Book), you chose an image of yourself and Ricky, a circus chimp, sitting at a desk. Of course, by the time chimpanzee advocates saw the book, it was too late to do anything about it, at least for the edition that had already been printed. So hundreds of people asked you to at least have a guest who could talk about the problem of using chimps as promotional gimmicks. As far as I know, no one was asked to appear on the Daily Show.
I’ve heard from a friend who questions my objections. “I regard eliminating the exploitation of chimpanzees as a real uphill battle. I wholeheartedly support you as a courageous defender of these primates,” he writes. However, he goes on, “I fear that you may be dismissed by those whom you would like to influence if you insist that even representations of chimps in human settings never be used commercially.”
I appreciate the concern, and understand his perspective. But all of these images, coming at people for years and years, are a large part of the reason this is such an uphill fight! We’ve accepted the use of zany chimps for our entertainment, and thus we perpetuate the practices that bring these animals into our lives. The chimps in these images are trained by owners who use the same subjugation and social isolation techniques not to mention beatings and other physical abuse used by my dad and other trainers over the decades. Even if Maher and Stewart’s graphic designers used digital techniques to add the religious necklaces or put the chimps at Jon’s desk, trainers got hard cash for the use of their chimps. Directly or indirectly, by using these images, Maher and Stewart are supporting the ape exploitation industry. Just as importantly, they are setting a horrible example for all entertainers.
I love Maher and Stewart, and watch their shows whenever I can. I thought Maher’s movie, Religulous, was great. I have to admit, I found Stewart’s book less than intriguing and I wouldn’t recommend it. But regardless of whether we like these guys, or even whether we like their products, we need to let them know that their use of chimpanzees for product promotion is wrong. We expect better from them.
Bill, take down your Facebook promotion using the chimps, and take the image out of your profile album.
Jon, we’re still waiting for a guest appearance by someone (Steve Ross?) who can speak intelligently about the misportrayals of apes in advertising.
Fellow animal welfare advocates, if you want to let these men know that you disapprove of their use of chimps for product promotion, I suggest going to their Facebook pages and letting them know.
Hmm, I wonder what would be a good hashtag on Twitter… #noapesinads? #keepchimpsinthewildandoutofyourmarketingcampaign? What do you think?


  1. #noapesinads!

    waiting to see whether PETA takes a stand here - they should not have someone on their Board who doesn't get this basic concept!!Am posting a link to your blog on Stewart and Maher's pages

  2. It's all photoshop, no chimps were harmed or exploited.

  3. @Anonymous number 1, I would also like to hear from PETA on this. I believe this has been brought to their attention, so hopefully we'll hear something in the coming days. And thanks for posting on Maher and Stewart's pages!

    @Anonymous number 2, I'm intrigued by your statement but I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying that the graphics artist used photoshop so therefore the chimps were not stolen from their mothers when they were just babies (as always happens with show chimps)? The designer used photoshop so therefore the chimps did not undergo the usual training methods that can include brutal prods and punches? Or that the photo sessions for the images, that you say were then photoshopped, were happy little outings that the chimps chose to do of their own free will? If you know these chimps and their trainers, please post some more and tell us their experiences.

    But even when you explain what you know about the lives of these four chimpanzees, anonymous #2, please understand that the (mis)treatment of the chimps was not the main point I was trying to make. My point is that research shows that using chimps to make them appear silly or zany, in human settings, gives people the impression that chimpanzees are not endangered species. And that misperception, with all of the policy implications, harms and exploits all chimpanzees, captive or wild.

    ~ Dawn

  4. To say nothing of the fact that after the apes turn 8, none of the people who made money on their backs during their younger *manageable* years are there to provide for the next FIFTY years of their lives. Hence the Center for Great Apes--IF they are lucky enough to end up there. The celebrities and movie studios who have exploited these poor creatures and made millions doing it should be required to pay restitution. I'm looking at you Clint Eastwood. (I'm sure he's reading this. :)) Did MJackson provide for Bubbles in his will? I'm guessing no. All of Bubbles' fellow residents at the Center for Great Apes have been on heartbreaking journeys since their childhood days as entertainment apes, and again, these are the LUCKY ones:

  5. Hi all
    Dawn and others are justified in their reaction to the images used by Bill Maher and Jon Stewart. In both cases, the chimpanzees used in the photographs are exploited in ways that most who care about chimpanzee welfare and conservation would oppose.

    As Dawn suggested, there are two related but different issues at stake when it comes to these types of images.

    There is the animal welfare issue in which we must consider not only how the chimpanzees were treated while being used for such photography but more importantly, how they were housed for the rest of their lives. Most chimpanzees that lives as actors or photo props were taken from their mothers at a very young age (often just hours after birth) in order to facilitate their dependency on humans. We well know how this lack of maternal care has serious long-term detriments for these cognitively complex animals.

    And then there is the public perception issue. The research we published shows clearly how images of chimpanzees in anthropomorphic circumstances (dressed up and apparently cavorting freely with humans) tends to skew public opinion towards a conclusion that members of this species could make good pets and that wild populations are not at risk. Obviously neither of these effects are desirable.

    So even *IF* Ricky the chimpanzee used on the Jon Stewart book cover was treated nicely, we should still be concerned about the effects of those types of images and the way that chimpanzees are portrayed.

    And even *IF* viewers of the Bill Maher movie poster are informed to the point of not allowing those images affect their perception of the specie, we still have a very good reason to be concerned about the individual wellbeing of that chimpanzee (she was digitally replicated three times for that poster).

    The use of chimpanzees in entertainment has been drastically cut in the last decade but there is still much to be done. The recent "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" movie demonstrated convincingly that digital representations of apes is possible now. Hopefully we're not far from the day when those are the only "chimps" in entertainment.

  6. Well said Dawn and as always Steve this continued use to make these animals appear silly is such a blow to our contiued effort to educate the public on the truth about chimpanzees. We need to stop the medical research and a law needs to be passed somehow regarding the use of great apes in entertainment. The Center for Great Apes is awesome, but they can not handle the amount of great apes that need saving. I would give anything to be able to run a facility in conjusction with CGA we need more to shut these people down. The general public has no clue what happens to these wonderful animals before or after they are used.