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Logic Gets a Skinning When 'Faux' Replaces Fox : Fashion: If you wouldn't wear the skin of a dead animal, why wear apparel that passes for the real thing?

December 20, 1989|MARY ZEISS STANGE | Dr. Mary Zeiss Stange teaches religion and women's studies at Central Michigan University. Paul Conrad is on vacation

Fake fur and animal prints are everywhere one looks this shopping season. From the lingerie to the shoe departments, from home furnishings to automobile accessories, merchandisers have decreed "faux" to be the real thing. Animal-rights activists are claiming the lion's share of the credit for this fashion trend, in which they see reflected a more humane, less human-centered attitude.

Given the vicissitudes of fashion, the exact impact of the anti-fur forces is hard to gauge. Whether fur sales are down, up or holding steady seems to depend upon whose figures you read. But it is certainly conceivable that, after the anti-fur onslaught of the past few years, some women and men, tired of being bombarded with slogans like "Cruelty is never chic," would feel relieved to hear that fake fur is fashionably, as well as politically, "correct" this season.

Even if the animal-rights movement can claim victory in this trend toward the artificial, though, one must wonder at the logic of fake fur as a political statement. One of the movement's favorite slogans is "Real people wear fake fur." Why? Do gun-control advocates display replicas of firearms in their homes? Do anti-smokers give their children candy cigarettes? Why should "real people," ostensibly those who have achieved a higher plane of ethical consciousness, wear fake fur at all? And if they do, just what sort of message are they sending?

For years, fake fur was a fashion untouchable; it was so obviously synthetic. Now, reputable designers are using fake fur precisely because technology has made it look real. In other words, it looks, and sometimes feels, like the skin of an animal. As far as anyone knows, the person wearing the fake fur is wearing the pelt of an animal trapped or farm-bred under conditions that the animal-rights movement roundly condemns. Even more problematic is the fake that appears to be the coat of a rare or endangered species. It is hard to see how, exactly, one proclaims one's compassion for furred creatures by wearing what appears to be the pelt of a jaguar or an ocelot or a tiger.

The fake-fur trend, as championed by the animal-rights movement, seems to suggest a peculiar form of double-think. Given the behavior of some animal-rights advocates, it is tempting to attribute this logical lapse to mere muddle-headedness. What else could explain why Jane Wiedlin, a former member of the Go-Gos, showed up in a leather-look jacket at last February's "Rock Against Fur" concert in New York, sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals? Around the same time, various animal-rights voices were excoriating "Animal Lovin' Barbie" for wearing animal prints, on the apparent assumption that little girls might mistake hot-pink leopard spots for real fur.

Anti-fur protesters also demonstrate a curious ambivalence regarding the treatment of real furs. The Animals' Agenda (one of the movement's more influential publications) has repeatedly suggested that enlightened fur-owners donate their furs to be used as "props" in anti-fur protests. One such prop appeared on the evening news, dangling from a leg-hold trap. This hardly conveys much "respect" for animals. Other animal-rights advocates have asserted, with perhaps more ethical consistency, that the only legitimate way to treat a fur is to give it a decent burial. (One cannot help but wonder whether it is politically correct to wear a fake fur while doing so.)

Logical coherence is hardly a hallmark of the animal-rights movement. However, the fake-fur fascination of the anti-fur lobby seems to betray a more deeply rooted hypocrisy than it does a mere inability to think straight. Never mind that this alternative is produced from environmentally polluting petrochemicals. Never mind that anti-fur boycotts have had disastrous economic effects on native human communities here and abroad.

Is it easier to oppose fur fashions now that almost-perfect fakes are available? Do actions speak louder than words? If so, then all "real people" (whether they are pro- or anti-fur) should agree that you cannot stand up for animals' well-being by pretending to wear their coats.

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