Have you ever read the Animorphs books? Published from 1996-2001 (and also a TV series for two of those years,) they were fixtures at Scholastic Book Fairs and elementary libraries back in my day, which, who am I kidding, wasn’t that long ago. But for the uninitiated, each cover grotesquely portrayed tweenage kids slowly turning into real life animals—each of the series’ main characters could turn into any animal they touch. The images are goofy as hell and good for memes, but apparently one Wikipedia user reads them for the exploration of “horror, war, dehumanization, sanity, morality, innocence, leadership, freedom, and growing up.” This is all a long-winded setup to say that RZA, de facto leader of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan, one of our greatest MCs, and occasional director, is an Animorph.
On Wednesday, RZA starred in a truly insane PSA for PETA
(People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) that seems to conflate racial equality and ageism with...interspecies equality? Through an incredible series of animations and over a backing track that could belong in a USO advertisement, RZA morphs from his regular ol’ RZA body into a variety of other beings: a wolf, an elephant, an older white woman, a sheep, and an Asian woman, to name a few. I am still baffled by the messaging.
“We are all the same in all the ways that matter. It doesn’t matter what we look like, how old we are, what language we speak or who we love,” RZA says. OK, I’m with that so far. “It doesn’t matter if we have fur or feathers or fins, the length of our nose or the number of legs. We’re not different in any important way.” (This is legitimately not factual! Anyone knows that fish and fish men can’t survive on land.) “We all have thoughts and feelings,” he says just before turning into a sheep. “Our task must be to break free from prejudice and to see ourselves in everyone else.”
And right after the final animal, a cow, morphs back to the RZA we know and love, PETA’s thesis flashes up on the screen: “Face it: inside every body there is a person.” It shouldn’t be controversial to wish for an end to animal cruelty, or any sort of malpractice that goes into food production. But by telling us that every living being on earth has a “person” inside them either connotes something that isn’t true (person literally means human in the dictionary) or implies something that’s too twisted of a thought for me to finish.
So again, if this ad ended around the 15-second mark, just before RZA turns into a grizzly bear, I’d probably be onboard. Ham-fisted messaging about looking beyond someone’s age or the color of their skin is an obvious, if worthy message in this time and any other. But honestly, I don’t think a flesh-eating tiger is too concerned about empathy?