The story of the Octomom has something for everyone. Bioethicists debate the role of fertility doctors in screening would-be mothers. Taxpayers rail against bailing out irresponsible parents. Child welfare advocates hover, porn producers salivate, tabloids buzz with the latest on her Joliesque look. And now Population Connection-formerly Zero Population Growth (ZPG)-and its extremist cousin the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) have gone public with their take on the octomom saga. And it's not the condemnation you'd expect.
"I almost hung up when the guy said he was from ZPG," she recalls. "I thought he was going to go for the guilt trip, say that me and my babies are the problem. That there were already too many kids." Her pursed lips convey her doubts that children could ever be in excess. "Then he told me he was using my picture."
Photographs of her abound, but a particular pair caught the eye of campaign design coordinator Richard Bobrick. Blogosphere favorites, they show front and side views of her pendulous belly eight days before she gave birth to the now famous octuplets. The visibly-veined near-sphere of an abdomen reliably solicits shudders.
Which is just the reaction Population Connection and the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement hope to harness. "We've decided to personalize the scare tactics," says VHEMT spokesperson Shelley Ammerman. "We want bikini-conscious young women to see that stomach, realize it won't ever be beach-bare-able again, and then decide not to get pregnant."
As its name indicates, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement advocates the at-will cessation of reproduction. In the past, VHEMT has relied upon whimsical-but deadly earnest-animations to impress upon viewers the consequences for the planet of the human population explosion. As storks dropping baby-bombs clear woodland for housing developments, deer run for their lives. Women with periodically ballooning bellies push stroller/tank combo vehicles filled with legions of big-eyed brats.
"Appealing to people's sense of decency wasn't working, though," mourns VHEMT bigwig Les Knight, when asked to explain the Movement's shift in strategy. "Mankind is a cancer afflicting the Earth, but no one wants to hear that or think about its implications. Tell them that something will negatively affect their appearance, though, decrease their attractiveness..." Knight simultaneously shrugs and grimaces, then he calls up VHEMT's new homepage. Ready-to-burst she smiles wanly from the computer screen. "Think you can just snap back?" the caption challenges.
Newly-printed posters stacked in the DC offices of Population Connection bear the same images and only slightly modified text. Population Connection promotes the stabilization rather than elimination of the human population, and has traditionally devoted resources to educating and empowering women. This latest campaign, though, targets the men who still wield sexual power in much of the world. "Men," notes Population Connection's Douglas Klausing knowingly, "who don't find stretch marks very alluring." To hammer home the message that pregnancy can wreak havoc on a woman's physique, Population Connection started with VHEMT's design-which the Movement gladly shared-and changed a single word, the pronoun. "Think she can just snap back?" their posters read.
"We already have anecdotal evidence that the posters will have the desired deterrent effect," Klausing reports. "When I sprung one on the delivery guy from the print shop, he turned this ghastly shade of green." Klausing laughs at the memory. "Then he went to CVS to stock up on protection."