Friday, February 26, 2010
Tilikum means friend
1971. Shamu at Sealand, a supposed publicity shot yet which captures animal resistance.
In the 70s, when I attended Hammarskjold High School, art was one of my favorite subjects, that is until I had a terribly sexist male teacher whose pedagogy was so problematic I stopped taking art because in order to continue with upper level art you had to have him for a teacher again. It was his class or no class, and his class was just so uncomfortable for a young insecure female, I stopped.
For another art instructor, who was not sexist but nice, I sketched a picture of an orca for my portfolio, but as he then asked me at the end of the year if he could keep all my work, and me being a terribly naive stupid young woman at the time, gave up all my work. So, I have nothing to show for my years in highschool art, I was too agreeable in those days, especially to male authority. The things I have learned....
Sometimes I wonder how life would be different if a young teenaged woman such as myself could have had some of the experience behind her of a middle-aged woman. Where were the older mentors? In those days, the media spin convinced us that anyone over 30 was old and not to be trusted. I viewed my mother not only as on the other side of the generation gap, but as an old-fashioned Finnish woman who had nothing in common with independent young Canadian women. What was I resisting or protesting in Port Arthur? Nothing. My parents' history and my identity, however, did not match. There was "over there" and here was "here" and how they fit, I was not even aware of, nor interested to think about. I was too busy being independent.
Cosmopolitan magazine cover February 1970
I did not have any political knowledge or social consciousness at all. I was supposed to be rebelling but against what I was not sure, but nonetheless I crafted a hippie wanna-be female identity that looked the part at least. I looked through the Seventeen magazines my sisters and I bought for examples on how to construct my identity--to guide me to feminine beauty in fear of the dreaded ugly-- and when feeling especially audacious and independent and thinking I needed to project a sexual image, Cosmopolitan magazine.
The media images from 1971 show that there is much need for young woman to be empowered by older women mentors who could guide them to better choices. Have women in the West advanced since the 70s? I think many of our hard won gains have been lost, stripped away, and indeed seen as superfluous and unnecessary. In Canada women have taken many steps backwards, thanks to our neo-conservative ruling government, and Canadian women's rights are in decline.
Too bad young Western women are not as apt to take up resistance strategies to their containment into social scripts as some animals are.
The YouTube clip above on Shamu, of course, is part of the story of Tilikum, the killer whale that recently killed a female trainer in Florida.
Yesterday when I posted the photo of the smiling dog, I actually had the death of the trainer at SeaWorld in mind. I was so troubled by her senseless and tragic death, but I couldn't help thinking: killer whale. The animal is called killer whale. Why do we continue to jail these massive predators in tanks for entertainment spectacle? This very problematic abuse and exploitation of killer whales, and opposition to that, has been going on ever since Western society realized what a cash cow killer whales are and set out to exploit their profit potential.
Jason Hribal, in his new book Fear of the Animal Planet: The History of Animal Resistance, makes the links between consuming animals as entertainment and capitalist profiteering clear:
Sea World, for instance, has had fifty-one Shamus. The original was captured in 1965, after animal collector Ted Griffin harpooned the calf’s mother in Puget Sound. Betting with the odds, Sea World would only lease the animal at first. Who knows how long she would last? But, when the young orca made it through the year, the park bought her outright for $100,000. Sea World made Shamu the central figure in its operations. All marketing from this point forward was geared towards her. There would be Shamu commercials. There would be Shamu shows. There would be Shamu dolls and t-shirts. Shamu became, in the words of one director, the park’s “Mickey Mouse.” This orca did, however, have the power to disrupt these well-laid plans.
In 1971, during a publicity stunt, Shamu was being filmed with bikini-clad women riding on her back. Suddenly, she tossed the woman off and began dunking the person underwater. There were two divers in the small pool, but Shamu shrugged them off like little insects. The chaotic scene continued for a few minutes: a hysterical woman, divers tumbling in the wake, and trainers at the poolside desperately holding out poles. The individual would, eventually, be rescued. But the deed was done and the images made the local news. Shamu, apparent to all, was not near as friendly or cooperative as the amusement park would have liked us to believe. Sea World had its first major incident. At the end of the day, though, the orca’s actions were not enough to bring down the park. Operations would continue and, fifty-one Shamus later, Sea World has thrived. It has become a flagship vacation destination with three current locations: San Diego, Orlando, and San Antonio. They have hotels, restaurants, roller coasters, merchandise, and special events. They have adventure camps for grade school and high school students. They have a multitude of animal exhibitions and performances. They have extensive breeding and research programs. Shamu has made Sea World’s owners very rich.
Killer whale (Orcinus Orca)