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)


marja-leena said...

Good post with much food for thought! I continue to be appalled at how many young (even older) women are misled by the Cosmo and popular media image - it says something for the latters' strength. Teenagers are normal in questioning their parents values and their mom's looks along with it. (I too thought a bit like you about my old-fashioned Finnish mother.) Women are getting better educated but in some areas seem to be losing the battle, not just because of conservative politics but also in succumbing to the mass media ideal of how a woman should look and behave. (I'm not saying this well in such a short space.)

I was fortunate in having a supportive woman art teacher in high school who encouraged me on to art school. In junior high, I remember one semester being put into an all boys art class for scheduling reasons. I was too shy to deal with this rough bunch of boys, though the male teacher was nice enough. I opted out of that class after a while.

As for orcas, I believe they are misnamed as killer whales. They used to be abundant on our shores here but numbers have been dropping. The killer instinct must emerge when they are held captive and treated so against their natural environment. When I read this news yesterday, I admit feeling more sorry for the orca.

20th Century Woman said...

When I was young Cosmopolitan was just a second rate fashion magazine. I guess it morphed into this sex oriented monstrosity because it didn't make it in fashion.

I think women derive both strengths and weaknesses from the tendency they have to want to belong to groups. Men can go it alone more readily (though they usually want one woman beside them). Women generally need a social community that they can fit, and so they conform to something that they regard as a norm.

If young girls could be encouraged to make life choices independent of the current paradigm of what they "ought to do" -- e g, be a homemaker, have a career, go to church, be sexy, join a team, be a feminist, don't be a feminist, and so on, we might see them truly liberated.

Merche Pallarés said...

I also used to be a fan of "Seventeen" magazine, not so much of "Cosmopolitan". I did notice, however, living in Canada, that the media had a great influence in our teenage personalities. When I realized that I, and my friends, were talking like the characters of a sitcom, I knew something was very wrong... Actually, returning to Europe saved me! Re the orcas I agree with you that those beautiful--because, they ARE beautiful--killer whales should be freed. When I was in Orlando I did see that Waterworld show but I felt very sorry for them being used as clowns. I saw the video--thank goodness, the girl survived--but it was horrible! Especially,the flippant voice of the speaker. THAT really shocked me. Hugs, M.

northshorewoman said...

Hello ML, you're right. I think you said it well. Age doesn't necessarily translate to being mentor material. I only need think of all those cadaveer thin women floating around the sidewalks of Yonge and Bloor with their faces pulled and lips puffed. Absolutely media plays such a big role. That stupid More magazine, for example. It puts even more pressure on aging women to deny that aging.

Lucky you to have had a great female teacher in high school. This is crucial, I believe.

The orcas are so beautiful but they belong in the oceans. I have heard from others that it is quite awesome to actually see them while one stands on the beaches of BC.

Hello 20th C woman, yes, I think it was Helen Gurley Brown who re-fashioned the Cosmopolitan vision to Cosmo girl.

I was thinking about your second paragraph, and it called to mind, do women then in older years seek more of a hermit existence because of this hub existence they have been part of for so long? I see some older Finnish women do this. I have fears I may be going this route,too ;-)

Having my own adult daughter, I think media and peers influence young women more than their moms do.

Hello Merche, I've heard young women today in my city in Northwestern Ontario sound just like those California valley girls on those cloned tv shows that I can't tell apart, so the phenomena of females modeling themselves on tv characters seems enduring!

I have noticed that it is different in Europe, there seems less of a focus (in general) on the crafting of identity (although this may be changing).

The clip is so shocking because the girl seems so young and she gets back on the Orca after this near death experience! What sort of trainer is she--more like eye candy for the (male) audience members.

marja-leena said...

Taina, did you see some of the scientific reports regarding killer whale behaviour, such as this one:

tasteofbeirut said...

Interesting post in that you begin to wonder if and how much this type of media really affected and influenced you (or not) I am sure it did. I am an admirer of Helen Gurley Brown the editor of Cosmo for her business sense and good editing skills
As far as the killer whale tragedy, I feel sorry for both the whale and her vicitm

northshorewoman said...

ML, thanks for the link; the article makes clear in my mind that there is no place for these majestic beings in contained tanks for entertainment. I read the other article that it has a link to, about the orca/killer whale being the most toxic whale, and that made me feel both horrified and dismayed, to say the least. What are we doing to ourselves and creatures?

TofB, yes, media influences us to a great deal, especially when one did not grow up with a strong circle of female relatives.