The Evils of Passivity; “Blackfish” and Viewer Duty

blackfish

We’re so very good at viewing.

It’s in our nature. Our eyes desire motion for consumption, drawn to kinetic energy in a magnetic bond too powerful to describe. It’s an ugly truth that what fascinates us is most often something elusive to our grasp. Mystery equals wonder, and wonder equals desire.  As humans, it’s also in our nature to actively seek out that which beckons our interest, even if it’s dangerous. Killer whales, like the ones at the heart of the rousing Blackfish, fit into a dangerous mold; they are a combination of spectacle and overwhelming power we cannot–and were never meant to–control.

The recently-released documentary by Gabriela Cowperhwaite, Blackfish, shows us how SeaWorld parks around the country have removed an essential part of the equation of spectacle. They’ve made it easy for us to view these animals as nothing more than 12,000-pound toys, ripping them from their homes in the wild to display them for our sense of bewonderment. SeaWorld marketing has conditioned us to accept them as larger-than-life plush dolls living happily ever after in the dream that is by all means simply a concrete jail cell for our entertainment.

But, we live for the spectacle of their performance. To consume spectacle is to be human, and harnessing the power of spectacle inflates our egos that much more. It’s not like they were modestly-sized in the first place. To assume that, as we see in the first twenty minutes of Blackfish, we are entitled so much as to pluck these beautiful creatures from their homes in the wild in the first place is a moral sin in itself. We see grown men, hardened from years of regret, crying onscreen as they recount the sounds of wild Orca wailing for their young. Regret is a testament to evil, and SeaWorld has a lot of explaining to do for their despicable actions.

Blackfish does its best to remain a barrage of facts and firsthand testimony versus a sledgehammering of an angled agenda. We’re given the facts. We’re spoken to as straightforward as possible. We’re presented evidence to refute our pre-conceived ideas about happiness as as synonym for SeaWorld and its various parks. If you can think for yourself, you’ll see that there are two villains at the conclusion of Blackfish; One is obviously SeaWorld management. Park officials covered up the bloody track-record of Tilikum, a massive breeder Orca, before he killed his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, in 2010 during a routine performance. He’d killed two other people prior to Brancheau’s death, yet SeaWorld management sees it beneficial to keep him around, literally milking him for sperm to produce countless offspring for their other parks. They fudge facts, feeding their visitors bullshit about Orcas living longer in captivity than in the wild; that dorsal fin collapse is normal; They even strip young whales away from their parents, though Orcas are known to be some of the (if not the most) socially-dependant creatures on earth. In fact, if there ever was a scene that has the potential to haunt those who see it for the rest of their lives, it comes about halfway through Blackfish when a mother whale’s cries for its daughter, whom SeaWorld management chose to move to another park thousands of miles away. There’s no skimping around what SeaWorld is doing. It’s cornering the market on abuse, and we’re eating it up all so Jimmy and Susie can be entertained for ten minutes while on vacation.

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It then becomes clear that our inactivity–the world’s inactivity, at that–is largely responsible for filling villain slot #2. I’ve never felt more uncomfortable watching a film, because as rousing as it is, Blackfish is a disturbing chronicle of the world’s ignorance, and it must be massively-consumed. It’s the exact opposite of the picture-perfect paradise SeaWorld wants you to believe in.

When a film like Blackfish comes along, it begs us as heralds of film to do something about the subjects it depicts. There’s a different edge to a film like this. We’re coming to it because we want to be educated about things going on in our world. It’s not entertainment. It’s not about making us comfortable as viewers in our cozy little theater chairs shoveling our faces with popcorn. It’s a shared experience of pain, made for us to look back at ourselves for letting this kind of irresponsible behavior go on.

We must champion these films that inspire action, because that’s where the power of the medium of film shines, and essentially transcends merely being about whatever it is we’re watching onscreen. A movie is a movie, but a movie can also be an agent of change. To inspire emotion and escapism is one thing, and fiction is a powerful tool for that. Narrative fiction is beautiful, but when a lens becomes a sword, the topic tangible, and the subjects implicating, is when film becomes more than just a popcorn experience. Emotion is a powerful thing that film can inspire, but something like Blackfish becomes more than just a movie for the causes it sheds light on. It inspires what movies can and so rarely do outside of the individual; collective action to right a wrong. As consumers, we have the power to eradicate the evils we see in Blackfish, and it’s here that the importance of film shines. Films which beg us for–or almost require–activism MUST be pushed forward. So I beg you: See this film. Because, while we’re experts at viewing, we’ve come to forget that action is a far more important duty than our own self-service.

Blackfish shows us how our hungry eye can lead to unimaginable evil; how a corporation can manipulate our desire to learn about the world around us–to become closer to the nature we’ve continuously grown further away from–and turn it into a virtual monopoly on cruelty. SeaWorld has removed a sense of accomplishment that comes from viewing an animal in the wild. The final shots of Blackfish show us a typical pod as it swims peacefully. We’re transfixed by the natural beauty, of being so privileged to see something so naturally complete. Film so often wants to indulge our yearning for this type spectacle by festering as a desire to passively consume. Blackfish is that idea’s antithesis; let us actively create a spectacle of change that exists far beyond the borders of a movie theater.

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