Speciesism and Bambification – Do we not take animals seriously?

Speciesism refers to the “prejudice or discrimination based on species, especially against animals”. Essentially, it is the idea that humans have greater moral rights over animals – for simply being human.

This was not a term I was familiar with before this week’s lecture. Walking out of this week’s tutorial, where we watched 2013’s Blackfish, the term seemed a whole lot more relevant.

blackfish-poster
Source

 

Blackfish is a documentary that focuses on SeaWorld’s most famous performing orca, Tilikum, who was involved in the deaths of three people, including Keltie Bryne, a 21-year-old marine biology student and competitive swimmer; 27-year-old Daniel P. Dukes, a trespasser; and 40-year-old SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. The film brought into question the moral issue of holding whales captive for our entertainment. The Guardian summed it up perfectly:

“We have no business keeping such large, intelligent mammals in such crippling confinement. We too might get a little psychotic, it suggests, if we were imprisoned in a bath for 30 years.”

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San Diego trip, 2014

 

I visited SeaWorld San Diego in 2014 after the documentary was released. At the time, I don’t think I was aware of the film, but looking back, I can definitely say that it did feel like the park was on damage control. The park was pretty quiet (I thought it was because of seasonality) and every show, including the orca show, had an emphasis on ‘conservation’ and ‘protection’ and such. It almost seemed forced. I remember seeing the tanks where the whales and dolphins were kept in and thinking to myself how wrong it was. Having now finally seen Blackfish, it all now makes sense.

The documentary delved into a side of SeaWorld that was not meant to be seen by the public – in such detail at least. It showed a world where killer whales were plucked out of the ocean to live out their lives in small pools, be forced to live in unnatural social groups and be in constant danger from teeth raking, as a result.

If I was ripped away from my home and family, forced to lived an environment that limited all aspects of my life and I couldn’t escape, I’d eventually reach my breaking point.

What gives humans the right to interfere with creatures whom otherwise can’t defend themselves? Yes, we eat animals for food, but that is out of necessity. Orca shows at SeaWorld are not a necessity. Humans have captured and exploited whales for their own entertainment because they simply can. It’s almost not surprising that humanity has this prejudice towards animals. It’s because we think we know what is best for them.

mdimogt
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In the media, animals are anthropomorphised – animals are given human characteristics. The 2005 documentary, March of the Penguin was one of my favourites as a child. The film portrayed the life of emperor penguins in the wild. It was a story of family, love and death. The audience could relate to these animals despite being of a completely different species, with these human experiences being projected onto these penguins.

We have an idealised view of animals and this in turn has consequences. Trainers at SeaWorld underestimated the natural instincts and capabilities of Tilikum, resulting in three deaths. An animal doesn’t stop being an animal once you think you can control it. Freeman, et al (2011) said humans make the assumption that animals are capable of human feelings and, thus, overestimate the potential of dangerous animal behaviours. DeWall (2001) terms this to be ‘bambification’, in which for entertainment purposes, animal characteristics are replaced with human attributes to appeal to human audiences.

What are your thoughts on Blackfish and the sense of entitlement mankind has over animals?

References:

  • Barkham, P. (2013). Blackfish, SeaWorld and the backlash against killer whale theme park shows. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/dec/11/blackfish-seaworld-backlash-killer-whales [Accessed 24 Mar. 2017].
  • DoRazario, RC 2006, ‘The Consequences of Disney Anthropomorphism: Animated, Hyper-Environmental Stakes in Disney Entertainment’, Femspec, vol. 7, no. 1, p. 51-63
  • Freeman, C, Leane, E, & Watt, Y 2011, Considering animals : contemporary studies in human-animal relations / edited by Carol Freeman, Elizabeth Leane, and Yvette Watt, Farnham, Surrey, England ; Burlington, VT : Ashgate Pub., c2011.
  • Kesling, J 2011, Anthropomorphism, double-edge sword, WordPress, weblog post, 21st May, viewed 24th March 2017, <https://responsibledog.net/2011/05/21/anthropomorphism-double-edged-sword/&gt;.

 

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