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Subject: "Blackfish (Cowperthwaite, 2013)" Previous topic | Next topic
will_5198
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Mon Aug-12-13 01:01 PM

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"Blackfish (Cowperthwaite, 2013)"


          

centered around the 2010 death of a SeaWorld killer whale trainer, this documentary is a sharp reminder of our amazing hubris -- especially in the face of nature.

there's a great moment where former trainers acknowledge their naiveté, realizing any bonds they had with the orcas were superficial. a highly intelligent animal, performing dumb parlor tricks for snacks? that was out of boredom and hunger in captivity, and only arrogance would make one assume otherwise.

you can point the finger at the big bad corporation (and SeaWorld gets plenty of screen time as a target), but the blame extends to everyone. "can" and "should" are two different things. the exploitation of killer whales is what happens when we confuse the terms.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OEjYquyjcg

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Topic Outline
Subject Author Message Date ID
This arrives near me next week. Can't wait.
Aug 12th 2013
1
I'm not sure the film is arguing this.
Sep 17th 2013
2
it's a specific narrative
Sep 17th 2013
3
I don't think they're ignorant to the flawed nature of captivity...
Sep 17th 2013
4
      when is a humanistic method of captivity suggested though?
Sep 17th 2013
5
           I don't think it's suggested, I merely think it's left open.
Sep 17th 2013
7
                that's one interpretation, sure
Sep 17th 2013
8
                     But here's my question:
Sep 17th 2013
9
                          I think they touched on that too
Sep 17th 2013
10
                               Ah, right. I forgot that moment.
Sep 17th 2013
11
RE: I'm not sure the film is arguing this.
Dec 29th 2013
15
well at one point
Dec 30th 2013
17
wow this was facinating and disturbing...
Sep 17th 2013
6
On CNN tonight
Oct 24th 2013
12
RE: Blackfish (Cowperthwaite, 2013)
Dec 28th 2013
13
Loved it. The intelligence of the orcas blew me away.
Dec 29th 2013
14
the part about them having more evolved emotional brains than us
Dec 31st 2013
18
I sawneded this...dis good
Dec 29th 2013
16
pretty damning indictment of capitalism
Dec 31st 2013
19

Frank Longo
Member since Nov 18th 2003
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Mon Aug-12-13 01:02 PM

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1. "This arrives near me next week. Can't wait."
In response to Reply # 0


  

          

The trailers are harrowing enough.

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Frank Longo
Member since Nov 18th 2003
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Tue Sep-17-13 11:53 AM

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2. "I'm not sure the film is arguing this."
In response to Reply # 0


  

          


>there's a great moment where former trainers acknowledge their
>naiveté, realizing any bonds they had with the orcas were
>superficial. a highly intelligent animal, performing dumb
>parlor tricks for snacks? that was out of boredom and hunger
>in captivity, and only arrogance would make one assume
>otherwise.

The film certainly seems to be arguing that if humans hadn't psychologically damaged those orcas and subsequently used a psychotic's sperm for breeding, those trainers would be alive.

It makes two arguments and conflates them: 1. These aquatic park owners subject these animals to cruel behavior. 2. These tortured animals in close proximity with humans was inevitably going to result in death. Both 1 and 2 are obviously true, but I tend to side more with you that mixing huge smart animals we can't control with humans is an accident waiting to happen, regardless of how the animals were treated in captivity.

Our arrogance and presumption of "control" is still pretty fully on display with some of the thin logic strands presented. "Orcas have never killed people in the wild." Okay, well, how often do orcas and humans interact in the water in the wild? And since orcas have only killed three people in the last two/three decades in captivity with daily exposure to one another, how can one immediately assume that wouldn't happen in the open ocean with equal exposure?

I agree that the film presents a portrait of human arrogance and naivete regarding our presumption of control and our "understanding" of what they think/feel/etc. However, I think the filmmakers are trying to sculpt a very pointed narrative, focusing most of their attention on SeaWorld's treatment of the animals and their subsequent lies regarding orca behavior, as if they are exclusively at fault. The former trainers interviewed are given far more screen time to diss SeaWorld than they are to acknowledge the simple fact that big smart animals and humans shouldn't mix. Many of them wax nostalgic about their relationships and trust they had in their respective orca partner, without following it up with "of course, this relationship is exclusively in my head, as who the fuck knows what a whale's motivations are."

Still a pretty compelling doc, even if I found its main argument dicey. Plus, some of the wilderness footage and the archival footage is pretty breathtaking.

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will_5198
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Tue Sep-17-13 01:18 PM

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3. "it's a specific narrative"
In response to Reply # 2


          

but I disagree that the trainers and director remain ignorant to the flawed nature of captivity itself. the trainers knew the whales would get defiant when their buckets of treats was emptying (they could hear the increased clatter of ice) -- they were performing for food, not for any "relationships". one of two trainers state that out loud, even.

the intelligence of whales is also repeatedly stressed, by the trainers and other talking heads, showing that the little jumps and tricks were nothing to them. one of the most harrowing scenes -- the experienced trainer being taken underwater deliberately -- reinforces that. the whales do what they want, whenever they want, human petting be damned.

some of the trainers do seem reluctant to accept those truths, but the ending shot seems to reinforce the idea of anti-capitvity to the fullest: formers trainers seeing whales for the first time in the wild, and how much more beautiful they looked than at any time in an exhibition pool.

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Frank Longo
Member since Nov 18th 2003
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Tue Sep-17-13 01:45 PM

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4. "I don't think they're ignorant to the flawed nature of captivity..."
In response to Reply # 3


  

          

... but I think they're only wizened to this specific brand of corporate-run captivity ruled by ignorance. At least that's all we're shown. There's never really the "anti-captivity, period" message, only the "this is NOT how to do it" angle. The former trainers express shock and outrage at the separation from family members, the holding the whales with more aggressive non-family members, etc... but if SeaWorld had sheltered these whales "properly," would they still have a problem with it? They seem to blame the powers-that-be for creating the environment that led to the accidents... but even if they were given free rein, we don't really see any of them reach the conclusion, "no matter HOW the orcas were treated, something probably would have happened, cuz you can't control 12,000 pound water mammals."

The filmmaker only shows us limited peeks at any realization that the relationships these trainers felt were creations of their human mind. Their attachment and trust in the animals can't be proven to be reciprocated, really, and I think that the narrative focusing on the SeaWorld dickery slightly undercuts how powerful that final moment should be. They shape the narrative into corporate indifference leading to animal psychosis instead of focusing on the more interesting elements, which you point out in your review.

Still totally worth seeing and a compelling story regardless-- I was just somewhat disappointed at the narrative's insistence upon its conflated arguments. Not that the corporate angle doesn't have its own share of interesting tidbits, but I think even if SeaWorld had given the whales a shitload of space and been allowed to stay with their families, there still would've inevitably been some sort of accident. By placing the blame specifically on mistreating the animals, it leaves open for interpretation a world in which captive whales are treated properly and intermingle perfectly peacefully with humans, which I just personally struggle to buy.

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will_5198
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Tue Sep-17-13 02:23 PM

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5. "when is a humanistic method of captivity suggested though?"
In response to Reply # 4


          

the importance of family to the whales is a recurring thread, something that's shattered by any attempt at captivity. smaller, younger whales are the only ones we can bring in, and we see how hard the mothers and fathers try to protect their young (males separating and swimming to dead ends to draw the boats) -- plus the psychological impact on the young.

well, how about breeding families once in captivity? that doesn't work either. we see how aggressive the captured whales act towards each other (killing in some cases), and the effect that has on all the progeny.

yes, these are presented as SeaWorld problems, but they're obviously captivity problems as well. we've all accepted the facade -- the trainers fell in love with the idea of "being close" to a majestic killer whale, regardless of what SeaWorld told them. their present-day realizations counter the idea of ever keeping such a smart animal in a relative kiddie pool.

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Frank Longo
Member since Nov 18th 2003
85547 posts
Tue Sep-17-13 02:59 PM

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7. "I don't think it's suggested, I merely think it's left open."
In response to Reply # 5
Tue Sep-17-13 03:03 PM by Frank Longo

  

          

I suppose they had to leave it open somewhat, otherwise it becomes a much broader anti-zoo film, but making it so pointedly anti-SeaWorld instead and continually playing the "if they only hadn't done this" card to sculpt that narrative left me wondering what the film could have achieved had they focused their narrative differently or if they'd allowed their scope to sweep a bit more (the movie's a pretty brisk 80-something minutes, I wouldn't have protested if they'd added more).

Even starting at the beginning, where they say they captured the babies and separated them from their mothers, starting the trauma right from the jump. So if they'd also brought the mothers into captivity, the babies wouldn't have been traumatized and thus not psychotic and this not dangerous to humans? etc. Same goes for the breeding point-- they say any animal breeder would tell you never to breed an animal with a pattern for violence against humans. Okay, so if they'd used a different male orca's sperm, then those babies wouldn't cause any accidents and humans would be in control? The scientist interview clips used even leaned more on "SeaWorld fucked up" than "this was fucked on a conceptual level."

Not that that needs to be spelled out, per se, but the focus on the execution rather than the concept left me wondering. Since most of the damning evidence is in execution, and there is no model present for an ideal orca captivity unit, they follow the footage and the evidence and sculpt the film that way, understandably... but it did leave me questioning whether the filmmakers thought the mistakes were the specific problem.

The point that intrigued me the most-- the ego of everyone, from up top to those working in the park daily, to think orcas in any circumstances can be controlled-- seemed outweighed by the point of corporate indifference leading to the mistakes that led to the accidents.

(Not that I should sit here on some "how dare they present the thesis they wish to present to the audience!" I just feel the thesis they seem to present doesn't fully hold water, which mildly undercut my enjoyment of the overall execution.)

(Also, if anyone other than Will or me is reading this thread, it's still totally a film worth seeing with a lot of merit and fascinating/shocking footage.)

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will_5198
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Tue Sep-17-13 04:19 PM

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8. "that's one interpretation, sure"
In response to Reply # 7


          

for me, the attack on SeaWorld's practices was also a defense against the orca species. the trainers' deaths were not due to a maniac animal that presented a docile nature but secretly lusted for human flesh. instead, they were caused by an incredibly smart creature driven insane by its captors -- and here are the 12 systemic steps that led to it.

most of the interviews from experts focus on how similar orcas are to humans: the paternal bonds, a brain that copies ours but has an additional segment, the feelings of isolation and captive depression, manipulative thinking (yes, I'll rub noses with you, now more fish) and even the concept of whales using different languages.

after we understand them in human equivalencies, the question of any captivity becomes easy to answer. SeaWorld is the target here -- the manifestation of our arrogance and naivete -- but Cowperthwaite never seems to suggest that a happy medium can be found. my resounding takeaway was that we should appreciate whales only under their terms.

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Frank Longo
Member since Nov 18th 2003
85547 posts
Tue Sep-17-13 04:36 PM

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9. "But here's my question:"
In response to Reply # 8


  

          

>for me, the attack on SeaWorld's practices was also a defense
>against the orca species. the trainers' deaths were not due to
>a maniac animal that presented a docile nature but secretly
>lusted for human flesh. instead, they were caused by an
>incredibly smart creature driven insane by its captors -- and
>here are the 12 systemic steps that led to it.

If humans interacted with orcas in the wild-- sane orcas, never tortured, on their turf, etc.-- would we be safer? It's hard to defend the orca as a peaceful species in regards to human interaction when the statistics of in-water human-orca interaction are presumably enormously limited. I'm not tremendously convinced that two deaths out of multiple daily in-water interactions in twenty years with Tilikum is the result of three plus decades of torture more than it is the result of what happens when humans tempt fate by entering the home turf of a much larger animal they simply cannot hope to control.

I'm sure fucking the orca's life up didn't HELP, clearly. I'm just not sure interacting with wild orcas daily in the water for twenty years wouldn't also result in three total deaths. They're fucking big, and ultimately they know they are in control once we are in the water with them.

>my resounding takeaway was that we should
>appreciate whales only under their terms.

That was definitely my takeaway as well, my small gripe with the narrative focus aside. The ending achieves that, for sure, regardless of the path it took, just due to the power of that individual image of the former trainers watching the orcas live.

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will_5198
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Tue Sep-17-13 04:52 PM

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10. "I think they touched on that too"
In response to Reply # 9


          

the one expert, who'd been on dozens of trips to see orcas in the wild, said he was always stunned by their presence. he was also fearful of them. he admired whales but knew to keep his distance.

we *know* what happens to whales in captivity -- we fuck them up. again, I bring up the particular scene of the trainer being dunked at what amounted to timed intervals of his lung capacity -- orcas could kill the trainers at their leisure. if they solely wanted to kill humans, you'd never be able to put a trainer in the water. but instead they suffer through a lifetime of belittling confinement until they are agitated into doing so.

applying those parameters to the wild is kind of baseless. sure, if we go swimming next to a family of orcas every day and withhold them from hunting until they jump and touch a ball, I'm guessing there will be casualties eventually.

>I'm sure fucking the orca's life up didn't HELP, clearly. I'm
>just not sure interacting with wild orcas daily in the water
>for twenty years wouldn't also result in three total deaths.
>They're fucking big, and ultimately they know they are in
>control once we are in the water with them.

well...exactly. a point the film makes itself: love the whales, see the whales, but respect the whales, because they're as smart as you and more powerful than you can imagine. capturing their young and putting them in a swimming pool is the opposite of such respect.

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Frank Longo
Member since Nov 18th 2003
85547 posts
Tue Sep-17-13 06:31 PM

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11. "Ah, right. I forgot that moment."
In response to Reply # 10


  

          

>the one expert, who'd been on dozens of trips to see orcas in
>the wild, said he was always stunned by their presence. he was
>also fearful of them. he admired whales but knew to keep his
>distance.

That moment was buried in a sea of stories of trainers who felt relationships with whales and who felt bad that SeaWorld was fucking them up, but I remember it now.

Still, I don't think we disagree on much here, other than the relative success the filmmaker achieves through sculpting her narrative, and even then, I was pretty riveted. A doc could do far worse than get me to ask questions about its central thesis afterward.

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Nopayne
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Sun Dec-29-13 06:47 PM

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15. "RE: I'm not sure the film is arguing this."
In response to Reply # 2


  

          


>The film certainly seems to be arguing that if humans hadn't
>psychologically damaged those orcas and subsequently used a
>psychotic's sperm for breeding, those trainers would be alive.
>

Now that I think about it, this really is a flawed argument.

If Tilly's psychotic behavior is a result of being in captivity for decades then using his sperm is fine. He wasn't born as Killa Tilly.

On the other hand, if Sealand had to misfortune of capturing an orca that was innately psychotic, then SeaWorld is screwed. I don't think this is the case though. A lazy search only shows one reference to his offspring killing anyone. Keto is Tilly's grandson: http://www.abc.es/20101003/comunidad-canarias/orca-keto-ataco-causo-20101003.html. I would expect a whole history of violent behavior in his family tree given mow prolific of a fucker he is.

---
Love,
Nopayne

  

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hardware
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Mon Dec-30-13 11:39 AM

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17. "well at one point"
In response to Reply # 2


          

one of the trainers said something like
'i'd like to think that our relationship was about more than just fish, but i know it wasn't'

feel like i remember a couple of more points like that, but i agree with you overall

  

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KnowOne
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Tue Sep-17-13 02:24 PM

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6. "wow this was facinating and disturbing..."
In response to Reply # 0


  

          

I have been wanting to go to Sea World for years.... not any more.

_________________________________________
"Too weird to live.... too rare to die..."

PS+ ID: KnowOne215 | XBL GamerTag: KnowOne 215

  

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jigga
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Thu Oct-24-13 12:14 PM

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12. "On CNN tonight"
In response to Reply # 0


  

          

  

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maternalbliss
Member since Jul 05th 2005
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Sat Dec-28-13 11:55 PM

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13. "RE: Blackfish (Cowperthwaite, 2013)"
In response to Reply # 0


          

hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, this documentary does try hard to get one to sympathize with the mistreatment of Orca whales held in captivity.

I definitely was not shocked at the shenanigans that were taking place at SeaWorld nor am i shocked that SeaWorld would completely absolve itself of any wrongdoing in the deaths of any employees.

It is always the same ole story with propaganda pieces of this sort, same ole same ole, It is always about where to place the blame. I place the blame on no one, Not even the Orca.

I do agree with you that the trainers are arrogant and naive,lol, They all truly believed they were all one big happy family, lol. Tilly is my best friend in the world,lol. All that stuff about freeing the whales is hokey. Human beings have exploited the animals of land and sea since time began. It's just what we do.
Shit, Eskimos capture and eat whales all the time.

Orcas are predators. How come these silly white folks working at SeaWorld can't see the risk involved in what they do? Orcas hunt prey and it is misleading to call them peaceful creatures.



OSHA has forced SeaWorld to erect barrriers between the beautiful Orcas and the dumb human trainers, i am chuckling....

Is a barrier really gonna stop Tilly or any other 4, 5 or 6 ton Orca from doing what it is capable of doing?

I don't think so.

Grade C

  

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BennyTenStack
Member since Sep 09th 2007
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Sun Dec-29-13 12:34 AM

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14. "Loved it. The intelligence of the orcas blew me away."
In response to Reply # 0


  

          

What was really interesting to me was not only did they have languages, but they also had dialects from different regions of the world. They really seemed to be very "human-like," which I found fascinating. I never realized they were such emotional creatures.



I will never, ever be visiting sea world.

  

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theprofessional
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Tue Dec-31-13 12:15 AM

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18. "the part about them having more evolved emotional brains than us"
In response to Reply # 14


  

          

was pretty amazing. like, as emo as we are, they're feeling feelings we don't even know exist and probably could never fully comprehend, the way other animals see wavelengths of light that are invisible to us. the point being made in the film was that killer whales are highly emotional and highly social animals uniquely unequipped for captivity. thought it was a pretty strong argument.

>I never realized they were such emotional creatures.

"i smack clowns with nouns, punch herbs with verbs..."

  

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Orbit_Established
Member since Oct 27th 2002
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Sun Dec-29-13 10:43 PM

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16. "I sawneded this...dis good"
In response to Reply # 0


  

          


----------------------------



O_E: "Acts like an asshole and posts with imperial disdain"




"I ORBITs the solar system, listenin..."

(C)Keith Murray, "

  

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theprofessional
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Tue Dec-31-13 12:47 AM

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19. "pretty damning indictment of capitalism"
In response to Reply # 0


  

          

i'm torn 'cause i think zoos are a good thing. if a few captive and hopefully very well taken care of animals can inspire people to see with their own eyes and care about an entire species of animals, good. great. but it seems pretty clear that sea world does a poor job taking care of its animals.

lack of space is a big issue. the indifference to the whales' social needs is a bigger issue. that the main function of the whales seems to be performing tricks is, for me, the biggest issue. performing tricks on a schedule at that. like, my dog used to like doing tricks every now and then. she had fun doing it. but if she had to do those tricks every day at 12, 3, and 6, whether she felt like it or not 'cause these people paid good money and the show must go on, it would be a big problem. that's kind of where we're at with sea world.

"i smack clowns with nouns, punch herbs with verbs..."

  

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