Orlando Seaworld's current Shamu the Killer Whale show is entitled "Believe". It is an epic stage piece, consisting of 4 killer whales, 8 whale trainers, and one child from the audience. In addition to a huge water tank there is a stage area with stairs, a balcony, and a truss system that allows the human characters to jump from great heights into the water. Jets shoot water towards the center of the pool, and seven video screens depict, in addition to large scale simultaneous playback of event, episodes from a narrative film purporting to show how Shamu came to bond with a human trainer as a young boy.
The story, oddly, begins with an introduction by the CEO of Anheuser-Busch, the distillery that supports Sea World and Seaworld's conservation efforts. (When you stand at a urinal at Seaworld, your face is inches away from an "advertorial" depicting a sunset beach scene, attesting to Anheuser-Busch's support for Seaworld Environmental programs).
The CEO asks audience members who are current or former members of the armed forces of the US and Great Britain to stand and be recognized for their service. Then audience members were encouraged to applaud. I noted that other nationalities supporting US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan were not recognized – the CEO drew the line at Great Britain.
Now what the f*ck is that?!?A fucking beer company telling me to stand and clap for soldiers in the audience. You can just imagine the scumbags at Anheuser-Busch's marketing department batting this turd around the board-room table. "Let's get them clapping for the soldiers while the Anheuser-Busch logo is on the screen, and then the Pavlovian mouth-breathers will associate getting shit-faced on Budweiser as a being a patriotic act." In other words, "Drink this beer or the terrorists will win" And the idea of Seaworld as an institution of conservation is a bit of a stretch. "Aren't these magnificent creatures a testament to the wonders of the planet! Quick! Net that Orca and throw him in a giant fishbowl so these nose-pickers can gawk at it!"
The show is entitled "Believe" – and that is a command. Believe that these whales are happy in a friggin' tank. Believe that Anheuser-Busch gives a shit about the environment and veterans. Believe that clapping for the veterans is going to prevent several of them, in the coming years, from going postal, like Timothy McVeigh. Believe that many thousands more veterans won't drink themselves to early deaths on Anheuser-Busch's product line, and believe that these kinds of empty gestures make the clusterfuck of Iraq any less of a lie.
The narrative of the show, which plays out on video screens and in the tanks, depicts a young boy, living somewhere near Washington state, who is obsessed with killer whalers – he draws them he makes little carvings of their tails, which he wears around his neck. One day he kayaks out to the ocean and an orca breaches. Symphonic music swells, the boy, so overwhelmed with the magnificence of it all, decides to devote his life to bonding with Shamu. He loves these intelligent creatures so much that he decides to spend his life teaching them to perform stupid pet tricks for tourists. Then the boy's face is superimposed on the face of one of the performing male trainers – supposedly the boy is the younger version of the very person in the show! OMG!
Later, there is a "passing of the torch" scene where the trainer takes a girl from the audience who tells us that she wants to be an animal trainer when she grows up. She is brought to the water's edge for a moment of communion with Shamu, lord of the ocean. The trainer takes his hand-carved (by Balinese carvers) necklace and puts it on the girl's neck. More swelling symphonic crescendo assault our eardrums to make the point very clear to the cynics and the severely retarded that is a Defining Moment.
Sinclair Lewis once said: 'when fascism comes to this country, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross.' The Shamu extravaganza has all the signifiers of modern fascism - military boosterism, corporate sponsorship, screaming guitars and Riefenstahl camera angles. But Lewis forgets to note that when fascism arrives if will need to look good in a cowboy hat and riding a horse. Tamed animals evoke a kind of mythic street cred - which is why Reagan always liked to be seen on a horse. The cross Lewis mentions echoed, in this instance, by the symbol of the Orca's tail, worn as a necklace, initiating a child into a kind of fraternity of faux environmentalism - the biblical version of environmentalism that is summed up neatly in Genesis 1:26 "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."
The ideals of homegrown American fascism - subservience to corporate overlords, jingoism, domination of the natural world are all present in the Seaworld "Believe" Shamuganza, but here the indoctrination is primarily aimed at children - something so insidious that even Lewis couldn't imagine it.
Later, a Pentecostal revival meeting beat picks up, the video panels spin around on vertical turntables, the name "SHAMU!" is screamed at us from the soundtrack. We are taught the Shamu Wave - similar to the Wayne's World "We're Not Worthy!" gesture. Then we are told get on our feet and and chant "SHAMU!" as six killer whales circle the tank splashing water on the front row, shoot into the air and flip, launch the trainers out of the sea on the tips of their noses, and allow the trainers to ride on their backs like surfers. Drop a tab of acid and you might cross-reference the final moments of "Apocalypse Now" as a water buffalo and Marlon Brando are butchered in a kaleidoscopic frenzy of rock-and-roll pagan animist death orgy. Where is William Burroughs when you need him? I want the Orcas to rise up out of the water, launching themselves into the front row, crushing the Tampa Senior Class of '08. I want the trainers to be tossed in the air and then caught and gobbled up, arterial spray arcing into the bleachers, the pristine blue water billowing scarlet. I want the video screens to dislodge from the trusses and fall into the pool, electrocuting any mammals left alive.
But that's just me.
PS: I wrote this a couple of days ago, and woke up to read in the blogs that a dolphin had been killed, and another injured, in a mid-air collision at Orlando SeaWorld. Life is surreal