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Webster’s dictionary defines the term propaganda to be, “Information – especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view”. Typically when a person thinks of propaganda, visions of war posters and short videos come to mind stemming from where they were heavily used by the United States during the Cold War era. Techniques such as “building a false mental image”, “creating a dilemma”, and “instilling anger or fear through the misuse of information” are pieced together to sell the viewer a filtered, convincing and entirely one-sided story in hopes of creating a call to arms. However, what would not typically come to mind is something like Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish (2013); an expository documentary which was comprised of skewed facts, false experts, manipulative imagery and a heavy reliance on a viewer’s emotional response in order to present SeaWorld as a morally corrupt institution that would drive an orca to the point of insanity that it would kill one of their trainers.
While it is still possible that SeaWorld may not have been completely guilt-free in the events that may have led up to the death of Dawn Brancheau, Blackfish is certainly not a revelation about the matter. The documentary pairs audio with the 911 calls from Brancheau’s death with footage that doesn’t have anything to do with the event that took place. Not only that – but in the 911 call, the caller reveals that Tilikum still has the arm of Brancheau and has eaten it, when in reality that never happened. They try to make the sheriff look as if they are working with SeaWorld to cover up that transpired with Tilikum, when it turns out that the footage of the sheriff reporting on the scene simply didn’t have the full story. Testimonies from SeaWorld’s former trainers are taken and made to look like eye-witness accounts, but SeaWorld claims that none of the trainers in the documentary were actually at the park that day, and had no true accountability about the matter. The biggest manipulation is that the documentary shows a lot of footage with trainers in the water with orcas while talking about Tilikum, but SeaWorld also stated that no trainer was actually ever allowed to be in the water with Tilikum at any time since he had arrive at SeaWorld after being taken away from Sea Land, where he had supposedly killed another girl. We were led to believe that Tilikum was solely responsible for the girl’s death because of two eye-witness accounts, but nothing official was ever presented to the viewer – more emotional manipulation.
The documentary continuously relies on the viewer to think that SeaWorld held the trainer responsible for her own death due to the repercussions of safety standards not being upheld, but SeaWorld felt that it was simply a very unfortunate accident. The documentary also proposes, through the voice of former trainers, that none of the staff is prepared well enough to work with orcas. SeaWorld disputes those claims and reveals that each trainer is prepared for years to work with the animals, and have numerous safety meeting and standards that need to be met in order to continue working with the animals. Heartstrings are also pulled in an attempt to create outrage towards SeaWorld when we are led to believe that the facility willingly separates mothers from the calves for no reason other than money. The two examples they use imply that two babies are taken from their mothers, when in reality one calf was 12 when separated and they other was nearly 5, the latter only being taken away from the group because of its propensity to disrupt shows and training.
Neither the videos by SeaWorld in answer to Blackfish, or the documentary itself are ethical examples of expository documentary. The videos released by SeaWorld were only made to disprove any assumptions made about the treatment of orcas and other sea life at SeaWorld because of the accusations being raised against it. Blackfish was even less ethical in its creation, because it completely misconstrued facts and most likely caused a great loss of revenue all due to what I believe to be an anti-captivity agenda. The manipulation of footage, and the bias that Blackfish was created from takes away any of the film’s credibility and causes a loss of claim to anything ethical – it is a corrupt and well-sewn together piece.
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