As I walked out of the old apartment today in an attempt to clear my head, I made a mental note to write an article championing Canadian band Barenaked Ladies and their decision to cancel their upcoming 2014 appearance at SeaWorld’s ‘Bands, Brew & BBQ’, event scheduled for February next year.
This followed a petition that was launched by fellow Canadian and abusement park activist Mike Garrett, whose focus on Marineland has resulted in what is quickly becoming known in the industry as the ‘blackfish effect’.
The petition was picked up by fans of the film and band alike and within one week, the band’s drummer Tyler Stewart responded via Twitter that they had seen the film and no longer felt comfortable performing at the gig. He even made a joke reference to Star Trek IV which features a strong save the whales theme and as all Big Bang Theory fans already know, can only strengthen their somewhat geeky ties. It especially appealed to me as a Trek fan. It was a clear case of making the call and answer that fans wanted.
I for one was really touched that the band listened to their fans, took the time to watch the film and responded so positively and in fact, when I first heard about it, somebody had to pinch me to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I have to say that if I had a $1,000,000, I’d be the first to ask them to perform a concert to herald the story of Blackfish. They are certainly getting nothing but positive PR following their decision.
I wonder if Tilikum still remembers the sensation of swimming wild and free, something akin to falling for the first time I imagine. Instead he merely gets to do a few laps and bows at the end of the show to be told what a good boy, before going back to his lonely pool, always away from the other whales and now people too as we well know.
Now there is a flood of other petitions trying to get in line with this new movement and targeting the remaining bands and artists at the event. So far with Blackfish and spreading the message behind the film, it’s all been done in the most part with powerful use of social media with tweet-storms and Facebook set around broadcasts and network screenings. But now, the actions of the Barenaked Ladies can only bolster the campaign and those remaining on the play-list should be wary of doing too little, too late in the wake of such negative PR.
A corporation that has been somewhat stunned and surprised by the backlash of such negative PR and for ignoring public opinion is Macy’s, the famous US retail corporation that also own Bloomingdales. Why, oh why given Blackfish’s huge news value at the moment and exposure they decided to let SeaWorld participate for the first time ever in the annual thanks-giving parade is beyond me. Don’t these multi-million dollar organisations have PR and marketing gurus onboard to advise them on this kind of public image disaster? Suddenly, Macy’s appear to be not just participating in SeaWorld’s image crisis plan, but joint villains in promoting captivity. The parade itself was subject to a hard-hitting protest from PETA, led by a 12-year old who seemed more in touch with public opinion than the 162 year old ‘family-focused’ store can now ever be. If Macy’s plan was to show the stock-market they are a cold-hearted corporation that puts $ before patrons just like everyone else before Black Friday, then this was definitely successful. On the other hand, tweets of people cutting up their store cards throughout parade day probably not so good a message for the investors. It’s a little similar to SeaWorld forgetting to mention Blackfish when they originally floated a few months after its release, only to have to back-track recently and update their investor notes significantly when their parent announced they wouldn’t be against getting rid of their majority share. Ignore social media campaigns and public opinion at your peril is the message here. It only takes a few clicks and follows for something to go viral, especially if it’s negative and stupidly ironic, like featuring a SeaWorld float in your parade that depicts free-swimming killer whales in open-ocean.
And that’s the message I also send to Martina McBride and Willie Nelson who are still on the books to play at the Bands, Brew & BBQ SeaWorld gig next year. I only mention them as I am a genuine, album-buying, concert-going fan of both. I actually saw Martina McBride at Indigo 2 last year. She was fantastic and seems a genuinely lovely person when she interacts with fans. Plus, you know, green eyes and red-hair – I was a fan before I’d even heard her sing. But I wouldn’t be being myself if I didn’t urge her to follow BNL’s example. In the case of Morgan and Lolita, we need to free these born wild angels and surrender to our moral conscious. Tilikum on the other hand is consigned to being a concrete angel, trapped in a pool with drilled out teeth and a floppy fin. Like a bird with a broken wing, he sits unmoving and wounded for hours at a time. Nobody can watch Morgan being pestered and followed by Keto almost twice her size and call her a happy girl. Would we dare look into Lolita’s eyes and ask her where would you be, if you could be anywhere? We know the answer wouldn’t be an illegally sized tank Miami Seaquarium, whatever you say. Anyway, the idea of one of my favourite singers performing at SeaWorld chills me, straight to the bone.
To a certain extent, I understand the extra hill that Martina McBride and especially Willie Nelson has to climb here. It’s easy to joke that a good old’ boy like Willie wouldn’t want to be seen as part of any kind of green or environmental movement with a typical country and western fan-base that might consist of any number of meat-eating red necks and liberal hating cowboys. But that’s a huge tar-brushing that does little good and bares little truth. For instance, I believe that Martina McBride is a good-hearted woman and will respond to the call. I just happen to be a county and western fan for whom the story and message of Blackfish is simply always on my mind at the moment, call me ‘crazy’ if you will. Tilikum probably doesn’t appreciate that it’s funny how time slips by when you spend your day saying hello walls under a blue sky for instance, but Willie might. Maybe it’s time for him to get on the road again and skip the SeaWorld gig too.
And it’s worth reminding everyone that Willie is a well-known activist in his own right. He has supported family-run farms, pioneered bio-diesel plants and usage, is an advocate for the better treatment of horses alongside the Animal Welfare Institute as well as speaking out against the cruelty in the lives of dairy calves. He is of course probably most well known for his support of the LGBT movement and the legalisation of marijuana. This guy is not a typical cowboy and not immune to the plight of animals in captivity. Let’s just encourage him and all other bands and artists on the Bands, Brews & BBQ playlist gently and with love to watch Blackfish and make up their own minds, just like BNL did.