February 26, 2010
Can't they just let the show go on?
The hysteria over the killing of a trainer by a killer whale has now reached a media crescendo -- replete with psychoanalysis of the animal's motives, often in the context of a narrative that sees man as the oppressor. This is causing some people with knowledge about animals to roll their eyes and remark the obvious.
Isn't it strange that the killer whale is being characterised as aggressive? Killer whales are top predators. You wouldn't be surprised if a tiger lashed out at someone. Is it because we are so fond of cetaceans and their intelligence that we forget what they are? Or are we embarrassed at keeping them captive and so make excuses for them?Via Glenn Reynolds, whose response to the title of the piece ("Killer whale: the clue's in the name") was "Gee, do you think?"
The New York Times' observation about money reminded me that this is about show business after all, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. When I was a kid I used to love to go to the circus, and one of the favorite attractions, of course, involved acts involving lion acts. The people who worked with them were called "lion tamers." In those days, everyone knew that because lions are dangerous, being a lion tamer was a dangerous occupation. A bit like being a race car driver. There was always that chance that a lion might be having a bad day and just take a fatal swipe at the guy. Or maybe decide that he wasn't in the mood for having a human's head stuck his mouth. Lions could just be that way.
Even the "harmless" and entertaining elephant is a huge animal with gigantic feet that can crush a human being. One wrong step by either an elephant or a circus performer could easily have resulted in a fatality.
Although I never saw an incident like that, such things did happen, and when they did, the circus band would strike up Stars and Stripes Forever:
In show business, particularly theater and the circus, this piece is called the Disaster March. It is traditional code signaling a life-threatening emergency. This helps theater personnel to handle events and organize the audience's exit without panic. Circus bands never play it under any other circumstances.The idea was also that the show must go on. I don't know about today (and I don't even want to look at the animal rights sites) but in those days, anyone who attempted to psychoanalyze a lion for mauling a performer would have been ridiculed. Lions were considered dangerous animals, not victims. These days, I'm sure I'd be considered a villain in AR circles for admitting that I liked the circus.
But people still like circuses and circus acts, even if they have to be rebadged as "marine mammal parks." Or "animal rescue" TV shows.
posted by Eric on 02.26.10 at 09:00 PM
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