How many people surprised you when they fell hard for The Cove? Friends who hardly pay the least bit of attention to wildlife were emphatically telling me about the fate of the Flippers long before the movie was nominated for and won an Oscar. It got me thinking, what is it about those dolphins' story that really spoke to people, and how could we harness those warm fuzzy feelings and make them work for the larger issues, like, ahem, that big oil spill happening now perhaps?
When I first watched The Cove, the documentary about a town in Japan that has been capturing and seemingly senselessly killing dolphins, I thought, "This movie will make a difference." I thought it was interesting the way the cove was guarded from the cameras and from public transparency in the same way slaughterhouses are in America. It's a lot easier for the collective conscious to focus on one single issue, especially when we don't want the product associated with it -- in this case dolphin meat. Even the oceans in general seem to be an idea too abstract, or maybe too big, for us to be concerned with. When only a few months after the movie won the Oscar the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) gave no additional protection to marine animals, I didn't hear many Flipper fans cry out for justice.
I still think the movie brought and will continue to bring attention, and possibly legislation that will force those particular dolphin killers to stop. But, I don't think it will be the lightening rod for a larger change that I wished it were. I see The Cove going the way of foie gras. Something people feel very passionate about but that ultimately affects only a very small percentage of a larger problem.
In Mark Caro's book, The Foie Gras Wars, he gathers many opinions on this quite infamous food. To me, it's summed up quite well by Greg Christian, a leading figure in bringing organic foods to Chicago's schools. "I really think it's a function of people's unwillingness to look at their unconscious guilt around the bigger things that are happening in life...In Chicago 50 or 75 people eat foie gras in a night, right? And there's probably a million people a night eating beef that's raised really inhumanely," he said. Whatever your thoughts are on foie gras I think this sums up the importance of banning it.
The current issue confusing the consciousness is the Gulf Oil Spill. We can't even decide on the right name for the spill, let alone a larger change regarding the issue of offshore drilling. I imagine when oily birds wash up on shore we'll naturally want to wash them, but this isn't a clear-cut answer to the survival of these birds. The soap will clean off those visible victims of the spill. The oil will be washed away, but would it make more sense to lobby for stricter laws on drilling for oil? Are there bigger issues we miss when we focus on a small number of victims?
What does it take for a mass reaction like this to happen? Some form of seemingly meaningless "torture" that is used to create a product many people don't really want. What does it take to make a plate of foie gras, some dolphin meat or an oil-coated bird? Is it any worse then a steak, a spicy tuna roll or the entire concept of offshore drilling? Are these smaller issues consuming the energy we should be spending on the bigger problems? Do we need a clear villain, a clear victim and a clear choice to make? Does it only work when it's an issue we can wrap our heads around and a choice that isn't too much of a sacrifice for us to make? Do the people who are trying to affect change on a larger scale need to work within these boundaries, or do they need to tell people that there are issues that really don't matter?
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