Veteran Filmmaker Criticizes Violent "Wildlife Pornography" on TV and at Amusement Parks


Chris Palmer, director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University, argues in an op-ed at that the tragic accident at SeaWorld Orlando should draw renewed attention to the ethics and safety of keeping Orcas as captive performing animals for spectators. As Palmer, a veteran of more than 25 years of wildlife filmmaking, writes:

Orcas and other large predators should not be held in captivity unless those doing so can make an overpoweringly persuasive case for it -- mainly that the animal's release into the wild, perhaps after an injury, will mean certain, immediate death. One reason behind my conviction: The lesson too many take away from marine park shows is wild animals are like pets. Some can be trained to obey a human's command on occasion, but no matter how much they may learn to tolerate human interaction, these animals are far from tame.

Palmer argues that amusement parks are part of a larger entertainment media industry trend--led by television programming and film--that promotes increasingly violent depictions of wildlife while promoting among audiences a false impression of the nature of animals, especially predators. As Palmer writes of this trend towards violent "wildlife pornography":

We are more comfortable watching from behind the safety of a clear barricade or on TV from the comfort of our couch. Here, we see animals as people-friendly, cuddly or as menacingly violent. We anthropomorphize them as having feelings and reactions similar our own. This makes the death of 40-year-old whale trainer Dawn Brancheau surprising to us. That it doesn't happen more often is the surprise.

There is one other aspect of our modern distance from nature that I believe we should acknowledge -- it is of a piece with this discussion.

I would suggest the dark flip side of audiences flocking to benign animal shows at theme parks is the impulse to watch increasingly violent wildlife films and TV shows.

Viewers thrill to films that show wild animals mating or hunting prey, complete with gnashing fangs, ripping flesh and spilling blood. It is, after all, an adrenaline rush. And what audiences want, entertainment organizations aim to provide by going to increasingly dangerous extremes.

The aggressive tactics used to draw animals to film sites and capture unnatural scenes, such as man-made feeding frenzies, produce what some call "wildlife pornography" -- films in which animals are exploited for viewers' pleasure and funders' return on investment.

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I really understand his point. I agree and had felt this way prior to this trainer accident. Orcas needs are not well met in captivity. If we are going to keep large marine mammals in captivity, they should not perform stunts with people. Nor should they be in such SMALL habitats.
I don't like to watch nature shows that are too 'natural.' I don't need to see animals kill and eat another to know that is what they do. I'm not suggesting nature be sanitized but the films and footage we create don't always have to be as graphic as some are.
I don't think it is wrong to think animals might have similar feelings as humans. It doesn't mean, that these feelings or behaviors have moral or ethical associations as humans actions or feelings usually do. Animals actions usually just ARE what they are. Most don't behave in manners to punish another with its feelings, that is purely human.

Reflect on how we used to treat Elephants in captivity, some rebelled violently at the hands of their circus trainers. We even electrocuted a circus elephant in the 1930s after it harmed its trainer or killed him. (not positive about the decade.)
It is one thing to study, observe and admire animals. It is quite another to denigrate them to the level of clown for peoples entertainment.

'films in which animals are exploited for viewers' pleasure and funders' return on investment.' like we(humans) don't provide for those animals were 'exploiting'. What's next, an edict granting freedom to all pets(as soon as there released >90% within a year). How about we limit the hippie thing only to animal abuse(i.e torture) and not draw up a Magna Carta for the inferior beings. I mean what point is the saying 'don't treat your kids like animals' when the animals are more and more given akin of rights. Animals are property and as such, should be given a value.