Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Captive Art

Summer is here! And along with it, the season of family vacations to theme parks near and far. For those of you planning a trip to one of the SeaWorld parks, I hope you will take the time to watch, or re-watch, "Blackfish" before your departure.

The documentary challenges the propriety of keeping killer whales (orcas) in captivity by examining the life of one particular orca, Tilikum, and the multiple human fatalities associated with him. It was made without the cooperation of SeaWorld, so in fairness you should also read their response. However, please do not get bogged down in the technicalities of marine science or filmmaking. For there are larger questions at stake here, as theologian Beth Haile has written about:

The film encourages us to reexamine our commitment to non-human animals and ask whether what we are committed to is the well-being of the animal itself, or the human that loves the animal … We need to stretch ourselves beyond a narrow anthropocentrism that sees all of creation existing for the purpose of humans … Orcas do not need humans to glorify God and live out the purpose of their existence. In fact, human concerns may be precisely what is standing in the way of true flourishing for orcas.

"The greatest lie, the greatest scam of our lives is that this world was created for us, for our pleasure and enjoyment, for our dominance. What stupid, arrogant animals we are. We were created for it. We are simply the audience. What would true art be without an audience? Only in this work, the artist painted us inside the canvas. We are art and audience all at the same time. We are part of the grandest work ever created, ever dreamed."

Am I trying to guilt you into boycotting SeaWorld? No. I have been there in the past, and may well go back in the future. But if we do visit, let us do so with open eyes and humble hearts. Yes, we are here to admire the artwork, but none of it belongs to us. And if things had gone slightly different over the millennia, perhaps Tilikum and his kin would be the audience and we would be the pieces on display. Just how entertaining or informative would life in a cage, or a bathtub, be then?