PERFORMANCE AND ITS DISCONTENTS
“…reality rises up within the spectacle, and the spectacle is real. This reciprocal alienation is the essence and the support of the existing society. ”—Guy Debord, “Society of the Spectacle”
While visiting the grands, I went to a dolphin show at their local zoo/aquarium. They packed us in like the sardines they feed the finny performers as a reward for the efforts. The trainer-in-command talked of interspecies cooperation; she even mentioned love. But it looked more like something else to me. What do you call it when sentient beings are taken from their homes and made, for the profit of others, to perform a minstrel-like show? Humans performing in black wet suits, i.e. dressed up to look like their aquatic servants, added to that effect.
OK perhaps I’m being too harsh; sitting on a precariously narrow ledge in a cramped cacophonous coliseum put me on edge. I’m sure the dolphins are well treated, even loved by their trainers, and they have maybe even accepted their new home as well, home. An aside: their environment is nowhere near as “natural” as that of the zoo’s orangutans who are really better off there than on a would-be palm oil farm where they came from. Their new digs, not without some irony, looks more like a corporate HQ than a prison.
This brings me to the question that came to me while I waited for the show: who’s better off; them or us? The show dolphins are swimming pretty much like they would do in an ocean and they get positive feedback for their efforts while we humans are involuntarily crammed in as tight as possible as well as paying for the privilege. On top of that, these dolphins have free health care and defined benefit retirement plans, do we?
We humans don’t have it that good; our society is a much qualified blessing. Neither civilized humans nor captive dolphins have much say in the big picture that surrounds their lives. Both species wake up each day, perform for fish or money, go back to sleep, then repeat until they can’t. Tragedy can befall us and end the cycle early or we can, per Melville’s Bartleby, say “I would prefer not to.” Can, do dolphins utter such statements? And what consequences would the face if they did? Is there a dolphin version of New York City’s Tombs? I doubt it.
Read “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street” here: http://www.bartleby.com/129/
and Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle” here: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/debord/society.htm
Plus some more upbeat stories for your reading pleasure…