Tag Archives: documentary

You should watch Blackfish

If you haven’t watched Blackfish on Netflix, do it immediately. It’s definitely one of the best documentary films I’ve seen in my life. Composed mostly of interviews with former trainers at SeaWorld amusement parks, Blackfish argues that it’s barbaric and morally wrong for human beings to hold killer whales in captivity, that regardless of their ability to learn and perform tricks and other complex behaviors, orcas simply aren’t meant to be living their lives in these fish tanks, prisons really, where the lack of stimulus often leads to aggressive behavior not seen in the wild.


The movie is powerful. I watched it a few days ago, and I’ve been carrying around a pit in the center of my stomach ever since, a weird sort of indefinable sadness lurking in the periphery of my thoughts. I’m not like a whale lover or anything, I mean, I certainly respect the majesty and the intelligence of these creatures. We share the same planet yet they occupy a totally different world, experience reality in ways that we can only guess.

And that’s, I think, kind of the root behind why I’m feeling so down. That while I can guess as to how the whales feel, out in the wild, in captivity, I really have no idea, and I’ll never have any idea. One of the trainers in the film looks back at his time with SeaWorld, he remarks that he used to feel like he had a special connection with his whale. But after having been removed from the situation, he starts questioning, was it really a connection? Or was it merely anthropomorphized responses motivated by the fish used to reward each behavior?

Who knows what a whale is thinking? I look at my dog, who knows what my dog is thinking? And this is where I start to get really bummed out. We adopted our dog Steve when he was only six weeks old. We were living in Ecuador at the time, and this flea-covered animal, barely bigger than a baseball, was all but thrown at us by a well-intentioned neighbor. “Here you go, look, a puppy,” was the gist of it, and we raised him, we brought him back to the United States with us, giving this animal that should have been living on the streets a life of luxury and comfort.

But is that what Steve wants? I know that he likes to eat, and if I’m holding out a dog biscuit or a piece of rawhide, he’ll sit, he’ll lay down, he’ll give me his paws. But if the reward weren’t a part of the equation, is there any way he’d be doing what he’s doing? Steve spends a lot of the time sleeping on the couch, or looking out the window. Is there a part of him that wishes he had his freedom? How big of a part is it?

It all boils down to the fact that, I have no idea what he’s thinking. I look at him and I make assumptions based on his behavior that he’s happy or not happy. And I do love my dog, and I really do hope that he’s happy. When I come home after work and he’s jumping at the door, I like to think that he’s excited to see me, rather than just excited at the potential that I might be moved to ask him to do a trick to be rewarded with a dog biscuit. When I’m sitting down on the couch and he lies down on top of me, I hope to think that he enjoys my presence, that he’s not begrudgingly using me as a substitute for what should be physical contact with other dogs.

Whales aren’t dogs, I know that. I know that dogs have a history of domestication, of a mutual partnership with human beings that dates far back throughout history. But dogs aren’t people either. And I can’t even tell what other people are thinking most of the time. If you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll probably always smile and say, “Great!” But am I really doing great? Maybe. Maybe I’m super pissed off. But I just want to come across as cheerful, because that’s going to get me farther in life than being pissed off.

I guess I just have to do the best I can, to try my best to be empathetic, to treat everybody with compassion and kindness. But there are always a million other questions that I’ll never really be able to touch. Like what the cow feels as it’s led to the slaughter. Or what the cockroach feels as I stamp it out under my shoe when I see it running across my living room floor. It’s too much. These moral dilemmas, I don’t have any convincing answers to make myself feel better.

But seriously, watch Blackfish, because it’s a great movie, and it made me certain of at least one thing: don’t go to SeaWorld. Don’t support them caging those whales. Fuck that.

You’ve got to watch this great documentary

I had this thought earlier today, like I could be a great documentarian if I wanted to, that if only I had the equipment, and the knowledge of how to use that equipment, I’d make some of the best documentaries in the history of film. Like these headphones that I’m holding in my hand right now. Where were they made, in China? Where? That’s where I’d start. I’d take my crew, my top-of-the-line cameras and lights and unobtrusive microphone packs.


If only I had the time, and the money to be able to commit to supporting myself while I figured out which Chinese factory these headphones came from, and then even more money to book a flight, to gain access to the assembly line. I’m sure I’d have to talk to some sort of a party official. I guess I’d have to learn how to speak Chinese.

If only I could speak Chinese, I’d make one of the most gripping documentaries about Chinese people making mass-consumed cheap throwaway products, stuff that we get for free over here, like when we buy a cellphone, or when we fly on a plane. I’d follow around just one guy, like his story would embody my story, the story being, look at this man, he’s just a cog in the machine. But he’s a person.

I’d probably have to either bribe my way through whichever party officials would be in charge of allowing an American to just waltz in and paint this cinematographic representation of how bleak factory life must be for the average Chinese laborer, “Bleak, but tinged with hope!” again, my Chinese would have to be spot on, or I’d have to pay a lot of money for a translator clever enough to understand exactly what I’m trying to say, in English, while at the same time being able to deceive the party officials into making it like I’m trying to capture all of the positive aspects of China’s industrial workforce.

I’m sure it wouldn’t be as simple of pointing and shooting, like, there would probably have to be planned out questions, all of the filming employing multiple cameras, so that while he’d be pondering the answer to some existential question, something like, “What does it all mean?” I’d be able to switch between the two cameras, one of them aimed just off of the center of his face, his pensive stare positioned just behind where I’d be if you could see me standing behind the camera, and then the other camera would be a profile shot, and it would have some grainy filter, and it would be in black and white.

I hadn’t considered subtitles. I’d have to use subtitles, right? Yeah, definitely, if even just for my own sake, you know, assuming that I hadn’t learned Chinese. No way I’d be able to learn Chinese. I mean, I’m not saying that it’s impossible. I’m sure that if I absolutely had to … what I mean is, I think that my brain is physically capable of learning Chinese … but subtitles, definitely subtitles. What font would I use? Do documentarians have to outsource the font work, like they do in comic books? Couldn’t I just pick out something myself?

If only I was well versed in documentaries. I think I’ve only ever seen like maybe six or seven documentaries, total. That’s not a lot of real-life documentary experience to then use as the basis for my very own documentary. Or maybe that’s what I’d need, a complete outsider’s perspective. I’d show up at the documentary film awards and everybody would be like, “Who is this nobody?” and I’d win every category hands-down, even the judges wouldn’t be able to close their mouths, hanging wide open in shock, like, he did it, this guy just completely changed the genre forever, for the better.

I remember when I was in college I saw that documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. There’s this opening scene where George W. Bush is making some broad generalization about something, you know, I don’t even remember what he was talking about really, but the camera zooms out and it turns out that he’s golfing, he says something like, “Now watch this drive.” I remember thinking, man, fucking George W. Bush. If that guy spent less time golfing and more time governing, well, whatever, fucking Bush.

But now it’s like, every once in a while I’ll see something on right-wing news, when it’s a slow news day they’ll point the finger at Obama, taking a vacation, or playing golf. They throw out barbs like, “This president has spent more time on the golf course than any other president in history!” And I get so mad, I’m just like, back off, all right? He’s the president. That’s a tough job. Everybody’s got to unwind, right?