Friday, November 8, 2013

Blackfish and The Cove: My challenges to you

When it comes to the natural world, we humans are some of the most selfish creatures God put on this earth. I am tired of trying to saying this nicely. I’m tired of trying to be politically correct. There aren’t a whole lot of “issues” I get on a soapbox about, but people, we have to stop supporting dolphin and orca shows (and other similar exhibits). We have to.

A couple years ago, I watched The Cove, a documentary about how marine parks of all types and sizes acquire the dolphins they use in their shows. Ever gone to one of those? Ever had a “dolphin experience”? Well, “your” dolphins were there (in captivity, remember) because they were stolen from their home—oh, and their friends and families were murdered in the infamous cove.

So here’s my first challenge: Be human enough to watch The Cove. It will take less than two hours of your time. It will cost you MUCH less (in dollars) than it would cost to go to a dolphin show or participate in a “dolphin experience,” and it will change the way you look at those parks for the rest of your life. I guarantee it.

Tonight I watched Blackfish, a documentary about orcas—killer whales—in captivity for our enjoyment. Here’s what I learned in Blackfish:

(1) Orcas are very social creatures. That’s why they strand themselves in huge numbers on beaches. They refuse to leave each other’s side.

(2) Females live as long as human females—sometimes even beyond a hundred years. Males live at least fifty or sixty years. Sea World will tell you that when the orcas in their custody live to be twenty or twenty-five or even thirty, they’re living longer than those in the wild. Sea World lies.

(3) A female’s offspring remains with her for ALL OF ITS LIFE. All of its life, that is, unless it is stolen by captors working for Sea World and other groups like them.

(4) An orca trainer is never really safe with the orca. After decades in a small pool (compared to the ocean where they can swim a hundred miles a day if they want!), being deprived of food, being contained with other orcas who can be aggressive and cause physical injuries, some orcas get frustrated and take that frustration out on their trainers. How happy would you be after spending twenty-five years in a bathtub?

So here’s my next challenge: Watch Blackfish. It will take much less than two hours of your time, and you will be a better person for it. You will think differently about what we as “the intelligent species” do to those other species who are “less intelligent” (except orcas feel emotions more deeply than we do and in ways we aren’t capable of).

My third, final, and biggest challenge is this: Stop supporting these places. Stop going.

See, here’s the thing: Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Your kids don’t HAVE to see those shows. Your kids don’t HAVE to swim with the dolphins. They will not grow up to be better people for having done so, but you will have contributed to the early deaths of these amazing creatures by supporting the companies that put them on display. Thousands of dolphins are killed every year off the coast of Taiji as new dolphins are caught and sold for these shows. Orcas die many decades sooner than they should after living horrible, sad lives in tiny little fish bowls. Why? So you could have an hour’s worth of entertainment?

We need, as the human race to be different and better than this. It should matter to all of us. Instead of taking your kids to these shows, educate them about these animals, about  amazing creatures with whom we get to share this world. Rent videos. If you can afford to do so, take them on a whale-watching tour. Teach them to respect the natural world, to stand in awe of it, not to try to manipulate it for their own enjoyment. Then they will be better people. 

We're the only ones who can end these shameful, harmful acts against nature. It's up to us. What are you going to do?

Monday, November 4, 2013

In the Time of the Butterflies: Required reading

I should begin this review of In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez by confessing I am not the greatest history student. I remember little from what I was taught in high school, but some from what I learned in college. I was an English major, so I took only what I needed to meet my requirements for my degree, but I don’t believe I was ever taught that the Dominican Republic—such a close neighbor of ours—was ruled by a savage dictator for more than thirty years.

I know it now—and will never forget it—because I read Alvarez’s book. You should read it too.

In the Time of the Butterflies is a novel based on real sisters—the Mirabal sisters: Patria, Minerva, MarÍa Teresa, and Dedé—three of whom were active members of the resistance against the Trujillo dictatorship. Dedé was the only one who refused to be part of it, and she was the only one who survived it.

I’m giving away nothing by telling you this; that part of their story is clear from the beginning. In fact, that’s part of what makes this story so heart wrenching. You know they’re going to die, and then you grow to respect them, to be inspired by them, and ultimately—if you’re like me—fall in love with them, taking them into your heart as if they were family or friends you wished you had known.

Alvarez came to this story because of her own family history. Her father was a part of the Dominican resistance and fled to New York in 1960 to escape death. Alvarez had grown up hearing stories about the “mariposas” (the butterflies), as the Mirabal sisters were known, but she wouldn’t fully understand their story until she was a young adult and back in the Dominican Republic for one of her many visits. Alvarez was able to interview Dedé and Minou, Minerva’s daughter. She visited the museum where many of the sisters’ personal belongings are on display. She researched their lives, she began to imagine them as real people, and then she gave us the gift that is In the Time of the Butterflies.

Yes, it’s historical fiction. Yes, she took some liberties as novelists do. But I challenge you to read this book and not be moved by what the people of the Dominican Republic endured. I challenge you to forget these sisters and everything they stood for, everything—and everyone—they loved. I don’t think I ever will. I don't think it's possible.