Thoughts on Blackfish

Blackfish (2013) is a widely available documentary that brings light to the unethical treatment of orcas in marine parks, in particular SeaWorld. As we learnt in our lecture, the screening of Blackfish was accompanied by a successful social media campaign, television screenings and online streaming. Viewers were encouraged to tweet about the documentary and vocally support the orcas and condemn SeaWorld. SeaWorld itself was unsuccessful at improving their image, losing sponsorship and an attempt to refute claims made in Blackfish resulting in more attention being drawn to the documentary.

While Blackfish is unarguably focused heavily on condemning SeaWorld and the practice of keeping orcas captive rather than presenting facts in a more unbiased manner, it makes no secret of its aims. The producers are very affective at anthropomorphising the orcas, making them relatable, social and family oriented beings.

I personally found watching Blackfish to be an experience that was both interesting and heartbreaking. I ordinarily do not think much about animal rights and so credit the filmmakers in building up such a reaction for myself. I think one of the reasons I was so emotionally affected by the documentary was the use of the trainers, hunters and scientists reflecting on their experiences, appearing visibly upset by tragic events relating to the orcas and showing such love and care for their welfare. In particular, I found that the ignorance of the trainers, who often repeated sentiments of not knowing or understanding what they were doing and the impact of keeping the animals captive. Seeing the pain of others and being shown how the orcas interact in the wild as family units entirely motivated by social needs.

A review of Blackfish and The Cove (2009), a documentary about the annual slaughter of dolphins in Japan, by Amber E. George, discusses many of these features. I read the article after writing my initial thoughts and was interested to find that similar ideas of the empathetic nature of the trainers and the emphasis on the family bonds and sociality of the orcas where mentioned by George. George also noted that although films such as these show traumatic images such as bleeding and wounded orcas and orcas attacking humans they also include beautiful moments, what she refers to as “serenity.” I agree with this and think that the moments of whales and trainers interacting peacefully make the traumatic scenes all the more powerful.

While showing a one sided view of the situation rather than the basic facts, Blackfish is very successful in drawing in an audience and encouraging them to actively feel outrage on behalf of the orcas. I will finish with a quote from George which sums up my feelings about Blackfish and the implications the film possesses:

“Through these astonishing films, we see glimpses into the dark side of humanity and learn important lessons about greed, politics and the nature of animal    ethics.”

The Lens of Suffering

Suffering is something that no one wants to do but it is something that is popularly portrayed. Poverty porn is an aspect of this that is defined perfectly by The Conversation: “…both Westerners’ portrayal of global inequality, disease and hunger and also to the distorted presentation of disadvantage by the advantaged.” (Threadgold, 2015) In this review of the SBS program Struggle Street, Steven Threadgold (2105) discusses the less than ethical production of the show and quotes residents and Mount Druitt’s mayor is saying that the portrayal of individuals is unfair and exploitative.

Another review published on The Conversation takes a different view, saying that Struggle Street is important viewing that avoids stereotypes and dramatisation as much as possible while remembering that a program must still be economically viable and gain a large audience (McNair, 2015). McNair (2015) makes the point that such television brings policy makers into question about how to improve and diminish poverty in Australia, but what this second review does not consider is that the behaviour presented in the program, for example drugs, dis-functionality and addiction, is also exhibited by wealthy people but, as Threadgold (2015) says, the exploitative television is not being made about people who are in a position of privilege.

For me, watching Struggle Street was not a great experience. I recognised the ‘struggle’ of individuals in the program and do not dispute the fact of people leading these lives, what I found difficult was the tone of program. The narrator in particular spoke in a way that continually pushed the efforts of the poor in the face of adversity while ignoring the fact that those living in poverty are not the only people to live dysfunctional lives. I agree with McNair (2015) that the marginalised of society should be recognised and issues such as poverty should be in the public eye. However, I am more inclined to agree with Threadgold (2015) in that Struggle Street is not the way to go about this and that the dramatisation of suffering is not the best way to make a point.

Australia is not unique in showing low socio economic citizens as entertainment. The UK had a similar program Benefits Street in 2014, a year before Struggle Street. Research by Paterson, Coffey-Glover and Peplow in Discourse and Society  conducted focus groups using clips from the program to understand how people with varying backgrounds and experiences with welfare respond to this type of visual representation of poverty (2015). At the time of airing, Benefits Street received numerous complaints and, like Struggle Street, was cited as poverty porn (Paterson et al, 2015). The research found that although participants were expected to react in a judgemental way towards the clips they were shown the researchers found the participants used what they saw to build on existing stereotypes of people who receive welfare (Paterson et al, 2015). They concluded,

“...Benefits Street is not ‘only’ entertainment (c.f. Couldry, 2011), but is rather a site for the perpetuation of existing stereotypes about benefit claimants. The programme, and others like it, invites negative evaluations of poor people and benefit recipients…” (Paterson et al, pp. 212, 2015)

I believe this is the risk taken when programs such as these are produced. While bringing poverty in largely wealthy countries to light is an important goal there are better and less judgemental ways to go about it. Suffering makes for high levels of viewing but it does not always consider the effect and exploitation of those portrayed, especially when you cannot fairly say that the dis-functionality and addiction represented belongs solely to this marginalised group.


Paterson, L, Coffey-Glover, L & Peplow, D 2015, ‘Negotiating stance within discourses of class: Reactions to Benefits Street’, Discourse and Society, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 195-214.

Threadgold, S 2015 ‘Struggle Street is poverty porn with an extra dose of class racism’, The Conversation, 6 May, viewed on 21 March, <;

McNair, B 2015, ‘Review: Struggle Street proves to be powerful, often poignant TV’, The Conversation, 7 May, viewed on 21 March, <;



Looking at Ourselves

When I think about selfies I assume I don’t take too many and I certainly don’t post many (any more) but according to The Guardian’s Social Media Narcissist Quiz I am a social media narcissist, I just do a good job of hiding it. I took this quiz for a bit of fun and to be honest my results make sense, I don’t post a lot and I try not to care about likes but I definitely feel good when I get them.

This article notes that research surrounding selfies mostly focuses on narcissism but other traits such as self-esteem and social exhibitionism  effect the frequency and type of selfies that are posted (Sorokowska et al, 2015). This article outlines the method and results of two studies undertaken regarding selfie posting on Facebook. The first study took the form of a questionnaire where participants provided answers about themselves and the second was an online Facebook study where types of selfies were characterised and measured (Sorokowska et al, 2015).

The main findings showed that women engage in selfie posting more often than men but the frequency of their posts did not relate to self-esteem, while for men selfies that were only of themselves rather than in a group often were prompted by self-esteem (Sorokowska et al, 2015). Selfie posting correlates with social exhibition and extroversion personality traits, showing that it was possible to predict higher levels of selfie posting from individuals who demonstrated these traits (Sorokowska et al, 2015).

These results are not unexpected, as it does make sense that an extroverted person is happy to share their life with others. What I find impressive is that people can take this self-imaging and turn it into a quite lucrative career. Mimi Elashiry, a young Australian woman with an Instagram following of over 800 000 is a prime example of how money can be made through advertising in posts. In this Guardian article she talks about how she blends the advertisements in with other posts and how she only promotes things that would connect with her audience of young women.

She has since had opportunities modelling and television presenting and has relocated to the USA to pursue this further. While some may think that being given these opportunities is an extreme reward for posting some photos I think I’m with Mimi when she says, “Given the opportunity to go overseas and model, why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you just go and do whatever you want?”

Sorokowska, A, Oleszkiewicz, A, Frackowiak, T, Pisanski, K, Chmiel, & Sorokowski, P 2015, ‘Selfies and personality:Who posts self-portrait photographs?’, Personality and Individual differences, vol. 90, pp. 119-123.