RetroPost: Sea-World’s Sentimental Secret

In RetroPost, we feature a post from at least one year ago (ancient in pop culture time). The posts are featured because they have some relevance to current happenings, because they are timeless in nature and speak to a relevant issue, or because we plan on providing a follow-up in an upcoming post.

This Week: With Spring Break basically here and summer fast approaching, many of us will be taking vacations very soon. Some of us will go home to visit loved ones. Others will visit theme parks such as Disney World, Six Flags, and Sea World. In this post, Richard Clark points out that even a fun day of vacation should never be enjoyed without thought about the implications of what’s taking place.

When my wife and I went to Sea World, I was pretty sure I would be around a lot of animal lovers. I expected employees and patrons who were just crazy about marine animals and wanted to conserve them simply because it seems mean to just let them die. I was right, but I got much more than that.

Most of Sea World is just as you would expect: Sea otters do tricks for an audience of tourists, arctic bears sit around and “chill” (haha!), dolphins jump through hoops and act as substitutes for water skis. These things sound corny, but mostly they are surprisingly fascinating to watch.

The Sea World experience is clearly meant to reach its’ climax with “Shamu: Believe,” a lengthy exhibition show that actually ends up being a bit more religious than one would expect. No, it’s not a Christianized “look-at-God’s-wonderful-creation” awe-fest. In fact, I should have seen it coming. “Believe,” was instead little more than worship service for the god of ourselves. In between whale tricks – which sought to make it seem as if the trainers and the whales were getting along swimmingly – there was a thread in which a trainer tells a story of how he dreamed of one day working with whales or something. Guess what? It happened!

This was when the trainers celebrated with cheesy dancing. If the whales had souls and human feeling they would have rolled their eyes. And then ate them.

But alas, the show ended up with much of the same problem most sentimental pop-culture artifacts suffer from: complete and utter denial. “Look! These whales totally love hanging out with us and are totally having fun! It has nothing to do with the gallons of fish we’re feeding them in between tricks!”

More denial followed in the form of implying that no matter what you’d like to do, if you “Believe” you can do that very thing. Never mind the fact that half the kids there are totally wanting to meet Shamu and “Believe” that they can and should. Instead, only one young girl had her misguided faith reinforced when she came face to face with a giant whale. Hundreds of other kids came face to face with a 100 pound elephant in the room: “I can do anything if I believe? Well, uh, no I obviously can’t.”

The popularity of such humanist messages as equality with the animal kingdom and the power of the human will are common in our American Dream society, and I really shouldn’t have been surprised that it would be espoused at an amusement park, of all places. Kids and adults are entertained everyday with films, television shows, and even trained animal shows that tell them everything will not only be alright butexactly as you want it to be. Don’t think about it, just want it. It’s the Sentimental Secret that destroys the lives of millions, especially if their dreams come true.


Have you ever become aware of opposing worldviews at such unlikely places as amusement parks?

Is it even possible to have a “neutral” version of the Shamu show that doesn’t project some kind of belief system?

Is it okay or even imperative to tell our children to “believe in yourself” and that “you can do whatever you want it you put your mind to it”?

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