WHAT WAS YOUR IMPRESSION OF SEA WORLD? YOU SPENT TWO YEARS RESEARCHING IN
I thought it was overwhelmingly commercial. I watched it over a lot of years
and every year I thought it became more like a shopping mall. I mean there
really is an incredible clustering of all kinds of stores, souvenir stores,
food concession stores, photo concession stores, because concession sales are
really, really important to their profit. So I found it very commercial, very
intensely managed, very carefully planned landscape.
HOW DO THEY WORK? HOW DO THEY REACH PEOPLE?
Well they study people behaviour. They do a tremendous amount of market
research, they know an awful lot about their audience and they're continually
researching their audience. They interview people in the park. They have very
sophisticated and intelligent landscape designers and exhibit designers and you
know they're always refreshing and refurbishing the landscape and the planting.
And they're thinking about do people like to walk on concrete or would they
rather walk on asphalt. And they think about these details, as all theme park
designers do, down to the tiniest details, to the extent that their budget
allows them to think those things through.
As far as the animals go, they study, as far as I can tell, they study their
animals very carefully and keep enormous track of information about all their
biological aspects, and especially the killer whales because those are the most
- those are the most valuable, expensive and hard to maintain animals.
HOW WOULD YOU SUMMARIZE THE BALANCE BETWEEN EDUCATION, SCIENTIFIC WORK AND
ENTERTAINMENT AT SEA WORLD?
This is first and foremost an amusement project. Its first job is to return
revenue to the parent company, Anheuser Busch. The killer whales especially
are the central spectacle in this amusement project. They are its Mickey
Mouse, okay? So they have to be healthy. They have to be trainable. They have
to look good. Ideally, they should be reproducing, okay, and while there is
some other kinds of scientific research done at Sea World, I think most of the
research and most of the effort at Sea World is put into keeping these whales
healthy and performing, able to perform in captivity. I think that's what the
science is largely directed toward.
SEA WORLD EMPHASIZES ITS EDUCATIONAL MISSION - YOU KNOW, WE BRING MOTHERS AND
THEIR CHILDREN HERE AND WE SEND THEM OUT INTO THE WORLD INFORMED AND CONCERNED
ABOUT OTHER MAMMALIAN SPECIES.
Well, it's true - that it is amazing to see those whales live and up close.
They are incredibly beautiful, even in sort of strange performance that they
appear in. They make a great deal of their educational mandate. I think you
can get about the same level of education from a reasonably good library book
aimed at a third grader at your public library, okay. I think the kinds of
amount of information and the sophistication of the information maybe even is
not as good as that third grade level library book.
YOU'RE A MOM. WHAT LESSONS DO YOU THINK YOUR CHILDREN WOULD TAKE AWAYS FROM
I would worry that they would think that by attending an entertainment
performance that they are committing political activism, okay. That this is an
environmentally activist thing to do, to give your money to this corporation so
that these whales can perform for people. I would - I want my children to know
that political activism is more than paying admission. So I think that's kind
of a spectacular version of what politics is.
I think there's another message that Sea World communicates very powerfully
that I'm concerned by, and that is that the environment is in good hands. It's
in good hands, it's in the hands of these big companies, whether it's Anheiser
Busch or some other, you know, big company, really have the best of intentions
for the biosphere. I think environmental change and progress is going to come
from people's activism. I don't think it's going to come from big corporate
BRAD ANDREWS OF SEA WORLD SAYS THAT THE ONLY HOPE FOR PRESERVING SPECIES,
FOR MAINTAINING SOME PUBLIC CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE FRAGILITY OF THE WILD LIES IN
THEME PARKS SUPPORTED BY LARGE CORPORATIONS, THAT THE GOVERNMENT IS OUT OF IT,
THAT THE PUBLIC SECTOR IS OUT OF IT.
What's the polite word? Hogwash. Look, I mean I think that the entertainment
media, they - they are a powerful force for interesting people, they're a
powerful force for informing people, even if the education about the
environment that Sea World is delivering wasn't pretty superficial, the
entertainment media by themselves would never be enough. We need you know
committed, popular activism and we, and I think we need governments and I think
we need laws to protect the environment. I wouldn't hand it over to the theme
BUT WHAT KIND OF ACTIVISM? FOR EXAMPLE, WHAT ABOUT THE FREE WILLY
Well, I don't see the Free Willy Foundation as environmental activism. It's
some kind of a weird spectacle that's built around a celebrity animal, okay.
But let's look at it another way. Let's say that you know, what's the company
that is promoting Free Willy Foundation? Is it Universal or is it Warner
Brothers? Warner Brothers, okay. Let's say Warner Brothers, who's going to go
big time into environmental activism. You know, they could be educating people
about what's happening in the fisheries off the Pacific coast. They could be
educating people about overfishing, they could be educating people about
serious toxic pollution problems in the oceans. They could be educating people
about the loss of watershed in the Pacific north-west that's profoundly
affecting the fisheries. Is the Free Willy Foundation doing that?
NOT TO MY KNOWLEDGE.
Not to mine either. I think it's really kind of interesting in a circular
kind of way. I mean outfits like Sea World have created the celebrity for these
animals. They've created a tremendous interest in them, they've probably
created some compassion for them and they've created actually their political
and public visibility. But one of the things that that means is that we now
have a celebrity animal that's also you know a licensed image and a registered
trademark. I'm not saying that people shouldn't be concerned about the health
of an individual animal, but saving that animal is not the same as making
HOW BIG A COMMERCIAL VENTURE IS SEA WORLD?
Well, it's nearly - nearly four million people a year visit the Sea World in
San Diego, which is the one that I studied. And the Anheuser Busch theme parks
probably have, if I recall correctly, about 18 million people attending them in
a year. Maybe those figures are a little dated, but that's roughly the idea.
They're expensive to go to. The average - well say the full price adult
admission is probably $35 now, so you know, multiply four million people by
$35 and maybe discount it 10% to think about discounting. And that's a lot of
money. I mean theme parks are money makers. That's why there's been a theme
park building boom in this country for the past couple of decades. They
produce a tremendous amount of cash.
WHY DOES ANHEUSER BUSCH NEED THIS?
Well, You know, every big corporation is smart to diversify. Theme parks are
kind of a licence to print money, once you get them up and running. You know,
they're very stable and unless there's a huge gasoline crisis or complete
collapse in tourism, they just keep sort of putting the cash out, okay. So
it's just a good, it could be a good investment and it was a good investment
for Anheuser Busch. But I think that there's another pay-off, maybe two other
pay-offs. One is this is a company that wants very much to be seen as a green
corporation, so having this association with nature, animals. Some of their
other parks are very zoo-like, okay. So this is very, very positive for
The second part of the pay-off I think is more diffuse, but just as
important. I think it's possible that we're entering a new kind of spirit of
prohibition or spirit of temperance. I think that there's a lot of concern
about the social and health effects of alcohol. It's very important that beer
be seen as healthy and family friendly and not antagonistic to families. You
have these wonderful theme parks that seem to do these great things for
nature. It's family entertainment. It looks like a kind of green activism to
go there. And you have the positioning of the company name and in some places
the beer name, Budweiser, in these venues. And it's not, you know, some people
accuse Anheuser Busch of using their theme parks to market beer to children. I
think that's extreme. I think it's more subtle than that. I think what
they're doing is creating powerful positive feeling about the company and the
product among a very important audience, families with children, okay. The
last thing these people want to have happen to them is what happened to the
tobacco industry, for people to say yes, it's legal, but it's dangerous.
ON A PERSONAL LEVEL, HOW DID THIS EXPERIENCE AFFECT YOU?
Well, I developed a tremendous admiration for all the kinds of labor and
skills that go into building this theme park. I developed a lot of admiration
for the sophistication of thought that's gone into it. And I found it, you
know, with each trip it got harder to go back because I found it more and more
oppressive and more and more sort of closed and controlling. So I was very
thrilled one day when I was there with my daughter and who was at the time six,
and she said this is boring, let's leave.
YOU SAY OPPRESSIVE. THAT'S A STRONG WORD. WHAT WAS SO OPPRESSIVE?
Well you know what I think is oppressive is again - a kind of unacknowledged
contradiction. There is this incredible imagery all through the park in the
exhibits, in the aquariums, in the landscaping of a kind of freedom of nature,
a kind of lushness and abundance of beauty and it's been very carefully
sculpted to appear most of the time unrestrained. People don't like to see
restrained animals. But even the plants try to give off this unrestrained
feeling. And yet you know, you look at it and it is manufactured, it is
restrained, okay. It is a product.
I think that nature is a profound concept in Western culture and I think that
we think of nature as being what is most free, what is most unmanipulated
and what is essentially not possible to manufacture or simulate. When you're
at Sea World you see this incredible detailed abundance, see life teeming
everywhere and plants growing freely. You see it as simulated nature that's a
YOU'RE DESCRIBING AN ALMOST KIND OF NARCOTIC EFFECT - THAT INSTEAD OF RAISING
CONSCIOUSNESS ABOUT NATURE THAT IT'S A KIND OF A FALSE REASSURANCE?
I think so. I think that the American public is really profoundly concerned
about the environment and locally, nationally and globally. And I think this
world really does appeal to and market to this concern. You could even call
it anxiety about the health of the planet. But the answer that they're giving
is come here, look what we can do, it's all going to all right.
I mean if you want to consider it an educational institution then you have to
ask what are they effectively educating about. Are they teaching people about
the sources of problems and the solution to problems? I don't think they are.
I think they're saying nature is in good hands, it keeps coming back.
AGAIN, WHAT IS YOUR PRINCIPAL CONCERN ABOUT THE LESSON TAKEN AWAY BY YOUR
CHILDREN, OTHER CHILDREN THAT COME AND GO FROM SEA WORLD?
I think I'm concerned about a confusion of the distinction between real
environmental activism and consumption as environmental activism. It's not just
that Sea World is a kind of machine for getting people to spend money which
it is. It is that it also offers the lesson - this is a concern and this is
action. And I want my children and I really want other people's children too
to understand that paying admission is not the same as being environmentally
WHAT KIND OF ACTIVISM ARE YOU PRESCRIBING?
I don't think there's one but I think, you know really serious education about
the causes of pollution, okay, and the causes of environmental degradation
and the causes of habitat loss is a form of activism.
ALSO OF POLITICS.
It's a form of politics sure and you know, voting, informing yourself,
informing other people, grass roots campaigns, local campaigns, national
level campaigns, efforts to change laws, efforts to understand how laws work.
Activism actually is kind of boring. It's showing up at meeting after meeting
after meeting after meeting. Again people can choose their own kinds of
activism but we do have a powerful model in American culture that says buying
things is the way you get things done. I think that, you know, we need to
modify that more than a little bit.
SEA WORLD TAKES A GREAT DEAL OF PRIDE IN THEIR OUTREACH TO THE SCHOOL SYSTEM
AMONG OTHER INSITUTIONS. HOW IS THAT IN YOUR VIEW?
Well we're talking about the California public schools which was really what I
was writing about. We're talking about school systems that are really
hurting. They're really hurting for money, okay, and for resources. What Sea
World does is it makes its educational products available to these school
systems for free. My problem with these products besides the fact that again I
think the education in them is really very thin is that they are marketing
devices. They are set up to appeal to school aged children, that the park is a
beautiful, wonderful, colourful place and there's one in many parts of the
country and you can go there. And the people at Sea World are not really
embarrassed about this at all. They think that this blend of education and
what is really advertising is perfectly reasonable.
AND IS IT?
And by the way they're not the only large corporation that does this. No, I
don't think it's reasonable. I think that they are using the need of
California public school teachers for teaching materials to get their
advertising into the classroom and I don't like that.
YOU'RE DESCRIBING A CONDITION OF OUR CONTEMPORARY EXISTENCE ALL OVER THE PLACE
Yes, I am, and actually --
WHERE THE PUBLIC SECTOR IS BEING SUPPLANTED BY THE CORPORATE SECTOR.
Yes, and that's really why I wrote this book. It seems like I have a big
beef with Sea World with Anheuser Busch. Really, what I'm very concerned with
is the privatization of public culture and the injection of commercial values
into our culture where they haven't been there before.
ARE YOU NOT A VOICE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS?
Well don't we need voices in the wilderness? I mean to answer your question
seriously, there are some very serious social activists around this issue, I
mean the Center for the Study of Commercialism cover this stuff and so does a
group of scholars called the Cultural Environmental Movement. So I'm not the
only person that thinks this.