Insight Into Reality TV by The New York Times
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
In response The New York Times article “On the High Seas, a Mix of Danger and Bumbling High Jinks”- by Mike Hale
It’s been a very good media year for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. We have received media coverage from around the world over our Antarctic Whale Defense campaigns, Operation Blue Rage to defend the Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea, our campaign against the pilot whale slaughter in the Faeroe Isles, The Cove winning the Academy Award and the busting of The Hump restaurant in Santa Monica, California for selling illegal whale meat, the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico, our ongoing efforts to protect the Galapagos Islands, and so many other projects that Sea Shepherd has undertaken over the last year.
Media exposure highlights include appearances on The Today Show, two appearances on Larry King Live, Last Call with Carson Daly, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a huge piece in the French magazine La Pointe, a profile in the PADI Dive magazine, and a 17 page spread in the Japanese magazine Sotokoto. We also gained media coverage through regional talk shows on television and radio around the world. We were also lampooned on South Park in an episode titled Whale Whores, and if South Park decides to parody you, you know you’ve made it big in the current popular media culture. Today, we saw that the Animal Planet TV series Whale Wars was featured in The New York Times.
Some of our supporters have expressed concern that sometimes the coverage of Sea Shepherd events appears negative. This piece in The New York Times attempts to explain why this is so.
The answer can be summed up in one word – Television!
And more specifically in two words – Reality Television!
It’s for that reason I’m not that concerned about being depicted negatively. It’s really all about that old show business axiom: “It doesn't matter what they say as long as they spell your name right.” Quite frankly I’m surprised that the coverage has not been more negative considering that we are up against some very powerful political and financial adversaries. The article in the Japanese magazine Sotokoto was actually very positive and Jay Leno, Carson Daly and Larry King were very supportive. The most vicious attack we have received in the media was from South Park but really, did we expect anything less? I thought the show was extremely amusing despite the fact that I was depicted negatively and received a harpoon through the head. I would have preferred The Simpsons but South Park certainly placed us smack in the middle of the modern media culture and those boys viciously attack everyone, although they did wimp out on the Muslims.
Our big problem sometimes is that the media does not always spell our name right. Shepherd is sometimes spelled “shepard” or “Sheppard” or “sheppherd”. I over estimated the phonological skills of the public it appears when I first named our organization, but this has been rectified by registering all the misspellings on the internet search engines.
Generally, in fact overwhelmingly, the media coverage is positive. Hell, most people like whales and dislike whalers so we do have the moral advantage. Some people don’t like our tactics or my biocentric perspective but I did not establish Sea Shepherd to please everyone and as we often say – our clients are whales, sharks, turtles, seals and fish, not people.
But there is something about the article in today’s New York Times that is very revealing. Writer Mike Hale illustrated just why it is that Animal Planet sometimes depicts Sea Shepherd as being incompetent or bungling, sometimes failing and seemingly disorganized.
Because it’s a television reality show and Animal Planet has the disadvantage of not having the Japanese participate to present their side of things. Animal Planet would love to put a film crew onboard the Japanese vessels, but they have turned it down.
By illustrating the foibles that occur on the Sea Shepherd ships, Animal Planet is able to present the show more objectively: they need to edit the show for entertainment purposes and for that reason, it all can’t all be super serious.
This is not a show about heavily trained professionals fighting a war on the high seas. It is a show about amateur, inexperienced, real-life volunteers driven by passion to overcome the obstacles in an effort to defend the whales.
The simple truth is that I could not pay professionals to do what my inexperienced volunteers are willing to do.
This does not mean that we are irresponsible. Onboard our ships are crew well trained in the skills of navigation, engineering, medicine, welding, diving, and communications.
Our last campaign included ticketed ship’s masters, two physicians, a 2nd mate with a PhD in physics, former firemen and policemen, ex-military personal, professional photographers, a union welder, and a professional carpenter.
Our competence is evident in the fact that we have undertaken six campaigns to the roughest, most dangerous and most remote waters on the planet without suffering a single fatality or serious injury. We have not had an oil spill, a serious onboard fire, nor any ice damage. Meanwhile the Japanese fleet has suffered three deaths, numerous self-inflicted injuries, two catastrophic fires, oil spills while refueling, and severe ice damage.
So what may be the appearance of bungling is not backed by the reality of our experiences. Television is an entertainment media and thus every little amusing or interesting incident that occurs during the three-month voyages will be included in the show for the simple reason that it is entertaining.
I was happy to see that The New York Times understood this. I was also happy to see that it understood just why we are actually down there in the first place. The last line in the article sums this up quite nicely.
“The funny thing is that despite the TV-friendly missteps and collisions, the activists’ mission appears to have been successful during the past whaling season. The Japanese fleet reported that it fell well short of its quota. It was able to kill only 506 minke and fin whales when its goal was 935.”
And that is of course the bottom line – the lives of whales saved!
Television has been very good for Sea Shepherd in increasing our effectiveness and support base. People watch the show who like us and people watch the show who hate us but most importantly is the fact that they watch the show.
Tonight is the finale of Season Three on Animal Planet.