Whale Wars: Viking Shores

Whale Wars: Viking Shores

Last time on Whale Wars, maritime crusader Paul Watson and the plucky volunteers who make up his organization Sea Shepherd had run the Japanese Whaling Fleet out of the Southern Ocean. Despite some doubt as to whether this truly meant the end for Antarctic whaling, Sea Shepherd celebrated, then cast about for another place where they could apply their high profile obstructionist tactics while being filmed for television consumption. Their new target would be the Faroe Islands off the coast of Denmark, where the natives observe an ancient whaling tradition called the grindadráp. Seems like the perfect cocktail of ingredients. The grind is a notoriously bloody spectacle and already the subject of considerable negative attention from several environmental groups. Sea Shepherd is already infamous for skirting the line between fervent activism and moronically executed violence. The setup looks like it would make for an explosive showdown. What we get instead for five episodes of Whale Wars: Viking Shores is an awkward social experiment were Sea Shepherd plays the role of general nuisance to the Faroese while psyching themselves up for a confrontation that never takes place.

Even Paul will admit that local attitudes towards the grind aren't uniform. And for reasons that have nothing to do with him. There are legitimate concerns about the rising toxicity levels found in whale meat. There's a growing generation gap between the old who see it as integral to their cultural identity and the young who find it a Medieval anachronism. And there's also a growing gender gap as young women are more likely to express ambivalence towards this traditionally male dominated activity. Only a few of those voices get to have their say, mainly a local doctor who's worried about the health effects of consuming whale meat. For their part, Sea Shepherd seems more interested in picking a fight than in fostering constructive dialogue. A group of volunteers disrupt a festival by playing whale songs over a loudspeaker until they're told to move their vehicle. I'm not sure if this behavior is the product of genuine obtuseness or a shameless ploy to drum-up some excitement for the camera. But it's almost cartoonish how the volunteers react with surprise and dismay when their activities predictably evoke a belligerent response from the locals. My guess is if anyone wanted to express doubts about the grind to the film crew, they would have been intimidated rather than empowered by the fear of an angry mob possibly forming around Sea Shepherd's finest.

Naturally, some low-level hostility accompanies Sea Shepherd's interactions with the Faroese wherever they go. Some of the locals even play-up their dislike for Paul to the camera. The irony of being the ones on the receiving end of such verbal harassment seems to be lost on the volunteers, and after awhile, they become a little paranoid. But the threat is overstated and there's no breakout of actual violence. And while that's a good thing, it also highlights the problematic nature of the series. In the past, the Japanese Whalers could be counted on to function as convenient antagonists who Sea Shepherd generally avoided confronting face-to-face. This made them far easier to demonize for the TV audience, not to mention exoticize for being the inscrutably foreign "other". Not so with the Faroese, who are even more whitebread than the activists themselves and eager to defend their views to the camera. They provide a counter-narrative missing in past seasons of the show. While they mostly come across as old-fashioned and even a little insular, the Sea Shepherd crew doesn't exactly help their own cause when some of them label the locals "ignorant" and "violent" during their own confessionals.

Given that Viking Shores substitutes the usual high seas adventure with a lot of pointless intrigue and onshore bickering, the series odd payoff only occurs when after six weeks the campaign ends a little prematurely so that Sea Shepherd can resume their war with the Japanese Whalers. Not that anyone is pleased to hear that the Japanese have begun whaling again, but at least with them Sea Shepherd is on more familiar footing. As they're making their way out of Faroese waters, the crew finally spots their first pod of pilot whales. After herding them away from the Islands, Paul declares the entire campaign a resounding success because of course he does. Perhaps the series producers weren't so impressed with his glowing assessment or the decision to take off and leave behind one subset of whales just to go rescue another subset, as it's noted in the show credits that 109 pilot whales were killed in a grind that took place exactly a week later.


More NonSense: Superman's 75th Anniversary Edition (Updated)

Entertainment Weekly Cover: Superman at 75
Entertainment Weekly celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the Man of Steel (via Kevin Melrose).

ComicsAlliance honors the artists who have given life to "Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's brilliant creation" these past decades.

Edward Helmore on the long legal battle to control the rights to Superman.

Siegel family attorney Mark Toberoff swears "This case is by no means over" (via Kevin Melrose).

Alan Moore on the seedy, disreputable comic book industry that profited from Superman's early popularity while ripping off its creative talent:
The industry’s apologists have offered various glosses for the shameful act of theft upon which the vast business that supports them seems to have been founded. One of the more despicable of these constructions has it that Siegel and Shuster should have been more shrewd in signing contracts, which appears to be a variant on the well-known American proverbial advice regarding suckers and the inadvisability of giving them an even break. More lately there have been attempts to mitigate the industry’s offence with an appeal to half-baked mysticism and postmodernism, maintaining that Superman and the commercial children’s comic characters which followed him are all in some sense archetypes that hover in the ether, waiting to be plucked by any lucky idiot who passes by. Ingeniously, this sidesteps the whole Siegel and Shuster problem by insisting that creators in the superhero field aren’t actually creators after all, but merely the recipients of some kind of transcendent windfall fruit that should be freely shared around. Even if this were true, it’s difficult to see exactly how it justifies a perhaps gangster-founded company of fruiterers (just to continue the analogy) declaring that these profitable magic apples all belong to them in perpetuity. Still, one can see why such a morally-evasive brand of metaphysics might appeal to the large corporate concerns which steer the comic industry; to those amongst the readership whose primary allegiance is to a specific superhero rather than the ordinary non-invulnerable human who originated him; and to those loyally and profitably labouring at franchises, who know they’re in no danger of ever creating an original idea which would be valuable enough to steal.
"Five Superman Publications I Like Better Than The Movies" 12345 by Tom Spurgeon and some other guys.

Joe Shuster draws Superman vs. a Grizzly Bear. Awesome.

Classic Superman Radio ads.

This town wants to be Smallville.

Tom Scioli thinks Jim Starlin’s brief stint on the character is the best Superman ever.

Jake Roper explains that Superman, or any superhuman for that matter, hitting an object with a fist that's traveling at 99% the speed of light would be really, really, really, really, really bad (via Kevin Melrose). I suppose that means that if you can take a punch from Superman, you're way beyond bulletproof.

Tom Bondurant on this week's Superman-related projects: Superman Unchained and Man of Steel.

Bully on the apocalyptic aspects of the movie.

Andrew Wheeler would like you to know that Henry Cavill is the latest in a line of unknown actors cast to play the Man of Steel. And if the pattern holds up, this role will be the high point of his entire acting career. It's a good thing then that he is one absurdly handsome man.

Marc Singer in his review of Man of Steel is irritated by the same elements that bother me, especially this particular pet peeve:
Like the ponderous Superman Returns, Man of Steel can't resist the cheap and easy Christ imagery. The subtext isn't helped when the villainous Kryptonian starts talking about how evolution always wins or how morality is an evolutionary weakness. Which I'm pretty sure is not how evolution works, but Snyder made his point. 
(The Superman I love the most, the genial scientist and humanist who walked into a golden sunset in 1986 and reappeared for a dozen glorious issues in the mid-2000s, would no doubt respond with some gentle corrective about how morality is humanity's greatest evolutionary adaptation. And then knock Faora into orbit.)
I'm rarely unequivocal when making recommendations, especially with superhero movies. And Man of Steel is not the greatest example of the genre. So for all the watered-down Nietzsche and muddled understanding of science, I still kinda like the movie, if for no other reason than on the strength of its cast. This off course in no way alters my skepticism of Zach Snyder.

Michael May asks whether there is a meaningfully right or wrong way to interpret corporate-owned characters.

Tom Scioli on how Man of Steel is filled with 80s nostalgia for geeks.