Fish are friends, NOT FOOD!

Something I came across on Facebook today. What if? Source:

I first came across the Blackfish trailer in 2015 during a university class presentation and since then, it completely transformed my opinions on animal rights. To be honest, I’ve never been a huge ‘animal lover’ or advocate. I tend to keep my distance when it comes to any sort of animal or pet except when they are on display and the purpose is to actually admire them, like a zoo. The trailer pulled me in; and by the end of the presentation I had searched as much as I could on Tilikum. I went home that day and watched it on Netflix and told everyone around me about this amazing documentary. They were just as surprised as I was, finding out I had watched a documentary, let alone one about whales.


The aim of Blackfish was to gain awareness on captivity of orcas and the use of them for entertainment purposes. SeaWorld was targeted and blamed for the mistreatment of Tilikum that resulted in the death of three individuals. It completely convinces audiences that SeaWorld was ignorant and didn’t take extreme caution and appropriate safety measures. The documentary is compelling and emotional, making viewers disturbed and empathise for Tilkium through anthropomorphism.

Anthropomorphism is used in many animal based movies and television series. It encourages viewers to ‘interpret animals’ mental and emotional states by using their own mental and emotional states’ (Demello, 2012). Basically, movies give animals human- like features, characteristics, mannerisms and emotions which allow us to be sympathetic and understanding. Blackfish does this by emphasising the importance of family within killer whale pods with scenes of separation between the parents and the calf. Interviewees further gained audience understanding by relating the orcas’ mistreatment to our human experience- ‘if you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic?’

Human like facial features and expressions on Finding Nemo -Source:

Classic animated, animal based movies use anthropomorphism to successfully attract kids, creating empathy and lovability that ultimately generates favouritism for the character. Finding Nemo humanises protagonists and sub characters that are considered ‘good’ while presents ‘bad’ characters and enemies as marine animals in their natural state. The non- threatening animal characters in Finding Nemo are able to communicate with protagonists, even the sharks, however those animals that pose a threat to the characters such as the bulb lighted, angler fish or the jelly fish are animalised and in their predator state. The sharks however, are presented as friends, having a commemorative meeting stating their motto, ‘fish are friends, not food’, unnatural to their real predator instincts.

The marine animals presented in Finding Nemo have humanness physical characteristics. Their eyes and mouths are significantly bigger, mimicking human characters. Their emotions are accurately represented through their facial features and expressions. These techniques used by film directors effectively presents the marine animals as friendly and lovable. This way they can successfully sell the characters through merchandise and stuffed toys rather than their natural state.

While thinking of the various animal based animated films, I found a similar connection between many. They all seem to identify humans as the top of the food chain, the most powerful and the ones that are responsible for the mistreatment and suffering of the animal protagonists. I remember watching Finding Nemo and identifying the scuba diver/ dentist as the ‘bad guy’ for taking Nemo away from his family. However, in reality, he’s just your average Australian. Nonetheless, the film encourages the idea that wild marine animals shouldn’t be kept in captivity as pets, ‘challenging the viewer to see captivity as harmful’ (DeMello, 2012).


Anthropomorphism can create a misconception and expectations that animals are like humans when they aren’t. They have a different emotions and brains that are still being studied to this day. In ways, we present animals as being the same level as us however, we treat them as if they are inferior to us. Blackfish, till this day still has an effect. Seaworld profits decreased dramatically and ‘its stock price declined by 60%’ (Chattoo, 2015). Animal rights campaigns were brought to action and reaching new audiences and supporters than ever before. Ultimately, although it may be misleading to anthropomorphise nonhuman animal characters, it promotes human understanding and generates concern for animals.



Cowperthwaite, G. 2013, ‘Filmmaker: Why I made Blackfish’ in CNN visited 28/3

DeMello, M, 2012. Animals and Society: An introduction to Human- Animal Studies, New York: Columbia, UP.

Hickman, D. 2015, Blackfish: proof that documentary can be a powerful force for change in The Conversation. Visited 28/3

Leane, E. Pfennigwerth, S. 2013. Chapter two  in Considering Animals, Ashgate, Farnham.


Is the exploitation worth it?

During high school, whilst learning about historical wars and international issues, I came across poverty porn. Back then, I didn’t realise what it was and the impact it had on people, including myself. I distinctively remember the first time I saw the iconic image of the Napalm girl, photographed from the Vietnam war in 1972 by photographer Nick Ut. She was naked, running through the streets of Vietnam terrified, with smoke and dismay behind her. I didn’t understand the overall purpose and just thought it was a ‘good shot’ demonstrating the occurrences of the war. I remember thinking, why would you just simply stand there and take a photo? Why didn’t he help her?


The Nalpalm Girl ‘The Terror of the War’ Source:


But, I understand now. Poverty porn is ‘any type of media- written, photographed or filmed’ which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause’ (Aidthoughts, 2009). It serves a purpose as a tool to gain viewers’ attention and promote anger and outrage from the conditions that the stereotypical poverty porn photographs demonstrate. However, does it work?

Well I can say that it worked for me. Witnessing images of malnourished children on the verge of their lives definitely causes an emotional impact. It makes people feel uncomfortable, disconnected and guilty. It made me want to donate and involve myself into charitable organisations. However, as bad as it sounds, I didn’t. Yes, I do donate towards poverty stricken countries when I can, but I didn’t become an advocate. And this is an issue with the purpose of poverty porn. I don’t believe it causes activism but rather charity. It presents an idea that those that are financially secure can donate and are the only ones that can make a difference, depending entirely on western countries. It lacks to identify the empowerment and dedication to actually treat poverty rather than its symptoms and to generate a deeper understanding of poverty to structurally change long term.

Another issue with poverty porn is the argument that it’s exploiting the subjects and invading their privacy. It’s hard to distinguish what is fake and over exaggerated. When we think of Africa and the people, we think of malnourished children with pot bellies in the hot scorching sun, with no water and food and flies flying on their faces. Why? Because that’s the image we are presented with, through media. It’s hard to recognise and promote equality when we are using these exploiting images to create meaning and awareness; because ultimately, we are identifying these children as poor, and identifying ourselves as saviours.

#TheAfricatheMediaNeverShowsYou Source:

Most of the time, the communities we are faced with from poverty porn are just a small fraction of that country. Diana Salah introduced a hashtag #TheAfricatheMediaNeverShowsYou that demonstrated accumulated images from users of glass skyscrapers, beautiful landscapes and loving communities in Africa that are seemingly forgotten.We risk cultural misunderstanding from poverty porn and associate it with the country as a whole. Ultimately, we must question the use of poverty porn and ask if the result outweighs the means.

Are we becoming a narcissistic society?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, we have all come across a ‘selfie’. Whether it is through ‘liking’ a friend’s selfie on social media, taking one yourself or just stumbling past the renowned, controversial Kim Kardashian nude selfie on the news, we’ve all been confronted with selfies. Ones, more influential and representative than others, the selfie trend has grown immensely and have evolved to be generated for various reasons.

Kim Kardashion and Emily Ratajkowski take another controversial mirror selfie Source:


Self- portraits have always been around, but the term ‘selfie’ and their growth have been identified due to the increasing availability and production of front camera phones and social media. Growing online platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are enforcing the production and circulation of self- generated digital photographs. It was reported by ‘Google that approximately 93 million selfies were taken per day on Android models alone in 2014 (Brandt, 2014)’. Many argue that selfies are a form of self- expression while others identify it as an influencing force of a narcissist culture, however, it comes down to the context of the image and what it’s used for.

Selfies have become significantly influential in regards to women and their self- branding online. It’s transitioned to be more than just a photograph that’s posted on Instagram. For some organisations, selfies are an advertising tool to endorse their products through micro- celebrities. The idea of the micro- celebrity has increased significantly with individuals taking selfies and posting them online; drawing a huge following and attention from the public, fans and sponsors. However, it also brings an airbrushed, unnatural representation of themselves, creating a brand from the self- representation they are trying to achieve through their selfies.

In 2015, Australian YouTuber and Instagram micro- celebrity, Essena O’Neill, posted a video for her 500,000 followers discussing her decision to quit social media. She deleted all her sponsored posts and dramatically edited the captions identifying the hours of effort it took to gain a single, ‘perfect’ photo for Instagram that wasn’t ‘real life’.


O’Neill captioned her photo stating that ‘Instagram girls only show you what they want; sucked in stomach, strategic poses, pushed up boobs, wearing clothes from a company with no purpose’. Gaining $2000AUD per photo featuring marketing products, it was her main source of income. O’Neill discussed that power social media had over her; transitioning to someone who ‘validated their self- esteem and self- worth over likes and comments’. She created a brand and online persona that dramatically described a perfect, luxurious, lifestyle in the hopes to gain social approval and fame.

Other micro- celebrities such as Kayla Itsines, a 24 year old personal trainer, branded herself on Instagram through her #fitspiration posts. Her fame rose due to various posts of clients who had dramatic weight loss and muscle transformations. With 5.7million followers she created her own athletic clothing line, fitness studios, ‘Sweat with Kayla’ app and Beach Body Guides that have proven to be successful worldwide, making her a renowned fitness micro- celebrity.

#fitspirtation Transformation posts by clients- Kayla Itsines on her Instagram Source:

In the 21st century digital age, it’s challenging to neglect the influence of a selfie, however there will always be discussion and disapproval over its powerful influence or narcissistic self-presentation. It’s easy to manipulate images through Photoshop and photo editing apps, but also by presenting an unrealistic image of themselves that abandons reality. However, once they are posted online, you can’t control the way people interpret the image.



Berger, A 2011, ‘The Branded Self: On the Semiotics of Identity’, The American Sociologist, vol. 42, no. 2/3, pp. 232-237.

Hunt, E 2015, ‘Essena O’Neill quits Instagram claiming Social Media ‘is not real life’, The Guardian, visited March 17th.

Ohlheiser, A 2016, ‘Essena O’Neill: what happened in the months after Instagram star quit social media’, Independent UK. visited March 17th