By Danielle Cookish
Visual effects and gripping music are the tools of the trade when you have an opinion to share, but do not want it met with skepticism. Hooking an already empathetic audience from the beginning by jarring them emotionally is one of the many steps on the pyramid of persuasion.
Please watch the following:
We’re all familiar with the film The Notebook (New Line, 2004) a highly emotional, epic love story that follows the lives of two characters and their experiences, all culminating into a tragic twist in plot.
What you’ve just watched is the original theatrical trailer for the film, which does well to describe the storyline, the characters, and what you can expect from it.
Now, we’ll watch the trailer again. This time, it has been cut, re-scored, and manipulated to make the romance film appear to be a psychological thriller. You will notice a striking similarity to the theatrical effects that make up Blackfish.
Lastly, let’s watch the trailer for Blackfish.
Did you notice anything interesting?
The manipulated version of The Notebook and the Blackfish trailers are identical, presenting only different content. They are constructed with identical rapid cut-away techniques, ominous music, and flashes of what is supposed to be absorbed as credible text.
Thousands of people have been psychologically and emotionally manipulated and it happened so fast, they didn’t even notice.
Despite the fact that for the last five decades, SeaWorld has been a beacon of education, family entertainment, and marine animal research, they have recently been awash in public backlash because of the manipulative tricks of the activist film.
Taking a closer look at the psychology behind the creation of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish (Magnolia, 2013) we see how easily we can be manipulated.
Cowperthwaite admitted to having no prior education or training in the field of marine mammal care before creating the film. Her interest began after learning of the 2010 incident where senior trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by Tilikum, a 12,000 pound bull orca at SeaWorld Orlando.
Cowperthwaite’s use of archival footage, lack of original material, and non-credible witnesses earned her a snub from the Academy during the 86th Academy Awards announcement of nominees for Best Documentary Feature.
Blackfish was developed on the foundation of sensationalism. A 90-minute spectacle of anthropomorphism and audio/video manipulation, all set to dimmed filters and a suspenseful, dark musical score.
Cowperthwaite implemented persuasive, emotionally driven film techniques, assuming that would be enough to argue with fifty years of scientific study and research. After speaking out about the injustice and manipulative nature of the film, it is reported that Cowperthwaite phoned former trainer Bridgette Pirtle and requested, “Please wait until after award season to criticize Blackfish.”
Due to the manipulative effects used in the film, it’s no surprise that audiences, especially children and teens, have lashed out at SeaWorld. An endless parade of hashtags, outrageous demands, bullying of others, the spewing of profanity, and slander dominate the landscape.
This type of reaction to a shock-value film is not new, but it has set a new precedent. It seems a tide has turned where it is now socially acceptable to believe what’s seen in a film or on television and ask no further questions.
A similar effect was achieved in 2004 when director Morgan Spurlock released Supersize Me (Hart Sharp Video, 2004), a film which follows Spurlock on a 30-day journey where he consumes only food from McDonald’s.
His weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and other vitals were monitored by a medical doctor during the process and the results were not shocking. Spurlock’s central thesis was eating McDonald’s three times a day for 30 days will have negative effects on your health. No kidding.
Interestingly, viewers of the film grabbed their torches and pitchforks and began harassing, protesting, and boycotting McDonald’s as if they had been duped into believing McDonald’s served healthful food with no health consequences during excessive daily intake.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan touched on the topic during his Mr. Universe special, where he said, “I just love the societal outrage at McDonald’s. There is no nutritional value, there are no vitamins. McDonald’s is like, excuse me, we sell burgers and fries. We never said we are a farmer’s market.”
While we work tirelessly to present sourced facts and data that completely debunks the pre-determined opinion selected for you by Cowperthwaite, many people continue to fiercely defend the film as their reason for outrage.
When factual evidence that goes against the Blackfish agenda is presented, those who support the information put forth in the film become agitated, petty, hostile, and even violent. Why?
Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate fact from fiction because the art of manipulation is a psychological science. Finding the truth often requires vast amounts of research into both sides of an argument.
Blackfish has a transparent agenda shown in its parochial manipulation techniques. Finding truth through science is black and white.
Cowperthwaite, G. Blackfish [Motion picture]. (2013). United States: Magnolia Pictures.
Davis, E. (2014, January 9). MiceChat. Retrieved January 1, 2015, from http://micechat.com/53915-blackfish-exposed/
Spurlock, M. Super Size Me [Motion picture]. (2004). United States: Hart Sharp Video.
Karas, J. Mr. Universe [Motion picture] Gaffigan, J. (2012). United States: Image Entertainment.
Cassavetes, J. The Notebook [Motion picture]. (2004). New Line Home Entertainment.
Proctor, S. (2009, February 4). The Notebook as a Thriller. Retrieved January 1, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvfI8vUuJ04
Brehm, J., & Cohen, A. (1962). New Evidence. In Explorations in Cognitive Dissonance (p. 334). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.