One offensive loose end in ‘The Cove’

I finally got around to watching The Cove last night and, yes, it is as shocking and thought-provoking as I had anticipated it would be.

One argumentative strand, however, very much served to undermine the entire film’s message.

(On a quick aside here, that’s not to say that I in any way condone the mass slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. I don’t.)

The filmmakers revealed their American-centric, manifest-destiny perspective a bit too heavily at one point in the film and they lost, to my mind, almost all credibility.

It’s when Ric O’Barry tells us that one of the the Taiji peoples’ arguments is: “This is our culture. You don’t understand us. You eat cows, we eat dolphins.”

This, from the perspective of someone living in the Canadian North, is an excellent point.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers dismiss it nearly out of hand.

O’Barry’s logic on the matter goes like this: “The truth is, that’s the big lie. How can it be their culture, their tradition, if the Japanese people don’t even know about it?”

Stating a “truth” and calling something a “lie,” that’s a huge claim, especially when it deals with a cultural issue. You’d better back that up. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t.

The filmmakers don’t investigate the validity of O’Barry’s claim by looking at Taiji’s history or its cultural food consumption practices.

No, they just hit the streets of Tokyo and ask a few people if they eat dolphin meat. Of course, they get the response they expect. (Or they just didn’t include the interviews with the people who do eat dolphin meat–this is where the credibility of the film begins to fall apart and the viewer begins to wonder just how heavily massaged the message truly is.)

The street-interview approach to supporting a major accusation was just so simple-minded and spin-ridden that it’s insulting to the viewer.

And it got me wondering: imagine an American film crew hitting the streets of Toronto or Vancouver and randomly asking passersby: “Do you eat caribou meat?”

The response would be, as the filmmakers would expect, a resounding, “no.”

Then imagine those filmmakers capturing footage of hunters on the Dempster or in Old Crow harvesting caribou and butchering them.

Just like that, you have The Flats instead of the The Cove.

Because the filmmakers so flippantly and ignorantly dismissed the cultural argument in The Cove, it left a gaping hole in their credibility. They researched and presented so many other arguments so effectively, but they left this one hanging out there.

As a result, I’m left wondering: is there a cultural tradition related to the consumption of dolphins in Taiji that we are left not knowing about? Because if there is, it would present an incredibly strong counter-argument to The Cove.

And maybe that’s why the filmmakers chose to ignore it.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t explore those questions. It should have. Then, if there was no cultural relationship and this is, indeed, just a purely economic venture that’s based on cruelty, their argument would be that much stronger.

As it stands, the film’s dismissal of the cultural claim is American ignorance at its best. It’s a McDonald’s mentality: stop eating dolphins, eat Big Macs instead. Our cultural perspective is right, and your cultural perspective is wrong.

And this severely undermines the argument of the film as a whole.

It’s too bad. In general, The Cove is a brilliant piece of persuasive documentary filmmaking. But that one loose end is just too offensive, to the point that the film overall is significantly less effective.