The ‘Free Willy’ Effect: Factors of Eco-Terrorism and Glamorization in Western Media
Delaney Freedman Jackson
Friday July 25th, 2014
Dr. Tamara Kotar
POL 3162 A
On Monday October 20th, 1998 the autonomous group Earth Liberation Front openly admitted to burning down a Vail INC ski resort in the ski-town, Vail Colorado. The group created roughly $12 million dollars in damages in the name of the Lynx population that dwells in the surrounding areas of the Vail Ski resort. In an message that was sent to KCFR FM Colorado Public Radio in Denver, the ELF stated: “On behalf of the lynx, five buildings and four ski lifts at Vail were reduced to ashes on the night of Sunday, October 18th. Vail, Inc. is already the largest ski operation in North America and now wants to expand even further. The 12 miles of roads and 885 acres of clearcuts will ruin the last, best lynx habitat in the state. Putting profits ahead of Colorado's wildlife will not be tolerated. This action is just a warning. We will be back if this greedy corporation continues to trespass into wild and unroaded areas. For your safety and convenience, we strongly advise skiers to choose other destinations until Vail cancels its inexcusable plans for expansion.1" This attack was one of the largest and most expensive domestic-terrorist attacks against the United States in United States history-before 9/11. The Vail Colorado ski-resort burring birthed the term eco-terrorism. In the post 9/11 context, wherein eco-terrorism no longer places a threat against the hegemony of western identity, many radical eco-political groups such as the Earth Liberation Front, Earth First!, Animal Liberation Front and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society fall through the cracks of law, and continue to use terror as a means to political ends. Current western media further adds to the problem opposed to exposing the radical environmentalist as terrorists, media glorifies eco-terrorist activities therefore creating a ‘Free Willy’ portrayal of radical environmentalist’s producing a general approval of their organizations and politically violent practices. The ennoblement of Jesse’s eco-terrorist activity in Free Willy portrays environmentally charged political action as juvenile and innocent due to Jesse, receiving no consequences for kidnapping Willy, a whale that is property of another’s, and freeing him into the ocean. This portrayal of eco-terrorism perpetuates the ideal that eco-terrorism is a non-legitimate form of political violence. The ‘childish’ and ‘warm-hearted’ view of radical eco-political actions feeds into the development of the ‘grey area’ and all-around discombobulated media portrayal of eco-terrorism in the post 9/11 eras. As western nations continually unite behind ‘The War on Terror’ in the post 9/11 eras, domestic eco-terrorism has established a fortress of support through mainstream media’s approval of eco-terrorist activities exemplified in both Free Willy and Animal Planet’s Whale Wars. Through the idolization and blatant glamorization of eco-terrorist activities, it has developed a general approval of radical environmental groups such as the Earth Liberation Front and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as legitimate organizations that are not deemed at ‘terrorist’ entities.
Terrorism in its most basic definition can be characterized as: using or the threatening use of violence against innocent people, citizens or non-combatants- even property, to influence political change, gain authority and achieve political goals through the creation of an atmosphere of fear. Terrorism has been embedded into our form of political communication and western culture since the post WWII. The post WWI creation of the nation-state is the objective to terrorism; terrorism unites citizens and strengthens the nation-state identity, simultaneously, terrorism is the natural enemy of the...
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