Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Gaze and Its Implications on the Animals

The gaze, as defined by Sturken and Cartwright is "the relationship of looking in which the subject is caught up in dynamics of desire through trajectories of looking and being looked at" (2009, 442). The gaze can be witnessed as tourists and shoppers within West Edmonton Mall stop and stare to scrutinize the animal exhibits. Depicted and arranged as a family friendly environment, the mall is strategically built to direct their gaze upon the animals. Effectively, by doing so, West Edmonton Mall encourages people to disregard the negative atmosphere in which wildlife is being kept, and instead focus their attention on watching fauna perform. Rather than asking themselves questions regarding the commodification of animals or the ethical obligations that humans have towards their nonhuman counterparts, shoppers blissfully pay money to watch sea lions forcefully perform tricks for food. The gaze is so severely ingrained and normalized by this capitalistic hegemonic that one can reduce these animals to machines, ultimately reducing them to soulless subjects which routinely and mundanely perform for entertainment. Rene Descartes theorized that this theoretical break and dualism (seeing the body and soul as two different and separate entities) was internalized within man, and was implicit in the human relation to animals. "In dividing absolutely body from soul, [Rene Descartes] bequeathed the [animal] body to the laws of physics and mechanics, and, since animals were soulless, the animal was reduced to the model of a machine" (Berger 2009, 21). Nevertheless, even though the spectators reduces the animal to mindless and mechanized, it seems to still summon a feeling of tenderness and enjoy a kind of innocence in the viewer's eye. As John Berger states:

What man has to do in order to transcend the animal, to transcend the mechanical within himself, and what his unique spirituality leads to, is often anguish. And so, by comparison and despite the model of the machine, the animal seems to enjoy a kind of innocence. The animal has been emptied of experience and secrets, and this new invented 'innocence' begins to provoke in man a kind of nostalgia. For the first time, animals are placed in a receding past. (21-22)

This reduction of the animal, then, plays into what images and memories we associated with this captive wildlife. West Edmonton Mall uses this to their advantage by advertising material on their website promoting visits to the 'Sea Lion's Rock' and interactive camps, calling them "experience[s] of a lifetime" (West Edmonton Mall, 2010). By effectively manipulating the gaze and using it as a type of marketing tactic, mall executives are essentially teaching children that having dominion over animals, forcing them to live and behave in unnatural habitats, as well as performing in grotesque and atypical manners to obtain food, is completely healthy and acceptable. Altogether, the gaze is ubiquitous and permeates all facets of animal interaction, whether 'educational', as a spectator, or as a simple passerby. Ultimately, "tourists and [the animals] face each other, look at each other, hear each other, smell each other, or touch each other in these ‘close encounters of empire’, and are all part of the power relations by which forms of gender and [species] inequality are brought into being along with national boundaries of belonging and exclusion" (Sheller, 2004, 1). In other words, the way people (tourists and Edmonton locals alike) subject the mall's captive animals to their gaze is a direct reflection of self-interest, and the desire of every person for his own individual happiness. The focus placed on materialism within the confines of the mall turns the tourist gaze into a materialistic one, commodifying wildlife, transforming wildlife into products to be consumed, both visually and monetarily.


Arnold, Mark and Kristy E. Reynolds. 2003. Hedonic shopping motivations. Journal of Retailing. 79 (2003): 77-95.

Berger, John. Why Look at Animals? (Penguin Great Ideas). London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2009.

Cartwright, Lisa, and Marita Sturken. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. 2 ed. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2007.

Castricano, Jodey. "Monsters: The Case of Marineland." In Animal Subjects: An Ethical Reader in a Posthuman World (CS). Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2008. 195-223.

The Edmonton Journal, "Alberta's greatest animal stories," October 5, 2008. (accessed April 9, 2010).

Hannigan, John. 1998. Fantacity city: pleasure and profit in the postmodern metropolis. New York NY: Routledge.

"Marine Life Education." West Edmonton Mall. (accessed April 9, 2010).

Marvin, Garry, and Robert Mullan. Zoo Culture. 2nd ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Sheller, Mimi. "Returning the Tourist Gaze: Caribbean Gender and Racial Encounters." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (2004): 1-22.

"West Edmonton Mall: Triple Five." Triple FiveWorldwide. (accessed April 10, 2010).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Architecture Influence on Subordination of Animals

View from Phase II looking downwards toward Animal containment (Entertainment)

West Edmonton Mall’s design includes a traditional steel structure, with a clear sun dome stretching throughout the length of the mall. An exception to this standard mall design is the entertainment sector, which is the primary attraction for visitors. Altogether, the mall comprises four phases, each hollow at their center, and all looking downwardly to the floor level, where the fauna are contained; this supports the premise that malls advantageously station the animals in the centre for visitor’s to conveniently divert their attention and gaze to the marine life subjecting the animals to become a form of entertainment- the animals “lose their linguistic connotations and merely become visual” (Castricano 2008, 201), voiceless entities.

WEM, once known as the largest mall in the world, yields semblance to other malls considered as the world’s largest malls, namely the Dubai Mall and Mall of America. These malls also contain wildlife in the centre of the mall, emphasizing the strategy the architectural design. The wildlife are subjugated to each malls’ entertainment region and are the malls most important attraction tactics, reinforcing the capitalistic hegemonic strategy. All three of these malls have the reputation of superior architectural design, as the “largest mall’s ever”, thus sadly overriding the immoral realities of the animals.

Floor Maps of 3 Major Mall's:
Entertainment Sector/Fauna all in the centre of each mall

"The Dubai Mall" Map

"West Edmonton Mall" Map

"Mall of America" Map

Entertainment bearing resemblance to the environmental world (i.e. wildlife containment) have become disguised market places (Hannigan 1998). WEM is far from minimalist as aforementioned when it comes to its entertainment sector. Marketing psychologists have utilized a qualitative inquiry of in depth interviews to determine informants motivations for shopping. They concluded that hedonic experiences within the mall drive the consumer to impulsively purchase goods and positively influences the amount of time the consumer will wander; shoppers even described their enjoyment of being entertained as more rewarding than the actually acquisition of goods (Arnold and Reynolds 2003). Shopping has become “intensely entertaining and this in turn encourages more shopping” (Hannigan 1998, 96). Consequently, the animals are reduced to be seen or understood as a product themselves. The center of the mall, where most traffic congestion is found, has also been proven to be a focal point in entertainment placement (ShopperTrak 2009). Hence, the strategic placement of animals central to the emporiums and small shops can be thought of as a marketing tactic, leaving shoppers little choice but to divert their gaze towards the captive animals.

The Capitalistic Hegemony Structure

The use of captive marine animals as key attractions brings in a substantial amount of visitors per year (and therefore money) clearly indicates that animals in malls, zoos, and petting farms are often considered amusements, instead of living creatures. Indeed, these animals are assessed as means to an end, instead of detaining any intrinsic, humane, or non-fiscal worth. Although animal protection groups have multiplied over the years, the problem seems to remain. As stated by Mullan and Marvin, zoos (yes, WEM is accredited as an official zoo, believe it or not) are fundamentally institutions of power, thus revealing the human ability to capture exotic animals and put them on display for human gratification:

The zoo constitutes a gallery of images constructed by man. The fact that he is able to arrange around him living creatures from all parts of the world, to make decisions with regard to the quality and conditions of their lives and to give shape to the world for them in terms of his imagination and desire is, in the end, an expression of power. (160)

Just as doctrines of racism were once prevalent within Western society, supporting arguments that it was acceptable to enslave minorities on the grounds that they were fundamentally inferior, ideologies of speciesism (that is, the notion that human animals are of higher value and superior than nonhuman animals) serve similar purposes today. Both legitimize the exploitation of living entities. Indeed, the West Edmonton Mall 'zoo' is nothing more than a type of prison for animals "where the public can visit and observe the suffering of the inmates, just as the circus sideshow allowed paying customers the opportunity to derive pleasure from viewing the misfortunes of the disabled" (Castricano 2008, 198). Consequently, by presenting animals to the public in an imperial light, West Edmonton Mall itself acts as both "a model of empire (where humanity holds domination over lesser species arrayed for our pleasure, our betterment, our use) and simultaneously as a metaphor for the larger, more important imperial enterprises in the sociopolitical hierarchy in which it flourishes" (Castricano 2008, 198). In other words, the mall demonstrates how, by using animals as specimens for simple entertainment, the imperial power to pierce, dominate, and control the natural world is reflected. Fundamentally, malls are institutions of power. This is mirrored in the human capability to capture exotic animals, confining them to a small convoy for long hauls, only to be imprisoned in an all-too-small artificial environment upon arrival (if they make it alive, exemplified in the case of West Edmonton Mall's fourth sea lion). After all of that, they are sentenced to a life of mindless routine, put on display for human enjoyment. As a result, through the processes of juvenilization and commodification, wild animals are domesticated and hence seen as familiar, manageable, clownish. The ability of a commercial institution to draw on the power of entertainment not only distorts our moral judgement, it also reinforces the idea of a qualitative division between humans and other forms of life, convincing us to act in unethical ways as we come to see animals as items and articles available for purchase, that exist only for us, in this case, as entertainers.

A satirical commentary on P.T Barnum: First person to have a whale captive on display for profit; also enslaved African-American woman claiming she was the World's Oldest Woman. Example of power exertion over "inferior's" to make profit

Present: Sea Lion performing tricks upon trainers commands while crowd watches. Another example of power exertion on "inferior's"

History of WEM Animals

In 1983, Rubin Stahl, one of West Edmonton Mall's chief promoters, proposed an idea to the Ghermezian brothers, who own the mall. He spoke of a vision which included a dazzling artificial lake, complete with submarines and killer whales. In 1985, Phase III of the mall opened its doors. Within this new segment lay a concrete tank, and whilst no killer whales were to be found, four bottlenose dolphins were. The two pairs had been caught off the coast of Florida and put into captivity in chilly Edmonton. Thus began the story of confined exotic animals within the walls of the biggest shopping centre in North America.

Nader (left) and Don Ghermezian

Despite much controversy surrounding animal cruelty, the dolphins, named Howard, Gary, Mavis, and Maria were subjected to great stress over the span of their twenty year stay. Constant noise, bright lights, and an undersized tank were factors in producing unhealthy dolphins. "In the wild, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins live 35 to 55 years. In captivity, their life-spans are much shorter, 17 to 20 years of age" (Edmonton Journal, 2008). This fact perpetuated itself as Maria died at the age of 19, who had the ill-fated habit of swallowing coins that were tossed in the tank. She had had two calves in the past, and Mavis three. All were stillborn or died soon after birth. Maria's mate Gary died in 2001, at age 20. Shortly afterwards, subsequent to losing her third calf, Mavis "lost her bubbly, joyful nature. She refused to eat for an extended period of time" (Edmonton Journal, 2008). Unable to recover from her malnutrition and apparent depression, she died in July of 2003. The death of the three dolphins brought about a sudden push for the release of Howard, the final dolphin. In May of 2004, even though keepers were afraid for his life due to his lack of strength and body mass, Howard was secretly transported via private jet to a saltwater lagoon park, in the Florida keys. He died a year later in May of 2005 (Edmonton Journal, 2008). Tove Reece of Edmonton's Voice for animals stated that the move was long overdue, and that it was "sad to look at this pool and think that we'd imprisoned four dolphins for this long. And for what? To entertain some jaded shoppers." (Edmonton Journal, 2008) Now, the 'Dolphin's Lagoon' has been turned into the 'Sea Lion's Rock', showcasing three sea lions (a fourth sea lion died whilst being transported to West Edmonton Mall). Furthermore, where flamingos once used to reside, now live two sloths. The flamingos, due to losing their pink hue from being fed inappropriately, have temporarily been integrated in a breeding program in Winnipeg.

Today: Sea Lion Cove

1985-2004: Dolphin Lagoon