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November 21, 2013

Ballooning animal controversies mar Macy's parade

NEW YORK — Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is awash in animal-related protests over its floats, with controversies involving the unlikely pairing of rocker Joan Jett and Shamu the killer whale.

Activists plan to line the route of next week’s parade to protest a SeaWorld float over accusations in a new documentary that the theme parks treat whales badly. And ranchers succeeded in getting Jett pulled off the South Dakota tourism float after they questioned why the vegetarian and animal-rights ally was representing their beef-loving state.

The float flaps threaten to shake Macy’s traditional position of staying out of politics and soaring silently above the fray, like the massive balloons of Snoopy, Kermit the Frog and SpongeBob SquarePants.

“The parade has never taken on, promoted or otherwise engaged in social commentary, political debate or other forms of advocacy,” Cincinnati-based Macy’s Inc. said in a statement this week.

It was in that spirit that parade executive producer Amy Kule said Tuesday that the SeaWorld float is staying.

“There is no controversy,” she said. “Our goal is to entertain, and that is their goal, as well.”

The SeaWorld float, which depicts rolling waves, tropical fish, penguins and Shamu, comes months after the release of the documentary “Blackfish,” which contends that SeaWorld’s poor treatment of its killer whales contributed to the aggression of a whale involved in a trainer’s death.

SeaWorld says the accusations have “absolutely no basis” and that “the men and women who care for these animals at SeaWorld are dedicated in every respect to their health and well-being.”

Activists, including members of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, say they plan to stage a protest somewhere along the route during next week’s parade. And the group says it has sent Macy’s more than 80,000 emails from animal lovers demanding that the store drop the float.

Among those joining were actor Alec Baldwin and his wife, Hilaria, who wrote last week that SeaWorld was a “cruel prison for whales” and that the parks “should not be celebrated with a giant Shamu float parading down 34th Street.”

Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Manhattan’s Hunter College and a longtime parade watcher, says the SeaWorld controversy puts Macy’s in a tough spot.

“It’s damned if they do, damned if they don’t,” Sherrill said. “Macy’s is making a statement. If there’s a political conflict, saying ‘I’m not getting involved’ means you’re supporting the status quo.”  

PETA also is connected to the float controversy involving Jett, an animal-rights vegetarian who works with the organization.

She was scheduled to sing atop South Dakota’s tourism float until an outcry from the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, which said it made no sense to feature an artist who is critical of the state’s top economic sector.

Macy’s found a solution: The “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” singer and her Blackhearts band are being moved to a different float as yet to be announced. A parade spokesman said it made the move so attention isn’t diverted from the “entertainment mission” of the event, which also features Carrie Underwood, Jimmy Fallon, the Radio City Rockettes and the cast members of the reality show “Duck Dynasty.”

The parade has gone on through previous controversies.

In 2011, Tim Burton’s “B. Boy” balloon took flight despite critics labeling it “creepy” for its depiction of a snaggle-toothed boy made out of old party balloons.

And last year, Elmo’s appearance followed sexual abuse charges against longtime puppeteer Kevin Clash, whose recorded voice was heard on a float. That parade also included confetti made from shredded New York City police documents.

 

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