I have a confession to make.
I am not the righteous and principled person I pretend to be on Tumblr.
When we were in Orlando for FinCon, I had one extra day and night to spend any way that I chose.
On my one night free in the city, I walked a three mile pilgrimage from my Airbnb to visit Pulse. Like most people who visit the site of horrible violence, I processed by considering that violence through a selfish lens. These people were my people. This could’ve been me. I thought a lot about the kind of life I want to lead, and how much that life depends on the kindness of others. It left me feeling somehow rejuvenated and drained at once.
The next morning I visited the Harry P. Leu Gardens, because I am the world’s oldest young person. I confess that I have a fascination with this one very niche kind of tourist attraction: the palatial estates of long-dead industry barons transformed into indoor/outdoor botanical art museums. I. Love. Them. I posted many cute photos on Instagram, which were liked by all the people at FinCon I’d drunkenly passed out my personal Instagram to. (By the way we are on Instagram now, but it’s all just pictures of food, dogs, and chickens. If you’re into that, add us @BGRKitty and @BGRPiggy!)
With my last remaining afternoon in Orlando…
…went to SeaWorld.
I am not fucking proud of the fact that I went to SeaWorld
Let me invite you into my ethical dilemma.
I love roller coasters.
I love roller coasters so much that, when the ride is over, I laugh like a happy baby until the person strapped in next to me says “Wow, you must really love roller coasters!” It happens every time, because an adult woman laughing like a happy baby is actually super disturbing and not cute. People get anxious, and try to diffuse the awkwardness by saying “Wow, I’m going to assume that you have a good reason for making me feel so creeped out!”
I can ride them again and again and again. If I’m at an amusement park with other people, they usually beg off after the first one or two, needing a break for their weak mortal stomachs. Not I. Hey NASA! Your girl is right here, ready for her astronaut training!
My partner, comically, has terrible motion sickness. He cannot ride boats, let alone roller coasters. So for as long as I’ve been with him, I haven’t been on any roller coasters. (It’s not like an “ohhh, I can’t go anywhere without my BoYfRiEnD” thing. It’s more like “it’s rude to plan a date that requires a three-hour round-trip drive and $80 tickets when only one person will actually enjoy themselves” thing.)
But this was my big chance! I was alone, in Orlando, in September, on a weekday. All the kiddies were back in school, and the parks were as empty as Mitch McConnell’s locker on Valentine’s Day. This was my moment to drink from the cup of roller coasters until I drowned in it.
So I looked up which parks had the best roller coasters.
The fastest? It’s at SeaWorld.
The tallest? It’s at SeaWorld.
The longest? It’s at SeaWorld.
The second longest? It’s at SeaWorld.
Orlando’s only flying coaster? It’s at SeaWorld.
Orlando’s first coaster with virtual reality elements? It’s at SeaWorld.
My dreams were about to hit the brick wall of an ethical dilemma.
The problem with SeaWorld
Most of you will have heard by now that SeaWorld is the worst.
They kidnap highly intelligent, highly social animals from the wild and stick them in substandard concrete tanks to perform tricks for greasy tourists and their bored children. Their living conditions are deplorable, and they die young. Worse still, the stress of their living situation causes them to become violent against humans, other animals, and themselves. And SeaWorld has gone to great lengths to cover all this shit up and silence its critics, especially when those critics are former employees.
Basically SeaWorld really sucks.
They ended some of their most egregious practices (like forced captive breeding for Orcas). But most changes seemed to have more to do with wrapping themselves in a cloak of corporate social responsibility.
The fundamental problem of the park hasn’t changed. Their dolphin program is still going strong—and dolphins are no more ethical to keep than orcas. They’re just not the animal on the cover of the super-duper critical documentary that everybody saw.
I love animals. I even love people! Sorta. (Ughhh, I can visualize a lie-detector needle jumping like a popcorn kernel in hot oil on that last one but it is abstractly true.) I’m not spending my hard-earned money at a place that abuses both the animals and workers in their care.
So I vowed not to go.
BTW, here’s a few of our animal love articles…
- Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
- Twelve Reasons Senior Pets Are an Awesome Investment
- Cold, Unfeeling Human Overlords Rank 30 Pets for Financial Efficiency
- So I Got Chickens
I visited Islands of Adventure with Piggy, as we wrote about here. As we got in line for the Incredible Hulk roller coaster, she looked back at me briefly, then did a double-take.
“Oh my god, your face!”
I thought she was telling me I was getting sunburnt. (Hi, I’m extremely white!) But she was referring to the look of radiant joy on my face as we breezed through the queue. I felt like I was walking through the gates of Heaven. I rode five roller coasters that day with Piggy. After she left for the airport, I rode four more alone.
And they were honestly all pretty meh?! (Note from Piggy: Kitty is a lunatic adrenaline junkie and she is not to be trusted. Those roller coasters were great as far as us average Earth humans are concerned.)
The Incredible Hulk has a fantastic start—truly, one of the best I’ve ever experienced—but a ho-hum middle and an abrupt, unsatisfying end.
The Harry Potter robocoaster was fascinating and innovative, but quite tame. Lots of lurching movements and sensory confusion, but no actual high speeds or inversions.
The Jurassic Park ride was laughably phoned-in. The introductory animatronic dinosaur was an absolutely wretched brontosaurus sporting a heinous case of scoliosis. Whoever approved this ride should see me after class.
Flight of the Hippogriff? Brief and trivial. Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls? A respectable classic hobbled by only one real fall. Doctor Doom’s Fear Fall? Don’t even get me started. That “ride” should be embarrassed to exist in the same world as the Tower of Terror.
I left Universal Studios feeling fundamentally unsatisfied, and I started to think about SeaWorld again. I fell asleep in my Airbnb contemplating this question: If I really want to purchase something that I know is unethical, how can I mitigate the effects of that choice?
How do we handle unethical spending?
Unless you are a pretty serious backwoods type, you probably buy products every single day that are unethical to some degree.
Gasoline and electricity and air travel are horrible pollutants. Most of our food, clothing, and technology is produced under oppressive conditions for workers. Major institutions that power modern life, like banks and chain stores and utility providers, are rife with exploitative practices.
It’s hard to point to any one thing you can buy and say it isn’t making the planet sicker, or further entrenching a system of globalized poverty. It’s a fucking bummer to think about. But at least most of these represent necessities. What happens when you don’t need something? And you just really, really want it?
How do you handle craving a Chick-fil-A sandwich, knowing that you don’t agree with their stance on social issues?
What happens when you value the convenience of Amazon Prime, but you’re also aware of their awful treatment of warehouse workers?
If your favorite hobbies are made easier with access to an SUV, how do you justify the much larger carbon footprint?
Well, sometimes you can’t, and that’s probably good. But here are some strategies.
Make a good faith search for alternatives
When faced with unethical purchases, the very least you can do is to fully understand the choice you are making.
Let’s say your favorite pizza chain is Papa John’s. (No one actually loves Papa John’s so this is obviously hypothetical.) Let’s also say you’re grossed out by founder John Schnatter’s shitty politics and disgusting, naked racism.
In good faith, you should not order another one of Papa John’s
rancid, doughy monstrosities “pizzas” until you’ve tried the other pizza joints in your hometown. Brands are really, really good at tricking you into discounting their competitors without ever having tried them. Don’t fall for it.
If you exhaust the local mom and pops, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, CPK, and Little Caesars and decide that you still want that
vile wet disc “pie,” so be it. At least you know there is no viable alternative.
I went to Universal hoping their lesser coasters could scratch my itch. They did not. Check.
Practice extreme moderation
I hear this one from the guilty liberals who love Chick-fil-A. They vow not to go, and vow not to go, and vow not to go—but then The Hunger visits them in the night. They can’t ignore their craving. Das chyckyn vampyr!
You know what? That’s okay. I have never had Chick-fil-A myself, but I have eaten a Popeyes biscuit, so I get what you’re saying. Sometimes I just need a fluffy, hot biscuit constructed out of 85% pure butter, dusted in so much salt it creates a crispy shell. And damn the consequences!
If you only put $1.19 of profit into Dan Cathy’s pockets twice a year, well, whatever. Not the end of the world.
I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I will never return to a SeaWorld ever again. It’s out of my system forever. Plus, they’re very likely to go out of business in the near future. This could legitimately be my last chance to ride these coasters. Check.
Don’t know what you’re missing
Notice how I just said I’d never had Chick-fil-A? I knew they were owned by homophobic jerkwads before one opened in my town. I’ve heard their chicken sandwiches are peerless. I intend to never find out if that’s true or not.
If I could go back in time and never go on a roller coaster, I might. But I can’t. No check.
Get only what you need
Growing up in a small town in the Midwest before the advent of online shopping, there was only one craft store in town: Hobby Lobby. The chain’s ultra-Christian owners have quietly funded all sorts of gross legislation, attempting to enforce their personal religious views on everyone else in the country. And I don’t cotton to that, not one bit.
… But I also needed chartreuse embroidery floss for my grandma hobbies.
So when I had to go, I would only buy the things that I could only get at Hobby Lobby. If I needed both embroidery floss and new scissors, I’d get the scissors elsewhere.
I bought absolutely nothing at SeaWorld other than my ticket. No water, no snacks, no souvenirs, no photos. I was ravenously hungry by the time I left, but it was worth it not to put more money in their pockets. Check.
And not that I wanted to go, but I skipped all of the live animal shows. I assume they have some way of measuring attendance. I wanted to give clear feedback that I was there for the rides, not the sad dolphins gliding listlessly through their concrete puddles. Double-check.
Make them suffer for your business
This is my favorite one. Because it’s genius and evil, and that’s kinda my thing.
When I went to SeaWorld, I got a discounted $80 ticket. That’s actually not much money, when you think about the massive bills SeaWorld must pay. It’s a lot of land to own, a lot of grounds to keep, a lot of rides to power, a lot of animals to feed, a lot of employees to pay. SeaWorld survives by padding that relatively low ticket cost with money spent on snacks and souvenirs.
In the four hours I was at SeaWorld, I rode absolutely as many roller coasters as I could. I hit eleven. That means I paid $7.27 per ride. This rate is so low that I suspect SeaWorld actually lost money on me that day.
If every customer walking through their gates spent and consumed at the rate I did, they would go out of business even faster than they already are. Take that, you whale-kidnapping, whistleblower-abusing assholes. Check.
Offset the bad deed
If it’s within your means to make a matching contribution to an institution that works against the unethical company you just funded, do it!
Let’s say you like to hunt, which leads you to buy supplies through businesses that directly endorse or support the NRA and its indefensible stance against commonsense gun regulations. If there are no viable alternatives, maybe you can also make a donation to an organization like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence?
So I set out to save the whales. Remembering that not all charities are created equal, I vetted them first. I ended up donating to Oceana, an international advocacy group that seeks to protect oceans and their wildlife through strategic, achievable legal campaigns. Because I love SMART goals and cetaceans.
It’s money I would never have donated had I not gone to SeaWorld. I am relatively rich and I have no excuse not to. Check.
Make it count
Finally, hey, a reminder that we’re imperfect human beings with a limited amount of time on this planet. A lot of ethical consumption is about virtue signaling as much as actually making good choices. And that’s okay! There should be social pressure to not do obviously lame things like going to SeaWorld. Believe me, it worked: I felt it!
At the end of the day, I went because I was pretty sure that I would get a once-in-a-lifetime experience that saturated my soul with pure joy, and I could do it in a way that didn’t make me regret it.
So how were the roller coasters at SeaWorld?
Um, they were fucking great.
The Kraken: 7.5/10
Loved the speed, loved the inversions, loved the near-miss on the concrete pillar. On my last ride, I took a bug to the throat so hard it left a bruise. (Make no mistake: this enhanced the overall experience.) I actually preferred the rearmost seat on this one. A sterling example of a modern thrill coaster.
The Mako: 9/10
It was INCREDIBLE. The front row on this one is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The first drop plummets you down 200 feet at an almost 90 degree angle, reaching speeds of 73 miles per hour. It’s all the more thrilling given the lack of chest restrains. The only thing keeping you in place is a minimalist lap bar. Sure, this means no inversions—but the airtime is exquisite, especially on the camel backs.
Basically, if you want to know what it feels like to skydive, you could just ride this baby.
The Manta: 13/10
I was devastated when I arrived—the Manta was closed for repairs.
“All are punished!!” I cried up to the heavens, pronouncing punished with three syllables, because if I wanted it to be two I would’ve written punish’d, obviously. The poor park employee who had to turn me away from the ride entrance could see I was devastated.
Later in the day, I saw him again, now working on the Kraken. “The Manta’s reopening in fifteen minutes,” he whispered as he clacked my safety harness into place.
I booked it straight to the Manta and rode it back-to-back three times in a row.
It’s what’s called a “flying roller coaster.” Once you’re locked into your seat, the seats then rotate 270 degrees so that you’re hanging parallel to the ground, arms dangling, but still in a seated position. Sorta like Superman-style flying? You have a perfect view of the walkway below, with other park-goers craning their necks up to look at you. Then the ride begins.
Jesus H. Christ. How to describe that first pretzel loop? You’re swooping through the park, face-down, arms out, gliding like the creature the coaster is named for. Then the horizon crawls away and you’re on your back, belly to the sky, blinking up at the sun. It’s so disorienting that even watching the video, I’m struck by the sense of being sucked backwards. It’s a movement my brain never learned to fully comprehend. I screamed myself hoarse with raw joy every time.
The coaster’s construction is perfect. The ride is smooth; the placement over and through the heart of the park is thrilling; the length is satisfying. There’s even a manta-shaped figurehead hovering over the cart. It sounds inconsequential, but when you catch your own shadow, what you see is a manta. Such a charming touch!
Without reservation, this is the best roller coaster I’ve ever been on.
An experience I will remember for the rest of my life.
I am declaring open season on myself. If anyone would like to excoriate me, just scroll down—the comments section is right there.
But maybe there are some among you who understand my wretched choice. Guys, what are some of the purchases that have given you serious pause? How do you reconcile giving money to an entity whose ethics are completely out of whack? And just how good are those Chick-fil-A sandwiches anyway???
Please tell us in the comments below!