When Pamela Anderson, Sam Simon and their million-dollar novelty cheque arrived in St. John’s last Tuesday to play out the latest chapter of Hollywood’s anti-seal hunt crusade, their object was never to facilitate an industry-wide buyout. There was never any expectation that the Canadian Sealers Association would take the money or adhere to the terms of the payout, nor was there ever any worry of converting the seven-figure offer into anything concrete.
No, a mission to end the seal hunt in one fell swoop was destined for failure from the beginning, and Anderson and Simon were well aware of that. In Newfoundland, a hostile reception was virtually guaranteed from the public and a blanket rebuke from the powers that be in the sealing industry was practically assured.
Last Tuesday was never about ending the hunt. It was all about attention grabbing.
The whole affair screamed publicity stunt. To start, the timing was suspect enough. Pam Anderson in St. John’s in December? Just as the Christmas news lull is setting in?
The million dollars was altogether laughable as well. What I hope was a ploy to stimulate public reaction rather than a frighteningly naïve, low-ball offer was enough for Mark Critch to counter-offer Anderson to give up her acting career for $165, the amount of money each sealer would see from the $1 million she was offering as an incentive for them to give up their own livelihoods.
Yes, media attention was the goal here. All Anderson and Simon were ever looking for was a reaction. For last week’s exploits, the timing, the cast of characters — Anderson is already much beloved in the province for her previous antics — and the setting were all tightly choreographed to inspire the media frenzy that ensued.
If PETA understands anything, it’s how to stage a stunt that will turn heads. Ruffling feathers is very much a part of the brand. To their credit, they know how to create the hype that fuels their success, however rage-inducing and divisive it may be sometimes. Get Anderson in the province clutching a novelty cheque and saying things like, “a million dollars is a lot in Newfoundland,” and you’re guaranteed an engrossed public at the drop of a hat.
Think the story would have made national headlines without pictures of Anderson’s mug plastered beneath them? Or that the same attention would have been given to the story had it been played out in L.A. rather than at the sealers association’s offices in St. John’s?
Could the same deluge of linked content have appeared on social media without Anderson’s boneheaded remarks or PETA’s ludicrous million-dollar buyout plan?
Not a chance.
From the start, publicity was the aim. And through careful choreography, that desired media hype was achieved.
It’s easy to blame the media for facilitating the success of Anderson’s and Simon’s latest stunt. News organizations, unfortunately, play an important role in creating the public presence that PETA and other eye-roll-worthy interest groups rely upon.
Likewise, it’s easy to fall into the argument that all news organizations ought to do is starve the Pam Andersons of the world for attention. That way the novelty cheques would forever be printed in vain and the moral crusaders would always be shipped back to Hollywood unsatisfied. If the message couldn’t get out, then the misinformation couldn’t be perpetuated.
But that theory denies the fact that when Pam Anderson and a “Simpsons” co-creator show up in town to drop off a million bucks, it’s pretty big news. And that when the Canadian Sealers Association is subject to ridicule yet again, people want and deserve to know about it.
The media may be unwittingly helping PETA keep dissent on the seal hunt topical and fresh in the minds of Canadians, but it must also fulfil a responsibility to keep the public informed.
As much as it kills me to say it, that uncomfortable combination means that the latest antics of Hollywood’s bleeding hearts, however unbelievable, have to make it beyond the editor’s desk.
Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is enrolled in the journalism
program at Carleton University.
He can be reached by email at