HERALD SQUARE, Midtown (PIX11) – With 50 million viewers at home, and 3 million people lining its 3-mile route, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the most watched parade in the world, and it officially kicks off the holiday shopping season. This year, though, the parade features two controversies, both involving, directly or indirectly, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.
“The Seaworld float,” said Ashley Byrne, a PETA spokesperson, is deceptive “because it shows orcas in the wild,” she said, adding that the captivity in which the massive sea mammals live at Seaworld is a sharp contrast to the animals’ natural state.
Her organization is calling on Macy’s to pull SeaWorld’s float from Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. PETA is also encouraging people to sign an online petition calling for Seaworld to be excluded. So far, nearly 80,000 people have signed the document, including celebrities like Howard Stern and Alec Baldwin.
Yes, the same Alec Baldwin who’s already been in the headlines in the last week for roughing up a paparazzo, and using a derogatory term for gays during the confrontation. Baldwin is the very same celebrity calling for more ethical treatment — of animals.
For now, the New York-based actor is suspended from his talk show on MSNBC.
Not suspended, despite the number of petition signatures, however, is the Seaworld float, but there is another suspension at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It too, involves PETA, albeit indirectly.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, whose 1980s hits “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Crimson and Clover” propelled them to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and worldwide stardom, will not be propelled to the stage on the South Dakota Tourism float, where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees had originally been scheduled to perform.
Jett, however, is a PETA member and vegetarian, and some leaders in the tourism industry in the big cattle state have made public comments asserting that her views on meat and animal use were anti-South Dakota tourism.
Instead, Jett and her band are moving to another, as yet undetermined float for the parade. She said in a statement that she doesn’t want politics to stand in the way of entertainment.
The whole situation does beg the question of whether or not the McDonald’s float encourages the eating of animals, and should therefore be suspended, or if the Hess Oil float should be removed because it promotes the use of fossil fuels, and so on.
“I’ll be looking from the 18th floor, with my two sons, age four and nine,” said Thomas Maximo. His office is in a high rise that faces the Thanksgiving Day Parade route on Sixth Avenue. None of the controversies are going to stop him from being at the event.
Similarly, the controversies aren’t stopping the parade, or stopping the new Seaworld float from making its debut on Thanksgiving morning, as the parade organizer, Macy’s, points out.
“While it is understandable that such a widely embraced event can sometimes feature elements or performances that some people may find disagreeable,” the retail giant said in a statement, “Macy’s intention is to provide a range of entertaining elements without judgement, endorsement or agenda.”
It can be noted that while no judgement, endorsement or agenda is being promoted, business is. Nearly all of the floats and balloons in the parade have been entered by major corporations, and Macy’s is itself a corporation.
In part, that’s what PETA said it’s protesting. Seaworld is “using sea animals for [its] entertainment [business],” said PETA spokesperson Byrne.
For its part, Seaworld points out that it currently has, in its facilities in Florida, California and Texas, dozens of rescued animals being treated by its staff in preparation for them being returned to the wild. The amusement and wildlife business has run animal rehabilitation and release programs that have assisted more than 23,000 animals to date, it said.
A Seaworld spokesperson added, in a recent interview in Crain’s New York Business, “We believe most Americans recognize that SeaWorld, not PETA, is the real animal welfare organization.”