Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience. By Susan G. Davis. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997. Pp. xii + 313, 18 maps/figures, notes, index.)
The multi-faceted discipline of cultural studies examines the theories and practices of everyday life that we use to explain and make sense of the world around us. Gender, sexuality, race, nationhood, and society are the specific but arbitrary products of social construction. Language, identity, politics, and culture all contribute, mold, reflect, and reproduce these models and frameworks in which we live. But what exactly are the influences of corporate culture? To what extent are our lives and experiences mediated by profit-driven corporations and organizations? Susan Davis, in Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience, examines these questions in the context of a particular form of recreational consumption in our consumer culture: the nature theme park. She deconstructs Sea World in San Diego, exposing the extensive influence of the economic forces underlying this privatized, commercialized space. As the title of her book suggests, Spectacular Nature offers a comprehensive examination of Sea World, its creation, its meaning, and its nature spectacle as mediated by corporate culture.
Public and commercialized space has long been subjected to analysis by numerous academics in fields as diverse as sociology, history, political economy, anthropology, communication, and more recently, cultural studies. In this respect, studies of the commodification of public space and its commercialization are nothing new. However, using a more contemporary, multi-disciplinary approach to Sea World, Davis focuses her analytical gaze on the multiple "texts" that make up the theme park as a whole in order to examine the underlying social orders that shape, influence, and control our experiences within the park. With an eye of a folklorist, the patience of an anthropologist, and the shrewdness of an economist, she unpacks the carefully constructed nature theme park as a "consumer good [intended] for a contemporary mass market" (4) that hides behind a facade of scientific research, animal conservation, and environmentalism.
Reducing Sea World to a purely profit-making machine exposes an interesting text for analysis. Or, as Davis posits, "to unpack the meanings of places like Sea World, it is useful to speak of theme-parked nature as an...