Could Steve-O’s SeaWorld Stunt End Up Hurting the Animal Rights Cause?

The TV star’s involvement might not be such a great thing for the movement.
Steve-O. (Photo: Instagram)
Aug 10, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Former Jackass star and TV prankster Steve-O is being hailed as a hero by some animal rights activists following his daredevil stunt opposing SeaWorld.

Carrying an inflatable orca, the 41-year-old scaled a construction crane in West Hollywood, California, on Sunday night, drawing massive crowds and more than 80 firefighters. Chronicled via video updates on Snapchat and Facebook, the stunt was intended to protest the San Diego theme park that’s been repeatedly accused of animal cruelty, most notably in the 2013 documentary Blackfish. Steve-O, who was wearing a Blackfish T-shirt, was arrested on Sunday, then released from jail on $5,000 bail on Monday.

“We definitely have their attention,” Steve-O said in a Facebook video, observing the cop cars lining up below him on Sunday. “Come on, Shammy, you can do this,” he said, inflating a plastic orca named after Shamu, the amusement park whale that died after about six years in captivity. The video has since been viewed 4.4 million times.

RELATED: ‘Jackass’ Star Steve-O Fined for Spelling Out ‘SeaWorld Sucks’ on Freeway Sign

PETA, the animal rights organization that honored Steve-O (his real name is Stephen Glover) with its top advocacy award in 2011, gave the stuntman’s latest protest props on social media. It did not immediately return TakePart’s request for comment. Elsewhere on Twitter, some activists anointed the former MTV star a fearless legend and a champion of animal advocacy. But it’s unclear whether the dangerous demonstration will have any effect in swaying those who aren’t staunchly anti-SeaWorld. Steve-O’s alignment with the animal rights movement could even backfire, especially considering his polarizing public persona.

A study published in American Politics Research in 2012 found that celebrity endorsements play a huge role in influencing people’s beliefs about politics, but that’s not always a good thing. Researcher Anthony J. Nownes found that when people disliked the celebrity who was campaigning for a particular cause, issue, or political party, they reported liking it less than if the celebrity had not gotten involved. Nownes, a political science professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, landed on the conclusion by asking various groups to assess their political leanings as well as their opinions of celebrities, including Democratic Party supporter Jennifer Aniston.

Nownes found that when respondents had unfavorable opinions of the Friends actor, they were less likely to report supporting the Democratic Party. He observed the same correlation when participants who were asked to rate the Republican Party after reading about Denver Broncos quarterback star Peyton Manning, a big financial backer. As far as celebrity figures go, Aniston and Manning are relatively safe, inoffensive, and generally likable. Both have donated a fortune to charitable causes.

Steve-O, on the other hand, is far from America’s sweetheart.

The Professional Idiot author rose to fame by performing physical feats such as swallowing a live goldfish and throwing it back up again—potentially strange behavior for an animal rights activist, but the stunt occurred in 2000, before he got sober and took up the cause of animal rights. During the height of his celebrity, he was arrested on second-degree battery charges for orchestrating a stunt in which a nightclub bouncer knocked a teenager unconscious. After the TV show Jackass, its spin-off Wildboyz, and subsequent movie series ended, things got worse for Steve-O. He was in and out of rehab and mental institutions in 2008, when he pleaded guilty to felony cocaine possesssion. In interviews in 2012, he credited his two rescue dogs for helping him get sober—and turning him vegan.

“It’s so good for a guy like me to have a priority that’s not myself and have a regimen and discipline and responsibility that’s all very healthy,” Steve-O told Us magazine at the time. On Saturday, he tweeted that he’s been sober for seven and a half years. It makes sense, then, that the newfound animal lover would dedicate his recent stunts to animal advocacy. Last December, he was given a traffic citation after climbing atop a freeway sign in San Diego to alter it to read “SeaWorld sucks.”

The stunts are highly effective at garnering publicity, but they may not do much else to advance the cause. Besides, if declining attendance and plunging profits are any indication, SeaWorld is facing quite a few “brand challenges” without any help from Steve-O.