This is no movie, and there are no ‘golden shrimp’ blocking the blowout valve

Published 1:57 pm Thursday, May 6, 2010

“Golden shrimp” blocked the oil rig’s valves in the Jimmy Stewart movie “Thunder Bay.”

Universal released the movie in 1953, that in some respects, was prophetic of what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico, even though “Thunder Bay” was a thinly disguised bit of propaganda for the oil industry.

In the movie, the hero, portrayed by Stewart, has an idea for drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. He goes to Port Felicity, La., to begin his exploration and drilling. The movie actually was filmed around Morgan City, La.

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At first, the fishermen and the oil men get along, but of course a love interest is thrown in that causes some problems. Also, the fishermen become concerned about the impact of oil exploration on shrimp, especially since they are having a bad shrimp season. When the oil drillers start throwing bundles of dynamite into the gulf as part of their effort to find the pool of oil they believe is there, matters really heat up.

A few fights and other dramatic moments later, including a hurricane, and the oil men find their oil and the reason the valves on their rig are stopping up. It’s the mythical giant “golden shrimp” that is getting into the valves and plugging them.

This, of course, tells the fishermen where to fish for a huge “bed” of these mythical shrimp, thus saving the shrimping season and everything ends with everyone living “happily ever after.”

In the real world of today, shrimpers have had their shrimp season shut down before it even began, and are watching in despair as oil spewing from a well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico coats the surface of the sea and is driven by wind, currents and tide towards the marsh that is the nursery for shrimp and many other species of sea life. There, the oil will coat and poison the marsh ecosystem, killing fish and shrimp and the plants that hold the marsh in place.

Along with the death of the sea life and the marsh that supports it, a marsh which the oil men actually began killing with their first efforts to find oil in the gulf, will die the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen and shrimpers who make their living from the Gulf of Mexico. The shrimpers of “Thunder Bay” were right to be concerned about oil exploration, even back in those early days, but they didn’t recognize the real danger the oil men represented.

This time, there is no heroic, but misunderstood, Jimmy Stewart gambling on a dream, and there is no likely magical discovery of mythical, giant “golden shrimp” to save the day for the fishermen — and the shrimping season. This is no Hollywood movie.

Unlike the fate that awaits the CEO and other executives of British Petroleum, there will be no livelihood left for the fishermen along the Gulf Coast.

The rich oil men will either remain in place and see their “compensation” increased, or take their “golden parachutes” and float off into a wealthy, carefree retirement. The fishermen, “CEOs” of their shrimp and fishing and oystering boats and the small, independent businesses they represent, don’t have “golden parachutes.”

Without the sea life on which their small businesses depend, there is no income, nor any work for their boats to do. They, along with the shrimp and fish and oysters that they pursue in the rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico, life that was supported by the marsh land and which provided the nurseries for the sea life, will disappear.

Once again big business will have killed small business with a casual, sneering, carelessness that is sickening and troubling to watch in a nation where the myth of small business has a nearly religious aura.

BP has said it will pay for “legitimate and objectively verifiable” damages. That’s just another way of saying BP plans to pay as little as possible for the massive amount of damage it has caused and will not recognize, or take responsibility for, destroying an industry, a culture, and a way of life. Like Exxon following the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, it looks forward to making more and greater profits following this disaster.

Like Exxon, BP knows that if it spreads enough wealth around the Halls of Congress, the real magical, mythical bed of “golden shrimp” for big business, the oil company’s season will be saved. Just as Congress capped claims for Exxon, a cap that may already legally limit how much damage for which BP can be held liable, Congress will make certain to see BP’s liability is limited.

The little guy, the shrimpers and fishermen and oystermen and the small businesses and workers that depend on them? Why they can go whistle for their supper. Congress is really all about big business.