Monday Madness: Six Flags embraces Storkism

Evolution. Global Warming. Embryonic Stem Cells. In the battles we fight for science, too often we pay attention to the bigger issues and let lesser known skirmishes slip in under the radar. When was the last time you heard a science writer call for accuracy in basic human biology? And so it happens that without the due attention paid to the misconceptions that crop up and persist in the human mind, they rise to the surface and manifest as unsightly signs of pervasive ignorance: Six Flags Marine World embraces Storkism.

A couple weeks ago, I found myself waiting in line for a water ride on a hot day at Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo, CA. We had seen a dolphin show, fed the lorikeets, and we were already dry from the boat ride near the entrance that we rode before lunch. Although the heat was sweltering, the line for the six-seater giant innertube rapids ride was not very long, so we were eagerly anticipating some genuine soakage. Then we saw the safety sign.

Attention all Guests: Important Indoctrination Information Every ride needs to display basic safety guidelines. You’re going to be jostled about, excited, and palpitated, so it might be a good idea not to ride the ride if you have high blood pressure, for example. And the top, middle image depicts this well. The arm strap and bulb are icons of blood pressure, and accurate depictions of what someone has to go through repeatedly if they have blood pressure problems.

The back injury image doesn’t fail to disappoint, although one wonders why the classic lightning bolts aren’t striking this person’s back, because we all know that small focused lightning strikes cause back aches. (Either that or back troubles give off high-voltage static electricity, the jury is still out on that.) The infirm patient on the top right with their bandage and thermometer instantly tells us that they are not well. Although I have always wondered why this person is always smiling ever-so-slightly. A subtle endorsement of masochism?

The Valentine-ish heart picture on the top left leaves a little to be desired. I mean, the heart shape is obviously an accurate depiction of the shape of the human heart. But the band-aid? People don’t use band-aids to patch up broken hearts, they do that with Hershey’s and Baskin Robbins. So they lose a couple points on that one, even though they get their point across – don’t ride if you’ve just come out of a long-term relationship.

But then I saw the last picture – their depiction of pregnancy. A spindly bird called a stork, which few people have seen in real life, is carrying a baby in a sling, and this of course, is a phenomenon known as pregnancy. Where’s the diamond left in the cabbage patch? How about showing us a corn husk peeling back to reveal a baby inside? Would that make any sense to anyone except a Mayan or a cultural anthropologist? Actually, it does make a little sense…

Child of the corn.Okay, so maybe this image suggests that you don’t leave your child in a corn field, but then what does the above stork picture really suggest? Take out the word “pregnancy,” forget the fiction you were taught as a child, and what does the sign seem to tell you?

  • Do not leave child unattended in Lorikeet aviary.
  • No bird babysitters allowed
  • Babies lost on this ride will not be rescued by bird-man.
  • What? A stork carrying a baby? It could grip it by the sling. It’s not a question of where he grips it! It’s a simple question of weight ratios. A 20-pound bird could not carry a 6-pound baby. Well, it doesn’t matter. Will you go and tell your master that Arthur from the Court of Camelot is here? Listen. In order to maintain air-speed velocity…
  • Don’t Feed The Flamingos.

The flamingos were right around the corner... it could have worked.
It could happen! Anyway, Six Flags is obviously embracing storkism, the belief that human babies are brought by storks and don’t result from sex and gestation inside of a human female. They expect that everyone knows or must know the stork myth told to children to shield them from reality, and if not, they’re going to burn the image of the myth into your retina. And of course, just as sickness makes me think of thermometers and bandages, pregnancy immediately makes me think about birds with long pointy beaks ferreting toddlers through the air in a flimsy cotton rag tied at the top.

And let’s not forget that even within the stork myth, the stork brings the baby when it is ready to appear at the hospital when mom goes to get liposuction for eating too much for the last 9 months. (How DO storkists explain the coincidence of the missing belly and the baby appearing, anyway?) The stork doesn’t depict pregnancy, it depicts birth, so they aren’t even indoctrinating ridegoers properly!

Now you’re probably getting cynical. How on Earth could a G-rated amusement park depict pregnancy on a simple sign such as that? What, do you show a sequence starting with two stick figures interlocked, one of them getting bigger, the other one running away, and then finally, a little stick figure next to the female one looking normal again? Wouldn’t that be too complicated and wouldn’t using the stork myth be a convenient shorthand to visually describe the phenomenon to everyone?

Oh, I don’t know, Universal Studios seems to have figured out how to pull it off:

DO NOT EAT BABIES ON THE PREMESIS Look! An accurate depiction (assuming all females wear skirts today) of pregnancy, without catering to fictitious myths! What a concept! It looks goofy, but that’s only because we’re not used to seeing it. Well, also because those stick figures are funny on their own.

Hey Six Flags, when it comes to safety signs that people can understand, buy an admission to Universal Studios and take a look around. Although if you’ll click on the image here, you’ll see that their skill with visual depictions is not altogether flawless…

So Six Flags doesn’t embrace storkism, but it would sure be funny if they did. At the least, they used (inaccurately, even) a cultural icon that comes from a myth taught to children in lieu of reality. But think about it, why should somebody not tell their children, honestly, where babies come from? Why not prepare them for the world that they live in, and teach them to appreciate reality for what it is and find wonder and joy in it instead of sheltering them from the corruptions of basic biology? Will you teach the stork myth to your children?

Teach reality, and someday Six Flags will realize that pregnant women are riding their rides and will find out that their signs don’t make them think of pregnancy. “Oh really? I thought you were trying to tell me not to trust my baby to Big Bird. That was a pretty dumb sign.” And Six Flags will embrace reality.

Only YOU can prevent the propagation of myths

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Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.