Seven years after first interviewing him about having sex with a dolphin, David Farrier reconnects with Malcolm Brenner for an update.
“When I went to Floridaland in November 1970, I had absolutely no intention or inclination to have sex with a dolphin.”
I’ve never been more annoyed at not thinking of an idea first: get someone who has actually had sex with a fish to review the movie about someone who has sex with a fish.
Especially when that movie, The Shape of Water (aka Grinding Nemo), has just won an Oscar (for, amongst other things, Best Picture). Sure, the creature in the film is more of an amphibious humanoid than a fish per se. And the real-life man (Malcolm) actually had sex with a mammal (a dolphin) as opposed to a fish.
But you catch my drift.
To understand why I am so annoyed, you must understand I was the first one to interview Malcolm Brenner – the man who had sex with a dolphin – back in 2011, when I was working on late-night news show Nightline.
I’d stumbled on his book Wet Goddess on Amazon and was blown away: It’s essentially his memoir of being a hippy student in the 70s who fell into a sexual relationship with a dolphin. A few of his points have never left my mind: The dolphin started it, and after they were separated, the dolphin committed suicide.
I was blown away by his memories from the ’70s – they were right up there with the time NASA gave dolphins a bunch of acid in the ’60s and made them go flatting with human (that ended in ‘scientific’ dolphin hand jobs).
I imagine Malcolm would be horrified I mention his story in the same breath as the NASA incident. He always speaks passionately about never harming an animal or initiating anything himself, and I’m confident he’d be horrified at the thought of giving dolphins drugs.
Malcolm’s book is still in print, but if you want something from the original run it will cost you.
Anyway, after my interview with Malcolm aired, it was also reported elsewhere on the likes of Gawker, and Malcolm lost his job.
Despite my work leading to him losing his job, we’ve been Facebook friends for the last seven years, keeping in touch about the time a snake invaded his trailer in Florida, his various medical issues, and his excitement around a short film called Dolphin Lover being made about the events described in his book Wet Goddess.
Anyway, after seven years – SEVEN YEARS! – of on-and-off-chatting with Malcolm, and after being blown away by The Shape of Water, it never crossed my mind to do the logical thing and what Ashley Feinberg did over at the Huffington Post, which was to actually talk to Malcolm about what he thought of the movie about the fish fucking.
So, instead, I talked to my Facebook friend Malcolm Brenner about what he thought of being interviewed about the movie about a woman having sex with a fish and what it’s done for his book sales.
Hey Malcolm, it’s funny we’re Facebook friends, and we chat now and then, which is always nice, but now we’re into a formal interview territory. But I suppose we should just treat this like we’re chatting on Messenger, still. Or maybe we should be more formal? I’ll let you decide.
I’ll just speak as the spirit moves me, David.
Do you remember that first interview we did – around 2011 – for that TV show I used to work on in New Zealand, Nightline?
Sure do, I shot it with an antique Sony camera, sitting on my couch. My friend Cay read your questions to me. That interview gave me a second wave of publicity about Wet Goddess that I hadn’t anticipated.
I’ve always felt a bit bad about that. The story was about two minutes, I suppose it was edited for laughs and shock a little bit, and if I recall correctly, you lost a job shortly after that, because of the attention that interview generated online, right? I think the now defunct Gawker did a piece based around our talk. Can you tell me how all that was for you, seven years ago?
Regardless of its shortcomings, your interview did stir up a lot more interest in my story and my novel.
I didn’t lose a job per se, but I was a regular contributor of photos and articles to a local slick magazine, Harbour Style, and after your interview with me got around on the web, the next morning I got an ambush interview phone call from a well-known shock jock named Bubba the Love Sponge (I am not making this up!).
I had literally just gotten out of a shower and I did the interview, which lasted 27 minutes, sitting stark naked on my lanai. Well, it seems like a lot of local people listen to that show, including a lot of advertisers with the magazine, and the editor called me up to tell me they had advertisers saying if they didn’t ditch me as a content provider, they’d pull their ads, and so on and so forth.
So I lost a lucrative income stream of between $600 – $1000 a month which I have not been able to replace since then. Since I was a freelancer and not and employee, there’s nothing much I can do about it.
That was just one of a number of things that were going on in 2011. I did a few radio and blog interviews, although I don’t have a list. I was busy copyrighting Wet Goddess and making it into an ebook, and eliminating the many, many errors and typos that had slipped into the manuscript during the design & layout process, which I did myself. My daughter and son-in-law visited me that year.
Aside from that, I don’t have really clear memories of what was going on all that year, and I don’t journal any more.
Since the always excellent Ashley Feinberg got you to review The Shape of Water, I’ve read a few more headlines about you. Have book sales gone up? How has the last week been for you?
Well, up until Ashley contacted me on Monday, I was kicking around looking for things to do! We did the interview on Tuesday, I think, and on Friday afternoon she told me the movie review was up.
Almost immediately, Amazon sales of Wet Goddess took off, and I have sold about 25 copies over the weekend. I think that’s sensational, for a book that’s been out since 2010, and I can only attribute it to Ashley’s article! I told her if there was a noticeable bump in sales I’d put a check in the mail to her, but on second thought she is so good, I wouldn’t want to corrupt her.
How has the response been online? You mentioned to me a few days ago that people have been less “I think you should die” this time around, and more sort of curious, or understanding.
Ashley’s article has been pretty widely reprinted and gotten a lot of play. I thought the comments were slightly less judgmental and violent this time around until I read the ones from The Daily Mail.
Their unrelenting attack on me as “sick” or in one case, “pure evil,” made them all seem like narrow-minded, sexually-frustrated biddy-bodies with nothing better to do than have a good old time bashing me in print. My daughter Thea says I should never read the comments, and I think I’m going to listen to her from now on.
Are you surprised that a movie where the main character had sex with a fish won an Oscar for Best Picture?
Oh yeah, monumentally surprised.The only reason why this came off as a fantasy was because the fish-creature, “The Asset,” is basically anthropomorphic. It is, to use Aristotle’s charming definition of man, a featherless biped, and that’s why it’s acceptable as the subject of a fantasy. If it was a quadruped or a marine mammal (no legs at all), that would resemble bestiality too much, and we can’t have that, now can we?
I suppose in The Shape of Water, both parties were consenting, so everything felt morally OK. And that’s always been your thing, right? That the dolphin initiated sex with you, not the other way around?
When I went to Floridaland in November 1970, I had absolutely no intention or inclination to have sex with a dolphin. I didn’t know how dolphins had sex, except in the water, and dolphins were not part of my fantasies.
Dolly the dolphin initiated mildly sexual contact with me the first time I got in the water with her, and escalated her advances until we somehow reached an understanding on what constituted acceptable courtship tactics with human beings. After that, she got very gentle, very tender, very sensitive and erotic.
It was haunting and eerie sometimes, the way she anticipated my thoughts and would hold her enormous strength in check when dealing with me.
One of the things people have a hard time accepting is that the sexual nature of our relationship was entirely the dolphin’s idea, and that she sustained this idea through several months of frustration, where I was doing everything I could to discourage her. They say I sound like some fucking pedophile claiming the child led them on. Apparently these people are so stupid, they compare an immature child, which has no overt sex drive, with a mature female bottlenose dolphin, which has one of the strongest sex drives of any creature in the sea.
What a crock of shit. They used to try to tar me with the long-handle brush of child abuse.
You’ve been subject of a short documentary about having sex with a female dolphin – do you think a Hollywood film would ever be made about this? And would it win an Oscar?
I think it would be a big challenge to produce a feature film of Wet Goddess, because the proverbial question in Hollywood is, sure, we like it, but will it play in Peoria, Illinois?
In other words, for a film to be successful it has to appeal to the masses of viewers or the most common denominator. How many people would go see a human-dolphin love story? Now, maybe with the critical and financial success of The Shape of Water, it could be a different story.
The chief obstacle I would throw in the path of any filmmaker that wants to put Wet Goddess on the screen is that no real dolphins be used in the movie, because I don’t want them in captivity and I don’t want to see them abused, and I don’t want what happened to me to happen to some actor who’s going to be playing Zack [Malcolm’s alter-ego in the book] in the movie. So that tends to lead me to suggest that the whole movie be computer animated, with semi-realistic characters.
It could be quite colorful, some kind of breakthrough in original computer animation. And films like that take years, and are expensive to make. So I’m not holding my breath waiting for it to get made, and whether it would win an Oscar or not is more a political statement by the Academy than anything having to do with the quality of a film.
I mean, who knows? It’s an utter crapshoot. I think if a 1968 science-fiction writer had predicted that the 2018 Oscar winner would be a film about a woman who fucks with a fish, he would have had a very difficult time getting that prediction published anywhere. Like Trump’s presidency, it’s so far out nobody can believe it, even now.
Do you think more good or more bad some come from you writing Wet Goddess? I feel like you’ve been through a lot since writing it.
I have been through a lot, mostly a lot of poverty and stress, but getting the book published was one of my primary life objectives, and I achieved it. It was an objective for me because I feel like I had a fantastically rare experience, and because it was rare it could tell us a lot about things we don’t know about, so I was anxious to share it.
I knew what I was in for before I went public with this story, and although I’ve been a little disappointed by the extent of positive response, the negative response is about what I expected. It just gets very boring, hearing the same old false rationalisations for why I am a disgusting, repulsive person, or why I belong in prison or a mental institution, or why something horrible should happen to me as punishment. Those ideas say more about the people who hold them than they do about me, but after a while, the non-stop negativity gets corrosive.
I think people will always have a hard time wrapping their head around your story. How does that affect your day to day life? If you pop out to the shops to pick up dinner, do people know you for this dolphin incident that happened like 40 years ago?
I don’t think so. If they do, they don’t bring it up. In 2016 I was protesting dolphin captivity on a street corner in downtown Punta Gorda, and one guy came up and asked me if I was the guy who wrote the book about the dolphin. I told him yes, and he said he thought it was very brave of me to do that. I was rather surprised but pleased that he recognised me from an interview in a local weekly.
Malcolm, it’s been a pleasure. You’re one of the most interesting people I’ve ever talked to, and you’ve given me food for thought. I watched Zoo when I was a kid, that doco about the Boeing pilot who died after a horse fucked him. And I sort of felt ill to my stomach about all of it. But your story is much more nuanced and challenging in a way. Is that fair?
God, I hope so David! Horses are great animals but the dolphin is really a non-human person, able to do a phenomenal job of modeling other individuals in its mind and figuring out how they are feeling and what they are likely to do.
I am really try to bring about a revolution in human consciousness which, in my opinion, is long overdue. This story isn’t much to do it with, but it’s all I’ve got, and I’m giving it my best shot. BTW, the co-director of Zoo commented on my comments about his film.
I read that when Jessica Alba was filming Flipper, they had to limit her time in the tank because the dolphins would get really horny. Did you hear about that? Isn’t life odd. The poor director. Poor Jessica. God.
I heard about that too… sometimes the dolphins are just making a sexual joke, because they like to see humans embarrassed. But I couldn’t find any references to poor Jessica Alba being molested by horny dolphins.
This section is made possible by Simplicity, New Zealand’s fastest growing KiwiSaver scheme. As a nonprofit, Simplicity only charges members what it cost to invest their money. It already has more than 12,500 plus members who, together, are saving more than $3.8 million annually in fees. This year, New Zealanders will pay more than $525 million in KiwiSaver fees. Why pay more than you need to? It takes two minutes to switch. Grab your IRD # and driver’s license. It really is that simple.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.