Tuesday, November 17, 2009

nightmares compliments of pbs

i have vague memories of watching nature and animal documentaries in school. how pleasant it was with the lights off, relief from the heat, the cool desk as i folded up on it, chin braced on my fist. it was always the best way to spend an hour of the afternoon, and certainly made the day speed by faster.

even then we would laugh at the british voice overs and out-of-date technologies, like the giant computer rooms and record sized floppy discs.

i don't get to watch a lot of tv these days (though i admittedly find ways to catch up with shows online, esp with Hulu) and i can't afford pricey cable. i do, however, have a fancy digital converter box and antenna which provides amazing reception for free. the downside is that i only get a handful of broadcast channels, but that includes many iterations of PBS (digital broadcast allows stations to have multiple channels, so pbs includes 13.1, 13.2, 13.3, and 13.4 - crazy no?)

pbs should have good, worth while programming and most of the time it does. i especially love whoever decided to put sesame street up at 10:30pm on one of the sister sites.

however, i was downright horrified by a recent episode of Nature i stumbled upon: Born Wild. it seemed harmless enough at first.  i had just come from a long run and was collapsed on the floor, sweaty and gross and immovable. in this moment of exhaustion i have found i am particularly vulnerable to stimuli, be it mental, emotional, or alcoholic.

trusting that familiar, gentle british voice over was a mistake.

it was not a new subject, but of babies born in "the wild" and the evolution of species around having babies. in fact, i'm pretty sure i watched a version of this back in grade school. the first hint that something was wrong came with the baby seals.

as we watched the mother seals, the nice man's voice described the "delema" the mother seals were suffering between self-preservation and protecting their offspring.  a seal must go up high from the water to give birth, however it quickly overheats outside of the water with no shade. at first mama seal sacrifices herself, standing tall and providing shade to her cub. but if the mother's survival instinct kicks in, she goes tearing off to the waves to cool off, leaving the cubs defenseless against the sun.  the cubs immediately begin to make awful, pathetically thin yelps, as they heat up. many follow their own instinct and try to crawl to the shore. mistake.

then nice british man shows us the returning mothers, cooled from their swim, as they crawl past a beach littered with dead baby seals.

i'm pretty sure none of the documentaries we had to watch back in the day shoved carcuses in our faces.

it only got worse. each depicted mother and her changing social group may have slightly improved upon their ability to keep a baby alive, but each group had new and more horrible ways to thrust dead babies in front of the camera.  the drowning hippo baby, the kicked little elephant, hunted faun.

my breaking point came with the lions. a lion mother hides her cubs from her pride for the first weeks of their life. then she slowly introduces them to the group. first to a young easily dominated male and the females, then finally to the dominant male. she, and we, watch from a distance while the pride leader investigates the defenseless, adorable cubs, determining if they belong to him. he shows complete indifference while he examines them, though the mother is several feet away staring him down. finally, we are told, he accepts them and the mother can relax her stance.

but, and this is nothing new to me, should a new male lion succeed in over throwing the pride leader, he will slaughter every single cub in the pride. yes, this is a bit of "fun fact" that most everyone knows about lions. lions kill baby lions. but knowing this is nothing to watching in graphic detail and slow motion as the new male drags off the babies we have been following and rips them to shreds in front of the camera. me = horrified, pathetically yelling at my tv, demanding to know why i was being forced to watch this.

the treachery continued, but i did learn one new "fun fact" during the horror: the females in the pride will divide in to 2 groups, the mothers and those with no babies. the mothers will attack the intruding male, but the baby-less females will attack the mothers because they want babies from the new male. this blood bath between the entire tribe, amongst the dead cub pieces was extensively caught on camera, shown from multiple angles and slow motion. ho-ri-fying.

i won't bore you with the painful cries of the lemur babies left to die when it can't grip tight enough and the mother that spends an hour going back and forth between her pack and the yowling baby, till finally abandoning it.  let's just say it didn't get any better.

since watching the episode, my dreams have been terribly detailed, full of devastation and fear.  (certainly the recent disaster movies like 2012 are not helping.)  but how can they possibly think this is good family programming? just because they are animals, and yes it is "nature's way" does not mean we need extended, graphic photography of it.

people are always talking about violence on tv and film, questioning our "immunity" to it. the news, movies, primetime tv, it has gotten progressively worse, society is becoming more numb to what we see. how can you make an impact with a story anymore without some extreme visual to accompany it? this question has been a central debate during the coverage of the ongoing middle eastern wars. do we show dead soldiers? do we show dead combatants? do we show footage of the execution of a hostage?

but there is violence all around, and media makes choices beyond the war. do we show the girl falling in front of the subway? the woman who cooked her roommate's cat, alive? the dog that was thrown off a 6 story building? the latest car crash, stabbing, or gang fight? yes, we report them, but do we need to see the footage to believe it?

embracing, even gloryfying the bloody "truth" of the natural world, with music and image manipulation-quick cuts and slow motion, is one way to numb our children to the horrors of mankind. perhaps we can teach them that war and destruction and fear and pain and abandonment are just part of life, like playfulness and leaping and growing and babies.

maybe we can actually teach our children acceptance, teach them not to fight the power, but to sit back and let it wash over them.

1 comment:

  1. it's the new gladiator games; we are STILL figuring out how to rise above our inner demons/animal nature, and some people just gotta see the christians getting eaten by the lions to feel better about their own "humanity."

    i totally agree with you, though: i. don't. wanna. see. it.



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