We all know that Sir David Attenborough has cornered the media market on all things natural history. Especially his TV shows that shine with balanced content, unique delivery and cutting edge camera and sound, all combined expertly to let nature show off.
So anyone trying to compete has to find another way.
We have had the ‘awww, so cute’ approach with every second shot a frolicking offspring of something furry. These shows inevitably spill over into ‘animals are so like us’ commentary to anthropomorphize the world and make us all feel safe and special.
Then we have the ‘OMG its so scary’ take. In this version the world is wild with sharks, lions and venomous biting creatures tugging at the dual thrill of fear and courage in the face of it. This is pretty easy stuff to sell given our innate and now everyday aversion to anything not wrapped in plastic. Nature cannot be anything other than scary from the inside of a McMansion.
Wild Planet: North America is a new natural history series that went to free-to-air in Australia recently. The first episode had more than enough cute and cuddlies with images showing but not telling us that bear cubs are still oh so lovable when they ‘smile’ [don’t get me started].
The narrative, however, was more about the courage and tenacity of nature that, even in the face of extreme hardship, always succeeds without any apparent effort — qualities that humans [or more specifically Americans] also possess in abundance.
Funny enough it was almost believable and I can hear the whoopin’ and hollarin’ along with backslapping and sounds of patriotic zeal bellowing from the lounge rooms of the mid-west even now.
So far so good, especially as some of the footage was excellent [camera technology really has made nature more accessible] and included plenty of unedited raw stuff made with tooth and claw.
Then came the crazy part.
The initially subliminal but in the end overt message of the first episode was that all this nature was out there on our doorstep, wild, untouched, and free. It was still all there doing its thing without threat or risk other than from the teeth of a mountain lion.
Of course I may be jumping the gun here and in fact the producers are softening us to make the punch line stark — nature is in great peril and we need to pay attention to it as we sprawl our cities and fields ever wider. Traditionally of course this ‘save the world’ message is saved for the final episode.
Only I couldn’t help thinking that actually they meant it.
Those who coughed up the cash [perhaps card carrying members of the tea party] really wanted the whoopin’ and zeal they engendered to feel secure. The images of wilderness and wildlife were permanent no matter what. We could go just outside our doorstep and capture such images any time we want — there is nothing we could do to ever lessen Mother Nature.
No need to worry folks, she is still wild and free, just like she has always been.
Now that really is crazy.