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Monday, January 6, 2014

Nature, red in tooth and TV

I watch a fair amount of the National Geographic Channel. One of the most striking things about it is how many of its shows appeal to guys who like gore: Built for the Kill, Caught in the Act, Australia's Most Deadly, Secret Life of Predators, and so on. Many of those shows focus on animals killing each other.

I sometimes get the feeling that if they could get away with it, the National Geographic Channel would stage the fights themselves. Think of some of the dream matches: for instance, between a polar bear and a tiger. Or between a wolverine and a hyena. Or between an alligator and an anaconda.

It's not the National Geographic Channel's fault that human nature is so ghoulish. If you doubt that, just look at the most Youtube statistics. This cobra vs. mongoose video has gotten 59,414,095 views. This video of a python vs. an alligator has garnered 42,567,476 views. Battle at Kruger, showing the herd of Cape Buffaloes rescuing a young buffalo from a pride of lions, has gotten 73,546,597 views (although this one, admittedly, has a heartwarming aspect to it).

On the other hand, this video of a water lily blossoming in fast motion has gotten 54 views.

The folks who run the National Geographic Channel are not unaware of this disparity. They have a network to run, just like any other channel scrambling for viewers. And they, like any good shopkeepers, know that the  customer is always right.

I'm certainly not claiming to be above any of this. I too like my nature porn. Give me a video of a lion vs. hyenas and I promise not to switch the channel. A show about raindrops, on the other hand, will hold my attention for maybe two seconds.

The nature show audience is not unlike an ugly sports crowd: we want blood!

And the National Geographic Channel obliges.


lowly said...

"I sometimes get the feeling that if they could get away with it, the National Geographic Channel would stage the fights themselves."

Nature documentaries are frequently staged. See Chris Palmer, for instance.

John Craig said...

Lowly --
Just Googled Palmer, you're right. The relevant quote:

"You have to send your kids to college, you want to retire with some money. You cannot go back with dull footage. When you're under that pressure, and the weather is closing in, ethics is the last thing in your mind."

Not quite sure why I'm so naive; it makes perfect sense for nature film producers to "encourage" animals to interact rather than just sitting around waiting for it to happen.

The examples of dream fights I suggested, however, were animals from different continents, just to make clear that they wouldn't take place, even if the producers wanted to see it, or at least knew that we'd want to see it.

Anonymous said...

I don't watch any of the shows on the National Geographic Channel. However, I do occasionally watch Finding Big Foot, on the Animal Planet channel. Funny, how this elusive creature is never found, no matter what the "researchers" do to lure it out of it's habitat. It would be interesting to see a live Big Foot, then, simply let the creature return to wherever it came from.

John Craig said...

Anon --
I believe in bigfoot, but if the only evidence I'd ever seen was that show, I wouldn't be. The most convincing things about that show are the witness reports whenever they have one of those town hall meetings, and recently, the thermal video footage from Florida's panhandle. But the show overall is sort of cheesy, always following the same format. They're in the woods, you hear a twig break, somebody gasps, and they cut to commercial. When you come back, it turns out to be a squirrel or something.

There's plenty of other good evidence for the creature's existence, though.

Anonymous said...

I like the town hall meetings too, getting the chance to hear actual people tell about their own encounters with the creatures. You're right, it is a cheesy program, following the same format over and over each episode and not reaching many definite conclusions. I'm fascinated by each "researcher" who is on the show, what each person's role is, how he/she reacts during the show. What's frustrating is that the creatures are never found, seen by this group of people (even after all their "hard work".

John Craig said...

Anon --
There's a saying i the field, you can't find sasquatch, only he can find you. The idea that they will carelessly show themselves to a group of people who are being trailed by a camera crew is ludicrous. The creatures usually appear to people who are by themselves, either driving in a remote location at night, or getting into their hunting blinds pre-dawn, or hiking in some very remote area, something like that. Not to a coup of people filming a show.