I know when I watch a modern nature show that I’m supposed to view mankind as evil; I don’t. I go the other way and marvel at the wonder that is mankind.
Because of differing viewing tastes in the Bookworm household (and honestly, I do not understand why no one wants to watch 1930s musicals with me), we tend to be reduced to watching what can best be called “lowest common denominator” shows, which means cooking and nature shows. It sort of works for me, although I find that nature shows love to fold virtue signalling into their message. (“Isn’t Nature wonderful? And it’s all going to die because of YOU!”)
The fact that I love cooking shows has always been a bit of a mystery to me, because I hate cooking. I don’t have a creative bone in my body. Moreover, just as my family has different viewing tastes, it also has different dining tastes. I very seldom make food I like to eat, which makes the whole exercise less fun. Still, I do love watching cooking shows, especially America’s Test Kitchen. It’s thanks to that show’s guidance that, while I will never be an inspired cook, my food is edible.
But this post is about nature shows. I’ve watched nature shows as long as I can remember. When my sister was old enough to babysit me, before my parents left my mother would always issue instructions about what we could or could not watch on TV. If there was a nature show, that was required viewing — and, because my sister and I were good kids, we watched.
The show I particularly remember is Wild Kingdom, which ran from 1963 through 1971, with Marlin Perkins taking viewers all over the world to see wild animals in their natural habitat. (It turns out that Mutual of Omaha still sponsors a “Wild Kingdom” webcast and website. Who knew?)
Although it promised to show nature red of tooth and claw, Wild Kingdom was pretty tame. When mammals animals ate each other, they did so from a discrete distance so that blood, guts, and suffering didn’t offend viewers. Mating rituals were allowed; copulation was not. Often the show, in Disney fashion, focused on animals doing things humans find amusing. These segments relied heavily, if I remember, on the ritual dances that birds frequently do to attract mates.
The modern creme de la creme of nature shows is BBC’s Planet Earth. Season 1 was about land animals. Season 2, which is showing now, is about aquatic life.
Planet Earth’s is cinematography is gorgeous. We get spectacular landscape shots and exquisite renderings of animals in the habitats. The colors are lush, the details clear, and the whole thing is eye candy.
The show also works very hard to allow viewers to see the animals do what they do: hunt, avoid being hunted, eat, and mate. When it comes to hunting and mating, graphic is the way to go. No drop of blood or act of copulation goes unnoticed. [Read more…]