First Dog On The Moon mentioned something in one of his latest work that had me thinking about an issue I have been wondering for years: the all-to-common nature documentary where animals are filmed, at length dying, or being killed. I hate these and frankly don’t understand the point of it.
There we are, seeing a lioness with a cub then the music comes in or there’s a cut on a whole gang of hyenas and you know something bad will happen and be closely and passively documented. That’s where I have learnt to change channel or close the Internet page. But it does take a certain amount of seeing the mother getting brutally killed then having to witness the cubs dying of hunger or thirst over the next 30 minutes to know when it will always happen.
Is it really necessary? Why do they feel the need to show us that? Is it part of a the bill of specifications when the budget was discussed? Do they feel a fraud for not automatically showing such things?
The debate has brought up many answers:
1. “Nature is cruel and that’s the reality of life. We are filming a documentary, not a Disney movie so it is our duty to show this.”
To which people, including me, have already answered that it is not. Nature as a cruel jungle is nothing but an erroneous, twisted interpretation of what Darwin and others have been discovering about it. And this interpretation is here to serve the greater purpose of justifying the death of the weakest and poorest in our societies by quoting the so-called “laws of Nature”.
“Nature is cruel, death with it!” So Oliver Twist must die, social inequalities are a fact of Nature, and it is normal for humans, “the most powerful of all creatures”, to burn everything to the ground and bury it under a layer of concrete and gold in the name of the Industrial Revolution that was booming at the time. And ever since in the name of economy growth.
Now that we are starting to wonder if maybe it would a better idea to live within Nature than always trying to fight and destroy it – because it is indeed a meaningless fight that has nothing but backfired – guilt, shame and anxiety are taking over. So how convenient and how comforting to see these documentaries showing that we are not the only one to brutally kill and destroy! How convenient, too, to not mention that the destruction we are indulging ourselves in everyday has little to do with survival, rather increasing comfort.
I am not saying Nature is in fact a Disney movie. I mean, they have been utter shite for the past 20 years so that would be quite insulting to Nature…
Seriously, yes, animals kill to live and sometimes the weakest die but it has also been proven repeatedly and at length that Nature is also full of mechanisms of solidarity where, for instance, trees and ants live together protecting each other; animals gather in entire communities where they help each other. Take songbirds: orphans chicks are often adopted by foster families, without the need for endless paperwork – which is what humans do and is utterly unnatural.
Nature is not just about brutality, it’s also about harmony and showing baby animals getting killed in every single of one’s documentary is an editorial choice, not a reflection of reality. A reality that could show Muscovites loving sparrows and feeding them crumbs during bitter cold winters as the birds dare to venture inside cafés, bars and restaurants in search of heat and sustenance.
And frankly, how many times do we need to see orkas throwing sea lions on rocks until they die? We got it the first time, thank you, we’ll refer to that one, move on.
2. When it comes to saving the dying, we hear the right-minded: “We were here to observe, we must not disrupt the course of Nature.”
So you document at length the slow end of a valuable life you could have saved but you rather have wilfully chosen not to do anything because it would have been “wrong to interfere”. Is it how you treat everything in your life? When you come across a human baby abandoned in the street, you just pass your way in the name of not interfering? Do you always use the not-interfering rule to absolve yourself?
Turning off the camera and picking up a starving cub, kit or chick, feeding him and giving him a chance to survive is not disrupting Nature, it is applying one of the fundamental attributes Nature has given humans: empathy and power which gives us a chance to do good rather than just stand there watching.
One also has to notice that the not-interfering clause does not apply to driving massive 4×4 and leaving your rubbish in the bush or the rainforest. When it comes to making the documentary itself, there never seems to be a problem disrupting the course of Nature…
Bottom line is: not helping and deciding to just point the camera and wait there texting on your brand new I-Phone with a tuna sandwich and cooled Evian water until the baby dies is not natural.
Helping her to have a life, on the other hand, is. The truth is that your editorial choices are driven by the lack of what Nature gave us: the ability to be humane.