Welcome to Superoceras, a blog about science and natural history, slightly biased towards paleontology and zoology, but inclusive of all sciences. Started in October of 2009, my goal is to communicate scientific knowledge (and the occasional piece of nonsense) in an informative and entertaining manner. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns, or criticism at superoceras(at)gmail(dot)com, and follow me on Twitter @Superoceras for all that and more in 140 characters or less!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Why do you do these things?

I have to start out by saying that I thought long and hard about actually publishing this post. It is, for the most part, an opinion piece, and distracts from the primary focus of my blog. It communicates little science, and is for all intents and purposes, more of a rant than anything. But it does tie into other issues covered here at Superoceras in the past, like the role of the media in communicating scientific knowledge, and protection/conservation of wildlife. For that reason I'll get on with it.

Vanessa over at NatureBreak recently posted a new video titled "Is Wildlife Filming Cruel to Animals?" that has started quite the discussion. I didn't want to distract from the conversation there by getting off topic, or distract here by starting my own on the subject (please follow the link, join NatureBreak, and comment on the video there yourself). But I did want to quickly speak my mind about something that really gets under my skin: Bear Grylls.

WARNING: The following video depicts the killing of a living thing. If you are at all squeamish and/or just don't think that's something you want to see, you can still watch the majority of the video, and Vanessa will warn you on screen when the bad bits are coming up.

I love nature and wildlife. I also love putting myself in it. I collect wild edibles whenever I can, and love the idea of living off the land, or being in a "survival situation" to see how I'd actually fare. That being said, I think Bear Grylls and his program "Man vs. Wild" are an affront to all I hold dear. I'll give the man credit where it's due: breaking your back and still being the youngest man to climb Mount Everest is a serious accomplishment. And I was never in the Special Forces, and have no real survival training aside from what I can learn from field books and using common sense. But for a program on a network that is supposed to promote science, education, and the natural world, this show is an abomination.

I'll admit I've never actually gotten through an entire episode. Every time I catch it flipping through channels, Mr. Grylls does something that completely flabbergasts me, and I have to turn it off. Some of the survival strategies he recommends are as follows:
1) Eat rotting zebra carcasses when lost in the African wilderness (because it's better to die from a parasite you'll ingest than from starvation)
2) Slide down glaciers with jagged rocks sticking out of them at 50 mph (because it's better to get to civilization quickly than in one piece)
3) Definitely hunt and kill alligators as a primary food source (because they are easy to catch and can in no way, shape, or form harm you)
4) Tame wild stallions to ride back to civilization on (again, easy to catch, tame, and won't kick you in the face)
5) Never, ever cook any meat you find (eating things raw, primarily by biting the heads off of living animals, is better than cooking meat, and you probably won't need that fire in a survival situation anyway)
Please, please do not do any of these things if you are actually trying to stay alive in the wilderness with any hope of long term survival. In fact, do the exact opposite. I can guarantee you'll be much better off (and, again, I base this on no actual survival experience, and more or less common sense alone).

Aside from all of the bad advice, I have one more serious problem with this show. This man is constantly killing things for no reason. And don't tell me he does it for survival. He's out in "the wild" with a film and support crew. He is not in a survival situation. This point can be furthered with the argument that if you were in a survival situation, you wouldn't kill a ~20 lb. catfish, eat a little bit of it, and than throw away the rest. You'd probably want to continue eating it, so you'd survive. You also wouldn't plant animals to "find" and kill (or others to tame), use special effects to make things seem more dangerous than they are, or stay in hotels when you claim to be out in the middle of nowhere (go ahead true believer, click the link).

In the guise of a educational program designed to teach you how to survive in extreme circumstances, Bear Grylls and "Man vs. Wild" fail miserably. Even if they were transparent about what they were doing and didn't mislead the public into thinking that what they see is what is really happening, the amount of attention grabbing nonsense packed into each episode distracts from the main focus. This program is the Mountain Dew commercial of the survival film world. Stop trying to be so "extreme", and teach us something useful. Which brings me to the follow up issue I have: Discovery Communications.

Discovery Communications, time to step it up. You've been letting a lot of people down recently. How can you air a program like "Life" (which I think you ruined and dumbed down beyond belief for American audiences) one day, and "Man vs. Wild" the next? One tries to open the minds of the public to the wonder and beauty of nature and to the idea that we have to protect it, and the other shows a guy killing everything he can find for no reason whatsoever. That is ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as giving Sarah Palin her own documentary series about Alaska, but you dropped the ball on that one too. This woman is certainly not a friend to wildlife, and you want to pay her $2,000,000 to teach us about it? I'm pretty sure she doesn't even accept the fundamental concepts of biology or geology, which might be an issue when talking about the natural history of your home state. I don't know what you guys are thinking.

I certainly don't mean to come down on Discovery Communications and make it seem like I have no love for them. They have shared the wonders of science and nature with generations of viewers, and have had a lot of great programing in the past. I hope they continue to do so in the future. But I feel they have made a lot of bad decisions in recent years, and if they continue to do so, myself and many others may be faced with the choice to compromise our value systems, or abandon our long time commitment to the newtork. Programs need to educate and inspire, and can do so without all of this added nonsense. Nature is plenty exciting, all on its own. You don't have to make it seem any more "outrageous", "extreme", or "awesome" than it already is. Growing up as a kid, I always thought it would be cool to work for "Discovery". Now I'm not so sure. After seeing this post, they probably wouldn't want to hire me anyway.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: networks need to be held accountable for the information they present to the public. It is my personal opinion that this has to be done with all programing, but with science in particular it is a must. There is already a great enough divide between people and science, even though we use the by products of it every day. And for a network whose mission "is dedicated to satisfying curiosity and making a difference in people's lives through our content, our talent, our viewers, our employees and our practices", distorting facts, compromising values, and going for flashy instead of factual just does not seem right.

Alright. That's that. I've gotten it out of my system. If you have something to add, please feel free. If not, I'm ready to drop the whole thing and move on to something of more substance. Again, apologies for going off the deep end a little. And as always, thanks for reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment