Sunday, July 25, 2004

Charismatic Megafauna

Crikey! Is there anything worse than settling into a "nature" program featuring some terrific and exciting animals, only to discover that the animals in question are, at best, mere supporting players to the colorful antics and engineered mishaps of some obnoxious pseudo-naturalist host?

The sonorous, dignified intonations of David Attenborough used to get on my nerves, too, but now that I've suffered through the effusive inanities of Nigel Marven, The Kratt Brothers (pictured above), Steve Irwin--a.k.a. "The Crocodile Hunter"--and a host of similarly high-personality nature show upstarts, I've come to recognize him for the (inter)national treasure he is. At least David (the narrator and producer of such high-quality nature series as "Trials of Life" and the peerless "Blue Planet") knows when to get out of the frame, so we can actually watch the creatures in question. "The Crocodile Hunter" should be called "The Reptile Molester;" his show consists not of high-quality nature footage but of tiresome, croc- and snake-baiting stunts that reveal more about the psychological defects of a certain kind of thrill-seeking, attention-hogging human personality than anything about real animal behavior.

The Kratt Brothers' programs--like PBS's "Zaboomafoo"--are geared primarily to children, so they can be forgiven for their frequent bouts of camera-mugging and excruciatingly unfunny madcappery. (And when they aren't making cartoon-faces, they're also kind of hot.) What's Nigel Marven's excuse? At least Steve Irwin has contributed the word "crikey" to the field of obnoxious nature program hosting...Nigel Marven's catchphrase--I swear it's the only word he knows--is the far less interesting and entertaining "Fan-tastic!" Nigel Marven has earned himself a special place in Hell for participating in one of the worst nature films of all time, the execrable Sea Monsters, in which Nigel Marven "interacts" and "observes" the habitats and behaviors of marine creatures...that died 35 million odd years ago. It's an expensive C.G.I. fest like "Walking With Dinosaurs"--which I happen to love--only it's got this preposterous and intelligence-insulting structure of bogus naturalist observation. Nigel Marven blue-screens his entire shtick, pretending to get nearly attacked by diplodocii (I made that spelling up) and to conduct--wholly scripted, wholly animated--"experiments" on Carcharadon Megalodons "in the wild." Every fifteen minutes or so, the language of Marven's narration will tip off that the whole thing is an elaborate put-on--meaning he occasionally gets around to mentioning the trifling fact that all of these creatures are long extinct--but for the most part, the program attempts to maintain the illusion that aspects of these creatures existence is being discovered and documented by the intrepid Nigel. Like it wouldn't be more fun and interesting and edifying for us to see, "Walking with Dinosaurs"-style, these creatures just behaving and existing, as scientists have concluded they did? Do we need to see Marven fending them off with cattle-prods--the anachronisms are too numerous, pointless, and perverse to mention--to make it exciting? How dumb do they think we are?

The reason there is so much shit nature programming on TV right now is probably that there are too many nonstop outlets for it: Animal Planet, National Geographic channel, Discovery. That is, too many hours in the day. There is only so much great --or even just noteworthy--nature filmmaking out there, and so much airtime to fill. Steve Irwin and his ilk are useful to these networks because, as recurring hosts, they create a kind of brand loyalty to their programs--otherwise, people who like spiders would watch the program on spiders, but wouldn't bother to tune in next week when grizzly bears are the feature creature. Also, their misadventures can be used to stretch 3 minutes of interesting nature-footage to an hour-long block of infotainment.

And the idiots out there, myself included, will tune in. I've already begun my once-a-year "Shark Week" experience--or, if you will, depressathon--and, true to form, every program they've aired so far has been utter shit. The week kicked off with the story of a "shark attack", hyped in advertisements for its astonishing real-life footage. It turned out to be about a diver who allowed herself to drift out of sight of her dive boat into a shoal of Jacks--a fish that, as she must've known, sharks LOVE to eat--and who, having neglected to check her air gauge, ran out of air while surrounded by reef sharks. She went to the surface and proceeded to scream and thrash for help for what seemed like twenty minutes, letting the camera run the whole time. (Hence the thrilling, real-life footage). The sharks, sensing her distress, began to get closer to her. Eventually, she realized that if she stopped thrashing and screaming, the sharks would leave her alone. And they did. Thrilling!

All of this was scored and edited for maximum "terror", even though nothing in the least bit frightening even happened.

And still I watch.



Blogger TinyRabbit said...

Watching the Kratts eat shoots and leaves in slo mo was one of the formative erotic experiences of my little life. Explains a lot, don't it?

July 26, 2004 at 9:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff Corwin is one squirrely fox of a mothafucka. If you haven't watched that tight, comical ass in action, I highly recommend.

July 27, 2004 at 1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the Jeff Corwin comment... also, I think he wears really expensive clothes because he's always saying stuff like "Oh, I'd better take off my shirt before I bathe with the elephants!"

Bobo, I admire your grit in watching all of shark week despite the bad programming... You should reward yourself with the Amazing Race on Tuesday nights. -F

July 28, 2004 at 11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or simply say to yerself, "Fuck the Animal Kingdom! Let's pour a shot and watch 'Dead Like Me'!" Yessssss!

July 28, 2004 at 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a peeve and/or grievance.

This is my first time to your blog, I got to the first sentence of the second paragraph where you wrote "The sonorous, dignified intonations of David Attenborough used to get on my nerves."

By definition, dignified intonations are sonorous.

There's a difference between being a pedant and being a good writer. I appreciate $5 words as much as the next guy, but I usually like them more when they serve a purpose (meaning, further the sentence or argument).

Just a thought.

FWIW, I liked the first paragraph.

July 29, 2004 at 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not that bobo can't defend himself perfectly well, but we'd like to semi-respectfully disagree with the above Anonymous. the words "dignified" and "sonorous" are by no means synonymous or even redundant. sure, someone who speaks in a dignified way might often (or-- more arguably-- usually) have a sonorous voice, but sonorousness is certainly not a prerequisite for dignity.

and this might be fucking obvious, but the irony of accusing bobo of pedantry is pretty out of control, considering that Anon seems to be the original schoolmarm.

We have a lot more to say on this topic but we are going to restrain ourselves. thank you for your time. Sincerely, THE UNIVERSAL REVIEW.

July 31, 2004 at 7:39 PM  
Blogger Hurricane James said...

I agree with the Universal Reviewers--dignified and sonorous are clearly not synonymous and there is nothing particularly ostentatious or incorrect about Bobo's word choice.

Bobo is NO pedant and if you ever try to baselessly attack him on his wordsmithiness, you'll have me to contend with. Also, it's pretty cowardly to submit such criticism without identifying yourself (meaning, you’re a pussy).

Just a thought.


August 2, 2004 at 10:50 AM  
Blogger Bobo said...

What a pleasure to return from vacation to find both an attack on my writing style and two--count 'em--vigorous defenses of same. (Thanks UR! A joint defense from you is deeply flattering!) But I will confess: I couldn't really offer a definition of "sonorous" if I tried. It just kind of sounds like what David Attenborough sounds like to me. In fact, I couldn't define half the words I throw around. I like flipping through dictionaries for fun, but I never use them for practical or utilitarian purposes. (Oops, did I just commit another borderline redundancy?) Except at work, when I'm proofreading for a print publication...somehow that makes a difference. Please, feel free to call me on my typos and my occasional--frequent?--pomposity.

(I don't think you're a "pussy" for posting anonymously, by the way.)

But maybe find better examples next time. I just didn't feel "nailed" by your criticism. I don't take that much care with this thing, so I'm sure there's plenty to work with.

August 2, 2004 at 9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your good nature is admirable, bobo, but the fact of the matter is that these know-it-alls are a certain type of scourge and they need to be stopped. BMAD

August 3, 2004 at 1:50 PM  
Blogger Bobo said...


You're right. I hammered out that response, falling into my default grovelling/apologetic mode. This guy/gal's a tool. You can tell this person is extremely lame because of the "Just a thought." That disingenuous, "I'm-only-trying to help-you-to-be-your-best-self" pose deserves to be called on. Which means double thanks are due you.


August 3, 2004 at 2:20 PM  
Blogger TinyRabbit said...

D' ya know there's such a thing as a "sonorous" tumor? And that the definition actually involves striking the tumor to cause sound? (See? I had to look it up, too, and the whole argument seems to hinge on whether or not you consider "sonorous" here as intended by its second or third definitions--one involving the richness of sound, the other, the ability to impress...err, so it seems. Heck, I'm new at this too.) Now, who's the oddball f&*% going around whacking tumors? That's what I wanna know.

August 4, 2004 at 7:26 PM  

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