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National Geographic is a nature pic zoo

Upsala Glacier Chile in retreat
January’s National Geographic featured an article about Charles Darwin. Juxtaposed against excerpts from Darwin’s diary on the Beagle, were the usual photographs of nature at its most vivid. But an image of a glacier, purporting to match Darwin’s awed description, left me slack- jawed with contrary impression. We’ve all been treated to then and now pictograms of retreating glaciers, so the National Geographic’s usual reverse illusionist, nature-isn’t-vanishing-act, wasn’t going to work for this pastoral scene. I’m looking straight through the glossy NATURE industry, and it’s nothing but a virtual zoo.

You might say the world of nature documentaries keeps more to the spirit of the early collector-adventurers, who shot and stuffed their specimens, in the name of documenting their existence. Certainly the photographers of today are capturing the living images of soon to be gone phenomena. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to regard their nature images as exhibits of Natural History.

Except that Museum goers know that what they are looking at is dead. Nature program viewers are given no such insight. And need they, really? If the closest that the recliner-set get to the Pacific Ocean is their HD flat screen TV, what does it matter if the Pacific is full of plastic instead of fish? Nature-appreciation wise, the eyes of the climate-controlled majority dictate its value.

The illusion which nature programs create is of a living Earth, susceptible to cycles, or whatever excuse they present for why you are hearing reports of coral bleaching while enjoying high saturation images of vibrant, fully vital, reefs. You are shown things alive, and so you believe it lives. That’s where this glossy facade is a lot more like a zoo.

Zoos are criticized for showing nature out of context. Even as the best zoo settings approach the theatrical stages of natural history dioramas, they still present an inert being. The zoo animal is not searching for food, fending off predators, or jockeying for a mate. The zoo attraction might almost be preserved in formaldehyde, for all it teaches about nature, and mankind’s relation to his origin.

Zoos, like domestic animals neutered or spayed, like doe-eyed Disney renditions of circle-of-life citizen animals, teach an antiseptic version of wild life, where man might deduce that his own life’s purpose is but a few years spent pinned like a butterfly adjacent thousands and millions more.

Camera lens filters enhance reality, camera lenses compress and direct it. That much we already knew.

Nature programs and nature photography present life as a spectacle, and seem at first glance to highlight every minutia for our increased understanding. But shown out of the context of the Earth’s present difficulties, the images inform less than they distort.

9 thoughts on “National Geographic is a nature pic zoo

  1. Eric,

    National Geographic’s piece concerning the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth is not intended to dismiss adverse environmental trends i.e., shrinking natural habitats, climate change, etc. If it were, one would expect to find a lot of articles seeking to advance such viewpoints as those raised by climate change skeptics. Instead, the publication hews closely to the present mainstream scientific view on such matters as articulated in the IPCC’s assessments.

  2. Don Dude, I’m not sure we want to judge NG’s intentions based on what “one [Don] would expect to find.”

    Considering that I assert the National Geographic’s message is subversive.

    Honestly however, at this website we do have the EXPECTATION that comments bring something to the table, instead of a space-filling ramble. IE.: Uh, the Pope shits in the woods, except on the occasion when he doesn’t.

    If your INTENTIONS are to drive off our readers with your low altitude platitudes, we will cut you loose. My advice? Determine you have something to say, before you start typing.

  3. Eric,

    I think you meant to say that bears, not the Pope, shit in the woods. One would expect that the Pope would generally shit in private at the Vatican, except on the occasion when he is shitting ex-Cathedra which, as you know, requires the rapt attention of billions of Catholics worldwide.

    (Don, you can craft high altitude platitudes if you use a little Latin in your statements.)

  4. Please, don’t give him any ideas, Marie! He does good enough at throwing high altitude platitudes as it is.

  5. Eric,

    If you believe exposure to a somewhat broader range of perspectives and the open expression of dissent with some of NMT’s bloggers’ opinions are somehow hazardous to your site’s readership, then feel free to do as you see fit. I don’t subscribe to such an outlook, but that’s only my opinion. Others may well feel differently.

    Finally, I took the site’s claim of “comments unmoderated” at face value. Perhaps, I was mistaken in doing so. Perhaps there is an unwritten ideological litmus test against which readers’ comments are judged.

  6. Don, should definitely stay. He’s the brain of the group of pro-Israeli propagandsists posting here these days! I’m getting to like the guy, too!

  7. Don, it doesn’t surprise me that you miss my point. NMT welcomes dissent, we positively salivate at the approach of an argument. Give us one, or step down.

    Otherwise your usual fare draws ad hominem attacks as inevitably as banana peels to laughter.

  8. Eric,

    On one hand you state, “NMT welcomes dissent” and then on the other you add, “your usual fare draws ad hominem attacks.”

    In my various arguments, mainly concerning the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, I have made points and backed them with a range of documents including UNSCOP’s partition plan, the Peel Commission’s findings, the Library of Congress’s Country Studies, one of Abba Eban’s speeches to the United Nations, provisions of international law, etc. Yet, somehow it is my fault that such “usual fare draws ad hominem attacks.” In other words, the contrasting opinions I have offered are unwelcome because they have drawn ad hominem attacks.

    If dissent were welcomed, then why the ad hominem attacks that you cite?

  9. I’m with you Don. Compared to the other clowns coming in with the Zionist propaganda surge on this blog you are a pearl before swine!

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