Get a Life, Discovery

I sat rapt in front of my TV on Sunday watching the latest installment of the BBC/Discovery series “Life”.  The first thing that comes to my mind… “WHY was Oprah chosen to narrate!?”  Naturally, I waited for the insects special to air before I blogged about this, but having to listen to Oprah for the last few weeks has been scratching at the back of my eyes.  I guess I could have gone out and purchased the BBC version with the iconic voice of Sir David Attenborough instead…

To get a better grip of just how obnoxious Oprah is, you can watch the same clip on Discovery.  I have never considered Oprah to be anything close to scientifically minded – and her lavish support of Jenny McCarthy proves the point.  For those who are not up to date – McCarthy is the leading proponent of the anti-vaccination movement.  You can even go as far as attributing her PR campaign to preventable deaths. I’ll have to return to this subject another time.

Back to the topic at hand.  There was some incredibly stunning insect footage, and a few vignettes about insect life I might not have otherwise ever seen.  It seems like the US version of Life has been slightly re-written with zero factual contribution.  Basic lines are changed from “she was not in the mood” to “uh-oh, looks like a headache”.  Seems like a step down to me, albeit a tiny one.  I was also a little annoyed with the continual focus on vertebrates – birds that eat flies, bears that eat honey, lizards that mimic Carabids – and anthropomorphizing intention, e.g. the ants “crowning achievement of large complex communities… the closest thing in nature to human cities”.  While it may be true that giant ant colonies superficially resemble human cities, I wouldn’t call them the “crowning achievement of insects”.  Mind boggling in complexity, yes – but overshadowing other non-social adaptations?  This all boils down to a false premise that evolution is striving for human-like qualities and is directional.

But nothing to be overly critical about.  Given the diversity and complexity of the insect world, I wouldn’t have even been happy with two weeks of solid footage.  I would love to see what was left on the cutting room floor!

4 comments to Get a Life, Discovery

  • I was equally mesmerized by the footage of those beetles (are they Chiasognathus granti?). I wonder if they are using wide-angle macro – I can’t imagine how else they are able to gain such amazing depth of field.

    Your minor criticisms are certainly valid, but really the debate over directional evolution is beyond the general public’s capacity to grasp – I can live with having them still misinformed about that point if the program captivates their interest and makes them want to watch. Build respect and fascination for nature first, then worry about the details.

    I blogged about the lizard/carabid mimicry thing about a year ago – go to “Contents” and look for “Tyrant ground beetles” under January 2009 (don’t want to link, because two will flag this as spam, and I’ve got a really good link in the next paragraph).

    Regarding “preventable deaths”, Michael Specter touched on this in today’s edition of TED Talk Tuesdays.

    • I agree, at some point you just have to be happy that it’s as good as it is and might pull someone into a deeper appreciation of nature. It just bugs me (ha) to see a valuable teachable moment slip past.

      That’s a great TED video! I’ll have to re-post that soon.

  • Incredible video! The background music was perfect, and David is King. I laughed aloud at the final “toss”! I can’t bring myself to go watch the Oprah version (shudder).

  • I didn’t know that they changed the narration depending on where it was aired. Here in Aus we (thankfully) get Attenborough. I don’t think it would be a proper BBC natural history doco without him!

    As for the footage, all of it is superb but one shot really has stuck at the forefront of my memory. It is the amazing slow pan timelapse shot in the plants episode. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for a treat.