Friday, 2 October 2009

Are we being voyeuristic - what do you think?

Every Friday, Frank Skinner, the comedian, writes an Opinion column in The Times. It is always interesting and it is always witty - he is a good writer and he poses some interesting questions. Today's is particularly so. You can probably read it in full on The Times website - the heading is "Wildlife - it's just violence with violins." Although it is very funny it is also very thought-provoking so I thought I would share it with you in essence and see what you think.

Apparently there is a new BBC Wildlife finder web site at which you can click on any animal of your choice and see a short video clip. Skinner did just that with a particularly wise-looking elephant and found himself, a moment later, watching it being mauled to the death by a pride of lionesses. What made it even worse in his eyes was that the clip was accompanied by classical music and the rather hushed voiceover of Sir David Attenborough.

Well, I don't know about you but long ago I decided that I never wanted to see another wildebeest on its migratory route. The poor wildebeest seems to me to be the most preyed upon creature in the African savannah. If it isn't leopards, cheetahs or lionesses hiding in the bushes then it is enormous crocodiles lurking in the river where they cross every migration seemingly oblivious to the awful threats.

As Skinner says - the butchery is really happening. He asks the question should we not allow the animal some dignity in death. On wildlife programmes we often see young animals taken as food by the big cats - yes it is nature red in tooth and claw - but is it really right to watch it, as Skinner says, "with classical music accompaniment as a form of entertainment?"

The really telling point he makes though is that he ponders on what peoples' reactions would be if he were to film his cat catching, killing and tearing to pieces a robin in his garden. Would we view that in the same light or would we consider it voyeuristic - in very bad taste?

I would really like to know what you think?


Gigi Ann said...

I have watched the Wildlife show about the Wildebeests, but only once. I don't like seeing the killing of other animals. I think the pain they suffer must be unbearable. Think about it, would you like to be torn to pieces while alive? Not me!

If I'm watching a Wildlife show and they start to show animals chasing one another for food, I turn to something else. But, that is just me. I know they have to eat also. It's the way of the wild, but I choose not to watch it.

But, I do love a good Wildlife show that educates me about different animals and shows the beauty of the many different animals. I love the Big Cats, I think they have a beauty like no other.

Rachel Fox said...

I've never enjoyed watching wildlife TV. I know it's often beautiful and/or educational but I just don't watch it. The killing is probably one reason...and the sex another. Watching stags mount their thanks. It's one thing if you're out in the wild and you happen to pass them at it...but sitting at home and watching for fun? Not me.

Heather said...

I think if Frank Skinner showed videos of his cat killing a robin there would be an outrage and he'd probably be reported to the RSPCA. Nature programmes are wonderful and very educational, but I suspect the TV bosses demand more gorey footage to 'please' their audiences. We all know that nature is cruel but we do not need to see it in detail.

Michael said...

Personally speaking Weaver, I don't like to see the gory parts. It's enough to know that this is how animals (including we humans) survive. I just wonder how many children have gone to bed disturbed by what they have seen. OK, in the midst of life there is death, but also in the midst of life there is life.
I enjoyed the Frank Skinner article too.

Cat said...

We haven't watched any other the wildlife shows in ages except for the catch and release fishing shows. We couldn't handle them. Myy kids get upset when the cats catch birds and that's just seeing the aftermath not the "takedown".

Crafty Green Poet said...

I don't like to watch animals ripping each other to bits and if a programme is full of that, I tend to switch off or at least get up and make a cuppa until they've stopped. There's actually a lot of nature tv that doesn't concentrate on the sex and killing or at least that just makes us aware that it happens (which is part of the educational element) and tastefully doesnt show us the gore...

Tess Kincaid said...

I don't enjoy the gory eating habbits shown on the wildlife programs, either. I know it's all about the food chain, but I choose not to watch.

Now, are we voyeuristic in the blogworld? Absolutely!

Jeannette StG said...

Weaver, this is a difficult topic. Watching an animal die is not my favorite thing to see, so I would turn off the TV.
I'm musing about whether it's voyeuristic - I know it's often used in that sense, but to me voyeuristic is watching something in secret, so no one else sees it.

Grizz………… said...

I expect my answer would have to evolve from several questions regarding the watching: In what context, and under what circumstances? Entertainment? Curiosity? Informal study? Serious education?

Also, what sort of wildlife? Is a lion taking down a wildebeest fundamentally any different than watching an otter catch a fish or a swallow pluck an insect from midair?

Is it the reality that turns us off? The media that sets this before us? How it's filmed and presented—slow motion or realtime? Or the music in the background?

Every living creature on this planet eats to live. Predators, of course, need prey…but what we're also learning more and more often is that prey need predators. Consider, too, that for wild things, survival is a full-time job. Most of a robin's waking hours are spent procuring its next bit of food in order to sustain its life—which means it is generally looking for something to kill and eat. Birds don't enjoy a lot of leisure time. What this implies for the window-seat wildlife watcher and naturalist is that if they would study and learn about robins, they're going to have to see them kill and eat…a lot.

In the end, I worry about what a fantasy approach to wild things leads to when it comes to voting and funding lands to be set aside for their use, and how both the land and the animals they are managed. If we view the big predators through prejudiced eyes—see only our own aversion in the reality of their lives—will we do the right thing about them regarding their needs?

There is a perspective here, and I believe an important one. Head knowledge and heart knowledge are two different things. Taking the best care of wildlife requires both understanding their needs and being sympathetic to their role and value.

In one way or another, I see this played out daily right here on the river. I suppose that puts me closer to truth than some would like—but the greater truth is that all life is interlocked, a tapestry of many threads.

Anonymous said...

I have never been able to watch those programs, I am a lover of nature and this one natural trait horrifies me. I have vowed, after our 15 year old cat dies, I will never have a cat again because when she kills a bird it breaks my heart. I personally would not want to see a video of this nature. We can't change nature, but we don't have to make it an entertainment event.

Cloudia said...

All the gore was a realistic-reaction to the shallow images of animals in the past....but enough already!

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

Kim Palmer said...

I've always enjoyed wildlife programs, I guess it's a bit like taking a holiday through the tele when I can't get there otherwise. I like learning about the animals, their habits and how they live, but I have never been comfortable with the gory side of that particular coin either. I'd really rather not have to view it at all. It's enough to know thats a part of life in the wild thank you very much. I am sure that the screening of a domestic animal performing that same instinctual function would have all the do gooders up in arms post haste, and rightly too. There's enough violoence in the world and I for one don't think we need to become more immune to it's horrors than we already are! I'll get down from my soap box now weaver. :)

ChrisJ said...

I used to watch Animal Planet but now there are too many gory killings or the really dangerous animals. And honestly, does any one really need to know how the praying mantis, et al have sex!!

Like everything else in this world today, everything has been taken to extremes -- reality no matter what --no decorum or good taste any more. As you can tell I'm what is now known as one of 'the gray hairs'.
I put it up there with the fact that everyone defecates but we all know that, but we don't need to see it to know it!
I'm glad I lived most of my life in 'the olden days'!!

Unknown said...

Hello Weaver,

This seems an appropriate subject after my safari shots! It seems most of your readers don't like the gore. I prefer to see it in terms similar to the question of where children think food comes from. I'm sure we're all familiar with the idea that many kids only see sausages and bacon as items from the supermarket and don't associate them with the pig. We all have to accept reality. I saw a zebra in South Africa that had obviously been attacked but had escaped somehow. It could not have lasted for long and it wasn't pleasant to see 'up close' but one has to accept it as the order of things. Perhaps the difference between a wildlife programme and Frank Skinner filming his cat is that the former is trying to show us the whole picture of an animals lifecycle whereas the latter would be a voyeuristic act.

Unknown said...

While I was reading through I was thinking about a dinner party where people dress up, put on some background violin music and gather around a large table to consume beef, turkey or a lamb. Animals in the wild lack their linens, silverware and table manners, but is it so different? At such parties we are always removed from taking part in the kill, but we often sit together to enjoy the flavors and the cooking smells of the meat. We never watch movies of people dining. Personally, I do not enjoy watching animals killing each other. An interesting topic, Weaver. Thank you for inspiring these reflections.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Blog friends - I do love it when I happen upon a topic which sparks off a debate - ad it really has done so today. There isn't a lot I can add in reply except to say - do read all the comments there are so many points of view although you all agree on most of what I said. Thank you all so much for joining in the debate. Have a good weekend.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

As much as I love wildlife of all stripes, I truly don't care for wildlife shows. Animals as entertainment doesn't appeal to me, even under the guise of education. Write about them, don't film them. Leave them alone.