I’m not a fan of TV. I know this makes me weird, and I know I’m somehow failing America by finding its preferred pastime boring, but there it is. TV just doesn’t do it for me. Unless something is unbelievably riveting, I am shitty about sitting still and zoning out, ESPECIALLY on a schedule. If something isn’t DVRed, On Demand, or available on Netflix, I won’t ever get around to watching it. Why do I have such a hard time with the boob toob? There are a couple reasons really, the primary one being I’m never surprised by stories anymore. I can predict what’s going to happen nine times out of ten with unerring accuracy. “So stop trying to predict what’s going to happen,” you say. I can’t. “Well, try to focus on the joy of getting to that foregone conclusion”. I try. It doesn’t work.
The second reason is my brain doesn’t stay engaged. I have terrible “ooh shiny” syndrome, and the moment my mind starts to take me away Calgon, I get antsy and feel like I should be story crafting or talking to someone or painting my ass blue or chasing butterflies in Hell’s pastures. I can always think of something better to do than sit down and watch whatever the crap is on the talk-box.
Hurray for me when I recently discovered there is a genre I can watch that doesn’t turn me into a spaz. Not only do I sit still for it, but I don’t multi-task either, which is pretty huge (watching TV with me has been likened to rubbing salt into open gashes and/or having your testicles laminated. My propensity for flitting around and climbing the walls makes me a less than ideal TV partner). This genre is the documentary. I think I’m keen on them because I’m actively learning while I watch, so I don’t flail around thinking I should be off doing X productive thing instead. I have certain topics I gravitate to – weird crime, the Egyptians, histories mysteries, sinking ships (literally) – but my favorite is animal shows. Shove a frolicking tiger cub in front of me and I’m done. I’m done for days. A snake documentary? Oh hell yeah. I’m terrified of those creepy fuckers. I’ll watch one of those and yelp through ninety percent of it.
Of course there’s a downside to this, and that’s the fact that MOTHER NATURE IS A HUGE BITCH.
Look, adorable baby seals doing adorable baby seal things! OH HEY THERE’S AN ORCA COMING UP OUT OF THE WATER TO EAT THEM. FREE WILLY IS AT AN ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT-BUFFET OF BABY SEAL FLESH. Aww, leopard cubs! A GIANT LIONESS IS GOING TO EAT THEIR MOTHER AND THEY WILL STARVE. A history of the T-Rex! Fuck yeah! “MAMA T-REX WILL FIGHT OFF ANYTHING THAT COMES NEAR HER BABIES FOR TWO MONTHS, BUT LOOK, A FIERY COMET OF DEATH FOREVER!” Mother Nature is way too hardcore. Like, if she were a porn star, she’d be one of those freaky DVDA bitches. She’s gritty, and mean, and she has no gripes about showing you exactly what you don’t want to see.
To make matters worse, the makers of the documentary want to add as much drama to things as possible (like nature needs help), so not only do you have the whole “survival of the fittest, and man ain’t it mean” factor, you have Sir David Attenborough doing these refined voice-overs reminding us that humans are way more dangerous to animals than any orca will ever be. And I swear the son of a bitch waits to drop that bomb on us ’til the worst possible moment. Example: you’ve sat through an hour of animals getting maimed by other predators, but we’re at the point of the documentary where we’re given our “pay off” of three straight minutes of baby animals playing and being cute. Everything’s fabulous, you’re feeling a little better about watching that crocodile use a deer’s legs like a toothpick. Then the voice-over starts, and you know things are going to go badly, because announcer person has said the word humans. Just shut your eyes right then and there, because surer than shit we’re going to go from cute baby critters on the screen to some guy wearing their hides in a marketplace a minute later. Yep, there it is.
“The three cubs called Joe, Jill, and Jack by wildlife enthusiasts were shot four hours after our recording. Their teeth and pelts will be sold for pennies on the dollar, because humans are the worst – and most wasteful – predator of them all.”
I’m not saying that nature specials shouldn’t point out that people are responsible for natural habitats being destroyed, or that hunting and poaching are eradicating some of the most gorgeous species on our planet. I mean, this is how they get people to write fat checks to support causes and stuff. I just marvel at how this hammer is delivered, and how predictably it’s delivered in every episode. They really do wait until you’re recovering from the other “NATURE JUST BITCH-SLAPPED YOU” trauma to play the human card, like your happiness needs to be short-lived to sustain them.
Considering that every animal documentary ever is a huge downer at least part of the time, tuning in is admittedly a labor of love. Sometimes I tell myself I shouldn’t, but after a quick pep talk (“Take a Xanax and walk it off, pansy”), I sit down for my hour of emotional abuse. The messages never change (conserve more, poach less, “someone has a cooler job than me and gets to play with baby lions”), something young and pretty is ALWAYS going to die, and it’s not like I can’t just look at still-life pictures of happy puppies gallivanting on the intertubes, but I stay glued to the TV anyway, pretending everything’s fine even if I have snoogers running down my face. The thing is, though, nature shows ARE the ultimate drama, and I think the mix of horror and beauty is what compels me to sit my ass down and pay attention. The footage is of real animals doing real animal things. It’s not like some hobo producer slapped a script down and said “no really, I want you to really SHOW us that the honey badger just don’t give a shit, Mr. Honey Badger. I need something from the gut – less of the larvae-licking.” You never really know what the animals are going to do when they’re being trailed by a cameraman. In fact, a couple of times I’ve seen the animals decide that they aren’t too keen on people taking footage of them and they pull a Russell Crowe:
Scared the shit outta ya, didn’t it? Yeah, you can’t stage stuff like that. This, folks, is why I love me some good ol’ Animal Planet. When was the last time Snooki scared you THAT much?
Wait. Don’t answer that.