One of my favorite things to do on a weekend night when I can stay up by myself as late as I want is to get a glass of wine, get feelin a little silly, and watch whatever iteration of BBC Earth comes up first.
I first discovered Planet Earth with my brother Matt, on whose couch I’ve spent many a substance-saturated weekend. He was watching it, not for the first time, and I remember the sense of actually feeling “blown away” by what I was seeing and mumbling “Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit!” on repeat, while Matt said, “Dude, right!?”
Now that I’ve seen everything BBC Earth has to offer at least once, I still find myself having the same reaction. Even when I know what’s coming, the pleasure of traveling through some remote locale and seeing its various denizens live their weird little lives in the habitats in which they so obviously belong gives me such a sense of wonder and thrill that I can’t help but feel a little silly, even in a room by myself.
When I first saw the the Great White shark jump out of the water in the 2006 Shallow Seas episode, it took every ounce of willpower I had to clench my sphincter tightly enough to keep the shit from hitting my pants. It was fucking terrifying. If I’d had my Fitbit on, I would have earned HIIT exercise points based off my heart rate alone.
During the 2013 Africa Congo episode, when the Butterfly fish is being cunningly hunted by another river-dwelling aquatic specimen, I laughed so hard that I woke up Burt when the Butterfly fish went launching out of the jaws of its predator, above the surface of the water, and used its wing-like fins to hover for just a few extra milliseconds out of danger’s reach. Burt, look! It’s a fucking fish that can fly! (He briefly confused it with a flying fish, but I quickly beat that notion out of him.)
And when the mustangs of Nevada’s deserts dueled in the 2016 Deserts episode, I bit my knuckles and cried. I couldn’t help it. I love horses, and I was, as always, amazed by their beauty and power at the same time as I was astonished by their brutal ability to tear chunks from each other’s backs with their teeth.
Sometimes, at the end of an episode, David Attenborough will throw in one last artfully crafted sentence to remind his viewers that these complex ecosystems are delicate and are threatened by senseless human destruction. He never preaches; just asks questions or offers an observation.
But he doesn’t need to do more than ask questions, because when you spend just 8 or 9 minutes watching the parenting and mating behaviors of elephants in Africa, the answers are obvious. You can’t help but look at their mighty tusks and think what a terrible fucking shame it is that these glorious animals are killed to make jewelry and piano keys. You can’t watch the seemingly infinite lifeforms in the coral reefs and not suspect they should be preserved. You can’t watch rainforests make their own weather and not ask yourself whether we shouldn’t cut those down just so we can make JACKED Ranch Dipped Hot Wings Doritos.
But it’s closer to home even than that. You can’t help but watch a mother orangutan teach her baby to use sticks to collect honey without seeing yourself teaching little human babies to use a fork. You can’t watch an penguin mourn its dead chick and not think, “That’s grief. I’ve felt that.” You can’t watch frogs vie for the top spot in the best tree in order to attract the fittest mate, without thinking of frat boys in a downtown bar puffing out their chests and flexing semi-facetiously at the large-breasted blonde across the room, who can’t help but get a tingle between her legs when she talks to him, no matter how soporific and “Yeah bro”-laden his conversation may be.
You get the idea. We share the same basic systems these animals do, so it’s not surprising that we can see ourselves in their behavior. But on top of that, each episode is a reminder that we are just a piece of an astonishingly complex puzzle, and we should at least take practical measures to make sure we don’t fuck it up for everyone else.
BBC’s Earth production are gorgeous, charming, funny, well-plotted, superbly narrated cinematographic wonders, and by virtue of that alone, they make you want to take better care of our home planet. It’s part of the reason that now I wash and reuse my Ziploc bags, use rags instead of paper towels, and take reusable mesh sacks to the grocery store. That, plus the fact that I’m just a really great person.
As every English teacher I’ve ever had has said, Showing, not telling, works. It’s so much more effective, not to mention pleasant, than the constant partisan yammering about how we’ll all be covered in seawater by the time we’re 35. I think if we could replace the political rhetoric with more pictures and facts, people would be a lot more receptive to messages about climate change. Even republicans. Lol.
Thanks, BBC, for the reminder that the earth is important. Hey, and David Attenborough, if you ever read this, will you let me know if there is any other animal that keeps pets who have frequent and horrific flatulence? Because Burt keeps ripping ass in his sleep, and I’d like to know if my evolutionary cousins have any good ideas besides covering my nose with the blanket. It doesn’t work that well. Thnx.