Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Paul Theroux's article about geese in Smithsonian

Today, while visiting the 'rents on San Juan Island, Wash., I had the December 2006 issue of Smithsonian put into my hands. Mom wanted me to see the cover article, trumpeted by this cover blurb: "Novelist Paul Theroux on living with geese, 'gushing anthropomorphism' and E.B. White's 'deficiency of observation.'"

The seven-page piece reveals Theroux's observations from raising various goose species in Hawaii, his opinions of E.B. White's characterizations of animals and Theroux's disdain from anthropomorphism. He politely rails against assigning human emotions and motives to animal behavior. I liked the ranty bits but did wince a couple times.

The article's subhead described "March of the Penguins" as "a travesty of science," and I was particularly intrigued about that bit. The novelist wrote
The literature of pets, or beloved animals, from My Dog Tulip to Tarka the Otter, is full of gushing anthropomorphism. The writers of nature films and wildlife documentaries are so seriously afflicted in this way they distort science. How many ant colonies have you seen on a TV screen while hearing, 'Just putting that thing on his back and toiling with his little twig and thinking, I've just go to hang on a little while longer,' speaking of the ant as though it's a Nepalese Sherpa.

Possibly the creepiest animals-presented-as-humans film was March of the Penguins, a hit movie for obviously the very reason that it presented these birds as tubby Christians marooned on a barren snowfield, examples to be emulated for their family values. When a bird of prey, unidentified but probably a giant petrel, appears in the film and dives to kill a chick, the carnage is not shown nor is the bird identified. The bird is not another creature struggling to exist in a snowfield but an opportunistic mugger from the polar wastes. We are enjoined to see the penguins as good and the giant petrel as wicked. With this travesty of science people try to put a human face on the animal world."
Agreed, parts of that movie annoyed me because of the anthropomorphism. I don't agree, however, with the claim that the movie remained in theaters for 23 weeks solely because of the Christian theme assigned to it by some groups. I think Theroux's off-base.

It's entirely possible that moviegoers were entranced by the glimpse into the Antarctic landscape and wildlife. Your thoughts?


Blogger elizabird said...

elizabird said...
I haven't yet seen the movie, although it is in my Netflix queue. Why? Because I am still reeling from "Winged Migration" which was so very wrong in so many ways. What I want to see is a movie about Harris Hawks. I want to see family values where the woman is attended to by several males and they all l help tend the young. One of the things that intrugues me about the birds and the bees are the weird sexual relationships that go on. Thank goodness for scientists that sit for hours, months, and years watching...documenting the fabulous lives of these creatures, so we can have ideas of what the 'creator' has in mind as far as what is a natural familial group.
I like Wilbur he is "some pig" and Charlotte is quite the web mistress. But I like them in cartoon form. But it would be nice if the folks making movies would check with someone in the know and correct mistakes so it would be easier to enjoy movies like "Winged Migration". I wonder how I will feel about the penguin movie? I'm gonna move it to the top of my queue.

November 30, 2006 7:37 AM  
Blogger steprous said...

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December 07, 2006 4:33 PM  

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