Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Frozen Planet and the Polar Bear controversy

20 December, 2011 - 15:51 -- John Burton

Everywhere I go I seem to be being asked my opinion on the ‘controversy over the polar bear sequence' in the BBC’s Frozen Planet series. But to me there is nothing controversial about it.

The sequence in question was filmed in a zoo. So what? If the viewing public think that wildlife films are all ‘natural’ then they are very much mistaken. Almost every wildlife film shown on TV is faked in some way, to a greater or lesser degree. This is quite simply because were it not so, the films would be incredibly boring to most viewers. The very act of editing, immediately makes the sequence a ‘fake’. And the creation of story lines, imposes a narrative that may or may not be true, however authoritative it sounds. Natural history, just like any other history, is subjective, and the same sequence of activities can be described in many different ways. And with time, increased knowledge often changes the interpretation of behaviour, for example.

If you really want to see natural history, without interpretation, without any fakery, then you will have to watch the World Land Trust webcams. But even these involve fakery – the fact that the webcams are focused on feeders, is unnatural, and designed to ensure some activity.

So next time you are watching wildlife on TV, just remember, it is TV, and no more reality, than so-called Reality TV. It is primarily entertainment. And if it encourages some of the viewers to go and see the real thing so much the better. And if it encourages some of the viewers to preserve what they saw for the future, even better.

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