Whose planet?

February 5, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’m still here, despite the gaps… Cambridge life rattles on at its usual breakneck speed. One of the ways I take time out is by making use of the God-given treasure trove that is BBC iPlayer. My current programme of choice (other than endless back episodes of QI) is Human Planet. This is essentially Planet Earth, but with a focus on human societies living in extreme or unusual conditions. So less natural history, more anthropology. But it’s all fairly superficial – the emphasis is on the spectacle, not on detailed analysis. That suits me just fine, though. I need breaks from thinking hard, and it really is pretty spectacular.


It’s true that John Hurt’s voiceover can get a bit tiresome (“this is AMAZING! LOOK how AMAZING it is!”, but more eloquently put). In fact, the images don’t really need an accompaniment – they make it pretty clear how versatile and ingenious humans can be. I know some people (myself included) have found it difficult to watch the killing of whales and sharks, but the more I think about it, the more I’m glad they don’t skip the gore. After all, we need food to survive. And when it’s a choice between a town of Inuit killing one narwhal to feed themselves for weeks, and large-scale trawler fishing in the North Sea, I know which I think is more “green”.

On the other hand, there is something a little unsettling about the programme’s constant exultation of our dominance. Every episode, in the title sequence, we are told that “this is the human planet”. I don’t really like that idea – I don’t think we own it more than any other species. We just happen to have evolved in a quite extraordinary way. Still, I’m probably just being pernickety about a catchy TV phrase, and in any case I should stop there – I want to watch the jungles episode before bed.


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