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Watching Wildlife

Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Watching Wildlife
    Book Description:

    Watching Wildlife traces the history of the wildlife genre from precinematic, colonial visual culture to its contemporary status as flagship programming on global television. Cynthia Chris's analysis of shows such as Crocodile Hunter and film and television history like the launch of Animal Planet, points out how documentary images of animals present prevailing ideologies about human gender, sexuality, and race._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9713-7
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxii)

    In the filmMagnolia(1994), the character Frank T. J. Mackey, a self-help sex guru played by Tom Cruise, announces that male dominance in human mate selection is “universal . . . evolutional . . . anthropological . . . biological . . . animal.”¹ Cruise-as-Mackey ventriloquizes an understanding of “natural” human sex roles. The character establishes the authority of his view by referring to particular bodies of scientific knowledge. How does he know what he knows? More precisely, because Mackey is a fictional character, we might ask, from what bodies of knowledge did the writer of this monologue derive...

  5. 1 The Wildlife Film Era
    (pp. 1-44)

    Moving pictures of animals—domesticated, captive, and wild—have been a part of cinematic history from its earliest days. Some scholars, looking for cinema’s precedents in scientific motion-study photography and persistence-of-vision mechanisms, claim that moving images of animals predate cinema itself. However, the images of animals that reached early movie screens did not derive directly from motion studies but rather from the conventions of precinematic visual technologies that had long been used to describe and delineate the boundaries of racial difference, sexual difference, and colonial power, as well as from the often conflictual, occasionally overlapping efforts of scientists, naturalists, conservationists,...

  6. 2 The Quest for Nature on the Small Screen
    (pp. 45-78)

    In the postwar period, while the Walt Disney Corporation set about producing True-Life Adventure wildlife shorts and features for theatrical distribution, American audiences saw the commercial introduction and expansion of a new medium: television. Early television borrowed most of its programming ideas from radio’s genres, both the fictional, including situation comedies, dramas, and melodramatic serials, and the nonfictional, such as news, sports, variety, quiz shows, and talk. The new medium’s visuality allowed the nascent television industry to develop new genres as well, including educational and instructional media in a “show-and-tell” format, which would include early TV’s wildlife and pet programming....

  7. 3 Wildlife, Remade for TV
    (pp. 79-121)

    In the 1970s and well into the 1980s, nonfiction wildlife filmmaking reached American television audiences largely in the form of low-cost, syndicated half-hours such asMutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and highbrow series and specials such asNature and National Geographic, featured by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). That is, wildlife constituted a marginalized segment of TV production and distribution that could be found by viewers only on the fringes of an industry dominated by three commercial networks. By the end of the 1980s, the cable network Discovery Channel had proven that documentary could become the centerpiece of an innovative...

  8. 4 Animal Sex
    (pp. 122-166)

    What is it that we see when we look at images of animals? More specifically, what it is we see when we look at images of animal courtship and coupling? Elizabeth Grosz suggests that we hope to see a bit of ourselves:

    Animals continue to haunt man’s imagination, compel him to seek out their habits, preferences and cycles, and provide models and formulae by which he comes to represent his own desires, needs and excitements. The immense popularity of nature programmes on television, of books on various animal species, beloved or feared, and the work of naturalists recording data for...

  9. 5 The Giant Panda as Documentary Subject
    (pp. 167-196)

    Representations of animals mating—whether cinematic or televisual— usually emphasize the ease, thenaturalnesswith which sex takes place. Whether sexual behavior takes place according to the rulebound rituals of the wolf or the whale, or following an elegant courtship display such as the bowerbird’s, or with the decisive force of the elephant seal, or within the polymorphous sexual economy of the bonobo, animals seem to know what they are doing. They are represented as both equipped and compelled to reproduce, thanks to genetic heritage that determines their physical characteristics and influences their behavior. With few exceptions (foremost, human’s close...

  10. Conclusion: Learning from TV, Learning from Animals
    (pp. 197-210)

    On January 31, 2002, the Discovery Channel’s seriesWild Discoveryaired two hour-long documentaries filmed in Iran,Wild Jewels(1999) andWild Treasures of the East(1999). The broadcasts took place just two days after U.S. President George W. Bush’s first State of the Union address, in which he declared that Iran, Iraq, and North Korea form an “axis of evil” that threatens national and international security. The administration accused Iran, specifically, of seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction, and supporting groups officially categorized by the U.S. government as terrorists. For days after Bush’s speech, the American press contained...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 211-260)
  12. Index
    (pp. 261-271)