I consider myself to be a connoisseur of nature documentaries. I’ve watched and re watched all the Planet Earth/ One series, Blue planet, all the BBC’s documentaries and almost everything nature related on Netflix. Watching nature’s rarest events happening in the most hostile environments, narrated in the soothing voice of David Attenborough makes for some of the most relaxing television available today. Naturally, the minute Our Planet dropped on Netflix, I rushed through my evening chores and settled down on my couch, excited to see new footage with some added information about the damage that climate change had caused to some of the filmed locations.
What I did not expect was a terrible series of visuals depicting animals either dying (flamingos) or killing themselves. It was heartbreaking and very terrifying to watch. Agreed that the underlying cause of their deaths was man-made and the result of environmental abuse, showing close-ups of helpless flamingo chicks with salt crystallizing around their feet and narrowing their focus on the creatures that don’t make it is not very different from a regular horror/gore-flick. I turned off the TV instantly, forever scarred by the images of a helpless flamingo, a dying baby elephant with the mother trying to revive it unsuccessfully (another series) or baby birds that launched themselves off a cliff and didn’t make it.
I understand perfectly that in nature, only the fittest survive. Natural selection is what has made the world what it is today allowing only the best and strongest genes to be passed down. However, showing animals that don’t make it is distressing and extremely sadistic. If the goal is to spur people into action by showing dead or dying animals, there should be ample warning to ensure animal-lovers or people hoping to be inspired or impressed by nature know what is coming. Aren’t such warnings displayed in every news show or clip? Why are animals exempt from such care?
You’d ask me next, so can you watch a big cat chase a gazelle or wildebeest for dinner? YES! Absolutely. That is nature at its spectacular best with the beauty of food chain in action. But imagine in the chase video, I focus on the birth, mom,dad, family, pack of the young gazelle who due to either unfortunate circumstance of being unable to run/swim fast enough or impeded by bad-genes/birth defects is killed after making the viewer emotionally attached to it? Then I show the mother mourning the death of her offspring with the pack waiting in vain for the little one to rejoin them. Will you call that pleasant? It is no longer just a chase footage, that is trying to use animals to make sadistic movies and tapping into a completely different audience for the film.
I appreciate the intent of making movies that show animal populations dying. In this era of irreversible climate change, it is an alarming thought to lose so many of our animal and plant species forever. There is a need to spur climate-change crusaders to action now and continue to address this single-largest global threat with urgency at all levels and at all times. However, it is not right to subject all viewers to the gore/sadness or reality without a warning message. It messed me up for days. Give me a plan to do my bit for climate change. Show me how small steps taken by a group of people in any part of the world has saved a population of flora/fauna and I will be inspired to chip in at a personal/community level instantly. Showing me dead animal babies only makes me resent Netflix and the makers some more.
PS: There has been a bigger uproar over the footage in recent times. I wondered when I turned off the TV as to how people can watch such visuals so casually. The uproar delights me and tells me empathy and kindness towards animals and nature is alive in our society. We just have to spread the love and increase our numbers. In that warped sense, maybe watching animals die might transform some hearts. Who knows!