Saturday, June 1, 2013

Newsflash: Animal Planet and Mermaids.

A while back, I saw a small blurb about Animal Planet's change of logo. The writer argued that the tagline "Surprisingly Human" would affect the content on Animal Planet negatively. Specifically, there were arguments about misrepresenting nature, likely by overanthropomorphizing. I wish I could find that article again; it would seem that this argument has reached its peak.

Recently, Animal Planet did a pseudo-documentary on mermaids. A friend of mine insists that I see it, which I will. I loved the thing they did on dragons aside from a few nitpicks. The mermaid thing will probably be fun as well.

Some of us are not amused. Yahoo! News reports:

Animal Planet has raised quite a furor over its airing of the "speculative" documentary "Mermaids: The New Evidence." Capping its annual Monster Week, a network once known for safari shows and puppy bowls is turning over increasing amounts of its broadcast time to cryptozoology shows like "Lost Tapes," "Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real," and "Finding Bigfoot". 

In fact, "Finding Bigfoot" was at the center of another, similar, controversy reported last year by Entertainment Weekly as TV critics turned skeptics, forced Animal Planet president Marjorie Kaplan to offer a vague defense of the show as "an exploration of the secret corners of the planet," since it lacks anything approaching hard evidence.

Should They Have Aired It?

Animal Planet has 3.6 million reasons (as in viewers!) why they should've.
There's really nothing wrong with using actors to re-enact scenes for a documentary. But where is the line? "Unsolved Mysteries" gives a framework for its actors to pretend they were criminals, but actors on "Mermaids" pretend they're scientists with nothing but a tiny caveat in the credits to suggest it's anything but 100% fact. 

Animal Planet's first "Mermaids" installment, "Mermaids: The Body Found," garnered 3.4 million views during its U.S. telecast premiere on Sunday, May 27, 2012. After the airing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had to release an official statement putting it, in unequivocal terms, "No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found." Marine biologist David Shiffman wrote an article for Slate explaining why we should stop worrying about mythical sea life and focus on the damage being done to the sea life we know exists. He talks about fisheries where up to 90 percent of a catch is made up of unintended victims. Not the commercial fish, but "endangered sea turtles and sea birds as well as marine mammals."- Source with more.

I have no objection to things like "Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real" or this new mermaid documentary. Pseudo-documentaries like this are fun, creative uses of art and science. The documentary itself causes no harm, with the mild exception of some people believing it to be real at first glance. Hint-hint: I know a friend.

So, here's the real problem: Animal Planet used to be about facts. It used to have educational programming. The mermaid documentary is akin to Avatar in that it looks at a fictional creature in a realistic ecology. It's fine if you make something like this and other things on cryptids, but at this point, you aren't talking about real animals anymore. Make that its own pseudo-science channel, perhaps? I'd watch it; I'd also watch Animal Planet. The old Animal Planet.

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