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Natural Awakenings

Nature Documentaries Mislead Public Opinion

Broken television set with no screen set near flowing water in nature

photography maghradze ph/Pexels.com

Nature documentaries, often narrated in a soothing tone accompanied by a compassionate-sounding orchestral score, offer easy escapism from everyday routines with dramatic landscapes and extreme close-up views of the animal world. Over 1 billion people have watched the BBC shows Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II in the last three years and more than 20 projects are in the pipeline through 2022 from the BBC, Silverback Films (A Perfect Planet) and others. In a way, these documentaries shape the way we define nature, especially in an era of restricted global travel. By selecting the most cinematic shots and editing native peoples out of the picture, they create a virgin, parallel universe that is both beautiful and inaccessible.

In a 1995 essay, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” historian William Cronon debunks the concept of wilderness, arguing that European settlers in North America had transformed the idea of wilderness as worthless, scary and unimproved land by reimagining it as a pristine garden of Eden. The unswerving presentation of nature as an untouched wilderness in nature documentaries misleads viewers into thinking that an abundance of these areas currently remains. This encourages people to build environmental solutions around preserving untouched places and possibly kicking indigenous peoples out of their homeland, he charges.

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