Writing in yesterday’s Times, A A Gill put his finger on a problem that has been bothering me about the BBC’s latest wildlife extravaganza – Planet Earth. For a science programme, it has very little science in it.
The factual content is now virtually nil, just scene-setting and needless telling you what you’re seeing. There was barely any attempt to differentiate between North and South Poles. Who cared? And the observation becomes ever more disengaged from a human-sized reality. The camera angles get higher and wider, giving an omnipotent view, and the sentimentally grandiose music is beyond bearing, like the overblown accompaniment to a silent movie or Tchaikovsky orchestrating cartoons. The wildlife itself is sentimentalised, anthropomorphised and edited into a cute narrative in a way I thought we’d all grown out of with Disney in the 1950s.
The explaination he comes up with is all very worrying
But mostly what I mind is the hidden hand of American culture and scientific social censorship. Like most big BBC nature series, this was a co-production with the Discovery channel, which has a long and weird set of requirements for its products: very little violence, no blood, hardly any sex and very, very hazy, noncommittal science, especially where it may contentiously upset fundamental Christians. Essentially what it wants is pretty, unnatural nature for 10-year-old, conservative Midwestern creationists. Now, I understand that this sort of programme is eye-wateringly expensive, and getting other broadcasters to share the expense makes bottom-line sense. But the BBC is not a commercial company: your licence fee is being used to subsidise American commercial television, and it’s being made to their specifications.
As regular readers will know, I’m a great fan of the BBC. And their wildlife programmes are usually the best in the world. But really don’t want to watch science programs with all the science taken out so that it doesn’t offend looney creationists in the US.