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Human Arachnids: The Joke about Monster Bug Wars Human Arachnids: The Joke about Monster Bug Wars
by Dr. Binoy Kampmark
2012-01-23 07:21:14
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It all starts with a disastrous human presumption: the animal world is there it be used, abused and mocked.  Cage it, memorialize it, idealise it, and worship its remains with a sickly reverence through cable television subscriptions.  Animals are merely human representatives writ large, killing, maiming and eating with lusty bravura.  Humans, it seems, are doing them a favour, articulating their deepest secrets, their habitats, their desperate struggle for survival.   

This anthropomorphic tendency is the working premise of Monster Bug Wars.  The program airs on such networks as Animal Planet, which tends to resemble a night at the Golden Globes with an equal dose of nonsense without the bubbles.  It is even shown on such networks as the Science Channel.  Could science, even in a popular medium as television, go lower?    

Monster Bug Wars immediately brings the spectator before a program that might resemble a military training exercise.  ‘Get a ringside seat for some of nature’s deadliest encounters: losers aren’t just KO’d, they’re eaten alive.’  Do such words on the website of the Discovery Channel reveal a human channeling of the Roman gladiatorial contests?  Instead of seeing Christians consumed with relish by lions or gladiators slaughter each other with imperial approval, we are seeing representatives of the natural world hunt and munch with ruthless glee.  The camera crew are nearby to witness and record these unfortunates as they end up as triumphant eaters or the defeated eaten.

A closer, more contemporary genre of comparison might be the murder series, though Monster Bug Wars is not the Hercules Poirot of the insect world .  ‘Death at Midnight’ is the title of an episode that features the Spiny Leaf Insect and the Giant Rainforest Mantis.  For the public relations machine on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, they are the ‘Rainforest Monsters’ designate.  Vicious, violent and desperate, they ‘go to head-to-head’ in what is ‘an all-out assault where only one survives.’  Other questions are asked in this death struggle to lure the viewer in.  ‘Can a Black House Spider outpoint its archrival, the White-Tailed Spider?’  This is war, after all.  ‘When bugs go to war there’s just one guarantee – you’re either dead or alive.’

Even YouTube kindly allows the placement of specific samples for the public – the ‘Super Model of the Spider World’ in conflict with its rival, a creature who eventually poisons and devours her subject. (Oh, the ways of vicious, eight-legged females.)

One can barely call this show a documentary, with its expert commentary resembling a row of teenage, computer addled viewers who might have downed an energy drink too many.  One thing can be said: the show is so cliché-ridden it should be sinking under the weight.  Often, the terms the narrator employs resemble the George Lucas manual on how to describe an expanding Evil Empire.  And lo and behold, one episode is titled ‘Enemy Empire.’ 

The anthropomorphic idea here is that animals are merely objects of human expression and delectation.  They are warriors; they are the enslaved.  There are ‘Mexican’ shootouts and show downs, which again brings into play the narrative of the American empire and its happy quest to subjugate the Hispanic and the Indian.  Human prejudice makes itself manifest, even when looking at something that is far from human.

While the human world will always be interested in the creatures of the animal kingdom, it will persist in distinguishing itself from it.  Animals remain humanity’s objects for show, toys and distractions.  That it should now be the stuff of cable television simply continues that old biblically endowed tradition from Genesis: Human beings were god-made creatures who were given a calling to subjugate the earth and its humble representatives. 

 

*****************************************************************************

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. 

 


   
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