Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why PBS Stinks

I love PBS, but their monarch butterfly show tonight was AWFUL. Here's why--and hang on, it gets bumpy:

1) The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies. The silly title suggests they seek an audience that is uber general--they don't even mention WHICH butterfly. Or, they seek 5 year old kids (not a bad thing in these ecologically troubled times) or old people who collect butterfly plates, flags, wind spinny dealies, belt buckles, spoons.... Maybe a more appropriate title would be Migration by Faith: Monarchs, or Migration in Peril: Monarch Butterflies. Perhaps they didn't want to scare anyone off with visions of doom and gloom. Perhaps that's a load of crap.

2) Let's talk about the ecological issues, shall we? The show gave us two glimpses of the monarch's threatened existence (by us--not even taking into account that perhaps the recent bad winter in MX that killed 80% of one roost could be attributed to global warming): an airplane crop dusting and killing a butterfly, and poor Mexicans trying to eek out a living by illegally logging the forests these insects depend on for winter protection. That's it? And only a few minutes? The whole show smacked of "ain't they just beautiful delicate little things miraculously flying 2,000 miles--hey, can you fly? Nope, didna' think so, chump."

3) So, what about MILKWEED? What about the fact people spray and pluck and otherwise DESTROY the very life source of monarchs. NOT ONE MENTION of milkweed in 55 minutes of pretty dainty little video. NOT ONE. If part of the dealio is that monarch habitats are threatened, let's also look to what we can do in North America--besides traveling to Mexico in late October and buying as many souvenirs for your older relatives as possible.

4) I needed some science--especially considering this was a Nova production. I needed more than "who knows how they navigate: sun, magnetic field, genetic je ne sais quoi." I needed something ethical and moral about pesticides and treating native species of plants as weeds. I REALLY needed something more than the final cop out of "though the species isn't endangered, this unique migration is--and isn't it whiz bang cool? It's part of our culture like the Mona Lisa and Mozart." I like the cultural appeal--I admit we need much more of this connection between culture and nature--but maybe we should play that up more, too, and not just in Mexico with villagers shooting off fireworks to celebrate the Day of the Dead (though thank God they at least did this). Let's show more Monarch Watch in Kansas. More school kids in America and Canada. More gardeners. More restored prairies. More poems and stories and songs that reference the monarch.

5) And I hate PBS for showing a monarch get caught and wrangled in a spider web and another drowning in a stream. (Perhaps I'd have liked this IF the appeal to save them was greater, thus making me want to go outside right now in this 0 degree agony and dig in some milkweed.)


Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

I missed the show, but if they did not mention the basics of butterfly ecology, what was the point?

Victoria Summerley said...

I absolutely agree. I wish these programmes would give us the facts and not the slush. I was watching a documentary with my kids the other day about swarms (not just insects, but other animals as well). Every time they showed locusts, or cicadas, or whatever, the narrator kept talking about "alien instincts", and "alien invasions". Who writes this rubbish? What is "alien" about a natural event right here on this planet?

Susan Tomlinson said...

Hear hear.

Anonymous said...

Well said. And milkweed, just days after your eloquence on dandelions. You're on a roll. BTW, posted a link to this one on my Facebook. Thanks again, Benjamin.

Gail said...

Excellent post Benjamin...too bad the program wasn't!

Anonymous said...

Gee Benjamin I guess there could be no programs on butterflies or monarch butterflies specifically but I did watch this and while there could have been more depth to it I found parts of it quite enchanting. At the very least it could start awareness in those that are so disconnected with nature that they would not even think of the questions you asked. Nova should have higher standards, I agree, but the science you wanted is probably what would cause the average viewer to switch programs. You always make me think more deeply about issues so thanks!

Tina said...

Benjamin, as always, good post.
This might give you a bit of inside info on the show:

And this might give people a little incentive towards planting that milkweed:

Tagging the little boogers is quite an adventure all it's own!

Town Mouse said...

Well, I'm just glad I don't watch TV. There's enough other stuff to get fired up about ;->
Now I just hope the milkweed I planted will actually develop into a patch. They're not so easy to establish here in CA, though I've heard once you have them you really have them ;->

Benjamin Vogt said...

AD/KM--Well, that's obviously how little ole me feels! :)
Victoria--"Alien?" See, that doesn't even make sense, does it. That's also evidence of the larger problem--anything large, mysterious, or non human (to be blunt) is alien. How could we have lost touch with our planet, and ourselves, so quickly? Is it really just a case of agriculture and industrialization?
Susan--I HEAR ya :)
David--Thanks for the FB plug. You should see my short piece on morning glories a week or two back, also from my book.
Gail--nice to know I ain't alone.
Layanee--Of coure, you are right as well. Seriously. With all my teaching and writing I know how key it is to capture people emotionally, often through evocative imagery and description. Then, once you have them, you can slightly, ever so slightly, begin to add more (or press your agenda / goals). I still think even a LITTLE science--not much, a bt more--would've appealed to how much we like to both be enchanted AND learn new things. That's why I love writing--the opportunity to create a lush vision or world, and the chance to find added excitement in learning more, going deeper. Off my soap box. Yer turn! :)
Tina--I love Monarch Watch, and have a ceritifed waystation, but haven't been to their blog in a while. Thanks! I don't think I'd ever try to tag them though--that looks impossible to me!
TH--Welcome to me pad. I don't watch as much TV as I used to--nothing on, really, save Battlestar Gallactica (soon to end) and PBS, History, Simpsons, occasional sports. I finally bought milkweed because I couldn't get the seeds to set, so hopefully my 1 plants become more soon, as well! CA is unique with their monarch population--and parrots, I hear.

themanicgardener said...

There's no need for milkweed to be boring, and no excuse for leaving it out. On the other hand, I'm not willing to toss PBS or even all NOVA yet.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I think folks have been so hesitant for years (in the more general public arena) to link observations to climate change (it's been quite interesting to see the number of scientists, especially government scientists, speaking out since 20 Jan!) that shows such as this became shadows of what they could be. Hopefully this will change - even when one is targeting a 'general public' audience. I certainly hope so.

IlonaGarden said...

Well. as you said in the later post: you are a man with a mission.
I have my own missions and would say that there are many ways to win over hearts and minds to something better. Not everyone tolerates having fire in their belly.

You are probably right about the faults and errors of the show (I didn't see that one). The wish list in point four holds ideas that I would enjoy seeing, too.

I grow a mostly organic place ( I can't get my husband to stop spraying weeds in the driveway) since I am the main gardener around here and have purposely grown milkweed for the Monarchs (yay me), but it wasn't until reading your post that I thought about the fact that I could write a post about growing milkweed and do my part in making the world a better place for butterflies. thank you for raising consciousness.

So,see? a silver lining.