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Are Animal Television Networks Tumbling into the Toilet?
There is no doubt that for many years, and quite possibly decades, animal and nature oriented television networks including Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, and Animal Planet for example, have long served as memorable, reliable, and entertaining sources of information for all individuals and families alike. This has typically been achieved through the airing of many well known programs and individuals such as Steve Irwin and his loving family/co-workers, Mark O’Shea, and Jeff Corwin to name a few. Within these programs, these noble animal and environmental educators constantly stressed the importance of becoming aware of, learning about, and ultimately respecting animals, nature, and the environment.
However, over last several recent years, a disturbing and appalling new trend has emerged within these television networks as well as many others that has slowly but steadily replaced the aforementioned types of programming that so many people love and enjoy. This “new generation” of television programming now focuses far more heavily on exploiting and appealing to the human’s rudimentary senses or emotions such as fear. To illustrate such a classic example, according to Anne Beck, Animal Planets self described “relaunch” has stated the following in February 2008: “The goal is to move from being perceived by viewers as paternalistic, preachy, and observation-based to being seen as active, entertaining, and edgy. That means targeting adults 25-49, rather than full families, with less voice-of-God narration and more visceral imagery and sounds. Think of it as swapping a drab narrator saying that a lion is about to kill its prey for the blood-curdling scream of the doomed creature as it meets its demise.”
As a result, viewers of these networks are now being exposed to a far greater number of programs and series emphasizing largely to entirely on wild and captive animal maulings, attacks, fatalities, escapes, and other animal related incidents/accidents. A significant portion of these depictions include and depict reptiles and other captively held exotic animals including but not limited to primates, big cats, and non domesticated canines and the subsequent keeping/ownership of said animals as posing as serious threats to human health and physical safety. At the same time, very little to no information is typically presented that can be considered to be of actual educational value. These programs however, only emphasize upon the negative rare events, and often fail to even mention the positives, as well as attempt to place depicted scenarios into the proper context therefore presenting a distorted overall image of what animal ownership entails. Unfortunately this is likely due to the fact that such perspectives are often far less shocking and visually appealing/stimulating to the uninformed general public who view such programs.
In even more recent years, another new and disturbing trend and emphasis has emerged in the television networks and media; the concept of animal hoarding and its applications thereof. In perhaps the most widely known sense, animal hoarding truly occurs when an individual continually acquires and keeps very large quantities of animals while at the same time fails to be able to physically and/or financially keep their animals in a proper, sanitary, and responsible manner. Some of these individuals may even not realize the implications of their actions, and as such many believe that “animal hoarding” is associated with several psychological disorders.
While there are undoubtedly individuals and situations/circumstances where animal hoarding truly does occur, the concerning trend lays in these television network’s (most notably Animal Planet’s) seemingly widespread misuse and loose applications of the term “animal hoarding.” In recent weeks and months, it has come to my attention (as well as many other’s) that one to several recruiters allegedly representing the Animal Planet network have approached several large scale, well known and respected individuals within our industry as well as having posted solicitations on many different pet and animal forums and websites encouraging individuals to be recruited into participating in their new television series. The apparent presumptions of these recruiters and network therefore reasonably appears to be that we as herp hobbyists, pet owners, and breeders are also viewed as animal hoarders in need of psychological assistance and/or intervention.
To conclude, It is certainly understood that one of the objectives of most, if not all, television and media networks is to increase their viewership and subsequent ratings. However, the implications extend far beyond providing simple entertainment value alone for viewers. Such widespread and reckless use and perpetuation of many outright myths, stereotypes/prejudices, and misinformation by these and other media networks is (and should be considered) not only incredibly irresponsible programming, but is also a direct undoing of the tireless educational efforts of the late Steve Irwin and others as well as thousands of passionate and dedicated reptile hobbyists worldwide who strive to educate the public about these animals on a daily basis. These programs are performing a great disservice that is contrary to the efforts and goals of all of these individuals. At some point, these formerly reputable networks need to once again begin to care about more than the almighty dollar alone.
Due to the tremendous influence these networks have established, we as the reptile and exotic keeping community cannot and should not afford to ignore these increasingly direct attacks on our hobby/industry by these prominent networks. There now appears to be a highly disturbing similarity between many of these programs and the Humane Society of the United State's (HSUS's) agenda to obliterate the reptile industry. Whether you enjoy it or not, we must actively respond to and address this matter for simply ignoring it by burying our heads in the sand while being stoned to death has clearly proven ineffective thus far in combating these types of heavily sensationalized programs.
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