Did you see the man who let a snake eat him on TV last night? Sounds like a joke, but sadly, it’s real. On Sunday, December 7, Discovery Channel will air Eaten Alive, a show that promises the ultimate man versus nature showdown. Armed with a “snake-proof suit,” naturalist Paul Rosolie will allow himself to be eaten by an anaconda.
What were Discovery executives thinking when they green-lighted this program? There’s a simple answer: ratings. In the television industry, ratings are king — even if that means losing reputable programming. Discovery has equated educational programming with boredom, replacing it with shock value to attract viewers. In turn, they’ve thrown conservation and animal welfare out the window.
Is it wrong to aim for higher ratings? No. Any business model would include activities that enhance the success of their product. But for a company with a reputation as a source of educational and environmentally sound information, the decision to air Eaten Alive has serious implications for both public awareness and the wildlife involved in the stunt.
We don’t mean to single out Discovery Channel; other environmental networks are equally guilty of going to extremes to capture “money shots”. Of all the ethical issues involved in wildlife filmmaking, animal harassment is one of the most troubling—and one of the most challenging to combat. Most of the cruelty happens out in the field, with no witnesses to stop it or point it out to television audiences.
Paul Rosolie in his "snake-proof suit"
Rosolie and his film crew, abetted by Discovery executives, were conscious of their decision to provoke the anaconda until its behavior aligned with their production goals. Will Discovery eventually stoop to videotaping Roman-style gladiatorial games, with real killing, as a history lesson?
Adding to the abusive nature of the production is the duplicitous stance the producers take on the program’s conservationist goals. In a statement on his website, Paul Rosolie states, “The snakes that I work with are under threat from hunting and habitat destruction, and need help.” There is no obvious connection between disguising oneself as snake bait and helping anacondas and their ecosystem.
The dangers of coming too close to wild animals should be obvious. The animals at best are harassed and goaded, and at worst strike out at the people doing the harassing. While the beleaguered animals are merely defending themselves against intruders, these attacks perpetuate inflated and irrational fears about the dangers of wildlife. And in this case, Rosolie is doing even more harm by making himself a choking hazard to the snake, physically endangering the animal he claims he wants to save.
Paul Rosolie wrestling with a green anaconda
Discovery is not helping the snake’s reputation either as the previews demonize the anaconda as a “dangerous beast.” Negative species associations are not beneficial to conservation. The public is unlikely to support a species that they perceive as menacing.
If “naturalists” like Rosolie and “environmental authorities” like Discovery fail to demonstrate appropriate respect towards wildlife, why would the general public?
It is certainly possible to have programs that are both educational and fun. Environmental programming doesn’t have to be boring; indeed, it should be exciting to watch while treating animals ethically and promoting conservation. Violence does not necessarily equate to ratings, nor does it educate or aid in conservation. Discovery Channel needs to get with the program.
Get a Hold of its Head! from Discovery
Professor Chris Palmer is the director of American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking and author of Shooting in the Wild. His forthcoming book, Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker, will be published in March. Shannon Lawrence is a filmmaker and MA candidate at American University.
Visit: www.chrispalmeronline.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also see: www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/09/nature-television-is-running-wild-the-man-eating-anaconda-is-just-the-latest-atrocity