The Dictionary of Man: Will Bob Geldof and the BBC reproduce racist anthropology? was the title of a (rather sceptical) post back in 2007. Now this ambitious project, four years ago described as “the largest ever living record of films, photographs, anthropological histories, philosophies, theologies, economies, language and art, as well as people’s personal stories” is ready for the TV-screens and partly for the web as well.
Human Planet is it called, now focussing on “man’s remarkable relationship with the natural world” with stories from “eighty of the most remote locations on Earth".
The website is beautiful. Stunning photographs, videos, text, music and lots of links to external websites. Unfortunately (not surprisingly, though in our economic system), most people on this planet won’t be able to view the videos (within the UK only, I suppose).
UPDATE: Sian Davies from the BBC writes to me and informs that some videos are availabe worldwide, f.ex Walking on the sea bed (Bajau fisherman, Sulbin, freedives to 20 metres to catch his supper.), Pa-aling divers (One of the most dangerous fishing methods of all. A 100 strong crew in the Philippines dive to 40 metres, breathing air pumped through makeshift tangled tubes by a rusty compressor), and Gerewol courtship festival.
Several anthropologists have been involved. Nevertheless, the question remains how people from around the world are represented. Is it the usual exotisation or has the BBC chosen a more innovative approach?
Have a look yourself - here are two (visually fascinating) videos from the Human Planet YouTube playlist
>> Human Planet Production Blog
Check also the comment on Culture Matters Bob Geldof – the “saviour” of the cultures of the world? (19.4.2007)
Another new initiative - more academic, though, to showcase this planet’s diversity is the Global Ethnographic, “a general interest, peer reviewed web journal featuring the field research and perspectives shaping our social world. Free and exclusively online, Global Ethnographic is multi-media driven and cross-disciplinary, bringing you the scholarly conversations on daily life as it is lived and experienced around the world.”
The website is already online, but the content will be launched the 31.1. 2011.
With millions of pounds and thousands of people at their disposal, why did the BBC and its partner Discover set the bar so low? Why is the linking narration so banal and cliche ridden? Why are the programmes little more than a flick through the pages of old National Geographic magazines from more than 50 years ago. While the quality of the images is of great credit to the camera crews, the series is shamefully low in content. A real missed opportunity!
Thanks, interesting. I watch a few short clips on the website and found it striking that you rarely hear the voices of the people themselves. Somehow old-style “We” represent “them"? Other things you noticed?
This is a very beautifully filmed programme and does show the very wide variety of human habitats but David Attenborough’s very similar programme broadcast in 1975 was called “Disappearing Worlds” and these programmes to very little to inform the watching public that the folk on their TV are a minute remnant of the numbers of people who did indeed, once live in this way. I have been very disappointed in that it depicts indigenous people as exotic curiosities rather than communities fighting incursions onto their land and threats to their way of life. Bruce Parry has done more recently with his “Artic” programme. Perhaps you should have at least mentioned this aspect and provded links to “Survival” the main charity which acts as an advocate to indigenous people under threat.
I don’t see the point in trying to universalize the diversity of the social being that is the human.
But then again, exotification doesnt necessarily have to be bad. It was the exotic that got most of us into anthropology in the first place.