“Just One Catch”: Wild on the CW

Curator's Note

Life Is Wild premiered last fall as The CW’s reversioning of iTV’s Wild at Heart. As its successful British predecessor enters its third season, Life Is Wild stumbles in the ratings basement, despite endorsement from the Parents’ Television Council. The premise is equal parts Daktari and Dawson’s Creek. A New York couple — he’s a vet, she’s a lawyer, played by D.W. Moffett and Stephanie Niznik— relocate to South Africa to run a guest lodge. Their children are conveniently teenaged, so that within wildlife adventure and family melodrama lies a (tamer) dose of teen romance that The CW banks on elsewhere. The episode “Open for Business,” aired 10/21/07, suggests that the racial politics of the series operate at a variety of registers. In one segment, Moffett’s character goes to an animal auction to acquire wildlife that guests “might enjoy,” and comes home with an elephant, confessing to his wife, “there’s just one catch — he can’t be around people.” Two Black African men lead the elephant into view. Who are the people that the animal can’t be around? Who counts as “people”? The scene recalls a 1971 National Geographic Special discussed by Donna Haraway in Primate Visions, in which voiceover describes primatologist Dian Fossey as the “one human being” at her research station, while the footage places her with “an African man … his wife and child,” in that it re-enacts the erasure of indigenous people historically rampant in nonfiction wildlife genres. How does a viewer resolve slapdash dissonance between spoken word and visual information? In Life Is Wild, narrative incoherence is produced by a collision of backgrounded reality-based image (the pachydermal screen time) and foregrounded dramatic dialogue. It is said that seeing is believing, but aural cues that accrue around the image structure the belief system through which the seen is understood.

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