Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Power of the Documentary

Although traditionally avoided as a rather staid and boring genre, the documentary has enjoyed a real resurgence in popularity over the past couple of decades, no doubt in part due to the important and provocative work by people such as Errol Morris, Michael Moore, and Velcro Ripper. A good documentary, for me, is one that provokes thought and provides knowledge and insights we often don't have the opportunity to encounter in our day-to-day lives.

Nature documentaries, when done right, can accomplish much. A series on the earth called Earth From Above, spectacular when viewed on blu-ray, but I'm sure almost as visually stunning on a regular DVD, has much wisdom to impart. In the episode I just finished watching, called Amazing Lands, the point is made that every impact humanity has on the earth, whether intentional or unintentional, has far-reaching ramifications.

For example, deforestation means the destruction of habitats to a myriad of species, oftentimes resulting ultimately in their extinction. It also means the loss of flora whose possible medicinal benefits to humanity will never be known. Another impact of that deforestation is land erosion that means heavy rains carry formerly fertile topsoil down in to the rivers, the mud killing the fish, etc. But while we may understand all of this as a series of abstract facts, a naturalist on the show reminds us that we have no ability to imagine what any of this really means. It is very similar to when we are talking about the magnitude of national debts. The numbers really don't mean anything to us.

The only real wisdom here is for all of us to remember that we are not above nature, but rather simply a part of it.

I therefore highly recommend the series as a way of helping us to start understanding what the environmental destruction wrought by an unfettered corporate agenda, aided and abetted both by our political 'masters' and our own rampant and very disposable consumerism, really means.

And since this is Sunday, I will not apologize for the preachy tone of this post, but instead leave you with two of my favourite poems, both written at different points in the nineteenth century; both resonate very strongly with our situation today:

The World Is Too Much with Us - William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. --Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.


God's Grandeur - Gerald Manley Hopkins

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; 5
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 10
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

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