My wife really likes nature programming — as do I; it always reminds me of the ethical suicide parlor scene in Soylent Green (1973) — so we stayed up last night here in São Paulo to watch an edition of the program Globo Reporter, titled Coração da floresta: Flagrantes da vida selvagem.
Flagrante — cognate with its usage in the Latin legal term in flagrante delicto — “caught red-handed,” colloquially — means, among other things (the Houaiss Dictionary):
1 visto ou registrado no próprio momento da realização
2 que não pode ser contestado; evidente, manifesto, incontestável
- Seen or recorded at the very moment it occurs
- Incontrovertible; evident, manifest
So the title could be translated something like: “In the heart of the jungle: life in the wild, raw and uncut.” The real deal.
There were several segments in the program that fit this description perfectly, including a report on how a group of researchers used (Sony) high technology to capture the first-ever images of (1) the Sumatran tiger, and (2) an extraordinarily long-tongued moth — one that, as Darwin had posited a century before, must exist: a creature capable of pollinating a species of orchid characterized by an extraordinarily long tube that provides access to its nectar.
Those segments lived up to their billing: stories about how nature photographers used technology to capture real images of natural phenomena.
Other segments in the program, however, used an extraordinary amount of CGI effects.
It would be interesting to look at those scene by scene and debate the use of CGI there. (We stopped into FNAC today to look for a book — they did not have it, as usual — and they were advertising a lecture on “ethics in photojournalism.”)
In some cases, for example, the topic of the report was computer mapping of forest spaces. In that context, it made perfect sense to show some of the results of that mapping. Even I thought the results were really neat.
In other cases, however, it appeared to be used completely gratuitously, without the standard disclaimer at the bottom of the screen: “recreation,” or “simulation.”
In a segment on a parasitic tree — the “strangler fig” — that chokes the live out of the tree that produces the Brazil nut, the time -lapse photography could not possibly have been real, since the process depicted takes years and years to unfold.
One segment in the program, meanwhile, seemed to be completely fictional. While claiming that it was factual.
And oddly, that segment does not appear on the program’s Web site today, on the page listing the contents of the program aired yesterday.
Globo seems to be misinforming us about what it actually aired yesterday evening.
If you think I am making a federal case on this point, take a look at another case in which Globo.com published a transcript that seriously misrepresented the contents of a video segment it had previously aired:
The plot of the segment in question: A bicho-preguiça (a tree sloth, something of a spirit-animal of mine), caught on the ground, flees up a tree to escape an onça (leopard, jaguar) that is hunting it.
Unfortunately — Oh, nature’s tragic ironies! — climbing the tree leaves the sloth open to an attack from a harpy eagle, which kills it and carries it off.
I doubt very, very much that Globo Reporter — or whoever produced this segment (since, like Fantástico, GR is not much more than a voiceover studio for rebranding footage that other people, including advertising and PR agencies, who often boast of the fact on YouTube, have produced) — flagrou any such thing.
What I saw — but again, I cannot confirm this for you visually because Globo did not post the footage that it aired — was this.
I jotted some notes right after I viewed the segment.
- A bicho-preguiça crawling along the ground. (The creature does tends to come down from its tree once a day to defecate and drink.)
- The onça is filmed, from the ground, running in the direction of something that is not shown in the frame.
- The sloth is shown climbing the tree, from various angles.
- The leopard is shown climbing the tree, filmed from a point of view along the tree trunk and above the onça, which climbs up and sticks its whiskers almost straight into the lense of the camera.
- The sloth climbing higher up the tree.
- The leopard climbing back down, filmed from the ground.
- A harpy eagle flying directly toward the camera, at a high altitude
- More establishing shots of the sloth, high up in the tree.
- Rapid cutting between footage of the enormous freaking eagle — what an amazing sight! — and the hapless sloth.
- The harpy eagle flying off with some dead creature in its talons
From which I think we can infer that Globo Reporter purported to show us a real-life event that could not possibly have happened as narrated.
The point-of-view shot of the leopard is a dead giveaway, I think.
If the leopard were climbing the same tree at the same time as the sloth was climbing it, we would have seen the camera that captured the leopard pursing the sloth.
The leopard is never seen in the same frame as the sloth.
Neither is the eagle.
The moment of the eagle striking the sloth is not shown.
That action is merely suggested, using quick cutting between the eagle approaching the camera — flying straight toward the camera, mind you — and the poor sloth, clutching its tree trunk.
Then a cut to the (notable grainy, whereas the rest of the segment is digital-video crisp) footage of a harpy eagle — the same harpy eagle? — flying off with some limp beast in its talons — possibly a sloth.
It is a natural fact that harpy eagles and leopards prey on sloths.
But it cannot possibly be the case that what Globo said it showed you actually happened in real life, in the presence of whoever produced this wildlife fairy tale.
It apparently does not recognize the distinction between verisimilitude and truth.
Between fact and fiction.
Even about the small stuff.
I mean, why could it not have simply told us it was assembling miscellaneous footage to illustrate, fictionally, an interesting enough fact about the sloth and its predators?
The footage itself was lovely, interesting, engaging. The events depicted were realistic enough. The story being told engaging and educational. Our nephew would have loved it, were he allowed to stay up that late.
But it was not really reality.
And behaving as though it were is not the kind of miseducation we want our nephew subjected to.