TV

Planet in Peril

The term "global" works in multiple ways here, marking the broad extent of deleterious effects, as well as the vital interconnectedness of a range of problems.

Planet in Peril

Airtime: Tues. and Weds. 9pm ET
Cast: Anderson Cooper, Jeff Corwin, Sanjay Gupta
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: CNN
US release date: 2007-10-23
Website
Trailer
Amazon
I'm being outsmarted by a vertebrate with a brain about as big as a hangnail.

-- Jeff Corwin, on trying to capture a day gecko

As Anderson Cooper describes it, Bangkok's "infamous" Jatuchak market resembles "many markets scattered throughout Thailand, but behind the bustle are dark secrets." The camera pans from a slightly high angle, emphasizing the crowds, vendors' booths, and general grayness of the scene. Sellers and shoppers alike are poor, surviving day to day, seemingly unmoved by the fact that a CNN news team has landed in their midst. Cooper means to uncover those "dark secrets," of course. In this case, the focus is the illegal traffic in rare and endangered wildlife and the context is Planet in Peril, a four-hour investigation of the changing global environment.

The term "global" works in multiple ways here, marking the broad extent of deleterious effects, as well as the vital interconnectedness of a range of problems. Submitting that most modifications result from human activity, including population growth and unsustainable consumption of resources, crews led by Cooper, Sanjay Gupta, and Animal Planet celebrity Jeff Corwin travel to far corners -- from Southeast Asia to North America to China -- in order to show the connections among pollution, poverty, and wildlife extinction. Cooper and Corwin's Thailand segment features conservationist Steve Galster, cofounder of Wildlife Alliance, who observes the dire truth, that species are becoming extinct at 1,000 times the natural rate, owing to loss of habitat and poaching.

Cooper and Corwin accompany local police as they mount what looks to be a massive raid on illegal activities. Armed with weapons and information gathered by an undercover agent, who has spotted cages full of scarce tortoises from Madagascar and South American marmosets (these sell for some $2,000 a piece, a lot of money in this area of the world). The outcome is somewhat anti-climactic. It begins as a typical Cooper-style adventure: he and Corwin ride in trucks with the uniformed officers, their faces forward to the wind, their gazes steadfast and bold. They are journalists on a mission, meaning to uncover hard truths and indict wrongdoers. (Corwin takes a few moments in voice-over to re-explain the mission that Cooper has already laid out.) But at the market, which is "like a labyrinth," they learn the vendors have been tipped off ("Savvy dealers," narrates Cooper, "are closing their doors"). While this doesn't make for conventionally thrilling TV -- no one's arrested or hauled away in handcuffs -- the broader points are clear enough. First, this underground business is well organized and well connected (with officials who are also in need of income). And second, when CNN rolls into town, it's not exactly a secret.

Africa

Still, the intrepid reporters spend the documentary riding along with cops and researchers. Corwin explicates the crisis: "You can judge the health of a society," he intones, "by looking at the environment around it, and as we, as a global community, allow ourselves to unsustainably pillage the natural world, it's the next generation that'll pay the price." The cost is illustrated vividly in Planet in Peril, CNN's first report shot in high definition; the photography of wildlife and terrains, from jungles to mountainsides to impoverished neighborhoods, is breathtaking.

Corwin travels with Conservation International's Russ Mittermeier on a brief, if arduous, quest on Madagascar ("a place where 90% of the wildlife can be found nowhere else on earth"). As usual, Corwin gives himself over to the excitement of the moment: he and Mittermeier are "trailblazing through the Andasibe Rainforest," while also chastened by the fact they are In "one of the poorest countries in the world, where more than 70% population lives below the poverty line." The program's focus being the threat to wildlife, It doesn't dig into economic frameworks (the exploitation of developing nations by rich ones, for instance), but makes a simple-seeming plea for defending the environment. The team comes across what Corwin describes as "the payoff," a look at "the very unusual, mysterious and rare species of lemur, the black sifaka," never before captured on video. It's a magnificent and adorable creature, and so makes an emotional appeal to viewers as to what's at stake in these many and multiplying extinctions.

Alaska

Such appeals characterize the program's approach. If its science is generalized and its arguments broad, its examples are poignant and particular. Cooper looks into a successful species recovery, that of the gray wolf in Yellowstone Park. Glossing over the history of the species' near eradication -- by a U.S. government campaign, aided by fearful citizens with weapons -- Cooper and Doug Smith, head of the recovery project in initiated in 1995, go on to show "the effect one species can have on an entire ecosystem," as elks and beavers, songbirds and willow trees have all been helped by the predator's reintroduction.

Animals aren't the only creatures in peril in Planet in Peril. In the second episode, which premieres Wednesday, 24 October, Dr. Gupta points out that the consumption of endangered wildlife can be unhealthy as well as expensive. While he makes something of a spectacle of visiting a restaurant in China that features exotic dishes like tiger paw and tiger penis, Gupta's medical point concerns TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). The segment focuses on the production of bear bile is brutal (it's extracted from the animals through a painful process using steel catheters), but implies that the effects of TCM are not always beneficial (details are left unexamined here).

Brazil

Pollution makes an easier, more obvious target. After he interviews a Chinese woman who lost her husband to colon cancer (she blames the "brown and red water" and asserts, prompted by an especially silly question, that she does indeed miss her husband), then pursues the cause. Again, the CNN crew makes its way into a situation that is plainly transformed by its intrusion. Gupta and camera head into a mine director's office, determined to make him confess to polluting China's Hengshui River, making it red and brown and full of carcinogens. The director looks taken aback as Gupta enters, glancing at the camera uncomfortably. Gupta describes the scene in terms that seem borrowed from the Michael Moore playbook: "At first he refused to answer our questions, but we persisted." The answers he gives are mostly vague, until he's asked whether he would eat food irrigated by the river or drink its water. His "Of course not!" serves as the interview's ostensible gotcha moment, but it's hardly revelatory.

Despite such simplifications and shortcuts, Planet in Peril is a remarkably wide-reaching program. It points the way toward more in-depth investigations and above all, insists on the interconnections among ecosystems and human activities. As populations and individuals strive to survive and/or exploit their environments, a larger framework is always influencing and influenced by our daily choices.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image