September 16, 2012

A Floridian's response to Ecoporn

I am a Floridian. Between the campaigns for returning the Everglades to their pre-Disney state, to county-based efforts to limit storm drain runoff, to the issue occupying most of Welling's piece, protection of the Florida Panther, I have been living with conservation efforts since elementary school. Living in a cable-less household until high school, my family spent our evenings watching more wholesome television, usually PBS wildlife specials. My credit union was represented by the Florida Panther and every month, they had a new trading card featuring an endangered species to hand out to children who deposited into their savings accounts. My mother has an annual pass to our county's zoo which is supposed to help conservation projects.

After reading Welling's Ecoporn, though, I just feel confused and lied to, something I wasn't expecting to feel from this reading.

Welling says that "[e]copornography is a type of contemporary visual discourse made up of highly idealized, anthropomorphized views of landscapes and nonhuman animals... It traffics in pictorial versions of the same land-as-woman tropes that... have done much to authorize the genocidal oppression of native peoples and the colonialization of their lands by European settlers and the nonhumananimals, plants, and diseases they have brough with them... ecoporn places the viewer in the role of "male surveyor," the all-seeing male subject to Nature's unseeing, aestheticized female object... ecoporn is pornographic because, to a disturbing degree, it has been moving in recent years beyond... flesh-colored landscapes and big cats captured in the seductive poses of Playboy models,... to a truly hardcore obsession with explicit sexuality and violent death..." (57-59)

According to Welling, Steve Irwin made ecopornography. Pictures of the Grand Canyon are ecopornography. A photograph of a beautiful, healthy Florida Panther staring at the camera is ecopornography. Basically, all the nature I was exposed to in my "wholesome" childhood is ecopornography.

You can't merely label something as ecopornography, either; it has implications. Ecopornography is responsible for disrupting habitats, abusing wild animals, misrepresenting ecosystems, putting nature in a male-dominant, female-subservient relationship, and displaying explicit material on the same level of human heterosexual pornography. So by participating as a mindless consumer, I am supporting and encouraging these practices.

Welling did a lot of bashing of the Florida Panther campaign, pretty much accusing it of green-washing the license plates they sell and putting explicit material on a site geared toward children, but he didn't propose a new way to go about this campaign.

Welling only aimed at spurring on discourse, and so I can forgive him for the way his text effected me. It makes me wonder what the places around the world are actually like, makes me want to go see them for myself, but Welling isn't very supportive of ecotourism either. The only real solution offered by Welling is to sit around and hope documentary makers and marketers get their acts together and start representing nature accurately without the "virgin" spin placed on new places now. I don't feel content to just sit around and trust them though; I feel like yelling at everyone and when that doesn't work, just becoming cynical towards all environmental campaigns.

On a side note: it surprised me that Welling actually praised some of PETA's campaigns for being a non-ecopornographic source. PETA is often criticized for anthropomorphizing animals, and even though Welling said anthropomorphism was an attribute associated with ecopornography, he still found things he liked about their campaigns.


A Cycene said...

Hey Catalina-

I know what you mean by the initial surprise when reading about how a lot of documentary programs exploit animals such as the Florida Panther for funds that sometimes don't even help the panthers. I was also surprised about the fact that some people even taunt the animals (like the sharks with the seal lures) or even by the fact that they put animals in controlled environments to capture footage of them. But in terms of him offering a solution, or should I say-not offering a solution-it made me even more irritated because then the article just felt like a rant yelling at me for sitting by and watching these exploitations.

I noticed however, how Welling didn't mention National Geographic, a program who, in fact, will absolutely NOT touch or disturb anything at all in order to capture and document the real nature. And by the real nature-they mean everything-from an African child being wrapped up by a python, to lion cubs playing on their mother. I think he was trying to focus too much on one perspective of the agency, which in the article was nature in relation to a woman, but in order to get the whole entire truth, which it seems he didn't himself really do, he needed to put much more of a differentiated aspect on his agency and show it all around in a full 360 degrees-not just 180.


Megan Conner said...

I, as well, was confused by the Florida Panther rant that Welling presented. He seems to demoralize the campaign that we were raised to believe was a positive and well meaning effort to protect a wild animal. He mentions that there are many "complications and realities" that Floridians to not see when discussing the conservation of the panther. This, being the ecopornography, the fact that there are hidden aspects to this presented idea of nature. I don't necessarily agree with Welling that this is intended to be malicious, but that there are somethings that should not be mentioned because they are too harsh for a certain setting.

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