September 17, 2012


  I found Welling’s definition of the term “Ecoporn” to be quite effective and convincing.  I had no experience with the term before this reading, and when he began stating his argument I had no idea how he was going to create connections / draw parallels with aspects of feminism. However, Welling makes an excellent argument.  He creates an image for us of the typical viewer/consumer of visual images of nature (whether they be an awareness ad, documentary, or just a shot of nature in all of it’s splendor) as an all-powerful voyeuristic male.  He believes that this viewer equates his seemingly omnipotent vision with an equal knowledge of the subject (nature) which he can exploit as he chooses.  Nature, whether it is landscape or nonhuman animals, is representative of the victim, the exploitable, female.  From the ecopornograhy lens, parallels between this objectification of nature and that of women in pornography are clearly evident.  As an example Welling points out the similarities of women at a peep show and animals at a zoo, both are seen as spectacles, they are being objectified. 

To further draw parallels between nature and the female, Welling points out how most images we are exposed to of nature are increasingly becoming more violent and sexualized.  For example, in documentaries we are often exposed to a nonhuman male animal that has to fight his way to the top of the food chain for survival.  The animal either comes out on top, or is defeated by another male in the cycle.  The female on the other hand is portrayed as needing protection; she is weak and doesn’t participate in this competition for dominance.   If the narrative isn’t focusing on a nonhuman animal, it is either a male protagonist (adventurer) like Steve Irwin exploring (conquering/saving) nature while females are seen helpless and out of place, or the photographer capturing (preserving/owning) the perfect image of a “virgin” nature.

Welling also wants to clearly point out that when we experience nature with this voyeuristic and conquering approach, we are not truly experiencing nature.  An animal doesn’t act as it would without any human presence when there is a team of cameras and three jeeps posted 50 yards from its cave.  Welling gives an example of using a fake seal to provoke a shark to attack for an above water action shot.  He says that shark may have needed to use that energy for something else.  What he is trying to point out is these images are an illusion, they are a simplified and commodified version of an ideal nature we love to experience, yet only from a distance.  Welling argues that to truly experience nature, we must invite nature to participate or “look back.” 

I’m trying to think of any examples to counter Welling’s argument, but when I think of what I’m exposed to via the media I can completely understand where he is coming from.  Welling is upset that ecoporn is reinforcing all of the wrong perceptions (the dichotomies of women vs. man, nature vs. civilization, victim vs. victimizer), so what I’m wondering is aside from going completely off the grid Jane Goodall style, how can we experience “nature” in it’s natural state?

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