First Sight

In 2004, the National Geographic Channel launched a series of TV shows called Crittercam.3 The announcements and framing narratives for the show present an easy target for a chortling ideology critique with a superiority complex.4 The animals who carry the attached cameras into their watery worlds are presented as makers of home movies that report on the actual state of things without human interference or even human presence. As the American Association for the Advancement of Science online Science Update put it in 1998, we will learn "why one marine scientist started handing out camcorders directly to the sea creatures he wanted to study. The result: Some very unique home movies." Crit-tercam, we are told in the voice-over of the 2004 television series, "can reveal hidden lives." The camera is a "National Geographic high-tech scientific video tool worn by species on the edge." The reports come from that sacred-secular place of endangerment, of threatened extinction, where beings are needy of both physical and epistemological rescue. Reports from such edges have special power. "Anything can happen when an animal is your cameraman," declaimed a brochure for the series that I picked up at the Hearst Castle gift shop on the California coast in February 2004.

National Geographic Channel's Web site whetted the audience's appetite for dis- and reembodiment through identification: "Meet our camera crews—they're all animals! . . . Sit back and imagine you are taking a ride on the back of the world's greatest mammal, or seeing life from the point of view of a penguin. The new Crittercam series takes you as close as you can get to the animal world." The camera is both physical "high technology" and immaterial channel to the interior reaches of another. Through the camera's eye glued, literally, to the body of the other, we are promised the full sensory experience of the critters themselves, without the curse of having to remain human: "Sense water rushing past, hear the thunderous roar of the wind and experience the thrill of the hunt. . . . Dive, swim, hunt, and burrow in animal habitats where humans can never go." Addressing children, the February 6, 2004, online Crittercam Chronicles asked, "Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a wild animal? . . . You can experience their life the way they do." Speaking to adults, National Geographic tells us that the Crit-tercam is rapidly changing science fiction into reality by "eliminating human presence and allowing us entry into otherwise virtually inaccessible habitats."

Immediate experience of otherness, inhabitation of the other as a new self, sensation and truth in one package without the pollution of interfering or interacting: these are the lure of Crittercam, the TV show, and Crittercam, the instrument. Reading these promises, I felt as if I were back in some versions of consciousness-raising groups and film projects of the early 1970s women's liberation movement, in which self-reporting on unmediated experience seemed attainable, especially if women had cameras and turned them on themselves. Become self by seeing self through the eyes of self. The only change is that National Geographic's Crittercam promises that self becomes other's self. Now, that's point of view!

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