Friday, April 4, 2008

the birdpeople

My room is full of plants. Literally. It takes me a good twenty minutes to water all of them. My roommate claims to like them, although sometimes I think she wishes I would be into stamp collecting or some other compact hobby. I also have a pet fish named Fish, and a couple of cats. So I really can't claim to be on the anti-domestication side of the spectrum. However, watching this strange little movie today called "the birdpeople," I can't help but feel completely repulsed by the actions of birdwatchers towards their bird "friends." I believe that there is a point between being protective and being entirely bat-shit crazy.

My cats, or Fish, for that matter, would die in nature, as they have been bred to live in enclosed spaces. I hate considering them as my property, but alas they are, and always will be, and I will shelter and nurture them until one of us dies. That kind of relationship with other species, I think, ends where your property does. A bird in a forest, on the coast, in a field, or in a park has learned to hunt, seek food, and avoid predators. It knows the premises, and probably knows to avoid urban activity. So when a group of these "birdpeople" actively seeks out a species to capture it, bands it, or even takes it in for study, especially in the interest of its own good/protect it from humanity, I can't help but think that these actions are overly paternalistic and contradictory. They show birds contorted and helpless after being stuck in a net; perhaps this bird will help a bird group gain a statistic in the favor of wildlife. But that bird is more likely traumatized than grateful, and should not be the object of torturous investigation to the of the cause. Why not get on the asses of corporations that pollute the world, or fund more ecological research ?

I also find it absurd that birds are the most popularly watched species. Why ? Because they're pretty ? Because they happen to make convenient symbols for human ideas ? Or perhaps it is because they are so visibly fragile--think of Janet Pritchard's dead cardinal, broken and ruffled on the glass. While birds are so sensitive to changes in the world and so lovely to the artist's eye, it doesn't mean that they should get special attention over other animals. Take Fish--he's kind of stupid. However, his distant relatives, the salmon, also get battered around by humanity to a similar extent as the birds.

To be sure, once the politics get removed, birds are objectively superb to watch. The strange hybrids--hybirds ?--photographed by a scientist in the CAG appear specter-like, like the images of eagle-eyes we saw in the presentation. In the movie, a creepy voice-over says "I watch you like I watch a movie," and yes, birds are such elegant creatures that they at times seem other worldly. However, the second their beauty causes us to form an obsession with them, I think that there is a greater chance that we put them at harm. My favorite piece in the show was one where a bird-smuggler thanks its quarry, a rare species found through Google. A humorous depiction of killer trade, I think it was probably one of the strongest pieces in the show.

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