PBS. No lie.
One night I watched a program on the Carter Family and their influence on music. Another night I watched American Masters on James Dean. The Carter Family, who were brilliant country musicians due in no small part to their painful private life (would it even be country music otherwise?) even inspired a new song destined to be a classic in the Brandt Family oeuvre (too off-color to print here). The James Dean program was equally riveting – I’m not one of these people who has a fascination with dead celebrities like Dean/Marilyn/Elvis, but it made me want to see his movies again because it struck me that there’s not one actor out there now who has the particular kind of soul he had. (There are plenty of fine actors out there, I know, I’m just saying that Dean very obviously had that “thing” you can’t name but which made him uniquely compelling.)
But the most fascinating show to me was a program last night that was basically about whether or not there’s a sort of humanity in the animal world, and all signs point to yes. (I realize that anyone who’s ever owned a dog – or a cat, fine – wouldn’t dispute this, but the evidence here was mind-blowing.) First they’ve got this elephant family (the fact that they have footage of all this stuff is fascinating in and of itself – do they just wait for days and weeks to get stuff this exciting, or is it this exciting every day?) living in a semi-drought ridden area, and this little baby elephant can’t reach his trunk far enough into this shallow pool of muddy water and falls in and quickly sinks into the mud, about to drown. So first the baby’s mom tries to scoop him up with her trunk, which doesn’t work, then she gets down on her knees and tries to scoop him up with her trunk and her legs, and it looks unbelievably human, and then somehow all the elephants work together to get the baby out which they finally do. The obvious intelligence going on in the group and in the individuals is, well, freaky. Jaw-dropping freaky.
Then there’s more footage of this monkey genus (with super bad-toupee looking hair) where there’s like a king monkey who’s very well-liked by the rest of the genus, but there’s this other like, jealous wannabe king monkey who’s been watching the original king and eventually gets into a big monkey fight with him and takes over as king after the original king dies. The lot of the monkey genus goes to pay their respects to the dead monkey king, seriously, and the new monkey king takes over and he’s not well-liked at all, he mistreats the baby monkeys and has an all-around bad attitude. So after a couple of months, the mom monkeys get together and decide to overthrow the bad monkey king because they don’t like their babies being treated this way and they kick the bad monkey king’s ass and they win, and they choose a new nice monkey king again. It’s totally Shakespearean.
There are several other stories like these, but the one that kills me is about this shaggy farm dog. (This one is shown as a reenactment because as you will see there’s obviously no footage.) This guy is talking about the farm he grew up on and this awesome shaggy dog they had and how the dog would go out with them while they were working and then run alongside the truck down the dirt road on the way home. This one day it’s super windy and the dust from the dirt road is blowing all around so the farm guy can’t see out the front window at all really, and the shaggy dog is running alongside the truck and he starts barking like crazy, which he’s never done before. It turns out that the dog can see the farm guy’s brother up ahead, who got stuck in a ditch in the middle of the road riding his bike home. The farm guy realizes the dog is acting kind of weird, but he keeps going and then suddenly a few yards before the farm guy is about to run over the brother, the dog throws himself in front of the truck and the farm guy stops, not in time to save the dog, but in time to save the brother. How I didn’t see this part of the story coming I don’t know, but I completely lost it. You know how sometimes you watch something sad and you get a little misty? Yeah, this was nothing like that. I’m trying to tell you I threw my hand up to my face and burst into convulsing sobs. And actually I started laughing at the same time, because I felt like such a dope, but it totally killed me.
PBS. Sometimes it’s not just talking heads.