Tuesday, 12 October 2010
Chimps, Gorillas and Lesbians
What a night for television!
First, on BBC4, a superb study of one of Louis Leakey's angels - Jane Goodall, with her work on chimps in Tanzania. Just by wandering around the jungle on her own in white shorts, blouse and notebook she befriended a chimpanzee family and was the first to discover that our hairy cousins use tools to hunt termites and also share our carnivorous tastes, tearing up colobus monkeys and even chimps from a wayward tribe.
She also showed their more civilized side as they treat their own children and older members of the tribe with compassion and kindness, while the adolescent son of a dead mother just pines next to her body and dies of a broken heart. It reminded of the scene in "War and Remembrance" when a sentimental Himmler visits a homely German family in the the office of the Auschwitz commandant and strokes the blonde head of a boy after giving him a flower taken from the gassed naked corpse of a little Jewish boy. Compassion and death all in one - we can do it; so can our cousins in the chimp world. We did not need civilization to make us territorial and tribal in our cruelty.
She also records their mating habits and the fact that unlike chimpanzees obeserved in zoos, all male chimpanzees in a group in the wild have the ability to screw all their female partners in turn. Truly Woodstock, man! Sir Solly Zuckerman, the establishment guru of the 1960s was having none of it. He was deeply shocked that such a young female observer should present such heretical views following her observations and put it down to her own sexual obsessions. Excuse me, but who was actually obsessed here?
Next a David Attenborough feature on the mountain gorillas struggling to survive in the volcanic mountains of Rwanda where they were championed by another of Leakey's angels - Dian Fossey. Seeing these mountains again was like revisiting old friends as one recalled "Gorillas in the Mist", the young bemused David Attenborough himself with the youthful Pablo lying on top of him and a picture 25 years later of Pablo, now a contented 200kg silverback, who would have easily crushed today's more mature David to death.
And in those 25 years, the destruction of the jungle for farming and for firewood for refugees, the beginnings of a national park, the savage murder of Fossey, the war with the poachers hunting for gorilla babies and adult hands and feet, the savage massacres in Rwanda where a million people were macheted or knifed to death by their own cousins and Hutu neighbours. Yet despite all these upheavals, the gorillas have survived and, aided by a well financed eco-tourist project, they flourish and multiply.
And then straight to "Lip Service" on BBC3 to watch the mores and cavortings of another near human tribe - the Lesbians, inhabiting the British Isles no less, rather than East Africa. No threat of extinction here either, though Dyke City has its tears as well its glamour. Male silverbacks decidedly take second place as the mating and funeral rites are observed in close quarter. We see predators and victims galore as they tear at each others' flesh and machete each other's soft emotional underbelly. A truly satisfying evening of television entertainment at its best.