Opinion: Violent nature of TV


On Sunday nights, we have a tradition in the Wolfsie family. Our son Brett comes over, and after dinner we all watch one of the many nature shows on WFYI or the BBC. We are especially captivated by programs narrated by Sir Richard Attenborough, with his mesmerizing voice. The video clips of predatory animals, birds, fish and insects are enthralling.

My wife gets emotionally involved in these shows. The photography vividly captures the incredible beauty and complexity of life. But it also highlights the tremendous competition for food.

“Why do all these animals have to eat each other?” Mary Ellen asked me last week. “Why can’t they all be vegetarians?”

Fair question. In fact, this was the very question Emma Darwin asked her husband Charles when she read his initial draft of “On the Origin of Species.”  This put a damper on her hubby’s first attempt at a bestseller.

Last Sunday, hyenas were chasing monkeys. Mary Ellen rooted for the monkeys, of course. When badgers preyed on cute prairie dogs, Mary Ellen covered her eyes, hoping the badgers would fail. Dingoes stalking baby kangaroos? She was screaming, “Hurry, hurry!” to the adorable joeys on the run.

Polar bears were hunting seals in one episode, and Mary Ellen was rooting for the seals, but when she saw clips of the darling polar bear cubs that hadn’t eaten in weeks, she didn’t know who to root for.

Mary Ellen was rooting against a lion when it stalked a baby deer for food, but later in the documentary, we saw a hungry cougar swimming in a river after a crocodile. This time, my wife rooted for the feline, especially when the photographers showed the adorable cubs back in her lair, pining for their dinner.

“But what about those cute little crocodile hatchlings?” I goaded her, proud of myself for knowing what a baby croc is called. “Aren’t you rooting for them?”

“Don’t confuse me,” Mary Ellen said. “I didn’t ask you why you rooted for the Indianapolis Colts all year, and then in the Super Bowl, all of a sudden you rooted for San Francisco.”


There was much to unpack in that analogy, but on some bizarre level, she kind of had a point.

Last Sunday, I suggested we break tradition and watch “The Lion King.” It was a nice change, because in the film no animal digests another animal. But in the final scenes, the evil lion Scar was about to be attacked by a clan of hyenas. This was no laughing matter.

Oh, and this time, Mary Ellen was clearly rooting for the hyenas.