PM Modi’s epic adventure of a lifetime with survivalist and masquerading “conservationist” Bear Grylls is in line with the approach of the most popular state heads of the world, but what purpose does it actually serve?
Controversy? What Controversy? India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi just went on a nice day trip (b)romancing British survivalist Bear Grylls under the ‘dense’ green cover of the Jim Corbett National Park. The show shows PM Modi and Grylls surviving the dense forests on Corbett, sometimes smelling elephant shit, holding a make-shift spear or riding a make-shift raft. The show is expected to align with the Government’s wildlife conservation initiatives and add to the already popular mass opinion.
Politicians stretching up to state heads have a history of coming out in carefully filmed wildlife adventures that appeal to the commoners and make the charismatic leaders look more human.
But when you come across such star performances arising from the world of politics, always remember what John Lennon said, “Nothing is real”. Politicians stretching up to the level of state heads have a history of coming out in carefully filmed wildlife adventures that appeal to the commoners and make the charismatic leaders look more human.
Britain has a history of politicians attempting to eat animal parts, or surviving among worms to add to their popular appeal and extend the reach of their narrative. Such shows and their scripts are based on survival, thrill and inspiration, and traditionally have had no effect on wildlife conservation. It’s a proper trick that works every time in intriguing the millions but mostly about the work that has been done, instead of what remains undone.
The Bear Grylls hypocrisy
Bear Grylls, with whom Modi embarks on adventure, is an ex-SAS who has been one of the biggest names in “not very useful” and sometimes “cringeworthy” wildlife surviving techniques which in today’s day and age with the means and resources on the planet, isn’t the ideal way. If Mr. Grylls carries non-perishable items in his backpack, and advocates enthusiasts to do the same, killing and eating animals can be bypassed.
Such TV shows have created “a form of entertainment, a utopian world that bears no resemblance to the reality”.
Nature and wild habitat are a natural entry to the narrative of Bear Grylls’ shows and is not the central theme. What such shows do is masquerade as wildlife shows, exciting people but in no way focussing on the issues plaguing the Earth. Before Modi, Bear Grylls shows have featured influential figures and state heads including the former US President Barack Obama in the past.
Similar approach has been taken by prominent state heads like Vladamir Putin who regularly comes on Russian TV in wildlife adventures with tigers and whales or picking up wild berries on a trek. The carefully staged and “set up” acts purportedly aim at drawing public attention to important conservation projects. But its mostly garnering support on a storyline that the leader has the right choice to save the forests of the country.
In fact, Russian President Putin himself admitted that such acts are stunts to leverage media to portray leaders as “they seem rather than how they really are”. Putin in an interview with journalist Masha Gessen had revealed, “Of course, there are excesses. And I am enraged about it.” The animals in Putin’s TV stints are often caught and the daring acts are carefully staged, “Yes, I know, they were caught before but the most important thing is to draw public attention to the problem.,” referring to a 2011 episode where he shot a tiger shown attacking someone with a tranquilizer gun.
Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to tout his commitment to wildlife protection across the world, helping form the narrative and bypass the decisions not in line. While he recently toured a local wildlife sanctuary in Zimbabwe with his wife Peng Liyuan to show the great importance his government attaches to wildlife protection, China also drafted legislation to legalize wildlife trade which comes as a dire threat to the survival of endangered species globally.
Why Political leaders are drawn to such “objective reality” undertakings?
Its mostly to cajole the audiences into a narrative of a humane side of the public figure which is lesser known. Such measures are aimed at distracting criticism on “larger social and political issues” and disproving critics on issues, in this case “underwhelming commitment to environment”. The Guardian “refuses” to put Modi’s cameo with Bear Grylls anything beyond “a pitch that appeals to his party’s nationalist voter base”.
Such measures are aimed at distracting criticism on “larger social and political issues” and disproving critics on issues, in this case “underwhelming commitment to environment”.
PM Modi’s appearance is eerily similar to Vladamir Putin’s acts to highlight his government’s work in preserving wildlife habitats like Siberia. Putin’s adventures solidified his image as the “all-powerful, macho leader” that Russia apparently needs. PM Modi indulged in a walkabout in the wild with a survivalist who perpetrates instability with his mindless adventures to inhospitable terrain. Bear Grylls shows represent more the narrative that man has an upper hand and right to plunder nature even in this modern era, instead of being a guardian of wildlife, conserving it from outside, and leaving it untinkered to survive on its own.
Does this actually help Wildlife Conservation?
Experts in the field of wildlife activism and television presenters opine that wildlife programmes “totally fail” in influencing conservation. Martin Hughes-Games, a well-known name in UK as BBC’ anchor for the shows Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch said that unconsciously such TV has created “a form of entertainment, a utopian world that bears no resemblance to the reality”.
As per World Wildlife Fund, Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, the exact time these shows have been alive.
While such programs have been on TV for almost 4 decades since pioneered by Sir David Attenborough 35 years ago, they have far from achieved the purpose of leveraging popular programmes to have a positive effect on conservation. Indeed this kind of supposed “entertainment-linked activism” has failed to make people aware of wildlife and conservation issues. As per World Wildlife Fund, Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, the exact time these shows have been alive.
Where does this leave us viewers (read voters)?
Since the 1970s, almost half of the species on land, rivers and seas have become extinct. And As per WWF, there is nothing but Humans who are responsible for the devastation – animal slaughtering for food (Hi Mr. Grylls), pollution and destruction of their habits (Hi again!). The renowned BBC presented once introspected, “The worry in my mind is that actually we have created a form of entertainment rather than a force for conservation, a utopian world that bears no resemblance to the reality.”
Reality show and star power can tilt the narrative of a specific concern in such a way that often the core issue is side-lined for popular galvanization. US President Trump recently flagged off a $250,000 program to promote hunting in an effort to highlight the “economic benefits that result from US citizens traveling to foreign nations to engage in hunting.” This goes to show how easily actions in total violation to the cause of wildlife conservation can be promoted in the very same way. The US government has been able to recently overturn ban on elephant and lion trophies from some countries—and relaxing legal restrictions on hunting and importing endangered species.
Political leaders should legislate impactful policies and spend their time planning such, anything more is just unnecessary wastage of time, public resource and mind space.
While such programmes as the Modi Grylls episode cause frenzy among common voters and fuels a hysteria owed to the social-media dominated world reactions to developments today, they often serve no more purpose than momentary awareness and often distraction from larger issues plaguing countries. It can also be argued that wildlife conservation doesn’t need an influential state head to take hours out to undertake a “staged” adventure. Instead, protecting wildlife, and tackling climate change and extinction needs resources and effective policies. The resources can be used by the real faces on the field, and they can be highlighted (which is undeniably against the trend as to what clicks our futile human brains). Political leaders should legislate impactful policies and spend their time planning such, anything more is just unnecessary wastage of time, public resource and mind space.
By: Chitresh Sehgal, Senior Editor, DKODING Media