As a professor of communication, I’ve always looked down upon what I considered the lesser of the discipline’s forms – the broadcast media.
Broadcast and all its configurations – from long-form film to, yes, even the television news media – somehow had less to offer than did the print media such as newspapers and books. Like Newton Minow, an early chairman of the Federal Communication Commission who famously called television “a vast wasteland” of senselessness, I subscribed to the theory that this brand of media failed to meet its early goals of enlightening the public through image and sounds.
I can now tell you how wrong I’ve been.
However, it took the immensity of Africa’s wildlife and environment to truly show me the error of my ways.
I first became aware of what I now regard as the amazing power of broadcast as we were driving the heavily rutted and rocky road to our first lodge. As our safari van bumped and struggled along, its clutch grinding and safari top squawking like a wounded warthog, I spotted two small creatures beneath a bush.
They perked up in the midday head and glanced at us before scrambling off into the bush.
“Dik-dik!” I proudly proclaimed. It was a millisecond before I realized, this was the first of these small antelopes we had spotted since the safari began.
Then, just as quickly, I thought, “How in the heck did I know that was a dik-dik?”
My reckoning with that question could only lead to one conclusion. I had seen it somewhere on a television show and the image – and name – had become rooted in my brain.
“National Geographic channel,” I cried and slapped my knee. My cat, Cat, and I love to watch the shows on that channel. I have no preference and will watch a short film on a hippopotamus as readily as a show on the cuisine of Sweden but Cat much prefers bird shows that feature many examples of chirping species.
Since that “ah-ha” moment, I’ve become painfully conscious of how much the images and sounds from broadcast media have insinuated themselves into my brain.
We encounter trees festooned with nests carefully woven from twigs and I immediately recognize them as the work of the weaver bird (National Geographic channel). The sign of railroad tracks reminds me of the story of the two Tsavo man-eaters who killed dozens of early railroad builders in Kenya (film, “The Ghost and the Darkness”). An admonition to adopt a worry-free attitude? “Hakuna matata,” what else (“The Lion King”)?
And I amaze myself by my ability to identify many African creatures immediately upon sight. There’s a secretary bird. Over there is a hornbill. Check out that gnu. “National Geographic” had honed my ability as a wildlife spotter.
At one point when our safari van reached the bottom of a rocky cliff spotted by small olive-colored bushes, I exclaimed “that looks just like the place that the wildebeests stampeded and Scar killed Mufasa!” The frightening thing was, it had triggered the same thought in both of my companions.
Not only has this insight significantly changed how I will teach communication, it has also informed this trip. So, here are all the animals and wildlife that I’ve been able to draw connection to thanks to the power of video and film.
How many can you name?
Happy birthday “Hakuna Ma-ta-ta” to Nancy Winckler-Zuniga from the staff at Dinai Sea Lodge in Kenya.