In my Environmental Humanities class, we watched the film, Grizzly Man (2005) directed by Werner Herzog. The film is about a man named Timothy Treadwell, who is obsessed with grizzly bears. He loves them so much, he decides to spend 13 summers living in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska, in a tent, living with wild grizzly bears.
In the first scene, we find Timothy, the spontaneous, quirky man, competing for the screen with the effortless, humble beauty of Alaskan nature. While I laughed at first, slowly I started to check my reaction. Behind Timothy’s fearless camera persona is a man whose unconventional decision to live with grizzlies defies traditional Western society’s pre-established boundary between humans and nature. Watching Timothy interact with the bears, I thought about our world of binaries in the study of critical theory. Society is taught to think of nature as “wild” and “uncivilized,” that “civilization” is separate from wildlife and cannot coexist. As the museum owner further down the film spoke, Timothy crossed a “boundary” living in the wild, then paid the price. I question, however, if the “price” Timothy paid was his life, which he openly relinquished, was anything really “lost?” I started to think about Yi-Fun Tuan’s notion of “environmental play,” the intimacy and undaunted joy of interacting with nature which we lose with age. Some might associate Timothy’s overwhelming love for grizzlies and other wild animals as “childish,” but isn’t this the very love we want to rekindle in our society to spark compassion for environmental preservation and protection?
At the same time, I question whether he truly served to shatter traditional Western thought that separates humans from nature. In isolating himself on the screen, using language such as "protecting the animals" and "saving them," he reinforces the white, male, superiority and savior complex, leaving no space for stories or voices of marginalized and indigenous communities in his film. Did he really serve his purpose to "protect the grizzly bears," or did he simply disrupt the ecosystem, neglecting indigenous culture and knowledge along the process?
Here is a trailer to the film. I would love to hear your thoughts on Timothy Treadwell and his interaction with the grizzly bears. How much can we give him credit for? How much can we critique? What might we say about the director of the film, Werner Herzog, and his perspective as depicted from the film?
After reflecting on the film, I started to think about Western thought around human/nature boundary in the context of waste. How might we re-evaluate our relationship with what we conceive as "waste"? It seems as though when we waste food, we do it because we've detached "food" from nature. It's been capitalized by the markets, with so many types of granola bars, yogurts, orange juices, bagels, etc. When we can purchase food so easily from the super markets, it's easy to forget that food is actually the product of labor, energy, time, transportation, growth, months, years, and seasons of cultivation. We forget food is part of nature, and that as we take from nature, we must give back.
Same for clothes. Clothes, to the mainstream audience, has become so materialized. Can this boundary be re-imagined so as to close our gap between humans and nature? Can we once again appreciate the material and durability of long-lived clothes and fashion rather than trends and their ephemerality? Can we restore respect and preservation for elements in nature that we've come to see solely as "resources" to be materialized?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments, would love to hear from you!