Monday, January 10, 2011

New show: Hunting TV on a non-hunting channel

The other day, my mom was telling me how my taking up hunting has changed her viewpoint: When she watches TV or listens to the radio, she's much more tuned in to how hunting is portrayed, and it bugs her when hunters are stereotyped as stupid, cruel or violent.

The good news is that there appears to be growing curiosity about hunting as a way to feed yourself (which is - DUH! - what hunting is), and there's a new television show that feeds that interest: Steven Rinella's The Wild Within.

If the name Rinella sounds familiar, it may be because of a New York Times op-ed piece he did a few years ago called Locavore, Get Your Gun. The gist of it, in case you don't feel like clicking over, is this: Eating local, sustainably produced meat may be all the rage these days, but hunters have been doing that all along.

Having a piece like that in the New York Times is important because it delivers a valuable message to the Times' huge non-hunting audience, showing an alternative to the stereotypes that may have shaped their views of us. But having a weekly television show on that topic may be even better. Read more...
I watched the premiere of Rinella's show last night on the Travel Channel, and on the whole, I thought it was really good.

The first episode featured Rinella at his part-time home in Alaska fishing for crab and shrimp, hunting deer and going on an opportunistic hunt where he might get bear or waterfowl (he got the latter). The show culminated in a meal with his wife and friends back at his home in Brooklyn. Get it? Hunting = food.

The overall tone is fairly adventure-oriented, kind of like Bear Grylls with a gun. In other words, this isn't Everyman Hunting - there's a definite survival orientation.

The highlight of the show, for me, came right after Rinella shot a deer. Directly addressing the camera/audience, he noted frankly that killing is inherently ugly, but hunters at least take direct responsibility for it, rather than delegating to a third party.

That, of course, is one of my favorite soapbox speeches, so I was thrilled to hear it coming through the megaphone of the Travel Channel.

I don't think we necessarily need to guilt-trip all the people who buy meat from third parties - there isn't enough wildland or wildlife left for everyone to hunt. But we do need to fend off the hypocrisy I hate the most: Meat eaters who think there's something wrong with hunting.

My only real criticism of the show is how it handled what came after Rinella killed that deer: the field dressing. That scene mostly featured close-ups of Rinella's hand cutting various parts, and shots of him talking to the camera with his hands in the deer, but with the frame cut off at his hands - you couldn't see the deer. I caught a glimpse of the deer's head only once, and only briefly.

In other words, the filming obscured the full reality of the dead deer in front of him, looking partly like a previously living animal, partly like meat and guts.

Being a mildly militant meat activist, I'd really like the public to see the whole reality of killing. I think the fact that we've sheltered most people from the reality of killing animals is the reason that we see so much hypocrisy and ignorance about killing animals for meat.

That said, I know exactly why Rinella's producers handled that scene this way. Just look at the reaction to the caribou-dressing scene in Sarah Palin's reality show - people were so freakin' offended that they were "forced" to watch an animal being transformed into meat. (Doubt me? Check out this hypocritical and vitriolic rant by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.)

I'm sure that some of the reaction to Palin's televised killing was rooted in people's disdain for her politics. But I also know that many people put such scenes in the same category as full frontal nudity - "How dare you expose our children to this?" - regardless of their political views.

So, I get it. My only hope is that shows like Rinella's will eventually help restore Americans' understanding of where food comes from, and we can get back to watching the full and honest reality of it without hysterics. It's certainly a good start.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Chris said...

Your blog is one of the best on the net. Congrats! A very well done piece here. Thank you! PS - Sorkin is an idiot.

Josh said...

"I think the fact that we've sheltered most people from the reality of killing animals is the reason that we see so much hypocrisy and ignorance about killing animals for meat."

So much of what ails our environment is because of this sheltering. Now, we have tens of millions of people unfamiliar with and afraid of the outdoors.

Great post, Holly.

Albert Quackenbush said...

I saw the teaser for the next episode and it caught my eye. I will have to add it to my DVR list of things to check out. I am with you on the public seeing the entire hunt - kill, field dressing, boning, freezer. I know that a few of the networks have strict guidelines where they won't shot it. I find that ridiculous. They will show a kill (the initial kill shot. Subsequent replays will stop before the impact shot.), but they won't show the bloody parts. The public needs to see that there IS work involved. Great post, Holly.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Chris, thank you so much! And I don't know much about Sorkin beyond what I read in his HuffPo piece, but he sure didn't acquit himself well there.

Josh, agreed! It is our removal from nature, and the fact that we've reduced nature to something of a museum exhibit, that is the source of so many ills.

NorCal Cazadora said...

And thanks to you too, Albert! I do think much progress will have to be made before general-interest channels will show the full reality.

But the hunting channels - which almost never show field dressing - would be an excellent starting point.

Al Cambronne said...

Great review; sounds like an interesting show. Also some good points about the reality of hunting for food.

Killing isn't fun. Nor is the part of the job that comes next. But that's where meat comes from. Have to agree about the hypocrisy of meat-eaters who don't approve of hunting and don't want to see anything like that on TV.

If someone wants to be a vegetarian, fine. But if they buy their meat at the grocery store and think we hunters are evil because we get ours out in the woods or out in the marsh, that just doesn't make sense.

And speaking of hypocrisy... Nearly every night during prime time, before most children are in bed, broadcast TV programs like CSI show humans being shot. After the next commercial, we then see them being eviscerated during their autopsies. Although obviously simulated, these scenes are realistic enough so they might as well be real.

If it's OK to show that on broadcast TV at 8:05, why can't cable TV show a wide shot of Rinella field-dressing a deer? Hmmmm.....

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Interesting, Holly. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Since I don't have a TV, I'm kind of out of the loop on these things.

Have you read Rinella's book AMERICAN BUFFALO? I haven't yet, but he was interviewed about it last spring on NPR's food show "The Splendid Table" -- another sign that the non-hunting public is becoming more interested in and aware of the food aspects of hunting.

Mike at The Big Stick said...

I keep meaning to post about this on my own blog but I personally don't agree with the idea of exposing the average American to hunting as a way of 'encouraging' them to take some ownership of the meat they consume. Hunting in a fair-chase situation is not analagous to the way Americans eat. i would much rather they all be marched through a processing plant or a fee lot.

One of the great experiences of my youth was to particpate in a pig slaughter on the farm of some family friends. Seeing how domestic animals are dispatched and watching them become the foods I was used to, ham, bacon, sausage, etc was enlightening. As much as I love Hank's blog, duck ravioli with truffle sauce is not going to make many folks really think about what they eat. Let them see how they get their hamburger and you might change their lives.

Phillip said...

I saw a preview for this after dinner last night, Holly, and immediately thought I should ping you to make sure it was on your radar. And then I immediately forgot about it. Red wine and venison steaks make for a dopey boy.

Anyway, it does look positive and I'll probably give it a go. Can't suck too bad, can it?

As far as exposing "Amurkins" to the real blood and gore of hunting, I'm not sure I agree with you 100%.

Yes, I do believe that being so far removed from the reality of meat (and of wild life)is a big part of the reason so few people have an appreciation or understanding of Nature and the ecosystem. With distance comes disdain.

At the same time, I'm a solid believer in the argument that folks have the right to decide how much "reality" they want to be exposed to. Sure, there's always the OFF button, but any producer would be a fool to court that kind of reaction. If your message turns people away, then the message fails.

Graphic depictions of field dressing an animal simply have no place on prime time TV... especially if the best argument for it is that "people need to see this." To me that's no different than the right-to-lifers plastering the screen with aborted fetuses.

As far as comparisons to TV violence, even that violence is sanitized (albeit, less than it once was). It's not even remotely realistic, especially in the context of nighttime TV.

It's good and well to evangelicize hunting and the natural, sustainable diet. But let's leave the shock tactics in the fringes where they belong. It's awesome that TV programming might be opening the doors, but the full tour should conducted with willing visitors, led by guides who can assist with the interpretation of the experience (in much the way you and Hank have been doing it).

Hunt Like You're Hungry said...

I'll be looking out for this show!!

Also, I wanted to let you know that I killed my first duck!!!!! I figured that you, of all people, would enjoy hearing about it!


SimplyOutdoors said...

I'm definitely going to have to watch this particular show.

I'm disappointed they didn't show what a true field-dressing looks and feels like, but it's still a step in the right direction.

And that Aaron Sorkin is a quack. How can one sit in a leather chair, wear leather shoes and then condemn hunting? Or openly talk about cheering when a hunting accident occurs?

Apparently he's against knowing where his furniture and his food come from, doesn't want to watch an animal "suffer" to achieve those ends, but is fine with human suffering.

Amazing! It almost makes me delirious.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Al, I know what you mean about the faux-killing on TV. It's also noteworthy for perpetuating the ridiculous notion that one limply drops dead after being shot - as if death is always instantaneous and it always stops all motion, as if dead things don't twitch.

Tovar, I haven't read either of his books, though Hank of course has read his Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine. My book stack, sadly, is much bigger than the amount of free time I have for reading. And while TV isn't the most important thing in my life, it provides mental relief at the end of days dominated by reading and writing and grading.

Mike, I agree that having Americans watch how most meat in this country is produced would be very useful, particularly if it showed an honest comparison between factory farming and free-range farming. (Either way, of course, the killing and dressing wouldn't be pretty.)

But I don't think it's a bad thing showing them how hunting works as a way of helping them understand where meat comes from. The reality is that books like the Omnivore's Dilemma (some hunting), movies like FOOD Inc. (no hunting) and even blogs like Hank's (food-focused with some hunting stories) all change how people look at food, even if they don't go to the lengths we go to to acquire that food. And there actually are people who literally have started hunting because of reading Hank's blog.

Phillip: I'm not looking for shock, just reality. But it's worth emphasizing that I said I understand WHY the show sanitized the field dressing - the public at large isn't there yet.

But I do think it's perverse that footage of a live deer is acceptable, and footage of deer meat is acceptable, but complete images of the transition from live deer to meat are considered shocking and inappropriate for primetime. You've got to admit that's just weird and illogical. But yes, I have to admit that it is the reality in which we live.

HLYH: Congratulations! Folks, if you'd like to see her tale of that hunt, click here. Do you understand now why waterfowl hunting is so strangely addicting?

NorCal Cazadora said...

And Simply! (Sorry, having a hard time keeping up with fresh comments before I publish my reactions.) I think you'll like the show.

I'd hate to leave the impression that the producers totally wimped out. I should give them credit for showing any of the field dressing at all. It's just that I notice little things like how much of the animal is in the frame because I spend a lot of time focusing on public perceptions of hunting, and I know that the transition from live animal to meat freaks people out in ways that strike most hunters as odd. Remember that post I did last year (a year ago today, in fact) about some duck hunting photos of mine that appeared in a magazine, and how the one that freaked out the readers was the one of the dog with the dead duck in its mouth?

Jonathan said...

I really like Holly's article. To address some of Phillip's comments. Field dressing a deer isn't shocking, it has a time and place. If you tune into a program where hunting is on the menu, you've been warned. The show is aimed at a certain audience. If there is a venue for aborted fetuses than I hope its bill that way. Steven Rinella's show is geared towards a specific demographic. If people watch it to be appauled, its not a producer's failure?

NorCal Cazadora said...

Good point, Jonathan! It'll be interesting to see how Rinella's show evolves, too - perhaps audience receptivity will allow them to show more detail.

And personally, I'm OK with fetus photos, and I think state-sponsored executions should be televised (and yes, I have witnessed one in person - execution, not abortion). Guess I'm just a full-disclosure kind of girl. Not into sugarcoating.

hodgeman said...

Nice write up and some excellent comments to read through.

Having grown up in a farming community and later moving to a larger city I can readily attest that the majority of Americans have little idea about what happens from farmlot to supermarket.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Been there! I worked at newspapers, which seem to draw reporters who were mostly raised in urban environments, and when I talked about growing up raising our own food, I got a lot of weird looks.

OK, maybe I earned them by acting out a pig-killing story here or there...

Al Cambronne said...

Interesting discussion. And if you think about it, even us hunters are using a bit of a euphemism when we speak of "field-dressing." I mean, when you dress a deer, you take stuff out. When you dress a turkey, you put stuffing back in. I wonder if some non-hunters might even be confused by the term?

On hunting shows, they're really selling the dream of the hunt, not the reality of the venison. And even when there's talk of venison, it's still somehow more the ideal than the real. Although my own hunting might be a pretty low-budget affair, most venison ends up costing hunters a lot per pound. Still, there's that feeling of self-reliance and "bringing home the bacon."

If that's part of the hunting shows, then it's the idea of it more than the reality. I think that's why even those shows skip over the part in between. Too much reality even for "reality" TV.

And Tovar, don't worry about not having a TV. If you read Rinella's books, just as good.

I've enjoyed both. American Buffalo was good, but I almost enjoyed the Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine more. It was less history, and more first-hand experience. But both are definitely worth a read.

Phillip said...

Holly, I totally get what you're saying and yeah, I'm pretty much in the same philosophical boat (canoe?). There's very little that I can't stomach myself, and I totally think executions should be public and more frequent... but that's another whole line of conversation.

But also, as you point out, in the reality in which we live, showing real, live guts and blood being pulled from an animal that was alive only moments before is too much for a big segment of the American public to handle.

And to Jonathan, of course field dressing isn't "shocking" to the readers of this blog, but a lot of folks are totally unprepared for it. Hell, I do it a lot and I don't much like it.

And honestly, many can handle it but don't want to. I think that's probably even the bigger disconnect.

There's this perpetual myth that people simply don't know where food comes from, when the truth is that plenty of folks do... they're not all ignorant. Sure, they don't know the details, but that's not really important. It's that they don't want to be a part of it. They don't want to witness it. They don't want to bloody their hands. It's dirty. It's inconvenient. And they don't have to.

And anyway, to state the obvious... we're talking about a series on commercial television here, not educational material. It's about attracting more viewers, not turning them away.

Back to the immediate topic... I hope the show lives up to all of this discussion.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I think you're on the right track, Phillip, because I do hear a lot of people say that they eat meat but don't really want to confront what it means. (And of course I don't really believe that people actually think meat is grown on trees.)

That said, I'm watching attitudes toward hunting shift because of foodie interest, so I think we have an opportunity here to make inroads.

Albert A Rasch said...

I for one am glad to hear that there is a "real" show portraying hunting as a realistic part of life. Sort of a "real" reality show. It's nice to think the pendulum is swinging...

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
Albert Rasch In Afghanistan™

Anonymous said...

Holly, glad to see that the media is showing hunting in a positive light. I missed this show but did watch Sarah Palins Alaska and I did read Mr Sorkins blog, I put in my two cents worth and got some nasty replies but I just dished it back. However there was alot of support for Sarah which was good, she will be in Reno as the keynote speaker for the SCI convention, tried to get tickets but she was sold out early but I will still attend the convention, keep up the good work. Fred

Matt Mullenix said...


I'd like to comment that it took a surprisingly long time (about 15 of my 25 years in falconry) to see the rabbits and birds my hawks kill as "fit for human consumption." I ate game occassionally all throughout, but I wasn't mine and didn't cook it myself.

Today my family and I eat game several times a month year round, and all the rabbits and gamebirds my hawks catch are dressed and stored as meat in the "food freezer" (to distinguish that from the "hawk's freezer," which contains a lot of rabbit heads and cotton rats with the fur still on).

My point is that it may take more than a television show for most to make this rather significant leap, regardless the fact that we are all only a couple generations removed from the animal-food connection being no leap at all, but simply an obvious truth.

But like you I applaud this effort and would mark it as a step int he right direction. Too, I see the link between the foodie movement and the hunting angle, and I have many friends who do not hunt but love game and see the value of it as quality foodstuff.

Of course, I live in Louisiana, where we love to hunt, fish and eat! :-)

NorCal Cazadora said...

I think every single mainstream public reminder out there of where food comes from is a step toward (re-)normalization. I believe we as a society are making progress in getting reacquainted with food. The only question is where we'll go with that progress.