Thoughts From the Big Chair: ‘Ziggy and Brubeck and Crocs, Oh My!’

Thoughts From the Big Chair
Comments on Television and Associated Media From a Lifelong Addict

“Ziggy and Brubeck and Crocs, Oh My!”

Hey gang! This week, I think I’m going to stick to a couple shorter topics on different ends of the Reality Show continuum…

The Grammys

The Grammys were on last week and I managed to watch a good deal of the telecast over a few days using the old DVR.

It’s tough to watch the whole program at one time because, as with most Hollywood awards shows, it overflows with lots of ego, over-hyped records and performances, and, of course, mindless banter.

The reason I always tune in, however, is that the program often has some very interesting and unusual pairings of artists doing live music.

The quality of the performances on that show, compared with other awards shows, is only really rivaled by “The Tony Awards.” There you see live performances of modified scenes from that year’s Broadway plays.

At The Grammys you don’t see quite as much lip-synching as with other live events, a practice I’ve hated since the 60’s when it was done on almost all “live” performances on TV.

One comedian joked last year, “What do Madonna and I have in common?” – The answer, of course, is “Neither of us has sung live at the Super Bowl.”

The Bob Marley tribute, with his son Ziggy Marley, Bruno Mars, Rihanna, and Sting, was great fun and a true celebration of a great artist who is one of my personal favorites. I always forget just how much The Police were influenced by Reggae, until I listen to some of their music, that is.

There was also a nice, but way too short, tribute to the late Dave Brubeck, a true music god; his album Time Out, with the iconic track “Take Five,” is one of the best albums ever released and one I still listen to a lot. In fact, I’m listening to it as I write this column.

Another nice tribute was to The Band – specifically to their drummer Levon Helm, who passed away in 2012.  It was also musically fabulous and included Elton John, Mumford and Sons, Mavis Staples, Zac Brown, Brittany Howard, and T-Bone Burnett; a combination of great musicians that worked well musically and that you’ll never see in any other context.

One thing that came through to me during the broadcast is that an interesting thing has happened to the music industry over the past few years. It seems that it has been mostly re-taken over by people who can actually sing and play well.

Yes, on the show there were the obligatory nods to the tween-favorite semi-talents, but a nice percentage of those making money in the music industry these days can actually sing well and play instruments like real pros—not like they’re just using them as props.

With all the auto-tuning and poseurs that have been all over the music scene for the past decade or so, it’s just a great trend to see. And this is not just expressed by the better known singers who also have some great voices (e.g., Adele, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé and Rihanna, to name four ladies), but pretty much across the board.

It’s just nice that this has happened and it gives me some hope for the future of popular music, something I didn’t have five or so years ago.

So, next year, I suggest you DVR the show and give it a look. Obviously, zip through the commercials and much of the crappy banter, but watch the music and you’ll probably find some new stuff you’ll enjoy and want to explore more.

Ah … “Take Five” has come on. Must listen.

Swamp People

A number of years ago (2000), more than 50 dinosaur paleontologists, including My Lovely Bride and myself, converged on Florida for a conference on dinosaurs and the origin of birds. It was a big and enjoyable meeting of dinosaur geek-dom and some ornithologists.

It spawned (perhaps “laid” would be a better term, considering that dinosaurs and birds laid eggs…) many neat conversations among us, as well as some good publications.

During that conference, we had a pre-meeting field trip into the Everglades to Chief Billy’s Alligator Farm/Safari. As you may or may not know, crocodiles—including  alligators—are the closest living relatives, a sister group, to dinosaurs (except for birds, which are, actually, dinosaurs.)

Seeing a bunch of living crocs  is always neat for dinosaur people as it really gives them a dynamic and useful visual for the extinct animals they study.

They had a number of different types of living crocs, including many imported ones; we enjoyed seeing them alive in their enclosures, and wild in the swamp (the alligators, that is).

Of course, while we were there, one of guys who ran the place demonstrated his version of alligator wrestling. We all gathered around and I remember feeling  a little odd about the rite because I thought it was a bit condescending to the croc; like it was insulting a member of our family.

At the time, I wondered if the guy realized that he was surrounded by a bunch of scientists who were, mostly, rooting for the croc. Although we certainly didn’t want the guy to get hurt, it just seemed like it wronged the alligator, somehow.

I’ll get back to this later…

So it was with this historical backdrop that I checked out the show Swamp People a few years back; it continues with a new season that just started. This show is mostly about people, both men and women, who make a living every year during the alligator harvest in Louisiana.

This is a controlled hunt, run like any fishery where the catch is limited. Each hunter has to purchase tags assigned to land-owners, one for each gator taken, and that’s all he or she can get for that season.

I was afraid I’d have the same reaction with this show as I did with the alligator wrestling years ago. Seeing my beloved archosaurs (the reptile group that includes crocs and dinosaurs) get shot and lifted into the boats was, indeed, very off-putting at first.

My protectiveness of the animals really flared and I stopped watching for a bit. Seeing the same thing with fish never affected me that much, but crocs are family. If you are skittish about hunting and shooting, this show is, obviously, not for you.

So it bothered me. But then I got real.

First of all, the hunt is pretty much mano a croco; the croc actually has a say in the process and the hunters face the possibility of getting on the wrong end of the deal. Second, the crocs would just as happily consume the hunter, given the chance.

Attacks on humans by crocs happen yearly, and when any croc gets to be nine or ten feet long, we start really looking like a tasty lunch to them. Yes, the hunters are armed with guns and have a great advantage in the fight, but a large croc also brings some weaponry to the deal.

Also, crocs do have a tendency towards cannibalism, so they often also look at each other as lunch as well. Conversely, crocs exhibit maternal care and females will take care not only of their nests, but of their hatchlings as well for a while.

It is true that alligators were vastly overhunted years ago, but conservation has rebuilt up the numbers vastly and the alligator fishery is managed to keep numbers level-ish; otherwise they will get too abundant for human safety in many areas.

The hunt is a very long, historical part of that region’s cultures, especially Cajun and Native American. It is a way many of them feed their families and make a living, and the alligator numbers do have to be kept at reasonable levels somehow.

Interestingly, unlike many other reality shows these days, the people featured are mostly very likable; this is also very consistent with my personal experiences with people of Cajun and Native American stock. Some are quirky, but he who is without quirk can cast the first stone.

The narration is way too melodramatic, but you can ignore that.

So—and I’ll get a lot of crap for this from some of my academic colleagues who just hate the whole idea of hunting anything—I’ve made my peace with it and watch the show to see crocodile behavior in various situations, and to think about the implications of it for the behavior of dinosaurs and other extinct archosaurs.

I’ve also done some new thinking lately about the alligator wrestling in Florida. As with the people in Louisiana and their hunting,  the alligator wrestling in the Everglades  is now a tradition among the tribe members there; it’s part of their way of life and it’s mostly just an annoyance to the croc, who gets fed regularly.

You always hope that they will treat the crocs well and with respect in the process but, in my experience, that is more probable with Native Americans than, perhaps, any other groups. If I had paid better attention during that event, I probably would have seen that well evidenced there

However, whenever academics, especially scientists, and especially paleontologists, get together socially there is always lots of having fun and lots of sharp banter – basically intellectual rough-housing mostly aimed each other and, at times, it is quite brutal. So no one was paying much attention to what was happening inside the ring, until the real action started.

So I feel much better about it. I’ll probably still root for the alligator if there ever is a next time, but just for it to show off some of its splendor. They are magnificent creatures after all.

Next time – The Dramatic Renaissance of TV Drama – why we are living in TV historic times.

So, until next week …TTFN.

©2013, Ralph E. Chapman (Twitter @RalphEChapman)

Editor’s note: Ralph Chapman is a paleontologist, technologist and statistician who enjoys living in Los Alamos, New Mexico – a place with great history; whether it be geological, ancient, old, or recent.

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