Planet Earth II: Post-Humanism Boogaloo

In this course, I have learned about the importance of post-humanist philosophy. The ideas of post-humanism can have important ramifications in areas such as conservation and innovation so it is gladdening to me to see the spread of post-humanist ideas. Recently, possibly due to taking this course or possibly because post-humanist ideas are beginning to spread more, I have noticed more movies and television that has spread these ideas. Two examples of post-humanism in film stand out most prominently to me in the form of the 2016 critically-acclaimed movie Arrival, and the 2017 commercially-successful remake of Ghost in the Shell. While both of these are, in my opinion, excellent examples of post-humanist philosophy, one recent television show has managed to embody the ideas of post-humanism more fully than either of these. That show is Planet Earth II.

Planet Earth 2 Logo

Planet Earth II Logo

Planet Earth II is the sequel of the 2006 documentary Planet Earth. At the time of its release, Planet Earth was considered to be a groundbreaking documentary. Both critics and audiences alike were astounded by the wide, sweeping shot of migratory birds and the fast-paced, uncensored look into the few truly wild places of the planet. But despite its acclaim, Planet Earth lacked any elements of pot-humanism. The documentary focused entirely on the “natural world”, meaning beyond human interaction, and while it did feature humans occasionally (see the base jumping in episode 4: caves), it presented humans as separate from nature. Additionally, Planet Earth keep its focus restrained to one ecosystem per episode, often reinforcing the binaries of ecosystems instead of challenging the borders of these categories. Planet Earth II directly confronts these issues of Planet Earth. The 7-episode series is seemingly structured as a response to the boundaries presented in Planet Earth, encouraging viewers to question these categories for themselves.

Planet Earth Shark.png

Image of the fast-paced action of Planet Earth

Like the original series, Planet Earth II is presented with each episode focusing on a different ecosystem: islands, mountains, jungles, deserts, grasslands, and cities. The series begins as the original documentary does, but as it continues subtle differences begin to present themselves. For instance, animals begin to appear in unexpected environments: sloths live on islands and swim between them to different trees, lions hunt prey in the desert plains, and flamingos make-do living near the summit of the Andes mountain range. More than just being surprising for viewers, these scenes provide clear examples of the ideas of emergent ecologies presented by Eben Kirksey. In Emergent Ecologies, Kirksey writes that “ecological communities are not part of the natural order of things, but instead are bounded by artificial lines that reflected the tendency of the humans species ‘to crystalize and classify [our knowledge].’” By presenting animals in ecosystems that they do not “naturally” belong in, Planet Earth II challenges the binary assumptions viewers have about animals and their environment.

Planet Earth 2 Flamingoes Stuck in Ice.png

Planet Earth II: Flamingos stuck in a frozen lake near the peak of the Andes mountain ranges

Planet Earth II presents an even greater challenge to humanism in its final two episodes, Cities and A World of Wonder. These two episodes detail the relationships between humans and animals, the first focusing on the relationships between humans and animals in cities while the second focuses on the relationship between the filmmakers working on Planet Earth II and the animals they try to film. Scenes in these episodes include the sharing of food between humans and hyenas in Africa and the thieving ways of monkeys in India to rob food stalls. These episodes again present the idea of emergent ecologies, evoking Kirksey when he says “people and other beings are becoming entangled in … relations of reciprocal capture”. In this way, Planet Earth II calls attention to the ways in which humans and animals coexist, spreading the ideas of post-humanism and emergent ecologies to a new generation of future biologist, providing them with a basis to help them make better, more critical decisions about the best way that humans should interact with nature.

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