David Attenborough accused of excluding homosexuality from animal documentaries

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Sir David Attenborough has been accused by a university academic of restricting his programmes to representing only a “single interpretation” of the sexual behaviour of animals, excluding the possibility of homosexuality.

Dr Brett Mills of the University of East Anglia argues in his paper that documentaries should show more than just the interpretation of animal behaviour which is widely shown.

The 86-year-old broadcaster is not directly named in the paper, however three of his programmes are, and are blamed for causing a “mismatch” between scientific findings, that animals engage in homosexual sex, and what is presented, which Dr Mills describes as a heterosexual “norm”.

He says: “Heterosexuality is upheld as the norm in wildlife documentaries and the idea of the family it presents is one which equates the family with heterosexuality. The central role in documentary stories of pairing, mating and raising offspring commonly rests on assumptions of heterosexuality within the animal kingdom.

“This is despite a wealth of scientific evidence which demonstrates that many non-human species have complex and changeable forms of sexual activity, with heterosexuality only one of many possible options.

“Within the academic community there is clearly much debate over precisely what particular moments of animal behaviour mean, and the purposes they fulfil.”

Dr Mills goes on to stress the importance of showing the full spectrum of sexual behaviour of animals, including “alternative” sexual practices such as homosexuality.

“Yet wildlife documentaries commonly offer a single interpretation as unarguable and uncontested. So there is this mismatch between what the science is saying and what is being presented in these programmes.”

Mentioned in his report are three programmes narrated by Sir David, Life in the Freezer (1993),The Life of Birds (1998), and The Life of Mammals (2003).

Dr Mills said that the narration on the programmes by Sir David reinforced the stereotype that all sexual behaviour by animals was heterosexual.

The paper reads: “Voiceovers tell the audience how to make sense of what is being seen. The environment, via the voiceover, is interpreted and understood via decidedly human cultural norms and assumptions. Survival of the species depends on ‘traditional’ family units with the requisite number of parents and offspring with biological ties.”

“Through polygamous bondings, decoupling of social monogamy and sexual monogamy, instances of surrogacy and adoption, and the success of offspring raised outside the male-female pairing, a whole range of species show not only is there no such thing as a ‘norm’, but also that many species are willing to change the ways in which they organise their daily lives in response to factors such as mating competition, food scarcity, and offspring availability.”

Dr Mills is a senior lecturer and head of his university’s School of Film, Television and Media Studies. He said he chose the BBC wildlife series mentioned because of their reputation and dominance, reports Radio Times. 

Last week, a dog in Tennessee was rescued, after being left at a kennel by his owner who thought he was gay because he was found “hunched over” another male dog. He had been scheduled to be put down due to overcrowding.

The dog, named Elton, was scheduled to be put to death today at an animal control centre in Jackson, Tennessee.