Survival of the (political) fittest

Life

An 11-part nature documentary about (what else?) life on Earth narrated by Oprah Winfrey showing over the next couple of weeks on the Discovery Channel and produced by the same people who made the “Planet Earth” series.

Searching through the wilds of cable television, I chanced upon a show that truly was wild. It clearly was some kind of nature program. Its imagery was striking. And it showed not only the routine and typically vicious ways that animals seek to survive and pass on their genetic information, it also showed a host of more innovative and creative techniques that creatures use to compete for stature and dominance.

For example, in one of the more routine displays, the program showed a species called “legislatasaurs,” large but paper-thin geometrically-shaped specimens as they were being killed before they could even get a chance to be heard and thrive.

Then it showed something unfamiliar, but also powerful in its own way. This was of an odd looking insect, called a “cloturepillius.” This particular creature, after emerging from its pupil stage, uses things called “vote-bubbles” to enlarge its eye stems from the typical 51 to 60. With these additional eyes, the creature is able to survive and pass on to the next stage of its development on the forest floor.

Then there were images we have seen many times since grade school — that is of hapless insects called “amendmentflies” being trapped by the snapping jaws of a plant-like species called “rules committee traps” and “chamber trap-floors” to be slowly digested and killed.

But just when boredom is about to set in with this natural “business as usual,” the program showed something we have not seen before — a team of beings called “accountigons” from the phylum “congressional budget officicus.” These cunning specimens use their tail-like pens to encircle “legislatasaurses” with rings of dollar signs and thus into the mouths of predators waiting just outside the rings ready to consume and kill them as they struggle to survive.

Then we go back to more familiar territory again with the cacophonous chirping of the various “yeas” and “nays” used in displays of physical prowess and dominance on the floor of the field of play.

But what’s this? The show surprises us with an amazing scene of primates using large rocks made of “reconciliationite” to hammer open the hard husks of “legislatasaurses” to get at the meat inside and pass its nutrients around for all to share. Such a heretofore unknown technique is exhibited with stunning dexterity without which the substance of the “legislatasaurses” would not be accessible or passed along to others wishing to partake.

But then the show goes back to the mundane with a depiction of a behavior called “holdup voterus” whereby a species flexes its muscle and sits on another species to keep it from moving and passing along its genetic information to others of its kind. It’s an impressive display of power.

But then along comes a depiction of a mysterious yet imposing species that uses its powerful tongue to zoom out and pick off creatures called “non-budgetaryapilius” that are attached to “legislatasaurses” that have been pounded by “reconciliationites.” This species, sometimes referred to as “byrd rulians,” has developed this innovative skill to keep “non-budgetaryapiliuses” from getting past it’s glare and is very effective at killing them.

We go back again to the familiar clash of two members of similar species — with one more dominate than the other — who fight for control and the chance to propagate and succeed. Each member does this by brandishing its strength through a behavior called “whipping.” In so doing, each member keeps the other members of its own species in line and presents a show of numeric strength.

But perhaps the most amazingly unique depiction shown was a survival technique of a subspecies of “legislatasaur” called a “deem-n-passictus” that survives by riding on the back of another “legislatasaur.” The “deem-n-passictus” is less developed than the “legislatasaur” it is attached to and likely could not survive without hitching a ride. But, it is able to survive and pass on if its host “legislatasaur” also survives and escapes the clutches of other predators.

This particular program showed that it takes enormous patience to capture these amazing feats — and grizzly defeats — on video. I thought I was watching a show called “Life,” a new 11-part documentary about nature from the people who gave us the “Planet Earth” series.

But when I double-checked what channel I was watching, I discovered to my astonishment that the TV was tuned to C-SPAN!

That’s right. The stunning, cunning, and vicious display of power and survival I was witnessing was in fact occurring right there in the halls and environs of the U.S. Congress! And at times, it was just as gruesome as any nature show.

Doug Young is the film critic for The Colorado Statesman. He will be covering the Cannes Film Festival in May for the third year in a row.