The goal of Grizzly People, its website explains, is "to elevate the grizzly to the kindred state of the whale and dolphin through supportive education in the hopes that humans will learn to live in peace with the bear, wilderness and fellow humans."
But, as Werner Herzog's latest documentary, "Grizzly Man," demonstrates, the best way for man to live at peace with the bear is to not romanticize grizzlies and to give them a wide berth.
Alas, Grizzly People founder Timothy Treadwell had Disney-fied the object of his affection. So, as Herzog chronicles, the 46-year-old bear activist and his 37-year-old girlfriend were mauled and eaten by an Alaskan grizzly in October 2003.
But first, Treadwell produced some 100 hours of tape starring -- ta da -- him, talking about bears, or talking to bears, or talking about how much he loved bears and how he knew to be dominant around bears. He gave them names like Tabitha, Melissa and Mickey, and he frequently told them, "I love you." He recorded countless close-ups of himself discussing the dangers of living among the grizzlies.
While some think Treadwell had a death wish, he claimed that he would not be hurt, because he had a special understanding of grizzlies and he respected them. His fate illustrates the dark side of the modern romanticization of the wild.
Fact is, Treadwell didn't understand grizzlies and he didn't respect them. As an Alaskan pilot told Herzog, Treadwell seemed to view grizzlies as if they were "people wearing bear costumes."
If Treadwell had respected bears, he would have kept a safe distance -- try 100 yards -- from them. He also would have treated them like predators, not buddies. Instead, he recorded himself patting bears, wading into water with a fishing grizzly and talking to the bears. "Go back," he commanded, as if they understood him.
Treadwell liked to style himself as an animal lover, but I think he was more smitten with himself than with the bears. Treadwell also exhibited some of the misanthropy endemic among the more radical animal-rights activists and eco-activists. Just as a prominent PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) leader announced it was inevitable that an activist would blow up research laboratories and fast-food outlets, Treadwell ranted against the "losers" who work for the National Park Service. Why? Because they had rules designed to protect wildlife and people.
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