Film and TV
David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet (Netflix)
As has come to be expected, David Attenborough draws us into a magnificent natural world and captivates us in awe at the planet’s biodiversity. This time, however, he also draws a terrifying picture of the future, should things continue along their current path. As well as walking us through the celebrated broadcaster’s life, noting historical events and cherished moments. A Life On Our Planet is Attenborough’s “witness statement”, a call for a ‘rewilding’ of the earth that uses natural processes, including reintroducing apex predators and keystone species, to restore natural habitats.
The documentary paints a picture of hope, looking at past human-made ecological disasters as well as natural events to illustrate how damaged ecosystems can be replenished. Earth has regulated itself with little temperature change throughout the Holocene era. It’s human activity driving the current changes in climate. Attenborough explains how we’ve used our incredible ability to shape the world to benefit human populations, while ignoring a delicate truth: that we are bound by and reliant upon the natural world around us.
To its detriment, a section of the programme focuses on population growth as a key driver of our ecological problems. Though seemingly common sense on the surface, the argument that frames population growth as a primary cause of environmental damage, rather than the destructive drive of capitalism, can lead to reactionary and dangerous consequences. The far right have adopted it as part of an argument to whip up hostility towards immigrants, refugees and those living in countries with growing populations. Drawn to its natural conclusion this line of thinking ignores how the most destructive and polluting forces are concentrated in the hands of the few.
The overpopulation argument shares responsibility equally between those with political and economic power and those without. Attenborough concludes by saying that bringing people out of poverty and giving everyone access to healthcare and education will allow the total global population to peak at a lower level. This is true, and important, but does not address why people are living in poverty, lacking healthcare and lacking education.
As socialists we know it is not population size but our mode of production which drives biodiversity loss and climate change. Population growth cannot be abstracted from parallel world developments such as industrialisation and imperialism which exported the most destructive practices around the world. This documentary reflects some of the important discussions taking place in the climate change movement today.
It’s not one to miss, but it hits you hard. Channel 4 series Adult Material jumps in at the deep end of an industry that draws strong opinions from many. For a lot of young people, mother of three Hayley would epitomise a “modern feminist”. A teenage mum who left school with two GCSEs, she now balances a successful career with a family. Hayley speeds between two lives taking her daughter to private school before heading to work as a porn star.
She snubs those who judge her, reminding her manager that farming not sex work is the oldest profession, and telling the teacher hers is the only industry where women earn more than men. Yet, there is a dark side, one where women are raped and their (male) managers treat them like commodities. As Hayley often remarks, “everyone has a price”. In this industry, even prolapses make profits, forcing women into uncomfortable positions where “choice” becomes blurred.
While some scenes do shock, it’s the subtle intensity of minor moments that’s truly chilling. Almost imperceptible details underscore how the industry objectifies women — a man’s hand brushing Hayley’s backside by way of hello; Carroll, the manager, remind female viewers of past uncomfortable experiences with older men in positions of power. These continue off set too. Hayley struggles with the fantasy of porn and the reality of sex, and what consent means in an industry that glorifies misogynistic violence and a porn-obsessed society.
It’s a nuanced portrait of the alienation we all experience under capitalism, commodifying our most intimate relationships and emotions. The director, Lucy Kirkwood, focuses on women’s experiences without representing them as hapless victims or empowered heroines. A commendable portrayal, considering the polarisation dividing the feminist “abolition” and “regulation” camps today. The characters become humanised, located in a relatable world of school, work and family.
Adult Material’s greatest strength lies in its honest portrayal of ordinary people making difficult decisions. But an honest portrayal of the porn industry inevitably lays bare just how hard these decisions are, and the pressure women are under to make them. Judgement of the sex workers is refreshingly absent, but the porn industry’s lust for profit at the expense of its female employees is exposed for all to see.