December 08, 2008

Review of Life After People

Life After People (History Channel)The very notion is deliciously ghoulish: What happens to earth if--or when--people suddenly vanished? The History Channel presents a dramatic, fascinating what-if scenario, part science fiction and part true natural science. "Welcome to Earth, Population: 0" is the catchy tagline, Life After People's 94 minutes are so gripping you nearly forget while you watch that you, yourself, will be gone too. It turns out that earth can go along very nicely without us. The hardest part of the special is probably in the first 15 minutes, when pet owners confront what likely will happen to their dogs (thankfully, the show follows those dogs who break out of their houses, and the prognosis for them to survive as scavengers is good). As the fictional days and weeks tick by, the process of nature's reclaiming the planet becomes less grim and more fascinating. The impact of the lack of people will be noticed right away, as most power grids shut down around the planet. The one holdout: Hoover Dam, whose hydro power lights up the American Southwest. Scientists say the dam can continue to operate on its own for months, maybe years, keeping the Vegas Strip alight. Only the eventual accumulation of quagga mussels, an invasive species, in the cooling pipes of the power plant--currently being cleaned by humans--will shut down the dam. Elsewhere, critters and plants will have their run of Manhattan and every other previously "civilized" spot. Inventive photography shows bears clambering out of subway stations, and vines pulling down brownstones, then skyscrapers. It may not be a surprise when the Eiffel Tower and Space Needle meet their eventual fates, but the scenes nonetheless provide a pleasant sting of shock. Life After People is humbling, yet exhilarating. --A.T. HurleyRob's review:  I recently watched this documentary. I'd say it's about as good as the review indicates. Unlike the similarly-themed The World Without Us, it doesn't get sidetracked with irrelevant theorizing and gratuitous Indian-bashing. The production is almost a textbook example of how to make a good documentary.

One of Life After People's conclusions is that most signs of civilization--our cities, buildings, and roads, not to mention our arts and sciences--will start decaying quickly. In 10,000 years, everything made of concrete, metal, plastic, wood, or paper will have crumbled into bits and pieces--essentially dust.

Ironically, as someone notes, stone monuments and clay tablets are more durable than anything we've created since. Because of this, a few structures--the Hoover Dam, the Great Wall of China, the Egyptian pyramids--will remain intact and identifiable for tens of thousands of years.

But eventually water will burst the dam, vegetation will cover the wall, and sand will bury the pyramids. Someone suggests Mt. Rushmore as possibly the last human artifact, claiming it may be around in a million years when another intelligence species arises.

What about the Indians?

Not that it should've included Indians, but Life Without People is rather Eurocentric. Other than what I've mentioned above and a brief appearance of Angkor Wat, there's no talk of how non-Western civilizations will fare.

What Life Without People doesn't say is that indigenous and non-Western artifacts may outlast their Western counterparts. The places likely to survive the longest intact are geologically stable arid plains: parts of the American West, the Andean altiplano, North Africa, the Middle East, and western Asia. These are all regions where indigenous and other non-Western cultures have flourished.

Maybe Inca and Tiahuanaco (Bolivia) ruins, Southwestern pueblos and petroglyphs, and the Crazy Horse Memorial still will be here when the heads finally fall off Mt. Rushmore. It would be funny if aliens arrived a million years from now and discovered only indigenous remains. Finding no signs of Einstein, Mozart, Shakespeare, Muhammad, Jesus, Caesar, or Aristotle, they might conclude that Indian civilizations were the most advanced on Earth.

Rob's rating for Life After People: 8.5 of 10. Check it out.

For more on the subject, see Native Documentary and News.

Below:  As the last trace of Western civilization crumbles into dust, an Indian presence still haunts the land.

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