Thursday, 27 October 2011

Top 7 'Evolution' moments including Homer sapien, Mr Garrison's take on things and a lesson from Futurama

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Here is a list of what I consider to be the top 6 TV Evolution moments. Witness the evolution of Homer sapien and then watch it all in reverse with the classic noitulovE commercial. Be carried away with The Rite of Spring from Fantasia and then hear Mr Garrison's take on things before Family Guy attempts to unite evolution with creationism. Finally we have a lesson in natural selection from Futurama.

Do you know of any more classic TV moments?

1. The Simpsons: Homer's Evolution

Evolution with a Simpsons twist. Starting with an aquatic evolution scene, we see a single celled homer transform into a fish, before emerging onto land as an amphibian or basal tetrapod. In accordance with the  scientifically established order of events, the basal tetrapod eventually evolves into the sail-backed Dimetrodon - a mammal-like reptile (a process which in reality took over 100 million years and countless minute stages). This then transforms into a rodent. We see T-Rex incongruously fighting a Stegosaurus (they didn't co-exist) - a homage to Charles R Knights classic T-Rex & Triceratops paintings (they did co-exist). The homer-rodent runs away to find cover. The meteor hits. Dinosaurs are wiped out, and the little rodent evolves through a series of primates and hominids into Homer sapien.

2. The Rite of Spring, Disney's Fantasia (1940)

Igor Stravinsky's omonimous score was written in 1910 and as he later said '... there arose a picture of a sacred pagan ritual: the wise elders are seated in a circle and are observing the dance before death of the girl whom they are offering as a sacrifice to the god of Spring in order to gain his benevolence. This became the subject of The Rite of Spring.'

Disney's animators took a completely different inspiration from it and decided to tell the history of Earth up to the extinction of the dinosaurs. According to the narration it is 'a pageant, as the story of the growth of life on Earth'. It is the fourth piece in the film, following The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and was based on the scientific knowledge of the day. However much you may balk at their assumptions, it is a brilliant and beautiful piece of imaginative conception. It takes us from the evolution of single celled organisms in the sea, to land reptiles and then to the epic battles between dinosaurs. It ends with the dark and gloomy extinction of prehistoric life, hypothesised through the earth turning into a global desert.

Fantasia - Extinction

3. 'noitulovE' aka Guinness: Rhythm of Life - Evolution

One of the most famous TV commercials. Set to the music "The Rhythm of Life" by Sammy Davis Jr.

Human History

The film starts with three men in a typical British pub taking their first sip of Guinness. Time starts reversing and they retreat backwards into the street. As they move down the street, a reverse time-lapse-style sequence transforms their clothes to match a rapidly-changing urban scene, which progresses through modern-day London to the Edwardian period. Electric lights transform into gas lamps and buildings begin to disappear. The city regresses into the past, shrinking to a small Saxon settlement before revealing the three men dressed for the bronze age and passing through a thickening woodland. The men quickly morph into prehistoric hominids before becoming frozen in an ice age glacier.

A Menagerie of De-Evolving Creatures

Reemerging as primitive hominids, they continue their transformation, becoming chimpanzees and de-evolving through a rapid succession of species. The menagerie includes a host of extant, as well as extinct creatures, including flying squirrels, fish, flightless birds, dinosaurs and finally mudskippers sitting around a green-brown puddle. These animals may represent key stages in the rise of the animal groups but some are not part of our direct ancestral lineage - eg Icthyosaurs and dinosaurs sit on a completely different evolutionary branch! It's not the usual progression that you can see in the other 'evolution' videos I've listed. 

Playing the film backwards we see that mudskippers (representing the transition on to land) become a creature resembling the first tetrapods (fairly true). Dinosaurs become flightless birds (true), Flightless birds become mammals (false) which enter the sea (true for whales) pass through fish and marine reptiles (false - these are two separate branches of evolution), before emerging as rodent-like mammals which become flying squirrels (fairly true - flying squirrels are within the order rodentia). Flying squirrels become chimpanzees (false). 

It's a clever piece of commercial entertainment and from a creative perspective its interesting to note that we rarely see any actual transformation between the species. Evolution is inferred by clever storyboarding. We are carried along by the fantastic music and believe that we are watching these three men de-evolve through their ancestors. Genius!

At the end of the film the middle mudskipper registers his disgust at the taste of the water with a 'Pweugh!' We then cut to a few pints of Guinness and the tag line 'Good things come to those who wait'.

You can read more about the production here

4. South Park: Mr Garrisons Theory of Evolution

Not for the easily offended!

In South Park elementary school creationist Mr Garrison is forced to teach evolution. He obviously hasn't read the text-books and so accords evolution to a series of cross-species breeding events and the resulting production of 'retard' babies, such as the 'retard-frog-squirrel'. If we take the offensive word 'retard' to refer to genetic mutations and consider that evolution proceeds through these genetic mutations, then we might see a glimmer of accuracy. Am I being too nice? At least the scientific names on the wall chart are accurate including Tiktaalik - the 375 million year old missing link between non-tetrapod vertebrates i.e. 'fish', and early tetrapods such as Acanthostega - which is also labeled on Mr Garrison's chart.

5. Family Guy: How it all started?

Uniting creationism and evolution?

6. Futurama: How Evolution Works

A brief lesson in Natural Selection showing the evolutionary dynamics of the predator-prey arms race

7. Beavis and Buthead: Evolution Sucks.
A Beavis and Buthead perspective on Human evolution. This is a newly discovered clip by me and although I don't usually find them funny this did make me smirk in a few places.

Evolution in Music Videos

I'm sure there's plenty of other examples. Please let me know if you can think of one.

Fat Boy Slim: Right Here, Right Now

Korn: Evolution

Have we stopped evolving? Have we changed our surroundings so much that we've reduced the environmental pressures that lead to the mutations which power evolution - have we actually started to regress as a species? Are we too reliant on technology? 

Pearl Jam: Do The Evolution

Analysis from Wikipedia:
Throughout the video, a black haired woman (similar in appearance to the character Death from the DC comic book series, The Sandman) dances and laughs, representing "Death" as it follows mankind through all of its history. The video is misanthropic in its underlying message. The video begins with the evolution of life, from the smallest cell to the extinction of dinosaurs and reign of homo sapiens. The video then cuts back and forth throughout human history, depicting man's primitive, violent nature as essentially unchanged over the centuries. Such depictions include a knight preparing for the coming slaughter during the Crusades, a ritual dance by America's KKK (the dance is repeated with other groups throughout the video), a rally by Nazi-esque troops (with a symbol reminiscent of the Sig Rune instead of a swastika), Auschwitz-like prisoners with the stripes going vertically instead of horizontally on their uniforms, a book burning, carnage upon a World War I-era battlefield (apparently a tribute to Peace on Earth, a 1930s MGM anti-war cartoon directed by Hugh Harman), the apparent virtual-reality rape of a woman, and the bombing of a Vietnamese village by an American jet, the pilot of which removes his mask to reveal a skull laughing wildly. Every scene portrayed complements the song's meaning and tightly follows the lyrics. When Vedder sings "Buying stocks on the day of the crash," a scene is shown where businessmen are committing suicide by jumping from buildings, similar to Black Thursday and the resulting suicides from the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Other social and environmental issues such as slavery, whaling, Manifest Destiny, uncontrolled urbanization, vivisection, pollution, genetic modification and techno-progressivism are included. The music video blames humankind's brutality on leadership; with various scenes depicting a judge, a bishop or pope, an American President, and an Asian leader. It is eventually revealed that the world leaders are being controlled as puppets by the hand of Death. The video concludes in what seems to be future scenarios of the self-destruction of the human race, including the carpet bombing of a city of clones by futuristic aircraft, computers hijacking the human mind, and finally a nuclear explosion which leaves not only a city in ruins, but the planet damaged beyond recognition. During the sequence of flashing images near the end of the video an image of a yield sign being smashed at the corner can be seen, which references the album title and cover art.

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