Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Geologists in popular culture

I was sent this link and the excerpt by a geologist friend this morning. We definitely share this, as it's wonderfully wonderful. Enjoy.

While the media rarely represents geologists to the general population, (excluding sound bytes on Discovery Channel volcano specials), there was one recent attempt to integrate geologists into a television program. According to various blog sources, CBS was looking to produce a new reality tv show for 2008, after correctly predicting that the writers' strike would cut down on their ability to create blue-toned dramatic shows centering around corpses. One of their production managers happened to see a documentary on a volcanologist researching lava in Hawaii, and seeing the danger and excitement inherent in people smashing molten hot 'magma' with rock hammers, pitched the idea of a 'geologist survivor-type' show.
In December of 2007, CBS hired a production crew to pull the show together; the scenario was that nine geologists would be placed in the field, where they would vote each other off based on their willingness to do dangerous geologist type feats common to the field; like researching active volcanoes, trilobite wrangling, earthquake surfing, landslides catching, and landing in bush planes on glaciers. Geologists that weren't up to the task would be voted off, and the last remaining "Hard-core geologist" would win a prize.
The production was plagued from the beginning. They were successful in finding nine geologists, 6 males and three females, between 25 and 50 years of age, and they quickly set up the first challenge; researching an active volcano in the Phillipines. The geologists and camera crew set up camp near the bottom of the volcano. The camera crew filmed the nine geologists bonding. The geologists were supplied with alchohol (a common strategy to loosen up the cast on reality TV shows), but the camera crew was surprised to notice that even after drinking gallons of the liquid, the geologists did not change their behavior, and continued talking in an obscure jargonized language about 'bombs', 'hornitos', 'breccia,' and 'lahars,' none of which made for good reality TV.
This trend continued through the entire first challenge; the geologists were seemingly oblivious to the camera, and the only interpersonal drama occurred when the seismologist and structural geologist got into a yelling match over the best recipe for chili. When the camera-crew and geologists went up to do research on the volcano, instead of sticking together, the geologists scattered into the landscape, and the camera-crew found themselves unable to find more than two at a time. Also, after listening to the volcanologist eagerly predict just how soon the volcano would explode, the camera-crew became extremely nervous and returned to the camp.
The crew returned from the first shoot to Los Angeles with almost no footage. To further complicate matters, the editors were unable to make sense of what footage there was, because they had no idea what the hell the geologists were talking about. However, it did appear that initially a few of the scientists seemed to understand the concept of 'voting off' another member. After consulting a nearby university, the crew finally explained to the geologists were basically 'competing for funding from the National Science Foundation.' Unfortunately, the NSF grant analogy didn't go well either, as the geologists quickly pointed out that they didn't have enough time to write a successful research proposal. Finally, the geologists were simply told agree upon some arbitrary criteria that they could use to get rid of someone. After a series of seminars, the geologists decided that whoever had the worst aim with a rock hammer would be told to leave.
The second event, landing in a bush plane in northern Alaska, was a complete failure. None of the geologists were nervous at the idea, which destroyed the drama the crew was hoping for, and worse yet, no-one in the production crew was willing to accompany the geologists to the field site, out of sheer terror. As a result, small cameras were given to two of the geologists to film themselves. When the geologists returned with their cameras, the editors found tapes filled with footage and commentary about mountains and 'gbbxcvxlacial erratics'. Only ten percent of the footage featured humans, and most of that footage was simply the petrologist standing by outcrops for scale.
By the time the production reached Hawaii, most of the camera-crew had quit (because of the steady diet of chili and the dangerous situations) and only five of the geologists were left; not because they had been voted off, but because they had become over-excited by rock formations at various locations and had refused to leave. Moreover, paying for an almost-constant supply of beer, single malt scotch, and transportation for the geologists' luggage' (which contained mostly oversized rock samples padded with unmentionably dilapidated field clothing), had almost exhausted the budget. CBS finally pulled the plug on the project in January of 2008, despite their fear that they might be sued for withdrawing the promise of a prize; however, none of the geologists sued, as they were still under the impression that they needed to publish a research paper to receive the money.