NatGeo: "The Human Family Tree"

The worst documentary of its kind yet: a two-hour ad for the Genographic project public participation component, heavy on the we are one / race doesn't exist message. If you thought The Journey of Man would have been great if only it contained vignettes from the lives of vibrant Queens residents (preferably involved in mixed-race relationships), you'll love The Human Family Tree.

Despite six years and tens of millions of dollars in funding, Spencer Wells relays scientific "facts" essentially identical to those he reported in his 2003 effort -- many of these facts being outdated (the idea that R1b is a marker of Paleolithic western European ancestry) or incorrect ("we're all 99.9% the same genetically").

On the positive side, the sloppy editing and narration may provoke some cognitive dissonance in the brighter race deniers who view the program. After some "survival of the fittest" talk (albeit in the context of Africa), after we're introduced to the ideas of climatic and sexual selection, and after we're told the ancestors of Europeans "toughened up" in the harsh climate of Central Asia, Kevin Bacon intones:
Like all of our other physical differences, the genetic changes responsible for our varying shades of color are minuscule. [. . .] For all the problems race has caused, our differences are literally not more than skin deep. Genetically speaking, race does not exist. Without those minuscule changes, though, people might never have survived in these northern latitudes. And that means, we might never have carried on to populate the rest of the world.
And later:
As the world grows increasingly smaller, babies like Leah are becoming the norm. Traits that formed over thousands of generations are being wiped clean in just a few. While cultural barriers continue to fall, biologically we know these barriers never existed in the first place.
If you feel the need to watch a program in this genre, The Incredible Human Journey is a better choice. The episodes on Europe and Asia at least feature a few interesting locations and artifacts, along with some (ultimately dismissive) discussion of multiregionalism.

No comments: