In Darkest Peru

The Paddington bear movie that came out a few years ago embellishes considerably on the plot of the book. The bad guy is a… curator? at the Natural History Museum who chases Paddington around London in a van marked TAXIDERMY so she can kill and embalm him. Turns out that she wants to avenge the memory of her father, drummed out of the “Geographer’s Club” for refusing to bag a talking bear specimen and bring it back to London from “darkest Peru.”

This is an absurd but sophisticated manipulation of what we now have to acknowledge is a pervasive unease with the taking of natural history specimens. I guess this ties into various post-Singer animal rights discourses, and maybe the less savory corners of anti-science popular ideas.

Grizzlies from AMNH Flickr.

We’re a long way from Teddy Roosevelt’s heroic dioramas (or Sir Hans Sloane’s curiosities, which formed the basis of the NHM). In fact, the Natural History Museum has (parts of) three specimens of spectacled bear from Peru, but none is on display.

The most striking scene in the movie takes place at the Geographers Club, a mutton-chop/pneumatic tube Terry Gilliam enactment of a real victorian Royal Society meeting. (Striking to me! The kids seemed to think it was the ear cleaning with toothbrush routine). The explorer is told he cannot be a scientist without killing animals.

This is absurd: I’m obviously too old to write Things on the internet on any kind of regular basis. Partly this is because I was sheetrocking the ceiling, and then I left the country for a few days, but partly because of the even more absurd idea that I might write A Thing not on the internet about this stuff. Thus I am reading books and taking notes, which is hard. Also watching children’s movies. But if you follow me you’ll just find out when I do write something, which is rare and not demanding!