chapter  2
Never-ending stories, ending narratives
Polar bears, climate change populism, and the recent history of British nature documentary film
ByGraham Huggan
Pages 12

This chapter explains the role of polar bears as 'affective animals' in the context of current media representations of global warming - itself a visibly overheated context in which it has become possible to see the ever-popular image of the stranded polar bear as nothing less than 'the symbol for our times'. Iconic images of stranded polar bears arguably elicit public sympathy insofar as they are linked to broader narratives of extinction in which humanity itself is cast as acutely vulnerable, while the recognition of 'our' complicity in 'their' plight provides an example of another kind of 'emotional anchoring' to be found in distressing images of animal suffering - that of guilt. The iconicity of the polar bear is singularly well equipped for the mixed demands of modern nature television: it is both 'exotic', occupying a distant space, and visually familiar; while it matches the inquisitiveness of the camera with a curiosity of its own.