Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Don't Feed the Bear Story

I did say I was over the Colorado bear mauling. I implied it would not reflect well on me to obsess on it further. What would it say about my perspicacity, creativity, and wit if I couldn't find something new to talk about?

But, the media keep feeding that tail. Animal Planet created a series called Fatal Attractions, which exploits tales of animals hurting people to produce sensationalist, subtlely violent TV. Evdiently, they couldn't get enough viewers with pretty videos of deer and whales, let alone mollusks or obscure cnidarians. Hm, some clever producer though, maybe we can pull some viewers from wrestling, cage fighting, and Jackass reruns by offering comparable content. Season 1, Episode 6, titled "Don't Feed the Bears", focuses on the tale of Donna Munson.

Hard to say what I thought of this episode. It was nice to see professional film of Ouray, Colorado. They repeatedly interviewed the sherriff (my uncle), who handled himself quite well, though there was a bit of a gleam in his eye when he told about how his third shotgun blast finally "put the bear down". That seemed a bit insensitive, but then, bears don't watch TV, and would probably have found the episode horrific. The bigger problem is that the filming, editing, pacing, music, and detached narration all accomplished the goal of building tension and fear within the viewer. So I was watching the show with my parents, with happy thoughts and discussion of places we hiked or at least recognized, while the show instead tried to adumbrate doom and death.

Well, loyal blog readers (both of you) know how the story ends. But it turns out my speculation in the Tragedy of the Scented Scarf - quite surprisingly - was totally wrong. I admit I had to speculate on some details of bear courtroom procedures, but I thought it was a good guess. Reality is even more bizarre. Truth is danger than fiction.

The underlying incident was a big bear attacking a smaller bear. Donna Munson complained about this to her friends, stating that the big bear was a bully, and she intended to swat the big bear to teach him a lesson. I wish I could take credit for using that particular word, but no, "swat" is an exact quote from the newspaper (not mentioned in the Animal Planet story). This is by far the greatest use of "swat" in English, and totally explains how differently the situation was perceived. For my non-English speaking reader, "swat" is about the most playful formulation of "attack" or "hit" possible. A swat does not really hurt, or threaten.

Flashback to Cognitive Science 101C, when Prof. Gilles Fauconnier explained blending and its relation to humor and metaphor. We looked at examples of jokes based on miscommunication, in which one person has a certain view of the world, but fails to completely communicate it. So here is Donna Munson's mental model:

"Big bear attacked small bear. Swatting big bear would effectively convey my disappointment, and help big bear to appreciate the mental anguish he inflicted on small bear. Big bear would then re-evaluate his actions, and his overall world view, entailing an apology to small bear, possible restitution, and perhaps joining the Peace Core."

Here is big bear's mental model:

"Kill attacker!"

Hence, contrary to my supposition, the inciting incident didn't really have to do with food at all. The bear was defending himself. He might have been especially anger-prone, given that he had attacked a smaller bear, which might have served as a hint that he might not appreciate the swat. He probably calmed down, and only later thought, hmmm, I notice Donna didn't put out any new food recently. And I'm all tuckered out after clarifying the word "swat" to that vicious little attacker. Tired. And a bit peckish. And she smells kinda good.....

And so, by the time it dawned on Donna that he was munching on Munson, it was too late.

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