Eclipse Talk

Monday, 21st August 2017

From Aug. 21, 2017

So, the eclipse is cool, yah. What strikes me about watching the coverage on the NASA channel and on the networks that are running it, is that they are really all in on the “science is cool” talk. And I can’t say I blame them, given the politics of the day. If hyping something like this gives a few legislators pause about defunding scientific research, I’m all for it. It seems a bit much, though, to call it the “Great American Eclipse” as the major networks are doing.

And, I’ll say it again, it is cool. Not often that we get to see the celestial bodies align in such a way. The coverage is all aestheticized – it’s about the beauty. But it’s also about people-watching – where are they viewing this from? What are they doing to prepare for the event? How many are coming? The sound is all of people oohing and aahing.

I have heard nothing, so far, about the reactions of animals while this happens. (Well, let me amend that – one passing mention on CBS of confused dogs and birds – nothing else). That is by far the most interesting part of this, in my view. No comments about this so far, as far as I can tell, even from those reporting in fairly rural areas. I remember the commotion among the animals in the eclipse of 1979 in Saskatchewan. Even though we were kept inside, we could hear the birds outside, very confused. Reliably, though, The Onion comes through:…/cow-excited-freak-fuck-out-during…

There’s a reverential sense to the whole thing, a kind of religion of nature feel to it. There are expressions of ecstacy. Lots of “wows”. Lots of awe. Lots of aesthetic commentary – the light, the shadows, the corona of the sun. This transcends all of us – maybe if we can all stand shoulder to shoulder, admiring the same beauty, we can find some commonality. Since we are in the US, the aesthetics of the event itself isn’t quite enough, so there are also marching bands, singers, and lots of other events.

Or so the hope goes, I think. Science and nature, now so divisive, were always supposed to be the thing that brought us back together. It’s one world, and we’re all subject to the same forces. So, this is meant to serve as a reminder, or perhaps a desperate plea, to return to that. Not sure that it will work, given our insatiable appetite for the next awe-inducing, or gut-wrenching, experience.

We’re also getting amateur anthropologists, thinking about how people in the past would have experienced these things. “Animals are eating the sun!”, they imagine these people would say. Vikings thought that it was wolves in the sky! The Chinese thought that a dragon was devouring the sun!! Never mind that lots of these cultures were way more familiar with these things than most people today are, and worked it into their stories about the world. The stories helped to make the world orderly and predictable for those cultures. It wasn’t the primitivist account of terrified people against our modernist account of science. It’s at times like this that our self-congratulatory cultural assumptions come out and show themselves.

Anyway, I get it. It is amazing, in the sense of something that rarely happens (well, it happens about once every year and a half, somewhere, but it rarely happens for us, here, in the comfort of our own homes). I’d love to see this level of coverage when it happens in Africa, but no, I don’t think that’s going to happen. It’s not about us, our American eclipse.

Tomorrow, it will be forgotten, the gutters lined with eclipse glasses, the footage archived, the data distributed. The science itself might get mentioned, if something startling comes out of this data, but for most of us, it will be on to the next WOW! event.

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