The Human Animal
BBC Documentary Series Written and Produced by Desmond Morris
Zoologist Desmond Morris has for 40 years controversially encouraged us to look the Human Animal by observing human behaviour as we would observe the behaviour of the natural world.
His views were not without criticism, especially as at that time the feminist movement was strongly arguing that human and gender behaviour is entirely socially constructed.
Throughout this site I will be challenging ideas around human, and especially gendered behaviour and exploring both biological essentialism and social constructivism and these video's represent a significant contribution to the overall debate.
The videos on this page are not specifically about gender, but they are about human behaviour and within that are observations about gender difference. Each of the videos, the initial documentary and the each of the six part Human Animal documentary series, run for 50 to sixty minutes, so you may want to bookmark this page for future reference.
Desmond Morris – The Human Animal
Desmond Morris has been watching us for 40 years, applying his skills as a zoologist to human beings as if they were just another animal. Books such as The Naked Ape and Manwatching made him a household name. This first video turning the tables on him is a documentary on his life and work. I particularly like his work because especially in the area of gender politics, the radical feminist view largely that gender is a social construct has given rise to considerable opposition to the transgender view that gender is innate. Observing humans as animals does I believe enable us to explain variant behaviour better.
Part 1 – The Language of the Body
The series begins with The Language of the Body — a fascinating look at how mankind communicated before the evolution of language. From gestures and expressions are so deeply ingrained in our collective memory that they appear to be universal to the curious, confusing and often comically misinterpreted cross-cultural difference of insult gestures, the segment explores the rich vocabulary of body language, both universal and regional.
Part 2 – The Hunting Ape
The second episode looks at our most fundamental activity — the quest for food — exploring how our origins as hunter-gatherers permeate every aspect of our modern lives, from fast-food culture to dating.
"Viewed as a pattern of human feeding behavior, a trip to the supermarket is the remarkable endpoint of a long journey through evolutionary time, a journey that started in the primeval forest and at the checkout counter. To me, it’s a story of an arboreal ape, which became a ground-dwelling predator, which in turn became a credit card customer.” Desmond Morris
Part 3 – The Human Zoo
Part three examines how we managed to go from mud to skyscraper in what’s no more than a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. From the subtleties of human hierarchy in an English pub to the tribal behavior displayed by gangs in Los Angeles, the segment looks at the complex sociology of our species and how it shaped our civilization. It’s also fascinating to see, in 1994, one of the earliest time-lapse simulations of land change as Morris explores the construction of human cities over time.
"Some people call the city a ‘concrete jungle’ — but jungles aren’t like that. Animals in jungles aren’t overcrowded. And overcrowding is the central problem of modern city life. If you want to look for crowded animals, you have to look in the zoo. And then it occurred to me: The city is not a concrete jungle — it’s a human zoo.” Desmond Morris
Part 4 – The Biology Of Love
Episode four explores the profound impact standing upright had on our sexuality and how this simple anatomic fact affect all our lives today. Morris analyzes how patterns of behaviour and signals of health and fertility evolved to ensure pair-bonding and genetic survival, ultimately underpinning many of our romantic quests and decisions. From the stages of courtship to the aesthetics of physical beauty, the segment looks at the very foundations of our sexual behavior.
"The more we understand, the more fascinating the subject becomes. But how did it all begin — how did boy meet girl?” Desmond Morris
Part 5 – The Immortal Genes
Part five explores the biological basis for parental love.
"Our species has the heaviest parental burden of any animal on earth. Why are we so selfless when dealing with our children?” Desmond Morris
Part 6 – Beyond Survival
The final part of the series addresses the question we’ve all been asking ourselves since the very first rub with the program’s premise: Are we really merely another animal? And, if so, why do we have things like art, music, literature and philosophy? Morris concludes by exploring the deepest humanness of humans — what we do and who we become once we have our basic needs for food and shelter met. The episode explores concepts like creativity, artistic progression, play and symbolic thinking.
"The human animal is not satisfied with mere survival. Our greatest rewards are obtained when we go beyond survival.” Desmond Morris