Mom Fishmonger decreed recently that the Saturday prior to Mother's Day would be a family outing to the Milwaukee County Zoo. Well, the event went off swimmingly, and the cookout that followed was lovely, as well. I'd say the baked beans (a major component of today's beenie weenie lunch) were especially well received. But there was a disturbing moment.
I was standing at one end of the otter exhibit, watching the little guys do laps, surge up out of the water, and basically behave like a two year old whose uncle had just slipped him a Mountain Dew. This was not the disturbing bit. I was enjoying trying to (mostly unsuccessfully) catch their antics with my new digital camera (have I mentioned that I LOVE this camera?). Suddenly, the otters just totally freakin' flipped out. Their antics became agitated as their laps contracted. After a few moments, they both burst from the water and rushed the small door at the back of the exhibit. This was not the disturbing bit. At that moment, the zookeeper passed by on my right, carrying trays of what must be the most delectable otter treats imaginable.
I took a moment to reflect on what I'd just seen. This is when it got disturbing. The actions of the otters indicated that the otters were not only able to see out of their exhibit area, but that they were actively watching those nearby. While I was watching them, THEY WERE WATCHING ME! I was completely unnerved. I felt like a peeping tom caught at the window. More to the point, I felt like someone on a reality TV show had just turned to speak to the man sitting next to me!
The feeling must surely be a bi-product of watching television. In the years pre-electronic media, most entertainment was experienced live. You watched someone performing, or you performed yourself. Actions you took in response to a performance would be noticed by the performer. But since the invention of the phonograph in the late 19th century, we've been increasingly isolated from the performer. We don't expect to be noticed, and we don't expect our reactions to our entertainment to affect it. And with entertainment such a big part of our lives, it must surely affect the way we live the rest of our lives. It's something I'll be thinking about and watching for.