You probably remember Christian Cooper, the Black man who in 2020 was screamed at by a super privileged white lady because he asked her to please leash her dog in Central Park’s “Ramble,” a birding spot where dogs aren’t allowed to run loose. He recorded her freaking out and phoning police to report she was being threatened by “an African American man,” and falsely accusing him of threatening her life — while she also choked her dog by lifting it up by the collar. It was the Platonic Ideal of white panic that summer, a white person apparently trying to get police to come and get rid of — and maybe shoot to death — a Black person for the crime of being Black in public. Well, and for catching her breaking park rules, which is terrifying too.
In the aftermath of that horror, America also got to find out that not only was Mr. Cooper the target of racism, he was also just a hell of a nice guy who was as passionate about birding as the white lady was about trying to get that scary Black man arrested for existing in her presence.
He also turned out to be telegenic as all get out. A lifelong birder, environmentalist, gay activist, and nerd (he worked as an editor at Marvel Comics and introduced the first gay character in Star Trek comics), Cooper was boffo on camera, and before long he was doing guest spots on science shows, like this nifty vid from PBS’s NOVA, in which he talks about the importance of diversity in outdoorsy stuff:
And now, hooray, Cooper has parleyed his many TV appearances into an actual job in TV. He’ll be hosting a National Geographic series to be called “Extraordinary Birder,” in which he’ll basically share his love of birds and birding.
We bet it’ll be way better than this press release from National Geographic, which is a bit too National Geographic press release-y for our taste:
Life-long birder Christian Cooper takes us into the wild, wonderful and unpredictable world of birds. Whether braving stormy seas in Alaska for puffins, trekking into rainforests in Puerto Rico for parrots, or scaling a bridge in Manhattan for a peregrine falcon, he does whatever it takes to learn about these extraordinary feathered creatures and show us the remarkable world in the sky above.
For a better sense of Christian Cooper nerding out about birds, watch this segment from ABC’s “Good Morning America” (Yes, ABC and National Geographic are both owned by Disney) that aired a few weeks after his encounter with the racist lady. The only word to describe him here is “ebullient.” This man doesn’t just love birds, he loves talking about birds and birding to others, clearly in the hope that they will become infected with birding flu.
You can skip right past the clip of the video that made him famous; it’s the birding stuff that feels like an audition for National Geographic. And as it happens, it might well have been, since he tells the New York Times he first heard from National Geographic about doing the show around a year and a half ago.
“I was all in,” he said. The six planned episodes will feature Cooper birding in deserts, cities, rainforests and the rural South.
“I love spreading the gospel of birding,” he said in an interview on Tuesday, adding that he was looking forward to encouraging more people “to stop and watch and listen and really start appreciating the absolutely spectacular creatures that we have among us.”
I’ve always liked birders, ever since that time around 1986 when my first wife and I went camping at a remote campground in the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona, ages ago. We had a hell of a time getting our little Datsun 510 up the road, which was incredibly rough — a county road, but still probably better if you had 4-wheel drive.
We camped near an older couple who had somehow maneuvered a biggish RV up there, and from our campsite, we could hear them reading aloud to each other from birding books and talking enthusiastically about birds. They were marvelous sweet people who had clearly mated for life.
I haven’t yet met any birders who’ve spoiled that impression, so please, if you know any asshole birders, don’t introduce me.
Now, Christian Cooper and his six-episode show — no release date yet, sorry — may not make me want to take the plunge and become a birder. But he absolutely makes me want to watch him birding.
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