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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Contemplating Cane Toads, Just Like Everyone Does Sometimes

I wonder sometimes about the things I learned in school.  Some things were odd enough that I questioned them even at the time, but other things I've taken for granted until relatively recently.  One of those things is Chapel Hill, NC's proud cane toad documentary tradition.

I hadn't thought about cane toads in a long while, but I found a Washington Post article the other day about Australia's attempts to control their populations, and it took me back.  Back in high school, we all watched a documentary about Australia's cane toads.  The larger point of the documentary was to demonstrate the ecological damage that may ensue from bringing a new species into an area (in this case, importing cane toads to eat the cane beetles that were plaguing sugar cane crops).  The point that many of us took away was that there was some dude in Australia who swerved all over the road when he drove trying to run over as many cane toads as possible, and a little girl who had taken one as a pet and named it Dairy Queen.

I emailed the article to my sister, who, despite being ten years my junior and a graduate of a different high school in Chapel Hill, had also seen the cane toad documentary.  She reacted with incredulity, both because they were still such a problem in Australia after all this time and because I had seen an article about them.

So strong is the cane toad documentary tradition in my home town that I'm pretty sure I saw it mentioned on one of those "You know you grew up in Chapel Hill if..." lists some years ago.

I started to wonder, though, after seeing the Washington Post article.  I had thought of watching this documentary as a Chapel Hill idiosyncrasy, but maybe that was just a sense of Chapel Hill exceptionalism.  Maybe other people had fond (?) memories of the cane toad documentary.

I did a Google search on "cane toad documentary."  I learned that the documentary is called Cane Toads: An Unnatural History.  It was released in 1988, before my sister was even born.  And, according to Wikipedia, it's considered a cult classic and has a sequel!  So, a good number of people who didn't even ever live in Chapel Hill must have seen it at some point.  Maybe this should be a point of small talk for me next time I'm at a social gathering and facing an awkward silence after the obligatory conversation about the weather has ended.

I don't currently know anybody attending high school in Chapel Hill, so I'll just have to wonder whether they're still watching this documentary.  Maybe they've upgraded to the sequel, or maybe the new generation is watching a documentary about another homely, not-widely-appreciated animal.

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