Survival of the fittest. We hear the phrase, and something about evolution pops into our heads. Maybe it’ll be natural selection, as described by revolutionary naturalist Charles Darwin, maybe it’ll be social evolution. Like when the fat kid (me) was forced to the bottom of the food chain to barely survive middle school while the athletic kid (Adam) got to rule the school and make glorious, healthy babies to ensure the future of our redneck society. (Just kidding, it was only middle school.)
The phrase “survival of the fittest” was coined by the biologist/philosopher Herbert Spencer, who first recorded it in his famous 1864 textbook, “Principles of Biology” (along with the word “evolution”). Spencer drew his ideas of social evolution — the strong survive — from Darwin after he read the 1859 famous-text-with-the-bourgeois-title “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle of Life.”
Darwin also rode horses and shot guns during his spare time.
In short, Charles was a baller.
It would seem appropriate, then, for the University to dedicate a movie series to Darwin for his 200th birthday. “Survival of the Fittest,” the movie series that will run in the Yale Center for British Art lecture hall at 2 p.m. Saturdays from Feb. 28 to May 2, complements the art exhibition, “Endless Forms.” Fitting to the series’ name, all the movies explore some aspect of “survival.”
Like when Simon, in “Lord of the Flies,” hallucinates and talks to the severed pig’s head on Children-are-freaks-without-their-mommies-and-daddies Island. Or when we learn that humans were stupid and killed themselves off in “Planet of the Apes.” (Yeah Darwinism!)
But do not fret, parents! The movies range from G to R-rated on the Motion Picture Association of America scale.
“It was created for a general audience that would consist of the academic community … and certainly, some [of the films] are appropriate for families,” said organizer Jane Nowosadko, also the manager of programs at the British Art Center.
To British Art Center Senior Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts Elisabeth Fairman (another of the series’ organizers), the topic of survival is a particularly “compelling” Darwinian subject. The movies aim to attract anyone from Yale undergraduates to New Haven residents to the loyal contingent of British Art Center moviegoers, who often contribute 50 to 100 viewers to each movie. (The British Art Center lecture hall can hold 200 people.)
Most of the half-dozen Darwin enthusiasts I contacted, including evolutionary biologists and a Darwin historian, said they were unaware of the movie series, but they were glad Yale was showing such interest in the biologist-revolutionary.
Want some advice on which movie to attend?
If you ask Nowosadko: “My personal favorite is ‘Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.’ It’s a great sea adventure, and there’s this very interesting scene where they are on the Galapagos Islands where they were exploring — that part of the world, of course, where Darwin once was. And I think it was just beautifully done.” (Fairman says the depiction of the Galapagos exploration is why the movie appears first in the series.)
If you ask Fairman: “ ‘Lord of the Flies’ is not often seen these days … It’s haunting and probably not on people’s radar screen … It’s black and white, a little old-fashioned, but very, very interesting.”
If you ask Me: “Planet of the Apes.” Apes > Humans.