Friday, June 10, 2011

Everything I Know I Learned from Jacques Cousteau

This week, on June 11, we celebrate the 101st anniversary of the birth of oceanographer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau.

I remember well the "Jaccques Cousteau Specials" on TV when I was growing up. (I'm not the only one. I read somewhere that Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, created the French narrator of the cartoon, who sounds an awful lot like Cousteau, as an homage.) They were a part of the cultural wallpaper of growing up in that era and I made it a point to watch whenever his shows were on.

But why? I wasn't particularly interested in oceanography, and certainly never dreamed of being a diver. I liked science, but never considered a career in it. And aside from Lenten Friday lunches of tuna salad sandwiches, I wasn't even particularly fond of fish. So in an age before "must see TV," what was it that made his specials so compelling?

No doubt it was his voice. Not just the rich French accent, though there was that. His slow, patient voice with that delicious accent still gives me goosebumps, and is what most people (like Hillenburg) recall of those TV specials. But it was more. Cousteau made oceanography accessible. He took
complex, esoteric scientific concepts and made them simple enough for everyone to grasp--without just dumbing down the science. He was a superb teacher and communicator. And he never failed to convey his enthusiasm for his subject matter. This was a man who clearly had a passion for the sea and all its wonders and he managed to bring us all along with him every time he spoke.

That is all I could ever hope to do for my readers. Without the fish, of course.

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