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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A divided nation has finally united, if only for a while.

Everywhere you go, Americans are speaking out in a singular chorus of indignation and outrage. Social media is seething with denunciations of brazen deception and cruelty.

What in the world happened that has suddenly brought us all together?

It’s simple: Some bonehead tried to get himself eaten by a giant anaconda.

Four million people watched the heavily hyped broadcast on TV, and untold millions more viewed it on the Internet. Apparently, everybody was rooting for the snake.

But not only did “naturalist” Paul Rosolie fail to be swallowed as advertised, he wimped out of the extravaganza as soon as the anaconda started squeezing.

The reaction from viewers has been merciless and cutting. Some have suggested that the Discovery Channel, which aired the Eaten Alive debacle, should rename itself the Stupidity Channel.

It’s understandable why people feel so betrayed and let down. Rosolie had promised to feed himself to a wild, 25-foot anaconda while a camera crew recorded every crushing moment.

For a nation still struggling to recover from three live hours of Peter Pan, this was something to cheer for.

Unfortunately, nobody in Rosolie’s crew could locate a 25-foot wild anaconda, much less capture one. So instead they used a showbiz ringer, a tame smaller specimen that (like all anacondas) had virtually no interest in dining on a human.

Rosolie came to the feast in a “crush-proof” suit that looked like it had been discarded by an amateur bomb squad. To whet the reluctant reptile’s appetite, Rosolie basted himself with pig blood.

For a while he groped and nuzzled the desultory snake until it finally threw a few coils around him and began to chew. Rosolie soon whimpered that his arms hurt and yelled for help on his customized snake-helmet microphone.

The stunt was halted, and the backlash began almost immediately.

PETA complained that the anaconda had been recklessly exploited, and it’s true that eating something as bulky as an armor-plated man could have killed the animal. (A few years ago, a Burmese python in the Everglades died after gulping an alligator. The gator, which wasn’t getting paid by the Discovery Channel, also expired.)

While the welfare of the anaconda was a sincere concern of some viewers, the predominant theme of the griping was that the public got seriously cheated. We had our hearts set on watching a clown descend by choice into the belly of a huge jungle snake. The guy chickened out, and now we’re pissed.

Does this make us callous and shallow? Not necessarily.

We happen to live at a time when the dumbest behavior is often visually documented, and globally accessible. Thanks to smartphones, the Internet is swamped with videos of brainless acts by humans. Some of the humans are actually sober.

Popular TV programs showcase the “world’s dumbest” fill-in-the-blank. The Jackass series and its movie spinoffs impishly celebrated the concept.

The difference between Jackass and Eaten Alive is that Jackass didn’t pretend to be anything but inane. The goofball who stapled his own butt cheeks never denied it was idiotic. That was the whole point of doing it.

Paul Rosolie, on the other hand, seems stung that people have questioned not only his intelligence but his motive for staging the anaconda spectacle.

He claims his purpose was a noble one: to call attention to the plight of the South American rainforests. “The whole reason we did this show is because I’ve worked in the Amazon. I’ve seen it being destroyed,” Rosolie told Jimmy Kimmel.

And what better way to save an endangered habitat than to get yourself grotesquely devoured in prime time by one of the creatures that lives there?

Morbid curiosity isn’t the only reason so many people watched Eaten Alive. A set of values was at play, too.

Viewers wanted justice. Deep down we all believe that nature can rise up and punish foolish human behavior, and in this case the human behavior was preposterous.

The concept of smearing yourself with pig blood and feeding yourself to a snake is so perverse that it borders on farce. The only thing worse would have been for Rosolie to insert himself from the other end, like a human suppository.

Not that we’d want to give him any ideas.

Because you know he’ll be doing another show. Lock up your anacondas.

(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132.)

Photo: Jeff Kubina via Flickr