Most Hollywood and media coverage is bottom line — what/who’s up and who/what’s down in the big casino of the marketplace. Is there another reality out here? Having worked to make a film about dirt for the last five years, I think that there is.
Let’s take a look at media from the ground up. Sort of a Dirt’s-eye view of things.
Let’s face it, from Dirt’s POV, we’re at a point in our human journey at which we either find a way to survive or we will become compost for other life forms that will survive our species death spiral.
In our film, TV, literature and music, the apocalyptic flash-forwards are piling up. Take your pick of favorite visions of this doom and gloom scenario: "The Day After Tomorrow"? Any version of "Terminator"? (For me, the TV series "Life After People" is as good place to start as any … what are your top picks.)
Is it time to call it a wrap for humans? Can what we do as media workers/creators help the survival of our species, or are we fiddling around while the planet burns?
Three days before last Earth Day, the Sunday New York Times mag published a great article — “Why Isn’t the Brain Green?” by Jon Gertner — which focused on attempts to figure out why it’s so hard for us to get our brains around to recognizing and solving the major environmental challenges we are facing.
In our post-Obama election world, climate change (which is only a piece of the global eco disaster puzzle) is priority # 20 — at the bottom of the list. (It’ll probably move up with ocean levels.)
A group of scientists who study decision-making have been taking a look at how we might make decisions about the environment that will save us. They formed the Center for Research and Environmental Decisions, or CRED (beyond street cred … to planetary hero cred). They suggest that knowing how to make the right decisions is as important as the techno knowledge from the physical and biological sciences we need to make the necessary adjustments for survival.
According to the article, as of this past Earth Day, “98 percent of federal financing for climatechange research goes to the physical and natural sciences with the remainder apportioned to the social sciences.” (Hey! What about us filmmakers?) The CREDster scientists, however, say that knowing what to do requires that we know how to decide to do the right thing.
Their work so far suggests that by “framing” the issues (e.g. reaching out to evangelical audiences with “’moral Christian values" through an appeal possibly based on the divine instruction in Genesis 2:15 to "tend and till the garden”) and gently “nudging” people in the direction of actions that are clearly in our long-term interest we have our best shot at making the right decisions.
And yet, Elke Weber one of the scientists who formed CRED, has written that although "increasing personal evidence of global warming and its potentially devastating consequences can be counted on to be an extremely effective teacher and motivator … such lessons may arrive too late for corrective action.”
Can we help? No doubt about it. In addition to social, physical and biological scientists species survival will require filmmakers, artists and musicians.
A few years ago, I was asked to speak to at UC San Diego about using media to help scientists raise the awareness of environmental issues. At lunch, my host Mark Thiemans, dean of the Physical Ccience Department, told me that he had testified before Congress over 20 times to sound the alarm about climate change and felt like he was mute.
He pointed out all the Nobel Prize winners in science sitting around us and said they would all do whatever necessary to help with a film about climate change. I told him about "An Inconvenient Truth," then in the works, and he said he was glad to hear that there were filmmakers who could help give a voice to scientists struggling to make themselves heard (particularly and pathologically under the Bush Administration).
Yep, there’s a new administration in town — but we’ve got big trouble and time is short. Better seize the opportunity to tell our stories that will help frame and nudge our way to survival.
I think we writers, producers, directors, artists, musicians, poets, and studio execs are in the tradition of those ancient cave painters who honored the hunters and animals that provided food to the tribe.
There is life after box office and we can and will speak up to sustain it. It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom — take Pixar’s latest, "Up." Boffo box office and a sweet song of sustainability, in 3D no less. But more of that later …