Agosto 29, 2009

Stunts

In less than 24 hours I've read 2 articles, one in the Times and one a book review by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker, about people who do "stunts" in order to raise awareness or disseminate knowledge about climate change. It's a trend where various writers and activists and others do some symbolic act, like a Thoreau-esque thing such as living for a year without electricity, or an attention-getting feat like walking across the country, and hence get people to think about this stuff and pay attention in a different way.

Kolbert rightly points out that a lot of the motivation for this is that few people want to be clobbered with yet another doom-and-gloom scenario that makes them feel like they're bad people for driving or buying plastic bottles. As the New York Times article concludes of the folks Greta Browne meets on her cross-country climate walk,

In the end, Ms. Browne said, she thinks that most people are sympathetic and want to do something — just not too much. She was particularly discouraged by a woman who approached her after one church talk and said, “Oh, you are preaching to the choir. We already recycle.”

And so these environmentalists narrow the issue down to a challenge to themselves, which creates a drama and a personal narrative that we can follow. But how useful is it? Kolbert argues at the end of her piece that many of these stunts verge on the ridiculous and meaningless, and that a better use of time would be to work on lobbying governments for policy change.

In a way, I agree. There are many who are still in complete denial or ignorant disagreement about human-caused climate change, but they will stay that way no matter how many walkers-across-the-country they see on the roads or how many books they hear about in which the writer forswears some carbon-producing activity for some length of time. For the rest of us, we already know the score, and there are a small number who are already trying to change how we live in a significant way, and others who will never do the right thing because it's too big of a hassle for too little directly observable benefit.

However, even for people who are really changing the way they live their lives, is it really enough? In a way, almost all of us in this category are still just doing "stunts", aren't we? - whether it's eating out less, buying a Prius, biking to work, or re-using our shopping bags, is any of this going to be enough? Because the fact of the matter is, we're part of a huge system, and a simple, individual gesture to reduce MY participation in the system may be some small help, but actually pushing on the system to make it change is important too, perhaps much more important.

So when will the "stunts" end and the real action get going?

Posted by steev at 03:28 PM | Comments (2)

Agosto 24, 2009

Allegory vs. Action

BizazarroLast night I went to see District 9, the new semi-sleeper science fiction action film that movie industry wonks are salivating over for its relatively cheap budget and efficient production. I was both overwhelmed and underwhelmed.

In short, I really like the concept, and I enjoyed the first 20 minutes or so. But then, the film turned into a nerve-wracking, over-the-top action flick that had me clawing the upholstry off the armrests and wishing I'd brought some valium. It ramped up to a fever pitch to the point where for the last 40 minutes or so it was nonstop explosions, gunfire, bodies bursting into splashes of red goo, robots and aliens ripping things apart, and lots of screaming and yelling. Basically, it became pretty much just like every other Hollywood summer action blockbuster. Oh but it only cost $30 million to make! hurrah!

I went to see it because the premise was interesting. It was clearly an allegory about racism, xenophobia, and immigration, along with a healthy dose of criticism about privatization of public spheres, arms dealing, and multinational capitalist corporatism. But it went from biting social criticism to largely gratuitous and pointless ultra-violence. The story could have easily been told without 90% of the death and gore that was graphically displayed, singeing the eyeballs of viewers and inducing PTSD for days to come.

Can't a story be science fiction without also being a "thriller" or "horror"? Can't we just explore ideas without pumping ourselves full of adrenalin with guts and things blowing up?

I guess the secret bright side is this: all the teenagers and other immature moviegoers who actually LIKE that sort of crapola might also be encouraged by the film to think about some of the social issues it brings up. Like is it okay to treat differently people that don't look like us? Or is everyone entitled to basic decency? If middle-american dork-boys can be persuaded to feel that even the gnarly greenish insectoid creatures in the movie deserve to not be abused and oppressed, maybe that will be an important step forward for human rights.

Posted by steev at 01:56 PM | Comments (1)

Agosto 20, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of the Social Web

I feel like Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social networking has definitely sapped my energy and will to blog as much as I used to. These cyberplaces trick your mind into feeling like you've expressed yourself in a much more meaningful way than you really have. For people who never had a blog and couldn't be bothered to have one, much less don't partake in other forms of writing, The little "status update" blank might feel like a tremendously liberating opportunity to speak your mind to the world and/or your friends and/or your adoring fans. Just a little, open-ended text-box, telling you to blurt your barbaric yawp out, no matter what it is or how banal or profound it might be. Just keep it short or your friends' attention will wander to somewhere else, that other browser tab they have open or the rest of that youtube video about squirrels snuggling with cats.

Yes, in a sense it's a great development, encouraging people to communicate and start little conversations with friends and family at any time of the day, no matter how spread over the whole world they are.

But for me it tends to use up precious energy that I could have spent writing a blog post or even a private journal entry, in a more thoughtful, careful, creative and discerning way. It accelerates life even further, making one feel like you don't have the right to sit and slowly compose and extended text, that you should instead just say it now, fast, and move on.

Of course the blog entries don't have to be extended essays. Sometimes I catch myself thinking that's what I should be doing and if I can't then I shouldnt blog at all. I am going to endeavor to do less of that kind of thinking. A blog entry can be any length, and much more under my control than my facebook "wall".

I just spent a few minutes intending to find a relevant and entertainingly ironic photo that i might have on my flickr account that i could use to cleverly illustrate this blog entry. But in the process, i got distracted trying to decide if there was a browser tab I could close. I have about 15 open, some of which are pages i've been wanting to read for as long as 5 months ago but have never taken the time. Eventually i gave up and came back here. forget the picture.

This is enough.

Posted by steev at 10:52 AM | Comments (1)

Agosto 10, 2009

The Nutjobs, Xenophobes, and Racists Come Out of the Workwork

Last week a film critic in the Arizona Daily Star wrote about me for his weekly series of profiles on Tucson filmmakers. It was a nice little article, even though it contained many minor factual errors and creatively constructed "quotes" - this is normal for journalism, so I'm not upset about that, since none of the inaccuracies were serious or slanderous.

I've received several compliments and positive new contacts are being made as a result, but one unfortunate, though amusing, side-effect is a trickle of the usual, fanatically hateful anti-immigrant people who always explode into fits of spitting rage whenever anything about the border appears in the news and doesn't match their level of prejudiced right-wing fervor. Here're a few samples, cut-and-pasted verbatim for you amusement:


From: [email protected]
Subject: Tell the other side!
Date: August 10, 2009 12:01:57 AM CDT

THE ILLEGALS MAKING 300+ NEW PATHS THROUGH OUR BEAUTIFUL DESERT, TRAMPING DOWN THE FLORA, INSECTS, KILLING THE WILDLIFE, POLLUTING THE ENVIRONMENT WITH THEIR GARBAGE, FECES; COWS & OTHER ANIMALS EATING THE PLASTIC AND DYING HORRIBLE DEATHS, DEFECATING OUTSIDE AND ALL THE POLLUTION, DISEASE THAT BRINGS, NOT TO MENTION THE DISEASES THEY THEMSELVES CARRY, OR THE TERRORISTS THEY ALLOW TO SNEAK IN AMONGST THEM OR THE VIOLENT CRIMINALS AND CHILD MOLESTERS THAT ATTACK AMERICANS & OUR CHILDREN. ILLEGALS HAVE BEEN KNOWN TO CUT OFF A LIVE CALF'S LEG AND EAT IT WHILE THE BABY BLEEDS TO DEATH, THEY CAUSE THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS OF DAMAGE TO RANCHERS' TROUGHS, PIPES, ETC. YOU MAY WISH TO TELL HIM THAT THEY CAUSE MORE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS ANY DAY THAN THE BP - WHO ARE TRYING TO PROTECT THE PEOPLE OF THIS NATION!


The amazing thing is that these wackos take the time to somehow find an email address online for me but they can't take the time to properly use their Caps Lock key on their keyboard. Here's another that at least doesn't "yell" as much:

From: [email protected]
Subject: FOR STEEV HISE: About your article on some movie you are making about The Wall on our border!
Date: August 9, 2009 2:18:17 AM CDT

I live about an hour from the border. People in my state are being murdered every day by illegals. The rate of child molestation is unreal! Phoenix is now the kidnapping center of the country and AZ the car theft capitol of the world! All because of illegal aliens!And tons of illegals are involved in drugs and drug smuggling!

Your movie appears to be lop-sided. Perhaps you would like to interview my two friends whose children were murdered by illegal aliens from Mexico and tell them how you consider it more important for illegals to be able to sneak into our country and we should not be protecting ourselves. I worked for several years with illegal aliens and met murderers, rapists, child molesters (at least 16% to 80% sneaking through now were violent criminals before ever coming here). Perhaps you would like to speak to some mothers of children who were molested by illegals. Have you ever seen a cow die from eating plastic left by these illegals (and by the way, don't call them "immigrants" - my parents were immigrants and it is an insult to every person who has ever come here legally to use this respected word which has just ONE meaning in immigration law and that is for people who come legally - otherwise the correct immigration term is "illegal alien". Every person who is not an American citizen is an "alien" and you will never ever hear a legal ALIEN complain about being called one. Only those who wish to intimidate you into using the respected word so they can manipulate one's mind will try to change the conversation and the words one uses.
An immigrant waits on line for years, complying with the necessary things they go through (background checks, health checks) to protect Americans and themselves). The word must never be used for people who spit on our laws. They have trampled down hundreds of new paths, killing flora and small animals/insects in their way. I have heard it will take thousands of years for the desert to come back if ever. Also, a rancher friend of mine told me illegals will slaughter his cattle live to cut off a leg and eat it while the animals (usually a baby calf) will lie there bleeding to death. You are another misguided soul.Every time you hear of another illegal murdering, raping, molesting, robbing an American - know you have helped do this. You should be ashamed of yourself! The media is supposed to show an unbiased view, but then you don't seem to know what that means.


Well, I hope I don't have to wait "on line for years" downloading this kind of ludicrously inaccurate bull.

(Oh, and speaking of bull - maybe, if it were true about all the cattle dying because of undocumented migrants, this would be a great solution to the problem of ranching, which has been destroying the environment of the West for over a century. Can we get more of those evil, hungry "illegals" to come and eat the legs off our cows? Please? )

:-)

Posted by steev at 11:08 AM | Comments (1)