Archive for November, 2009

Good behaviour

Posted in Uncategorized on November 19th, 2009 by admin – Be the first to comment

Charles Dickens, as described in Benjamin Hoff’s Te of Piglet, witnessed first-hand the horrendous nature of children’s homes in England. Rather than putting pen to paper in a polemical fashion, he wrote a novel in which the conditions he had found so shocking were detailed in dramatic fashion, and which had an optimistic ending. The result was a popular book which led to the reform of children’s homes.
Around one hundred years later, in the context of a bewildering array of communications techniques applied to the problem of the environment, sustainability and climate change, the film WALL-E emerged. Using charm and humour, the movie gently introduces essential themes of waste, environmental devastation and the atrophying of human bodies, ambition and emotions. What is most to be admired is the total absence of sanctimony and indeed guilt-inducing messaging of any kind. That machines take on the role of re-teaching humanity about love and value is a wonderful device, just as the ease with which it is awakened in a barely sentient race is reassuring.

A slightly less subtle approach, although which still manages to retain a degree of innocent playfulness, can be found in the antics of two activists operating under the banner of ‘everything is ok’. Theirs is variety of ‘subversive positivism’, as the American branch describe it, where the absurdities of modern life, and unthinking consumerism, are shown up in all their incoherent glory merely by the stating out loud of their principles, albeit in a highly parodied form. Thus shoppers are urged through a megaphone to hurry along with their shopping, to consume as much as possible, to get on with their work and to carry on subscribing to the unhealthy imperatives of capitalist society. The duo manage to bring humour to their public appearances, remaining by a whisker on the right side of causing offence and, for the most part, avoiding arrest. When detention at the pleasure of the force does come, the charges come across as nebulous and unreasonable.

The approach of the ‘everything is ok’ group has a certain resonance with the band Radiohead, particularly in their computer-spoken word track ‘Fitter Happier’ from the OK Computer album more than ten years ago. Radiohead produced a stream of consciousness which detailed a life clearly meant to be a middle-of-the-road nightmare, an existence determined by utter failure of the imagination, limited ambition, rat-race day to day living and manufactured dreams. The monotony of every life is a reoccurring theme in the work of Radiohead, particularly at that time, as they set out to expose our modern lives with a lightness of touch which doesn’t turn us away, even as we identify elements of ourselves in their critiques.

All these approaches have a tangential approach to them, as they tread the thin line between making us shy away as we are uncomfortably made to face our own contradictory natures, and endearing themselves to us as we feel resonances with our own rebelliousness. More importantly, and in particular with Dickens and WALL-E, it is possible to reach audiences that would generally be hostile or deaf to the arguments behinds the scenes. As anyone knows who has taken on board issues of environmentally damaging practices, the unsustainable nature of modern life and the dangers of climate change, the challenge of influencing the behaviour of others – even ourselves – and generally communicating the issues without being counterproductive is as difficult a task as it is important.

the trillion dollar challenge

Posted in Uncategorized on November 11th, 2009 by admin – Be the first to comment

Carbon-counting obsessive behaviour crashes to an adrenaline-soaked conclusion in what amounts to a doomsday clock for humanity. With admirably few words, the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics have used a short series of panic-inducing counters to indicate the imminent collapse of the world as we know it with their trillionth tonne counter. As average global temperatures soar and carbon concentrations in the atmosphere rise ever higher, humankind squirms and wriggles with the uncomfortable notion of a dramatic reconfiguration of life on earth. To clearly present the hoary truth and initiate change is the mission of the age. To demonstrate that the changes can be positive, and that we could all be better off than ever before, is the trillion dollar challenge.
(Blog appeared first, in a shortened version, here.)