Magazine April 4, 2011, Issue

Ban Ki Moon and Stars

(Twentieth Century Fox)

You know what we need from Hollywood? More depressing movies about trendy causes, injected with plotlines designed to make you sad about driving your car and eating meat. So says the U.N., anyway: It wants Hollywood to make movies with global-warming plots. And instead of “U.N.,” perhaps we should say “the secretary general, angling to set up some meetings and get some autographs. For his kids, you understand.” Said the L.A. Times last month:

The beleaguered multi-national agency, fresh from a disappointing round of climate negotiations in Cancun, wants something more concrete: actual story lines in movies, television and social media drawing attention to the dangers of global warming.

The push comes at a time when public concern over climate change has plummeted in the polls and Congress has rejected federal legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“Usually I speak to prime ministers and presidents, but that has its limits,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who arrived in Los Angeles . . . for a high-profile outreach effort. “Movie producers, directors, actors — they have global reach.”

Well, so do the plague and the jet stream, but that doesn’t mean we want them to tell us how to live, either. The only way you’ll get a “story line” about climate change in “social media” is if Charlie Sheen changes his tagline from “#winning” to “#warming,” and even then people will think he dropped a cigarette and set his pants on fire.

As for movies and TV: Make all your products with natural light and hand-cranked cameras. Better yet: Stop making movies. They consume tremendous amounts of resources, and we don’t mean the catering bill for a Michael Moore documentary. The sets to build. The location shoots. The flights to Cannes. All those metal statuettes produced by industrial activity. A pat on the back would do, and it’s sustainable! Then there’s the cost of heating and cooling the theaters themselves, the electricity needed to project the movies, the ruinous consequences of factory farms that produce the pig snouts for the hotdogs, the effect on the ethanol industry of diverting precious renewables to something as non-essential as popcorn, the petroleum byproducts generated by the manufacture of popcorn topping. Gaia would be happier if Hollywood just e-mailed everyone the script, and we could all read it out loud at home.

On the other hand: What is Ban Ki Moon talking about? Hollywood has never been shy to use the Jaws of Life to crack open a plot and stuff it with trendy miseries. The Seventies were famous for wrist-slitting dystopias, usually based on the twin fears of pollution and overpopulation. Silent Running concerned some spaceships parked off Jupiter with the last of the planet’s trees and shrubs, tended over by a goggle-eyed agronomist (Bruce Dern). When the order was given to blow up the trees — with nuclear weapons! you fiends! — and bring the ships back home, he killed the crew and puttered around the forest in a holy-hippie robe with Joan Baez on the soundtrack until all the plants got sad and died. This movie was directly responsible for the creation of the EPA, some say; Nixon wept.

Actually, no. It had no more effect than Planet of the Apes had on the START treaty. Speaking of Charlton Heston, his classic Soylent Green featured a world in which mankind survived by eating minced remains of the recent dead, presumably with flavorings to mask the taste of Uncle Eddie. Movies like this had an effect, all right: They made people want to see something like Star Wars, please, just the way Woodstock made some grumble that the draft needed a whoooole lot fewer deferments, if you get my drift.

So what kind of movies do they want? Inconvenient Truth: Sustainably Generated Electric Boogaloo? A remake of South Pacific where everyone’s up to their knees in the drink because the island’s submerged? Don’t think you’ll get an updated version of The China Syndrome in which a minor reactor incident is solved in twelve minutes by well-trained technicians but the director of the reactor locks himself in the control room and demands the media let him give a stirring, impassioned plea on behalf of modern technology.

Yeah, call that one The Nippon Syndrome, you say. You do? Man, you’re reading the wrong magazine. Anyway, the Japanese situation would make for a gripping movie, if told with respect for the facts. But no. We’ll get something earnest and pedantic, or another big-budget slab of dramatic imbecility like The Day After Tomorrow or Waterworld. Or another deadpan alien warning us about our wicked, wicked eco-sins (The Day the Earth Stood Still). Or another movie about how deforestation leads to vicious attacks on mankind by animals deprived of their food (Yogi Bear).

The Japanese tragedy underscored an ancient fact: The very earth we’re trying to save with hemp shopping bags and bird-mincing windmills can kill us wholesale with a shrug. Altering the behavior of such a beast with electric cars and curly light bulbs is a daunting task. But Hollywood can stir the conscience of the world now and then. In five years a brilliant, haunting film will depict the sufferings of the Libyan people, how they waited for help that never came. It’ll probably be a foreign movie. Unless Angelina gets attached to the project.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

From TV Star to Twitter Twit

Assemble any group of entertainment-industry executives — doesn’t matter who or how many — and eventually the conversation turns to the Internet. The value of any entertainment product — television show, ...

Features

Politics & Policy

Not Enough Money

‘To economists reading this essay in 2010, perhaps the most remarkable single fact to note about monetary policy at the end of the interwar period” — the author, Columbia University ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Border Control

The makers of alien-invasion movies tend to have a low opinion of human military prowess. Sometimes the space invaders are so completely invincible that our only options are to heed ...
City Desk

Distant Harmonies

The concert hall at the museum is folded into its Egyptian wing. To reach it you must pass huge stone cats and bas-reliefs of peasants harvesting and fishing. Maimed statues ...

Sections

Politics & Policy

Letters

How Efficient Is High-Speed Rail? I am disappointed that National Review has again (in “The Week,” March 7) dismissed high-speed rail as a “niche market” item. And, although the statistics in ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ At least we agree: We wish he were president of China too. ‐ “Thou turnest man to destruction. . . . Thou carriest them away as with a flood.” The ...
The Bent Pin

Pagan Jane

I am just now recovering from my annual battle of the clashing outlooks. It takes place around my birthday, which, by a sardonic twist of Fate, falls in the same ...
The Long View

TO: All Remaining NPR Employees

TO: All Remaining NPR Employees FROM: Public Relations and Community Outreach IN RE: A Teachable Moment Dear Remaining Employees: As you all know, it’s been a very trying few weeks for those of us ...
Athwart

Ban Ki Moon and Stars

You know what we need from Hollywood? More depressing movies about trendy causes, injected with plotlines designed to make you sad about driving your car and eating meat. So says ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

LAMENT The mole was dead upon the ground; He did not move when he was poked. His coat was sleek, his body round,      His life revoked. His parts seemed not to coincide: His hands were stuck ...
Happy Warrior

Earthquake Demographic

‘Why is there no looting in Japan?” wondered a headline in the Daily Telegraph. So did a lot of other folks. Various answers were posited: The Japanese are a highly civilized people ...

Most Popular

Elections

On Kamala Harris

Joe Biden has named his 2020 running mate: authoritarianism. American prosecutors wield awesome and terrible powers that lend themselves easily to abuse, and Senator Kamala Harris, formerly the attorney general of California, is an enthusiastic abuser of them. Harris was a leader in the junta of Democratic ... Read More
Elections

On Kamala Harris

Joe Biden has named his 2020 running mate: authoritarianism. American prosecutors wield awesome and terrible powers that lend themselves easily to abuse, and Senator Kamala Harris, formerly the attorney general of California, is an enthusiastic abuser of them. Harris was a leader in the junta of Democratic ... Read More
Elections

Kamala Harris’s Anti-Catholic Bigotry

Someone might want to remind Joe Biden, who’s just picked progressive California senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, that his vice-president-to-be believes Catholics are unfit to serve in our nation’s courts. (Biden, of course, as I considered at length on the homepage today, has spent his entire ... Read More
Elections

Kamala Harris’s Anti-Catholic Bigotry

Someone might want to remind Joe Biden, who’s just picked progressive California senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, that his vice-president-to-be believes Catholics are unfit to serve in our nation’s courts. (Biden, of course, as I considered at length on the homepage today, has spent his entire ... Read More
Elections

Wait, Joe Biden Picked That Kamala Harris?

Kamala Harris? Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris? Out of all of Biden's options, he chose the rival whose presidential campaign is best remembered for her attack on him, contending he opposed busing? The rival who said the way he described his relationship with old segregationists was “hurtful”! The woman ... Read More
Elections

Wait, Joe Biden Picked That Kamala Harris?

Kamala Harris? Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris? Out of all of Biden's options, he chose the rival whose presidential campaign is best remembered for her attack on him, contending he opposed busing? The rival who said the way he described his relationship with old segregationists was “hurtful”! The woman ... Read More
U.S.

Bloc Heads

Welcome to The Tuesday, a cheery little weekly newsletter about the existential despair Irving Kristol indicated when he noted that Western civilization is collapsing “but it’ll take a long time, and, meanwhile, it’s still possible to live well.” The Bloc Party Right-leaning writers hawking books about ... Read More
U.S.

Bloc Heads

Welcome to The Tuesday, a cheery little weekly newsletter about the existential despair Irving Kristol indicated when he noted that Western civilization is collapsing “but it’ll take a long time, and, meanwhile, it’s still possible to live well.” The Bloc Party Right-leaning writers hawking books about ... Read More
Elections

Where’s Biden?

On the menu today: A long look at Joe Biden, how little he appears in his campaign’s videos, and what we can determine about whether he’s as mentally sharp as he used to be; a new report from NBC News leaves some key facts out; and New York media are asking tougher questions about the accuracy of the death ... Read More
Elections

Where’s Biden?

On the menu today: A long look at Joe Biden, how little he appears in his campaign’s videos, and what we can determine about whether he’s as mentally sharp as he used to be; a new report from NBC News leaves some key facts out; and New York media are asking tougher questions about the accuracy of the death ... Read More