Hey BP: This One’s For the Birds
FYI: there are no dead animal pictures in this post, because I can’t bear to look at them long enough to post them. Since news of the BP spill — if you can call something gushing at 12000 psi a “spill” — my entire media experience has been organized with the sole purpose of avoiding images of animals soaked in oil. I know the facts; I’m aware of the politics. I don’t need to see a pelican glazed with toxic waste to confirm or animate my desire to change the policies that allowed this to happen.
This morning, my carefully-constructed blockade was breached by a friend’s Facebook link to these pictures. There it was: the sight I’d tried to hard to avoid, and from which I needed ten minutes hugging my confused but willing dog to recover. Now I can’t help wondering why it is that I (and many others) find ourselves entranced by pictures of dying people, but break like Dylan’s little girls when we see animals in pain. Why do I dismiss the visual rhetoric of anti-abortion protesters, but become a politically-motivated puddle when faced with the image of a polar bear swimming to nowhere?
The really sad thing? I’m not alone. The powerful stories of fishermen and other coastal workers who have lost their livelihoods will fade in the face of wordless narratives like this one (beware — it’s heartbreaking). Some may argue that the end justifies the means; it’s more important to act than to judge our inspirations for doing so. There’s a great moment in one of my favorite films (Whit Stillman, where ARE you?) in which a character explains that the environmental movement was a response to Disney’s Bambi, which positioned huntin’, shootin’, fire-startin’ Man as the Bad Guy and Nature as Damsel in Distress. Now it’s Tony Hayward vs. dying herons (see above). What the hell is wrong with us, that we need to see Sweet Creature Snuff Films to convince us to change our ways?
But the truth is that all the suffering birds and deer mommies in the world could get together and perform a Vocal Adrenaline-style musical number called “Please Don’t Kill Us, Nice People” and we’d watch and cry and clap and forget, just like we forgot Exxon Valdez. Check out this blessedly Palin-free site commemorating the 20th anniversary of that spill, and chronicling its lingering effects. LINGERING EFFECTS, PEOPLE! TWENTY YEARS LATER! And this one isn’t even over yet! DO YOU HEAR ME?
You probably don’t. Hollis Robbins co-authored “Network News Coverage of Environmental Risk: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill” with former EPA expert Lisa Lubick while a graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School; they argued that media coverage of the spill focused on “oily animals” because “it was too hard to tell stories about the facts of environmental risk — risks we ignore at our peril.” Today, watching the same scenarios unfold, Robbins wrote to me: “I think oily birds do more harm than good. Just as we don’t want to use products made by oppressed labor, real action should involve not just emotionally watching Al Gore movies but also really looking rationally at the production stream of every tank of gas and every bag of arugula.”
So while you’re busy looking at unnaturally glossy waterfowl, and confusing compassion for political action, I’ll be over here, not looking at pictures, wondering who’s with me for a march on Washington.
Image by Fuseman
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