Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Age of Stupid -- Must See Movie (at home, or community viewing!)

It Takes Just the Right Amount of Stupidity to Sink the Titanic (in this case, Earth)–

The Film, The Age of Stupid, Should Be on Everyone’s Netflix List

By Paul K. Haeder

One has to laugh at the film reviews of the clear, far-ranging and focused climate change “documentary,” The Age of Stupid, because, A, most put it down or take issue with it on some very bizarre levels, and, B, some even compare it negatively to “An Inconvenient Truth” (not a movie, just a Power Point, and, really, nonsense, a lecture, and with Gore, to boot) as if that film is the litmus test for all climate change films.

These armchair critics are, well, just showing their own colors -- that we are in an age of stupidity. Their critiques are based largely on the movie creating too much doom and gloom, which is a good jumping off point to illustrate certain parallel axioms to the actual term “age of stupid,” coined by one of the film’s subject, an oil scientist, lauding Shell for great environmental work but lamenting our consumer drenched society.

These coined axioms are apropos for both movie shills and our general population:

age of fear
age of messaging
age of posturing
age of blogging
age of self-importance
age of rationalization
age of cynicism
age of infantilism
age of self-aggrandizement
age of I-can-think-of-better-things than you can write, do, film, make, exhibit, create

This film, premiering in February 2009, is really elegant in its scrappy feel and doomsayer elegance. We get under the skin of six main real characters’ narratives. One big issue movie reviewers have this polemic is it wields too much stick and not enough carrot. Wow. Terrible.

Franny Armstrong created a sci-fi multilevel documentary, with strong (FIVE) narratives that allow for the common climate change delayer or denier to be waylaid by the reality of climate change and rising oceans. The fact is less than one percent of scientists polled do not believe the earth is currently in a climate (warming up) change model whereas 60 percent of the American public denies climate is even happening. From that point of view, this movie is a must-see.

You don’t need “An Inconvenient Truth” or “The Eleventh Hour” to grasp the urgency of Franny’s film.

Add to that, prescient actions have been precipitated from this movie. One example is the President of the Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed, announced by a special video feed that his country would be the first to go carbon neutral – by 2019. That announcement took place at the UK premiere of the movie March 15, 2009

If you do a Metacrawler.com search of Nasheed or “Maldives carbon neutral,” you’ll find plenty on his courageous acts to save his island nation from global warming-precipitated ocean rising, also called inundation or island extinction. Nasheed, a former jailed journalist and activist against previous dictatorial governments in his country, has written about his nation’s ocean rising plight in the Huffington Post, and even the New York Times has written a six-page feature on his political force and environmental urgency.

Check it out:



The film is set in 2055, with one last guy standing, an archivist in a sci-fi modeled multi-story vault in the middle of a world of oceans 60 feet higher than they are at today. The archive is the repository of “all” the “great” art and archaeological and library works of the world, both physical evidence of culture and in digital form.

That’s Pete Postlethwaite as our narrator-archivist, his famed wrinkle-strewn face looking at a high-tech computer, the screen being us, the audience, as he goes through various stories from 2005-through 2008, which are the years starting the true age of stupid.

Real stories are brought up on the screen as the archivist laments our age, now, and how we just failed to act, to move, to see the importance of stopping fossil fuel burning and rampant consumption. The solutions are at our fingertips, in 2005, fifty years before his transmission bolts into space taking with it all the evidence of our self-destructing societies’ practices.

There’s an oil worker – a scientist -- in New Orleans defending “big oil” but lamenting the catastrophe of this super-charged hurricane Katrina, which destroyed one of his homes. All the while, he defends Shell and contends how green and great the company.

Then we see a family whose father-husband is a wind turbine developer in the UK facing homeowners fighting the turbines’ negative effects on their sense of view shed aesthetics.

A young woman in Nigeria is shown wanting to be a doctor, wanting to do good for her community, and wanting the American dream of a good life and fame. She washes fish caught in rivers with laundry soap to “clean” them of the oil muck Shell spreads in the waterways as a byproduct of their drilling operation.

Then there’s an octogenarian in the French Alps who takes the Brit wind farm developer and his family on a hike, demonstrating the dramatic glacier melt he’s seen as a mountaineer for over 65 years. He’s fighting endless streams of truck traffic coming into his community and a proposal to double the tunnel capacity.

Then, a brother and sister, climate refugees, so to speak (envirogees) are shown living in Jordan but wanting to return to their native Iraq; the 12-year-old boy vows to kill Americans for killing his father over a war for oil.

We see one of India’s finest capitalists, a thirty-something multi-millionaire who is starting up an Mumbai-based airline he hopes will fly every Indian anywhere they want to go.

This film ties in many aspects of our consumer-driven society, and shows how fragile our culture is with leaders and community groups whose thinking is far from systems oriented, or holistic, necessary traits to get through the climate change mess.

The precautionary principle and carrying capacity as a concept are many times thrown out the window. The age of stupid is now.

There’s humor, to be sure, in this film, but the stick is way bigger than the carrot, so blogs like Treehugger get pissed off when confronted with this generally urgent (negative) and scientifically real (apocalyptic) message.

Look, Jeh Wadia, the Mumbai capitalist depicted in the film, believes he is doing good by helping the Indian economy with a low cost airline. He hates the train system. to his credit, he realizes the carbon footprint of one private jet trip (he makes dozens a year), and knows the cost of that single trip would pay for a nice school house or water treatment plant in a small Indian village.

The age of contradictions.

That’s the age of stupid. He believes the jet setting somehow will lift 1 billion people out of poverty. He’s steeled to make a go of his start up airline. The film then juxtaposes Piers Guy’s uphill struggle as a self-aware wind farm developer, as he and his wife calculated their carbon footprint.

In one fell swoop, they calculate that one airline trip with their four kids will blow their entire carbon footprint reserve for the entire year.

Piers Guy in the film faces an irate community activist group in Bedfordshire opposed to 8 (downsized from 19) wind turbines on an abandoned World War Two airfield, near a high octane drag racing strip.

Potential lower property values is their rationale for opposing clean energy.
Franny’s climate advisor, Mark Lynas, is also depicted in the film. He’s the author of “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet,” and in the film he warns of a real tipping point around 2015 if the world doesn’t act now to reduce carbon emissions. Once global temperatures warm more than two degrees, he and thousands of other scientists say, all will be lost.
Albedo effect. Lag time. Feedback loops. Failing crops. Drying up watersheds. The list goes on and on.

Is this film too negative? Come one, it isn’t and it should be a wake up call. An Inconvenient Truth was and still is a slick lite polemic. The Age of Stupid is scrappy, and the message is clear: We as a species weren’t important enough to save.

The value of the film is that these narratives and the funny cartoons about London being under water, Las Vegas inundated in sand and Sydney burning are pointing to the fact our age is so grafted to a love of and worship in capitalism.

The Age of Stupid shows not only under-developed countries are failing to provide great education and social service safety nets for their citizens, but we living in the most powerful military-dominated country are turning into a “third world” country education wise.

We have those technologies to get off carbon burning. We have planners and designers and community activists and a legion of armies ready to reshape the world into one of social grace and justice.

Maybe the Age of Stupid needs a sequel, or prequel, one depicting the “age of cow-towing” and “the story of too much stuff.” More and more, everyday people are speaking out against the current state of the American mind.

The questions are real: Why aren’t people on the streets protesting the give-away to Wall Street? How can a judge in Louisiana counter a federal ban on deepwater drilling? How can politicians spend $40 million on two-bit congressional races and not blink without the citizens taking over the streets? How can we let non-scientists say 400 million gallons of crude and Corectix are somehow miraculously disappeared, gone, in the Gulf of Mexico?

Films are funny things. They are mostly flash in the pans in an age of hyper-film making and endless film distribution. One film I have most recently been associated with, Gulf Coast Blues – Oil in Our Veins, is powerful. It’s had two premieres as part of Sustainable September, but there wasn’t a rush of greenies high-fiving or hugging Marc Gauthier, the filmmaker, for his vision and his risks.

Where does Gauthier go now? He wants to go on the road, do some face-to-face time with college faculty, students and decision makers to try and get his film “out there.”

If I didn’t have all these projects, writing engagements and community college classes to teach, hell, I’d have thrown in as a publicist and dramaturge and get this film looked at, reviewed, and used a rallying cry to fight BP.

You know the British Petroleum I speak of:

The BP of marketing fame which is spending $120 million to lie about the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The BP which was allowed to call the shots on the largest environmental crime in this country. The same BP which is writing California’s K-12 science curriculum. You know the BP – the company that helped the CIA in 1953 overthrow Iran’s popular prime minister.

What is the true half-life of these movies like the academy award winning, The Cove? Or what really is the impact of Bill McKibben and college students approaching Barak Obama last Friday with one of the original Jimmy Carter White House solar panels? What is the impact of McKibben being turned down after asking Obama to reinstall it?

Those solar panels, ripped out by Ronald Reagan, have been generating clean energy at Unity College in Maine.

The Age of Stupid is hinting at this current Age of Messaging, this Age of Political Expediency, this odd Age of False Dichotomies, the Age of False Balancing. Who sees this action (lack thereof) of not taking a 40-year-old functioning photovoltaic panel as stupid? The president is a supposedly well educated Ivy League debater?

How many Obama handlers and pencil-necked Beltway Bozos had a hand in thwarting this symbolic and teachable moment?

Unfortunately, the movie, “The Age of Stupid,” is old news, having had its premieres and splashy (mostly critical) headlines more than a year ago. However, every single day, the stupidity, timidity and confusion of our age are bankrupting this planet’s carrying capacity.

This is the Age of Stupid, to be sure.

Will Gulf Coast Blues get into the veins of people as Marc Gauthier takes this shoe-string budget movie on the road (Franny Armstrong’s “The Age of Stupid” has been dubbed low budget as well – she brought in Shakespearean heavyweight Postelthwaite to dress it up)?

What will the long-term effects be on viewers of Gauthier’s film about his own personal odyssey as a wildlife biologist and now citizen journalist?

When will we go back to the future -- the Age of Reason?


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