Screenwriters only need to look to climate news for the plots of new thrillers.
Photo Courtesy of Fandango
Is Climate Change Entertainment?
By Miranda Bryson December 10, 2017
In the 1958 science-fiction classic, The Blob, an alien from outer space terrorizes the small Pennsylvanian community of Downingtown as it consumes and dissolves its residents and infrastructure by absorbing them into its amoeba-like form. After discovering the Blob can be stopped by being frozen, the Air Force transports the Blob to the Arctic where it can be held prisoner in the icy environment. The film ends with main character, Steve Andrews, noting that the Blob has been stopped, “as long as the Arctic stays cold.” Unfortunately, the Arctic has not remained cold and the Blob has been unleashed.
In 2013, scientists discovered a large mass of abnormally warm water in the Pacific Ocean they appropriately named “the Blob.” The Blob amassed through rising ocean temperatures and disrupted currents and has led to mass deaths of many aquatic species. The cod population in the Alaskan Gulf has been hit especially hard by this nutrient deficient mass. According to Steve Barbeaux, a federal fisheries biologist, the population is not just being affected by the reduced food supply in the area. Given these higher temperatures, the cod have been forced to expend more energy for smaller physical output. This is especially pertinent to the future of this species, as young cod are less likely to withstand this increasing demand.
However, it is not just cod that are being attacked by this alien threat. The entire ecosystem off the Western US coast has been dramatically destabilized by the Blob. Toxic blooms of algae, persisting months beyond their average week-long span, shut down the entire crab industry of California for months. Over 20 Southern species have migrated north en masse. Over 3,000 sea lion pups were abandoned on the coast of California by mothers that could not find the proper nutrients to take care of them. 100,000 blue-footed Cassin’s auklet carcasses washed ashore after they starved to death from lack of nutrients.
The Blob isn’t the only film to mirror these phenomena. The aforementioned toxic blooms served as inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Hitchcock based this film on an incident occurring in California where, after ingesting toxic algae that produces seizures and frenzy, thousands of birds flew into Monterey Bay and dropped dead onto the streets. Hitchcock is not alone in his fascination with mysterious events of nature. Recently, the genre of climate fiction, known as cli-fi, burst onto the scene as many authors began using the effects of climate change as backdrops for their dystopian worlds. While it is easy to view the mention of climate change in popular entertainment as a great medium to grant awareness, the depiction of climate change by the media and entertainment industry does not provide an effective, appropriate or just representation.
One of the most recent cli-fi films to hit the silver screen is Geostorm. The movie tells the story of a scientist challenged with saving the planet by fixing satellites that control the Earth’s climate. Katharina Wecker of Deutsche Welle highlights two important issues with the film’s impact on environmental activism: scientific accuracy and the intentions of storytelling. Wecker notes that lack of scientific accuracy jeopardizes credibility. This over-dramatization places the very idea of climate change into the realm of fantasy and isolates the viewer from its reality. Furthermore, by scaling the effects of climate change out of the realm of human control, the audience does not feel empowered to take real action. Ed Maibach, of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, argues that for these films to be effective in raising awareness, they should, "convince people they can make a difference, make them feel powerful.” Instead, however, most films of the cli-fi genre continue to be plagued by outlandish fabrications that secure climate change as fantasy.
These flaws can be traced back to the media industry and its failure to properly cover the threat of climate change. As the media focuses on delivering what’s most popular and controversial, much of its attention recently has been devoted to President Trump and his administration. Climate change gained news coverage in June of 2017 when Trump announced that the US would be abandoning the Paris Climate agreement. The last time climate change had received such coverage was in 2009, when President Obama participated in the Copenhagen climate talks. Jenni Monet, an environmental journalist and documentary filmmaker, explains that, “environmental journalism [is] more about the drama of the players involved and less about the actual discussion of the planet.” Instead of covering personal stories about the effects of climate change that can and/or will affect the general public, the news media, much like the entertainment industry, jettisons the reality of climate change in exchange for sensationalism.
With the growing effects of climate change, it will be hard to discuss the issue with regards to global political players solely. The 2017 hurricane season has proven that the threat of climate change is not exclusively a political point or the background of a dystopian film series. As the Earth is rocked by the destabilizing force of climate change, the media and entertainment industry will have to adapt to properly discussing the state of reality as the Earth’s population will have to adapt to the destruction of their ecosystem.
Al Jazeera. “How Are the Media Covering the Climate Change Threat?” Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 15 Nov. 2017, www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2017/11/media-covering-climate-change-threat-171111125020532.html.
Bernton, Hal. “Climate Change Preview? Pacific Ocean 'Blob' Appears to Take Toll on Alaska Cod.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 4 Nov. 2017, www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/climate-change-preview-pacific-ocean-blob-appears-to-take-toll-on-alaska-cod/.
Cooke, Sonia van Gilder. “Scientists Solve Mystery That Inspired Hitchcock’s The Birds.” Time, Time, 29 Dec. 2011, newsfeed.time.com/2011/12/29/scientists-solve-mystery-that-inspired-hitchcocks-the-birds/.
Katarina Wecker. “Hollywood to the Rescue: Can Pop Culture Fight Climate Change?”dw.com, Deutsch Welle, 20 Oct. 2017, www.dw.com/en/hollywood-to-the-rescue-can-pop-culture-fight-climate-change/a-40847372.
Nicklen, Paul. “The Blob That Cooked the Pacific.” National Geographic, National Geographic, 9 Aug. 2016, www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/09/warm-water-pacific-coast-algae-nino/.
“The Blob (1958).” IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/title/tt0051418/?ref_=ttqt_qt_tt.
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