Last year I had the honor to contribute “Practicing Sustainable Youth Media” to an essay collection edited by JoEllen FisherKeller, International Perspectives on Youth Media (Mediated Youth). One of her graduate students put together this fun video based on the book, which combines hip hop and media theory. It may be the first of its kind! Enjoy!
The above “Remove Your Footprint” video is from the fictional world depicted in Glenn Beck’s new dystopian novel, Agenda 21. The book’s title refers to an existing non-binding guideline created by the UN that outlines planning methods for sustainable development. This imaginary propaganda video is made by a future UN-controlled one-world government that looks uncannily like Soviet Russia. This hints at Beck’s demographic–try to guess the age of people who remember the bad-old days of the USSR. Unfortunately, Beck’s fear-mongering–which I’d like to believe is ineffectual and irrelevant–impacts something I care deeply about: climate change mitigation. Anyone monitoring the state of our global climate knows that without collective action and planned decoupling from the fossil fuel economy, civilization as we know it will cease to exist within a century. Under such a scenario Beck’s dystopia won’t even be possible.
This hypothetical propaganda video from the UN’s Division for Sustainable Development associates “healing the planet” with eradicating humans as if they are a planetary disease. It depicts a particular fear and misperception at the heart of Beck’ anthropocentric worldview. He equates concern for the environment as anti-human. This is the opposite of what most ecologists believe. While it is true that some environmentalists are anti-human/anti-civilization (I know this from direct experience), most care deeply about humanity. As an ecocentric parent, my empathy extends to ecosystems, animals, plants and fellow humans. It’s not one or the other.
As for Beck’s vision, however, it is certainly one or the other, which makes no sense on a practical level. Since humans are organisms that depend on fresh air, water and food to survive, I’m not sure how Beck’s vision of freedom ensures healthy ecosystems so that our liberties may be enjoyed. But if you spend anytime peering beyond Beck’s carefully cultivated media empire, you quickly see that he is no more than an irrational conspiranoid that has somehow amplified his worldview beyond that of a ranting psychitzophrenic on skid row. Without media literacy, many will fall for the trappings of serious journalism that Beck dresses his hallucinations with (again, I know from direct experience that it works on some people). Even worse, some will likely believe the “Remove Your Footprint” video is actually real.
Beck is no Orwell or Huxley, both of whom were deeply empathetic authors that cared more about humanity than for corporations. Their visions were based on empirical observations of the world and were by no means hawking conspiracy theories as political agendas. Heck, Beck didn’t even write the book. He just bought the rights to put his name on it. Which just about says everything about the literary qualifications of his anti-environmental stance.
[video link] An unsustainable petrol-utopia. Peak oil anyone?
If Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” was the 19th century’s zeitgeist moment, what would it look like in the 21st century? Rather than a wretched soul who knows his life has been fracked, it would look more like Bill Murray’s Prozac gaze at the end of Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers. Or any lead character in a Sofia Coppola film. Which is to say, pop culture’s 21st century scream is more or less a yawn.
Along these lines, in A Hologram for the King we have Dave Egger‘s deflated corporate man. The novel zooms in on globalization’s spiritual vagabonds, focusing on a troubled fifty-something Reliant salesman, Alan Clay, whose path to redemption is pitching a holographic communications system to the Saudi King. Like an updated version of Waiting for Godot, while anticipating the King’s audience Clay and his team are stuck in the liminal zone of the yet-to-be-developed King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC, the Middle East’s future Plastic Valley, see above video). The King and his associates have little interest in keeping appointments with the Reliant team, so Clay and his Gen Y staff spend their days in the speculative economy’s version of a bardo state, camped out in the middle of the unbuilt city’s grid in an inhospitable desert where the map has no territory.
To kill boredom, Clay journeys through the surreal landscape of Saudi Arabia that is simultaneously tribal and caught-up in a hightech realm where a loss of wi-fi can bring on a catastrophic crisis in consciousness (“This is the peculiar problem of constant connectivity: any silence of more than a few hours provokes apocalyptic thoughts”). Throughout the novel Clay teeters on personal disaster, a walking emotional implosion that is more likely to disintegrate than blow-up. Drifting in the Kafkaesque KAEC, Clay’s current role of hawking holograms is contrasted by reminiscences of his glory days as a Schwin bicycle salesman. In the world of global trade, holograms–illusions–trump hand-made American bicycles–freedom. The old ways are made extinct by overseas manufacturing and the information economy.
China is an implicated villain in the story, but Clay is not innocent. He was complicit in the demise of his beloved Schwin by his own participation in offshoring American jobs. Ultimately, Clay’s whole crisis is about outsourcing life to economic abastractions. The hologram becomes yet another entry point into the disembodied world economy.
The book’s uber-consciousness speaks through a skyscraper architect who decries the lack of American ambition and imagination in favor of globalization’s pop-up cities: “in the U.S. now there’s not that kind of dreaming happening. It’s on hold. The dreaming’s being done elsewhere for now.” Though Clay’s existential crisis is brought on by the sugar rush of the petrol economy, his story can also be read as an update of earlier 20th century French writers who were grappling with the bureaucratization of humanity. As if lifted from the pages of Camus’ The Stranger, Eggers’ Clay “wanted the simplicity of being who he was: no one.”
If anything, this wonderful book offers a humanistic counterpoint to a world in which the technological singularity would reign supreme. In such a world, like space, no one can hear you scream. Instead, what drives the book is the tension Clay feels between the yawn of the 21st century and his caterpillar-like state awaiting transformation. You’ll have to read it to see if he becomes a butterfly.
I’m really bad at marketing and self-promotion. In fact, it’s embarrassing to write this post. Unfortunately, it largely falls upon me to get the word out for my new book, The Media Ecosystem. I’m hoping that you can help promote it through your own personal networks, but most importantly the publisher tells me that one of the key things people can do is to rate it and write a short review on Amazon.
If you’re not too busy and have a few minutes, could you please go over to Amazon and write up a short review? It has to be at least 20 words. Here is the link to the book’s Amazon page.
Thanks in advance for your moral support and kind words. Hard to believe, but promotion is actually harder than actually writing a book.
OR Book’s Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution looks like a fantastic resource. A quick scan of the book’s contents reveals an excellent mix of theory, case studies and practical tips from a variety of innovators and pranksters. Many of the ideas in the book resonate with those discussed in The Media Ecosystem. I think they will compliment each other nicely.
Just a quick note to let everyone know that today my new book, The Media Ecosystem, is officially released and available. For more information on how to obtain it, go here.
Thanks for all your support and to all who contributed to making the book possible. I look forward to your feedback!
Dear friends and brain trust,
In anticipation of the July 10 release of my new book, The Media Ecosystem, I have a few favors to ask. First of all, if you haven’t done so already, please visit the book’s Facebook fan page and “like” it:
Next, I created a resources page with links to the various sources I mention throughout the book. It will give you a sense of how eclectic the book is. If you have a spare few minutes, please visit the page and give me some feedback. I’m looking for suggestions for copy edits and sources. Your input will be greatly appreciated:
Finally, I created an Amazon store with all the references from the book. Give it a look, I think you will find that it is a pretty cool mix of authors and ideas: