Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Age of Stupid

I saw The Age of Stupid last night, a crafted, nuanced and engaging 'reflective' on the insanity of mass carbon indulgence, corporate greed, geopolitical warmongering, resource plunder, consumer gratification and all the media-fed eco indifference that's ticking us towards imminent planetary abyss.

All the vital statistics, projections and fearful implications on climate change are here for the viewer. Yet, avoiding preaching tones or heavy scientific jargon, The Age of Stupid plays, more consciously, as a soft-spoken lament for the species: how could we have been so unthinking, so cravenly careless, having all the information before us?

As the excellent Pete Postlethwaite character calls-up pre-2055 computer-held footage from his towering earth repository in the melted Arctic (a neat narrative device), we're asked to think about why public awareness and concern was alarmingly out of step with the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming.

The answers are cleverly illustrated by Director Franny Armstrong through use of arrestingly simple animations indicting capitalist imperialism and rampant consumerism, alongside media clips of the ersatz debates and political pretensions around 'green awareness', circa 2007 - cue, for example, shots of David Cameron in the garden wearing recycled shoes.

Moreover, the real issues and immediate challenges to action are convincingly stated. There's the gross imbalance in carbon use between a voraciously selfish US and a struggling, starving Africa, the insatiable Western product and resource cycle feeding China's economic growth and the indisputable case for international and individual carbon rationing.

And yet, the intelligent heart of this film is the unthinking and often contradictory actions we all engage in day-to-day.

There's the Indian entrepreneur (with a business ruthlessness to match Ryanair's Michael O'Leary) about to launch the latest low-cost airline with the apparent belief that lifting the Indian masses out of trains and into the skies will generate wealth and also lift them out of poverty. From a wealthy mogul family, he decided upon this venture while flying his private jet to help out in stricken villages -apparently without considering the real reasons for their plight or the primary damage mass aviation is doing to the planet.

There's the "resource curse" of oil in the Niger Delta, which has seen people become even more immiserated as Shell continue to plunder and pollute with impunity. While Shell's promised clinics and other local welfare projects remain unbuilt or abandoned, the residual gas that could be harnessed for local use is, instead, blasted into the sky causing massive atmospheric damage. People have to wash the depleting fish they catch in Omo powder to remove the petrochemical pollutants. The exploitation and squalor has, optimistically, prompted the featured Nigerian girl living among this deprivation to become a medical student.

In Louisiana, there's the heroic paleontologist who rescued over one hundred of his New Orleans neighbours from the flooded ravages of Hurricane Katrina. Yet, in his 'other' life, he's been a lifelong worker for one of the big oil companies off the New Orleans coast scouring the sea beds to feed the unremitting demands of US consumers.

In the French Alps, there's the wise and knowing old mountain guide who has witnessed the steady melting of the Alpine glaciers, while the Mont Blanc tunnel was allowed to blast its way through a pristine idyll, permitting the increased trucking of goods back and forth for processing. As he sagely reflects: "We created this problem. Always progress, progress, progress. Always demanding more and more from the planet."

There's the English family, returned to Cornwall from his Alps tour, trying to live the sustainable life. The father, a renewables advocate is struggling to convince rural objectors to a proposed wind farm that they should act upon their proclaimed 'environmental views' rather than block a project that affects their own 'aesthetic views'.

And then there's the poignant story of the little Iraqi brother and sister, living as traumatised refugees in Jordan, selling second-hand shoes on the streets, after fleeing Baghdad, their father killed by the Americans, all in the 'cause' of 'liberating' the oil.

Just part of the human debris and broken lives that come about through the political-corporate theft of resources and indifferent destruction of the planet.

Facile liberal dismissals of the film include offence at people being called "stupid" - even though the title denotes an "Age" of stupid - while another slates it as "hecture". Nothing could be further from the truth.

It's a pity, though, that Armstrong didn't make a little room for the hypocrisies of the Guardian and other 'green vanguard' media. George Monbiot's caveat commentary on the need for mass street action could also have mentioned the amount of carbon advertising the Guardian and Independent carry and refuse to give up.

In that vein, the credits at the end provide an honest breakdown of the film's own carbon footprint. There's also the impressive achievement of having "crowd-funded" the production from green-aware individuals and groups, a kind of co-operative alternative to the big production process, leaving all the rights in their hands.

Will they be showing The Age of Stupid in 2055 as part of a celebratory retrospective of climate alerts, or will it be stored up, forgotten, in something like Postlethwaite's earth repository?

As the film reminds the audience, that's ultimately up to us.

Go watch.


1 comment:

Dian Maya Kirana said...

Serious movie? not my league. hehe,, greetings Tuan,,