In Media Res is calling for guest curators on the theme of the representation of environmental issues in the media. The deadline (alas) is March 11.
See the call here.
H/t to Ecomedia Studies.
My article “From Frames to Resonance Machines: The Neuropolitics of Environmental Communication” is coming out in the next issue of Environmental Communication. Here’s the abstract:
George Lakoff’s work in cognitive linguistics has prompted a surge in social scientists’ interest in the cognitive and neuropsychological dimensions of political discourse. Bringing cognitive neuroscience into the study of social movements and of environmental communication, however, is not as straightforward as Lakoff’s followers suggest. Examining and comparing Lakoff’s “neuropolitics” with those of political theorist William E. Connolly, this article argues that Connolly’s writings on evangelical-capitalist and eco-egalitarian “resonance machines” provide a broader model for thinking about the relations between body, brain, and culture. Environmentalists, it concludes, should pluralize their “frames” and pay greater attention to the micropolitical and affective effects of their language and practices on the communities within which they act, communicate, and dwell.
And a couple of excerpts from the article:
Also published at Indications.
Having just written a piece for Environmental Communication about the promises and pitfalls of cognitive science-based approaches to communicating about issues like climate change, I can’t help commenting on this video and blog post that arrived this morning on my blog reader from identity campaigning, re-posted from Cognitive Policy Works. The piece both captures and fails to capture salient issues in this debate…
The author, Joe Brewer, gets it right in arguing that the video successfully applies the following “lessons” from cognitive science:
1) That our thinking works in visual and embodiment-based metaphors: Yes, the video employs the graphic physical embodiment of such metaphors portrayed through movement, gesture, dress, etc.
2) That it “makes climate change sexy”: Yes, it does this through the way it elicits, solicits, and interpellates the viewer in a process of desire, a directional build-up whereby we want to “finish the job” of stripping the supermodel. It’s left up to us to do that in our imagination. It’s now in our hands, like a video-game joystick. (Take that where you will…) This point is made by Brewer’s second (“sexy”) and fourth (image schemas) arguments. (The latter, his “balance” and “source-path-goal” schemas, are a fancy way of saying that the metaphors are based in the capacities of the body — for movement toward a goal, for balance, etc.)
3) That it’s effective marketing. Indeed. At 160,000 views as I write, it’s now had 50,000 more views since he wrote his piece.
But his point that it “deconstructs the fashion industry” is wishful thinking on Joe’s part. It plays along with that industry, adding fuel to its workings. (Underwear ads are just as much a part of the industry as are ads for jeans and fur coats, and provoking viewers’ desires to see naked bodies doesn’t take anything away from clothing manufacturers’ ability to sell those bodies clothes.) It adds to the normalization of a certain body image for women: all the models are unhealthily tooth-pick thin women, and all follow the script of how sexy women are supposed to look at their audience of unseen voyeurs. (And did anyone else notice that the more they strip, the more they look 15 years old?) Of course, there’s nothing to stop others from doing alternative versions of this featuring non-white models, male strippers, transvestites, or anything else — which is the argument of the pro-porn feminists, the green fashionistas, et al.
But another thing that strikes me is that the final take-home verbal message — “If you want to see 350, our natural state, you have to get your politicians to act now” (emphasis added) — is not conveyed in a visually or metaphorically effective way. When it comes to graphically embodying any kind of action (other than stripping, or being stripped), our cognitive (embodied, visual, metaphorical) mind is left at the door.
The first text comment below the video when I watched it was dagrimreefah’s “This media cartel sure is doing a great job on all of you livestock” — which is probably intended as a witty interjection of climate denialism, but there’s a more general point that could be made with that. A quick glance at the rest of the comments tells us a few interesting things:
(1) Most of them refer to the physiques of the models (some of them, wisely, asking to see more — not less clothing, mind you, but just more healthy flesh covering their bones);
(2) Of those that refer to the science of climate change, a large number deny it and/or politicize it with anti-Obama rhetoric (or with critiques of his compromises); and
(3) Not a single one seems to get the metaphor of “supermodels” being both the women displayed and the ways — the only ways — in which we actually know about climate change itself and the role “350 parts per million” plays in it.
Climate change models are highly sophisticated, complex pieces of science that deserve a bit more discussion. Riffing on that, however, would take away from the project of making hegemonic (“common-sensifying”) the message about climate change. But I would argue that part of making that message broader is playing up its science (just to raise awareness of how we know about climate change) and, secondly, playing up its ethics and politics: its potential (and already claimed) victims, its costs, and the vested interests on both sides (“old energy” on one, new entrepreneurialism on the other).
Okay, I’m asking too much of a simple 90-second ad. But discussing the ad seems useful, even if it contributes to the viral spread of something I’m ambivalent about…
Before Ken Burns’ 6-part, 12-hour series on the national parks was aired, a perceptive article by the LA Times’ Scott Timberg warned that it might be greeted by “sharp knives.” Ten years in the making, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, finally came to our television screens last week, and so far no sharp knives seem to have been drawn. But there have been blunt forks poking into the meat and leaving large parts of the six-course meal undigested on the plate, its servings a bit too super-sized for easy consumption. (There are, of course, the stealth knives and box-cutters of right-wing bloggers, who criticize the series for its NPR liberalism, communism, paganism, and whatever else, but so far the jabs have been mostly off the mark, and few and far between.)
The US national park system would seem to make for an ideal subject for the Burns treatment — a treatment Apple has captured, at least in part, on its iPhoto program as the “Ken Burns Effect.” Timberg describes the Burns style as a “combination of a deep, authoritative male voice, pan-and-zoom camera work over sepia-toned photographs, period music and extravagant claims about American exceptionalism.” The Washington Post’s Tim Page has less charitably called Burns’ style an “unreflected populist Hallmark-ese,” a “strange mixture of New Deal and New Age.” The latter was said in reference to Burns’ “Jazz” series, with its idea that improvisation was an integral element of the American spirit, but it could easily also be said about National Parks.
But there’s something to Burns’ claim about improvisation: one finds that improvisational spirit in the pragmatism of the country’s best philosophers (John Dewey, William James, et al) and in the poetry of Whitman, the Beats, and the nature romanticism of Thoreau and Muir. All of which is another way of saying that progressivism, the very backbone of the American conservation movement (the national parks being one wing of that, the national forests being another), is very American, and those who forget that — like today’s rabid Republican right — are not nearly as American as they would like to think.
Last week’s “Green Mind” issue of the New York Times Magazine shows how behavioral science is making an impact on environmental policy and decision-making. In particular, Jon Gertner’s “Why Isn’t the Brain Green?” provides a useful summary of how the trendy fields of behavioral economics and ‘decision science’ are being applied to thinking about climate change. Gertner discusses the differences between analytical and emotional responses to risk; how the ordering of options shapes our choices; the ways that “frames” and “nudges” can be used to shape policy debates; and the effects of group dynamics on shaping individual decision-making. (It’s not that hard to get random individuals to cooperate in groups, and individuals in fact find it easier to think about long-term impacts of decisions when they are in face-to-face groups; but the article doesn’t get into how individuals, in a highly individualistic society like ours, can be encouraged to follow up on what they agreed to when they were making decisions in groups.)
Greenpeace International’s Earth Day video looks like a recruitment ad for an army of media-guerrilla climate warriors. From the techno-martial drumming, rapid-fire camera movement, shots of the troops in action, eco-doomsday imagery (including an image of the sun rising over the Earth looking like a mushroom cloud), and Christ the Redeemer flying over Rio de Janeiro draped in a Greenpeace poster by GI’s (?) culture jammers — it touches on all the buttons that have been attracting working-class American youth to the US army, and more. And what is that shot of naked humans who look like they’ve risen out of their graves on the day of the Rapture… on a melting glacier? Brilliant. Now if they can get their recruiters to American campuses the way the US army does, and offer scholarships too…
Thanks to Mediacology for sharing this.
An online space for environmental cultural theory, this weblog has two primary objectives:
(1) To communicate about issues at the intersection of ecological, political, and cultural thought and practice, especially at the interdisciplinary junctures forming in and around the fields of ecocriticism , green cultural studies, political ecology, environmental communication, ecophilosophy, and related areas (biosemiotics, geophilosophy, social nature, poststructuralist and liberation ecologies, zoontologies, urbanatures, animist liberation theologies — invent your own neologisms); and
(2) To contribute to the development of a non-dualist understanding of nature/culture, mind/body, spirit/matter, structure/agency, and worldly relations in general. Dualisms aren’t inherently bad, but these ones have become stultifying; they contribute to the log-jam in which environmental thinking has been caught for too long. To this end, the blog is interested in philosophies of process, ontologies of immanence and becoming, and epistemologies of participation, relation, and dialogue – that is, ways of understanding and acting that take ideas and practices, bodies and minds, subjects and objects, perceptions and representations, agency and structure, to be fundamentally inseparable, creative, and always in motion. The blog will be a place where non-dual mind (/body, subject/object) meets non-dual world (nature/culture), or where rigpa meets anima.
(For more on these topics, see the posts on immanence, immanent naturalism, rigpa and anima, geophilosophy, green cultural studies, between Continental and environmental philosophy, and the “P-R Theory 101″ links in the right-hand column.)
The blog aims to be a useful resource for scholars, graduate students, and the interested public. As the boundary between scholarship and the wider world of public thinking gets ever more more blurred thanks to digital technology, the distinction between lay and scholarly loses its cogency. The original idea was for the blog to serve as a forum for thinking in and around the Environmental Thought and Culture Graduate Concentration at the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont. The broadening described here is an outgrowth of that.
A blog, like an idea, is only successful to the extent that it germinates, grows, connects, and takes on a life of its own. This one began as one person’s (self-) prod to think out loud and to forge connections in thought, word, and image. To what extent it grows beyond that will become evident over time.
This version updated (slightly) on December 9, 2010 (after the migration of the blog to WordPress).