I started watching the adaptation of Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See on Netflix. I loved the novel and am enjoying the series. One thing I've noticed is that it's pretty obvious who the bad guys are. They wear Nazi uniforms and go around killing people.
There is a young Nazi soldier who must be a good guy because he refuses to reveal the location of the young blind girl who is now broadcasting on a radio frequency he used to listen to as a child. When confronted by a fellow soldier to reveal his secret, he responds by killing the evil Nazi and disposing of his body.
Nazis make great Bad Guys since there is little, if anything, they can do to redeem themselves in the eyes of the reader or viewer. Eventually, however, time moves on, and we need to look for other bad guys who come and go depending on the latest twist in the world of global politics. Russians and Serbs seem to have caught on because of their nasty accents. Arab terrorists also fit the bill, followed by Latin American drug dealers.
But what if the bad guys cannot be identified with a specific geographic location? What if the bad behavior is shared by billions of people? What if readers figure out that they are the bad guys? Will they keep reading?
It’s easy to portray the good guys. Make them victims and show them engaged in acts of kindness. Not so easy for the bad guys when the gang includes almost everyone I know, including myself.
I was born during the Great Acceleration. Houses were cheap. Cars were cheap. Gas was cheap. And life was sweet if you happened to be a white person living in North America. As I grew up, we were treated to what seemed to be a never-ending series of new consumer products and upgrades to existing ones.
I'm old enough to have started watching broadcast programs on a black-and-white television, then in color, to have the choices expanded with the advent of cable and VCRs, and finally to have been replaced by streamed programs distributed over the Internet.
Although I have chosen not to own a car, I have been a frequent flyer, taking advantage of cheap flights and visiting more than twenty-five countries around the world. In other words, I have been part of the problem, a member of the dinosaur-sized ecological footprint club.
Imagine the following scene from an American movie. It's Thanksgiving, a time of year when Family members make the pilgrimage back to their parents' house for the traditional meal. Except this year, the youngest daughter has decided not to attend. She says she can't justify making a trip that will spew more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The rest of the family is appalled. How can she be so disrespectful to the sanctity of the family? What's her problem? Is showing her East Coast friends how woke she is more important than being with her family?
I seriously doubt a scene like this would make it to the big screen in movie theaters or the smaller screens scattered around the house. It cuts to the quick. There is a problem most families avoid talking about. How is our North American lifestyle contributing to the climate catastrophe now underway? Instead, let's deny that a problem exists. Let's vilify someone so we can all enjoy our gluttonous feast and give thanks that we're not sweltering in 50-degree heat nor ass-deep in floodwaters.
Scenes like this raise doubts about what the hell is going on. No doubt some viewers would interpret the scene as not supporting the dubious claim that there is something wrong with the daughter, but that there is something wrong with the family, something wrong with the way they live.
But people don't want to feel guilty, so they're not inclined to consume entertainment that evokes feelings of moral failure. Film and fiction distributors don't readily support such artistic visions. There's more money to be made in offering escape. Life is hard enough without being reminded of what lies ahead. The band plays on while the women and children scramble for the lifeboats.
I wonder if we have entered a new epoch of artistic expression. I remember studying Renaissance poetry, the Victorian novel, and 20th-century American literature at university. Perhaps my grandchildren will be able to recognize the film and fiction of the early Anthropocene period.