Thursday, May 14, 2009

Of pigs and planets

One of the most memorable scenes in the George C. Scott movie, Patton, shows General George S. Patton slapping a shell-shocked soldier who's lost his composure. For good measure, the general then slaps the kid again. Then General Patton is relieved of command.

While accurate, that scene doesn't hold up, because there's no such thing as "shell shock" anymore. For a while, it was known as battle fatigue, but now we know it as plain old PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder. And pretty soon that's gonna change, too, because "disorder" has negative connotations.

Language shapes reality, and reality is rhetorical, and rhetoric is situational; consider the swine flu, otherwise known as the non-story that saturated all media through all of April. And because of that overhyped overcoverage, some Iowa pig farmers — er, make that pork producers — became really, really nervous, because people weren't buying as much swine for the kitchen table anymore. (Eating pig can't give you pig flu, but people don't respond to these terror-alarm stories with logic or intelligence.) So the pork producers called their Iowa representatives in Congress, who twisted some arms — um, persuaded the Centers for Disease Control — to stop calling the swine flu swine flu. Now it was just H1N1, and swine were back to being cute little kids' toes going to market to buy some barbecue. And that one pig in the Bible who gets filled with a demon and plunges off a cliff into the sea, but never mind.

But here comes a reversal of this example where a term (swine flu) scared people into action (boycotting pork): Americans are putting the steady warming of the world — not just the U.S., but everywhere, although "world" means America to many Americans — at the bottom of their list of concerns because the terms "global warming" and "climate change" have made them not just comfortably numb, but annoyed. Why? Rather than make people think of globes, or climates, or warming, or changes, the terms make folks think of... hippies.

Yes, hippies. Peaceniks. Radicals. Treehuggers. The founder of ecoAmerica, an environmental marketing firm, explains: "When you say ‘global warming,’ a certain group of Americans think that’s a code word for progressive liberals, gay marriage and other such issues.”

And gay liberals are annoying, so the notion of a green and blue planet becoming a barren moonscape is annoying, too. There's no logical connection at all, but hey, logic is overrated, right?

Swine flu kills 150 in Mexico and three in the U.S. — RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! WE ARE ALL GONNA DIE! STOP BUYING PORK NOW!

Nine or twelve billion die in unimaginably horrible berserk-weather events: Zzzzzzzzzzz.

ecoAmerica has suggestions: Talk about a "deteriorating atmosphere" that can be improved with "cap and cash-back" plans to create a "prosperous future" with clean "water our children drink." Happy happy, joy joy.

Meanwhile, Americans put their planet last, claiming to be more concerned about rules for political lobbyists (we're not making this up) and about some nebulous "moral decline" that includes teen pregnancy, single motherhood, STDs, substance abuse, and all kinds of other things that never existed before, say, 2006 when An Inconvenient Truth hit theaters.

But those same people don't realize that, by putting earth at the bottom of the list, they're leading the "moral decline" parade right down the middle of Desolation Boulevard. To paraphrase the old Chiffon margarine commercial slightly, it's not nice to fuck Mother Nature.

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