DOUBLE FEATURE: An Inconvenient Truth/Who Killed the Electric Car?

ARCHIVE: from Idiot Ego Issue 2 (reprinted without permission)

The ways people exchange information are changing. Just as so many Americans now rely on The Daily Show for their political coverage and other news, documentaries are becoming a serious medium by which to mass distribute important information. The Thin Blue Line helped reverse a court decision and set an innocent man out of jail. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11 broke box office records for a documentary, and Super Size Me put enough pressure on McDonald's to have them effectively phase out their upsizing campaigns. They have become an effective method of socially conscious propaganda, doubling (sometimes posing) as entertainment, and vice-versa. This is admittedly a dangerous concept, but for the moment they seem to be doing more good than harm.

Here then are two unapologetically biased, heartfelt and American documentaries pertaining to issues of the environment. An Inconvenient Truth offers a glimpse of exactly what we lost when Bush was declared winner of Florida (and subsequently won the Presidency) in 2000. His then-opponent Al Gore has a public image of being dry and humorless, but An Inconvenient Truth paints Gore as a family man, dedicated forward thinker and activist. In his way, he wants to change the world. A hero for DIY policits and reform, An Inconvenient Truth is Gore's desperate plea for Americans to stand up and take notice of global warming, because it is HAPPENING. He bombards you with the facts. They are totally stunning. Gore asks plainly, "Is it possible that America as a nation should consider addressing global threats other than terrorism?" America wanted a fighter in the White House, and they got one, but what Gore lacks in fierceness he makes up for in integrity and intelligence. Alas, these are not the kind of qualities that win elections, but forget the politics. This is a film of facts. There are lots of charts and graphs and a lot of them are glanced over rather quickly, but we never get the sense that we are being misled. If anything, An Inconvenient Truth blushes and whispers in your ear when it should probably be berating you. The cold hard indicators are the facts that Gore drops on you. They speak for themselves.

Who Killed The Electric Car? examines the birth, life, and subsequent extinction of electric cars, which were first launched by General Motors (the EV1) in 1996. They leased 800 of the cars in the 2 years that they were publicly available (there were only 1100 produced,) even with GM's weak promotion and the resulting limited consumer knowledge about the car. Those who bought the cars were later denied the option to renew their leases, and the cars were all ultimately impounded by GM and destroyed. The film largely skirts the issue that electric cars do, in fact, produce some emissions, by virtue of the coal-burning power plants which currently create more than half of America's electricity. Thus, this one is less clear cut than An Inconvenient Truth, but it is made abundantly and inarguably clear that there is more to GM's decision not to produce more EV1's than simply 'insufficient consumer demand' as they claim.

Some might label these films "progressive," and that's not such a dirty word, but the sad truth is that neither of these films by themselves will motivate the giant cogs in place in these issues to move or turn any less laboriously. It is not hard to follow the dotted lines between these two films. The reason that you cannot buy an EV1 is the same reason that global warming has systematically been "repositioned" as a debate and not a fact in the media: there is too much money at stake. It's bad for American business. You can follow that dotted line further, past these films, into the oval office and 10.000 miles over the Atlantic to the deserts and oil fields of Iraq and Kuwait, if you wish. Its not hard.

Both films promote their accompanying websites, which aim to help viewers take things to the next level, and both are equally conscious of the fact that they have essentially failed unless they are able to motivate audiences in a way that they had not been motivated before. It's great if you feel impassioned after seeing these films, but it's got to move beyond that.

If nothing else, I recommend these documentaries as superior entertainment. They are, at their core, gripping human interest stories. I hope, as the filmmakers clearly do, that they might also help to reposition the environment in your list of political agendas, and perhaps renew your faith in a country which, when operating in a bi-partisan and "progressive" way, can accomplish great things. We can't let earth die screaming. These films implore you. We have to change. How could it possibly be the wrong thing to do?

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