Think of the last movie you saw in theaters. I’ll bet it was either a romance, a comedy, a mixture of the two, or an action film. Now think of the last song you heard on the radio. Was it a showtune? A rap song? A country tune? Whatever the last film, whichever the last song, I’d be willing to bet the farm that neither referenced environmental issues. This may seem rather trivial, but in a culture that is so easily influenced by the media, the under-representation of environmental content in popular culture media is, quite frankly, irresponsible. It is no secret that climate change is arguably the biggest threat to our planet and its inhabitants. This being considered, doesn’t it seem ludicrous that we are not doing everything in our power to alert the public and urge them to take immediate action? To further illustrate our point, Tori and I designed a small study:
Method: Recruit 20 participants.
Ask each participant to do the following:
- Recall as many titles of RomComs as possible in twenty seconds. Then, repeat the procedure but this time, ask them to recall environmentally themed films.
- Recall as many titles of love songs as possible in twenty seconds. Then, repeat the procedure but this time, ask them to recall environmentally themed songs.
- Add each categorical result (i.e the number of total RomComs recalled by all 20 participants, the total environmental films recalled by the participants, etc.)
Our hypothesis was that if we asked 20 participants to perform the aforementioned experiment, then the number of recalled media would be higher in both the RomCom and Love song categories than in either environmental category.
In total, our 20 participants were able to recall 68 Romantic Comedy titles, 36 Environmentally-themed films, 75 love songs, and 25 songs with environmental content.
Unfortunately, our hypothesis was supported by our evidence. The number of romantic comedies recalled is nearly double that of the number of environmental films, while songs are even more disparaging as the number of love songs recalled is triple the amount of environmental songs recalled. These are disheartening results that nonetheless illustrate the lack of positive media influence on audiences in regard to climate change.
So, who do we blame? We need a scapegoat, right?
What about the filmmakers and songwriters? Isn’t it their fault for not producing enjoyable environemental content?
Let’s be careful when considering this one. Remember the film Interstellar (2014)? A fantastic movie that no one remembers is actually about the urgency of taking environmental action. Most people remember the cool bits that take place in space, but very few people recall why the characters were in space: Earth could no longer sustain human life. Is it really filmmaker and songwriter negligence, then, or are we as audience members missing the point? One thing filmmakers and songwriters can do is refrain from framing environmental content in catastrophic light. Media producers are in a bit of a tough spot. While the issue at hand is lethally serious and needs to be represented as such, it also needs to be presented in a way that sells. This is why most entertainment films involving the environment (eco-tainment, if you will) fall within the action genre. We get it– Food Inc. is not an “easy watch,” as it offers very little hope for an improved future. Studies demonstrate that catastrophic framing of content can lead to the creation of hopeless and apathetic attitudes in audience members (Nelson, 2012). Because we need everyone to participate in saving our planet, apathetic attitudes are not acceptable. Uplifting ecotainment with happy endings could be a great way to begin momentum in the right direction.
Is it our fault, then? Are media audiences to blame?
Answer: Not yet, but we soon will be. What “sells” is ultimately decided by audiences. It is not our fault that the majority of us have been conditioned to favor comedic movies over sombering ones. It will be our fault, however, if after learning of these dangers, we continue to ignore or remain uninspired by environmental media content. Audiences shape the media. We should begin to actively seek out environmental content. As members of a society facing impending climate disaster, we are obligated to demand environmentally-conscious media. If countless girls can watch Jennifer Aniston sport “The Rachel” on television and wind up with the haircut themselves, think of what behaviors can be wrought from environmentally-themed songs and film. No more diffusing responsibility. In both mine and Tori’s research, we found that audience members do not take action because they feel their contributions to be insignificant when put into the bigger picture (Cherry, 2016). But consider this: If the majority refrains from practicing environmentally responsible behaviors due to an assumption of insignificance, then very little environmentally responsible behaviors are actually being practiced.
Friends, now is the time. As inhabitants of Earth, we must hold the government, news media, pop culture media, and one another accountable. We aren’t asking you to radically change your media behaviors. Continue to enjoy your favorite comedies and romance films. Listen to your favorite album….but choose a documentary every now and again. Pay attention to the environmental mentions that pop up in your favorite entertainment films and discuss them with your friend circle. Step up. Take responsibility. Be the change.
“I dream we’ll go somewhere that’s green.” – Little Shop of Horrors, (1982 Musical)
Here are some great ecotainment films, as well as great documentaries, to consider:
- The Simpsons Movie (2007)
- An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
- Gasland (2010)
- Interstellar (2014)
- The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
- Before the Flood (2016)
And some good tunes:
- “Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell
- “Nothing but Flowers” – Talking Heads
- “Earth Song” – Michael Jackson
- “I’d Love to Change the World” – Ten Years After
- “What A Wonderful World” – Louis Armstrong
Happy Watching/Listening! – Emily and Tori ❤
Cherry, K. (2016, June 22). How Diffusion of Responsibility Affects the Way We Act in Groups. Retrieved December 03, 2016, from https://www.verywell.com/what-is-diffusion-of-responsibility-2795095
Nelson, T. E. (2012). “Framing Effects on Values, Emotions, and Attitudes”[Scholarly project]. In WPSA. Retrieved December 3, 2016, from https://wpsa.research.pdx.edu/meet/2012/nelsonthomas.pdf
Nolan, C. (Director). (2014). Interstellar [Motion picture]. Roma: Warner Home Video.