Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Because survival is insufficient": Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven

More than once, I read the first few pages of Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, and then placed it back on the shelf in our local Barnes and Noble. I didn't care much for the hook where a man expires on stage in the midst of a performance as King Lear. Then, after my wife obliged me to buy it, I finally read it quickly this past weekend, surprised by how much I enjoyed its vision of a massive pandemic wiping out 99+ percent of humanity. Mandel weaves together a narrative that jumps back and forth just before and after the collapse of civilization, and much of it struck me as being plausible. She's good at making the characters and situations compelling regardless of the disaster at hand, sometimes pausing to dwell on celebrity culture, a character's painstaking creation of a graphic novel inspired by Calvin and Hobbes' Spaceman Spiff, and the gradual conversion of a Michigan airport into a 20+ year sanctuary for a group of passengers who had their flight diverted. Here's a passage where two brothers hole up in a Toronto apartment soon after the plague arrives:

"'You've got to stop singing that song,' Frank said.

'Sorry, but it's the perfect song.'

'I don't disagree, but you've got a terrible singing voice.'

It was the end of the world as they knew it! Jeevan had that song stuck in his head for several days now, ever since he'd appeared on his brother's doorstep with the shopping carts. For a while they'd lived in front of the television news, low volume, a murmured litany of nightmares that left them drained and reeling, drifting in and out of sleep. How could so many die so quickly! The numbers seemed impossible. Jeevan taped plastic over all of the air ducts in the apartment and wondered if this was enough, if the virus could still reach them either through or perhaps somehow around the edges of the tape. He rigged Frank's bath towels over the windows to prevent stray lights from escaping at night, and pushed Frank's dresser in front of the door. People knocked sometimes, and when they did Jeevan and Frank fell silent. They were afraid of anyone who wasn't them. Twice someone tried to break in, scratching around the lock with some metal tool while Frank and Jeevan waited in agony of stillness, but the deadbolt held.

Days slipped past and the news went on and on until it began to seem abstract, a horror movie that wouldn't end. The newscasters had a numb, flattened way of speaking. They sometimes wept.

Frank's living room was on the corner of the building, with views of both the city and the lake. Jeevan preferred the view of the lake. If he turned Frank's telescope toward the city he saw the expressway, which was upsetting. Traffic had inched along for the first two days, pulling trailers, plastic bins and suitcases strapped to roofs, but by the third morning the gridlock was absolute and people had started walking between the cars with their suitcases, their children and dogs.

By Day Five Frank was working on his ghostwriting project instead of watching the news, because he said the news was going to drive them both crazy, and by then most of the newscasters weren't even newscasters, just people who worked for the network and were seemingly unused to being on the other side of the camera, cameramen and administrators speaking haltingly into the lens, and then countries go dark, city by city--no news out of Moscow, then no news out of Beijing, then Sydney, London, Paris, etc., social media bristling with hysterical rumors--and the local news became more and more local, stations dropping away one by one, until finally the last channel on air showed only a single shot in a newsroom, station employees taking turns standing before the camera and disseminating whatever information they had, and then one night Jeevan opened his eyes at two a.m. and the newsroom was empty. Everyone had left. He stared at the empty room on the screen for a long time.

The other channels were all static and test patterns by then, except for the ones that were repeating a government emergency broadcast over and over, useless advice about staying indoors and avoiding crowded places. A day later, someone finally switched off the camera on the empty newsroom, or the camera died on its own. The day after that, the Internet blinked out."

Monday, November 17, 2014

notable film and media links

---Fellini's influence on Wes Anderson

---"Taxi Driver: God's Lonely POV"

---artinfilm.org

---Scenery of the Soul: Siegfried Kracauer on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 

---"In the book, Graham compares software to Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci—noting the care with which da Vinci painted each leaf of a juniper bush in the background. 'Great software, likewise, requires a fanatical devotion to beauty,' Graham writes. 'If you look inside good software, you find that parts no one is ever supposed to see are beautiful too.' Nanis agreed with this assessment, and many of the 10xers seemed to appreciate the music world’s labelling of its stars as 'artists.' Nanis said that when he builds a Web site from scratch he has to go through a laborious creative process: 'When somebody pitches me a design spec and says, ‘I want this to work,’ there are no tutorials for making that M.V.P. There are a million ways to get there.' He said that it was like approaching a blank canvas."

---A Time-Lapse of the Sun

---The Seamless Look of Birdman

---the landscapes of True Detective

---Prince on SNL

---"It’s Monday morning and you’re preparing your first cup of coffee when the tanks roll into your neighborhood.

Phone lines are cut, curfew is activated, and doors are broken down. You sigh. It’s another “cleanout day” in the not too distant future.

The War On Terror has infiltrated every layer of society. Internet sites track the spread of extremism like the CDC tracks a lethal virus. The threat is pandemic and online news sources agree: In order to keep you safe, weekly cleanout campaigns must ramp up all across the nation – yet again.

Today you just happen to be in the red zone. The main annoyance about being in a red zone is usually the loss of your phone signal. But today is different. A close friend has gone missing – along with his past. Online he is linked to terrorist affiliations. The rest of his life has been erased.

You post a “WTF” remark on social media and 60 minutes later you hear a loud bang as the front door crashes in."  --Jann Wellmann

---the opening titles of Saul Bass

---"The Vanishing: The End of the Road" by Scott Foundras

---Playtime: Anatomy of a Gag

---"Edward Snowden not only told the world about US state surveillance of national and personal secrets, he reminded us that almost all the companies surveying us for commercial gain are American."

---trailers for Chappie and A Most Violent Year

---behind the scenes of Too Many Cooks

---The Math Behind Pixar's Animation

---"What is the value of the polar bear’s continued existence? I posed this line of inquiry to Adrian Ivakhiv, a professor of environmental thought and culture at the University of Vermont. In his response, he argued that companies should pay more for the use of endangered animals. 'I would say that the payment, or expectation of payment, for the use of endangered animals like polar bears as mascots be higher because the stakes are higher,' he wrote. '$2 million, by this standard, is not very much at all.'"

Thursday, October 30, 2014

attentional tunneling links

---SYNC

---Cinema Compilation: Lens Flares

---Snowpiercer--Left or Right

---"The 35 Best Books by Cinema's Greatest Auteurs"

---Brand Evolution of McDonalds

---The History of Horror

---Casey Neistat's Unofficial Google Glass Review

---"As we grow more reliant on applications and algorithms, we become less capable of acting without their aid—we experience skill tunneling as well as attentional tunneling. That makes the software more indispensable still. Automation breeds automation. With everyone expecting to manage their lives through screens, society naturally adapts its routines and procedures to fit the routines and procedures of the computer. What can’t be accomplished with software—what isn’t amenable to computation and hence resists automation—begins to seem dispensable.

The PARC researchers argued, back in the early 1990s, that we’d know computing had achieved ubiquity when we were no longer aware of its presence. Computers would be so thoroughly enmeshed in our lives that they’d be invisible to us. We’d 'use them unconsciously to accomplish everyday tasks.' That seemed a pipe dream in the days when bulky PCs drew attention to themselves by freezing, crashing, or otherwise misbehaving at inopportune moments. It doesn’t seem like such a pipe dream anymore. Many computer companies and software houses now say they’re working to make their products invisible. 'I am super excited about technologies that disappear completely,' declares Jack Dorsey, a prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur. 'We’re doing this with Twitter, and we’re doing this with [the online credit-card processor] Square.' Apple has promoted the iPad as a device that 'gets out of the way.' Picking up on the theme, Google markets Glass as a means of 'getting technology out of the way.' The prospect of having a complicated technology fade into the background, so it can be employed with little effort or thought, can be as appealing to those who use it as to those who sell it. 'When technology gets out of the way, we are liberated from it,' the New York Times columnist Nick Bilton has written. But it’s not that simple. You don’t just flip a switch to make a technology invisible. It disappears only after a slow process of cultural and personal acclimation. As we habituate ourselves to it, the technology comes to exert more power over us, not less. We may be oblivious to the constraints it imposes on our lives, but the constraints remain. As the French sociologist Bruno Latour points out, the invisibility of a familiar technology is 'a kind of optical illusion.' It obscures the way we’ve refashioned ourselves to accommodate the technology. The tool that we originally used to fulfill some particular intention of our own begins to impose on us its intentions, or the intentions of its maker.

As software programs gain more sway over us—shaping the way we work, the information we see, the routes we travel, our interactions with others—they become a form of remote control. Unlike robots or drones, we have the freedom to reject the software’s instructions and suggestions. It’s difficult, though, to escape their influence. When we launch an app, we ask to be guided—we place ourselves in the machine’s care." --Nicholas Carr

---trailers for Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist (Part 2), Avengers: Age of Ultron, Citizenfour, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, and Goodbye to Language 3D

---5 Skills That Will Make You a More Valuable Filmmaker

---Anatomy of a Scene: Dear White People and Birdman

---Between Two Ferns with Brad Pitt

---"We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't," Durden says. "And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

---Our Fight

---Mayokaro

---"Gone Grrl" by David Bordwell

---10 Slo-Mo Movie Moments


---"We are on red alert when it comes to how we are perceiving ourselves as a species. There’s no desire to be an adult. Adulthood is not a goal. It’s not seen as a gift. Something happened culturally: No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face.

I have not mutated myself in any way. Joel and I have this conversation a lot. He literally has to stop me physically from saying something to people — to friends who’ve had work. I’m so full of fear and rage about what they’ve done." --Frances McDormand

---The Art of Voiceover

---What Is Noir?

---Winning the Scene

---Pulp Fiction's deleted scenes

---David Lynch in Four Scenes--A Tribute

---Polanski Makes Macbeth

Sunday, October 12, 2014

native ad links

---"The figurative demolition of the buildings mirrors both the literal destruction of the twin towers and the figurative decimation of our financial system" --Garin Pirnia

---"The Forty-Year Rule: Chinatown"

---"Resource wars can take religious guises or political guises but if there was enough going around none of them would happen. You're in a drought in a pretty well functioning state, but imagine if you're in a drought in a loose network of failed states and the place is awash with AK-47s. Gosh, this is getting to be a gloomy thing. But, overpopulation may usher in the Endarkenment. Civilizations do end. That's why there are new ones. It's a zero sum game." --David Mitchell

---"Movies aren't finished.They're abandoned." --David Fincher

---The Pixar Theory

---making Leon: the Professional

---The Real True Detective?

---the honest trailer for Transformers: Age of Extinction

---The Coen Canon

---Allan Arkush introduces Animal House

---deleted scenes from Twin Peaks

---"Noir has become a self-fulfilling prophesy. If there’s no such thing as noir, there certainly is a neo-noir, self-consciously referencing, aping or otherwise alluding to the collective belief in the original myth. See Chinatown for the classic example of a film embracing, and messing with, noir narrative tropes of the seedy detective ultimately defeated by the insurmountable odds of official corruption, or Sin City for the most brazen (and tiresome) aping of the style, sunk by the bloat of its own attempts to make the noirest noir of all. . . . By now, ‘noir’ is a built-in filter setting on my iPhone camera, which should give a hint of how watered down and ubiquitous the sense of noir is. I am not arguing that noir does not exist at all, rather that the recognisable brand of ‘film noir’, as useful as it may be in generating historical interest in a range of low-budget crime thrillers that might otherwise have disappeared but instead have accidentally accrued the status of important analyses of postwar American psychology, is overstated in its significance, scale and coherence. Instinctively, we wanted there to be a noir, so we found it, without empirical proof that postwar American cinema was being led from the front by a wave of hardboiled, high-contrast pessimism." --Dan North

---Electric Sheep: How Female Power Is Limited By Consumer Culture

---The Group Hopper

---"But if the atmosphere of total disaffection stays the same, the plot of the contemporary office novel is inverted: where a century of books explored the uneasy integration of people into organizations—their hiring and moving up in the ranks—the recent office novel begins with layoffs. A bathetic specter of uselessness comes to haunt even the most scornful employees, and a certain nostalgia for the slim meanings and the modest sociability that the corporation used to offer slips in. Ferris even ends his novel with a sentimental reunion of laid-off employees, who recall wistfully how much they actually derived meaning from the relationships they had with each other in the office they once hated. Something of this fear of uselessness pervades other novels of our time—for example, Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station or Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?—where steady work is hard to come by, and affectlessness, generalized dread and wasted hours serve to reinforce a sense that the consolations of organizational life are not only no longer that consoling, but are just no longer there to be had." --Nikil Saval

---Don Hertzfeldt Simpsons

---a clip from Birdman

---"'Dear White People' opens with its lead characters watching a news report about a campus riot at a hip-hop-theme party where white students cavort in blackface. If that’s not disturbing enough, they are not simply watching TV, but each is staring directly into the camera with uncomfortable intensity. It’s as if they’re watching us as we watch them, a visual motif that Mr. Simien and his director of photography, Topher Osborn, use throughout the film."

---trailers for Set Fire to the Stars, Citizenfour, Before I Go to Sleep, FocusInterstellar, The Water Diviner, and Inherent Vice 

---"What if authors were commissioned to write thoughtful essays about ads that inspired them?" --Amanda Walgrove

---VFX breakdowns for Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men: Days of Future Past

---"Other than the natural light, Lynch loves something else about Los Angeles: what he calls, again in the Blu-ray interview, 'this business of a sort of a creativity in the air, you know, where everybody’s willing to go for broke and take a chance. It’s a modern town in that way' Betty and Nikki certainly fit that description, and Lynch is sympathetic toward them, but he doesn’t seem to harbor much affection for the executives pulling the strings. In one of the main subplots of Mulholland Drive, director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is pressured by mysterious figures to cast an actress he’s never heard of as the lead in his new film. He has no idea why this is happening, but eventually he relents. Everyone in Hollywood has a boss, and Lynch’s focus on the lower-level pawns is telling: does he feel as exploited by the higher-ups as his female characters do?" --Michael Nordine

---an excerpt from Denis Johnson's The Laughing Monsters

---"16 Cartoonists Who Changed the World" by Monte Beauchamp

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and the need to control the narrative

72 pages into Gillian Flynn's novel Gone Girl, Nick Dunne bitterly realizes just how derivative our lives can be:

"It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as criticism is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't immediately reference to a movie or TV show. . . . You know the awful singsong of the blase: Seeeen it. I've literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: the secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can't anymore. I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script" (72-3).

I like this line of thinking, not only because it comes across as true, but also because the novel and the mostly impressive movie (both written by Flynn) both benefit and suffer from her postmodern hyperconsciousness about her story as narrative. Since both Amy and Nick are writers (spoiler alert), they both compete for control of that narrative (just as the youthful Amy had to defy her parents' prettified version of her life in the Amazing Amy series). The novel is most successful when we learn that Amy has been rigging the story all along. Her diary has a doomed Sylvia Plath-like chirpiness in its celebration of the Dunnes' initial marriage, but once Amy finds herself hijacked by circumstance, forced to live in a nightmarishly bland post-recession suburban Missouri, playing the cliched role of a put-upon wife with a loutish philandering husband, she concocts an impressively elaborate revenge (blood cleaned off the kitchen floor, a man-cave full of porn and expensive golf clubs bought on credit, a suspiciously staged crime scene, etc.) that should get Nick put in jail and eventually executed under the Missouri death penalty. The high point of both the movie and the book is when we learn of all of Amy's machinations, realize that we have been fooled just as the police have, and discover Amy cheerfully hiding out in a cheap hotel complex as if in a scene from It Happened One Night. Not coincidentally, Gillian combines that reveal with Amy's thoughts on the "Cool Girl," a topic that Anne Helen Petersen explores here. The "Cool Girl" is a trope that emphasizes the extent in which women will mold their personalities to appeal to men. They reshape themselves to fit crass male fantasies, and Amy has finally gotten sick of playing that game (explored more in the book than in the movie). Thus, her triumph consists of gleefully defying the role-playing as she rigs circumstances back in New Carthage to place her husband behind bars.

But, just as in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus," Amy either needs to die (as she initially plans to do) by jumping into the Mississippi river, or she must hide out indefinitely.  After choosing the latter plan, however, two thieves steal all of her money. Here, Flynn brings in Desi Collings, a rich man obsessed with her since high school (humorously played by Neil Patrick Harris) to bail her out. Desi can provide Amy with the swank surroundings (a highly isolated mansion with many security cameras) until she figures out what to do next.

It was around this point in both the novel and the movie--when Amy frames Desi with kidnapping and rape, murders him with a box cutter in bed, and then returns, luridly covered with blood, to the arms of her cursing-under-his-breath husband, as the breathless paparazzi disseminates the sensational story to a thousand media outlets--that I began to wonder about plausibility. Would the police really buy two stories of Amy's victimization? Don't all of the implications of the diary seem spurious now that she's returned home? Gillian keeps the tension alive by bringing her two leads together to live in an uneasy semi-murderous tabloid wedlock, but by now the excellent Rosamund Pike has developed a deranged Fatal Attraction-esque shine in her eyes, and both the movie and the novel have difficulty continuing. Nick and Amy reach a state of terminal dread as the narrative locks into stasis (or as Flynn keeps her options open for a sequel). As the later chapters in the book shorten, you can see both Nick and Amy reach around for some satisfactory conclusion that doesn't fall into the cliche. Flynn was raised by a film studies-teaching dad who acquainted her with Psycho early on, so we shouldn't be surprised to see the famous shower scene in reverse, as Amy persuades Nick to take a shower with her, in this case so that he can't bug their conversation and she can wash off Desi's blood after she's murdered him.

In the novel, Nick writes a memoir entitled Psycho Bitch, but of course Amy's pregnancy won't allow him to publish it. We can sense the characters (and Flynn) trying to wrap things up as Nick tells his wife that she's not happy with the idea of his divorcing her because "You're thinking it won't make a good story" (393). He also writes, "Amy thinks she's in control, but she's very wrong" (401). Later, he notes "My life has begun to feel like an epilogue" (407) and "She [Amy] is my forever antagonist. We are one long frightening climax" (413). Gillian does give Amy the last word: "I don't have anything else to add. I just wanted to make sure I had the last word. I think I've earned that" (415), but all of these knowing nods in the novel come across as contrived and thin after awhile. I was surprised to see all of David Fincher's virtuosic directorial precision (including a nice matching action cut of Amy leaning in to kiss Nick that moves to the police swabbing his cheek for evidence of DNA) suddenly constrained by a half-hearted scattershot extension of events. Maybe Flynn wants to keep her central couple locked in the marital cage, threatening each other forever, as one way to avoid a derivative ending.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

mediascape links

---The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It

---an excerpt from William Gibson's The Peripheral

---All That Jazz: Fosse Time by Matt Zoller Seitz

---Three Reasons: Macbeth

---Don't Look Now behind the scenes

---"The personal blog is an important, under-respected art form. While blogs as a medium are basically just the default format for sharing timely information or doing simple publishing online, the personal blog is every bit as important an expressive medium as the novel or the zine or any visual arts medium. As a culture, we don't afford them the same respect, but it's an art form that has meant as much to me, and revealed as many truths to me, as the films I have seen and the books I have read, and I'm so thankful for that."  --Anil Dash

---"Mr. Anderson said his adaptation came into focus when he recalled an old quote from 'Chandler or Hammett or one of those guys who said the point of a plot in a detective movie is to get your hero to the next girl to flirt with.' After that, he said, his approach became, 'When’s the next girl or funny bit going to happen?'" --Logan Hill

---Greta Gerwig and Sarah Polley discuss Frances Ha

---"This is why digital filmmaking has been unkind to Gilliam. Even though his work can take years to accomplish, and has made him anathema among cost-conscious producers, once it's onscreen it has a power and integrity that comes from Gilliam and his team moving heavy things around, or treating the frame like a hoarder's den. In the same way Werner Herzog wouldn't use CGI to "drag" a steamship over a mountain, Gilliam shouldn't allow himself to be seduced by technology that allows him to splay the contents of his brain semi-directly onto film. But that's been the case with recent Gilliam efforts. From 2005's The Brothers Grimm onward, his filmmaking has lost much of its tactile, junk-shop appeal." --Michael Sicinski

 ---The Films of Alfonso Cuaron

---"'Why do they have to be so mean?' Refn says after reading a voracious takedown of his movie by Hollywood Elsewhere blogger Jeffrey Wells. 'In a way,' she responds, 'you asked for it.'" --Eric Kohn

---the Dear White People PSAs

---"I was writing a dissertation on Ozu, time, and modernity (not in cinema studies but in critical theory) when I decided to stop and make films instead. Most of my critical writing on film resides in this unfinished dissertation. But I think my work is partly an outgrowth of that critical engagement, as well as an outgrowth of our evolving mediascape, which not only makes such work possible but cultivates it."  --::kogonada

---trailers for Jupiter Ascending, Blackhat, The Babadook, and Mommy

---"Maps to the Stars broods on how celebrity corrupts the fallible. It’s also something of a bitchfest; a blood-letting that Cusack enjoys having a stake in. Hollywood today is closer to Wagner’s vision than we realise, he says. It’s no longer a place, it’s a nostalgic idea. The mega-corporations have stepped in, bringing with them the era of the 50-producer movie. In modern Hollywood the franchise is king, the star is used as leverage. 'You can’t make it up,' says Cusack. 'It’s a whorehouse and people go mad.'" --Henry Barnes

---The Eyes of Hitchcock

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Digging ourselves to death: a review of Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything

Tired of the supernatural hullaballoo towards the end of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, I walked into the local Barnes and Noble last week looking for something post-apocalyptic to read, and for some reason I bought Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything. I was a big fan of her 1999 No Logo, and I figured what might be more bleak fun to read than a book that relentlessly keeps its focus on climate change? I didn't expect to be held transfixed by her argument. I got into arguments with my colleagues about investing in Exxon-Mobil, and I was struck by the difference between their fatalism about the climate change crisis (what Bill McKibben calls "the overwhelming sense around the world [that] nothing will happen in time") and Klein's sense of hope about the issue. Another colleague pointed out that many of our planetary problems would be solved if half of the human population could magically disappear, but Klein barely touches on that kind of thinking. Her portrait of systemic environmental degradation, polluted skies, and rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere consistently refuses to give in to despair, although she admits to feelings of "pre-loss" or the "morbid habit" of picturing a beautiful nature scene in front of her as already despoiled. Whether one agrees with her or not, Klein's book clarifies the issue of climate change and gives it a sense of immediate political and economic urgency. She posits that we can continue our current course of "climate-change-fueled disaster capitalism" until planet Earth cooks, or we will need to radically revisit all kinds of basic economic principles, political assumptions, and extractivist practices to keep the world temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius over the next few decades. At times, This Changes Everything reads like a very real yet grim dystopian thriller in which the author refuses to give in to the expected unhappy ending.

One thing is certain: Klein's book has a clear villain--the oil companies. As she writes, "From the perspective of a fossil fuel company, going after these high-risk carbon deposits is not a matter of choice--it is its fiduciary responsibility to shareholders . . . yet fulfilling that fiduciary responsibility guarantees that the planet will cook" (148). Her observation had me wondering about how much do we individually and habitually consume petroleum-based products, and how easy would it be for anyone to switch over to only using renewable energy? When I get up in the morning, I drink coffee from Colombia, brush my teeth with a plastic toothbrush, drive to work in a car, work in air conditioning, eat food that has travelled great distances, buy a book, etc. The thought of how I might begin to cut back on this enhanced life style proves daunting given how just about every aspect of it ties in with the premise of having cheap abundant fossil fuel. Klein does include a chapter in her book entitled "Beyond Extractivism: Confronting the Climate Denier Within," but our way of life is so energy-intensive in the United States that it seems nearly impossible to fundamentally change that addiction within 30 years before nature finds another way to take care of the problem. The challenge seems so insurmountably great, Klein's solutions can take on a Pollyanna quality of dreamy wish-fulfillment. Klein anticipates that critique by reasserting that the climate allows us no choice but to think and act in radically different ways.

I especially liked Klein's history of the small island of Nauru, a cautionary tale that reads like Jared Diamond's description of Easter Island in his 2011 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Once called Pleasant Isle, Nauru began as an beatific oasis of "coconut palms, tranquil beaches, and thatched huts" (162), but then colonizers started to "mine phosphate until the island was an empty shell" (163). One could then look upon its environmental degradation with "solastalgia" or "the homesickness you have when are still at home." Klein quotes Glenn Albrecht's claim that this solastalgia has become a feeling that we all increasingly share: "A feeling of global dread asserts itself as the planet heats and our climate gets more hostile and unpredictable" (165).

As time went on and the surrounding ocean continued to rise, Nauru became menaced both within and without, threatened both by floods and mining. As Klein writes, "In a 2007 cable about Nauru made public by Wikileaks, an unnamed U.S. official summed up his government analysis of what went wrong on the island: 'Nauru simply spent extravagantly, never worrying about tomorrow.' Fair enough, but that diagnosis is hardly unique to Nauru; our entire culture is extravagantly drawing down finite resources, never worrying about tomorrow. For a couple of hundred years we have been telling ourselves that we can dig the midnight black remains of other life forms out of the bowels of the earth, burn them in massive quantities, and that the airborne particles and gases released into the atmosphere--because we can't see them--will have no effect whatsoever. Or if they do, we humans, brilliant as we are, will just invent our way out of whatever mess we have made."

"And we tell ourselves all kinds of similarly implausible no-consequences stories all of the time, about how we can ravage the world and suffer no adverse effects. Indeed we are always surprised when it works out otherwise. We extract and do not replenish and wonder why the fish have disappeared and the soil requires ever more 'inputs' (like phosphate) to stay fertile. We occupy countries and arm their militias and then wonder why they hate us. We drive down wages, ship jobs overseas, destroy worker protections, hollow out local economies, then wonder why people can't afford to shop as much as they used to. We offer those failed shoppers subprime mortgages instead of steady jobs and then wonder why no one foresaw that a system built on bad debts would collapse."

"At every stage our actions are marked by a lack of respect for the powers we are unleashing--a certainty, or at least a hope, that the nature we have turned to garbage, and the people we have treated like garbage, will not come back to haunt us" (165-6). As Klein concludes, "In other words, Nauru isn't the only one digging itself to death; we all are" (168).

Overall, This Changes Everything exudes a sense of cosmic payback, a drama of damnation that could punish us all just as the rich living in China cannot elude their polluted air. Today, in New York City, and across the world, people are marching in the People's Climate March. Having studied the topic of climate change for the past 10 years, Klein has some thoughtful, at-times radical ideas as to how to solve it. A very good reason to read her book.

Related links:

---"the evolution of the 'climate change' film"

---Klein's "Climate Change Is a People's Shock"

---Leonardo DiCaprio's UN Climate Summit speech

---Klein on the "greenwashing" of big business

---"At the moment, the overwhelming sense around the world is nothing will happen in time. That's on the verge of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy – indeed, as I've written in these pages, it's very clear that the fossil-fuel industry has five times as much carbon in its reserves as it would take to break the planet. On current trajectories, the industry will burn it, and governments will make only small whimpering noises about changing the speed at which it happens. A loud movement – one that gives our 'leaders' permission to actually lead, and then scares them into doing so – is the only hope of upending that prophecy."  --from "A Call to Arms: An Invitation to Demand Action on Climate Change" by Bill McKibben

---What's Possible

---"I was never really a marcher." --Naomi Klein