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October 3rd, 2010


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03:47 pm - No Pressure
Richard Curtis' short film No Pressure, supporting action on climate change, has caused a lot of controversy. It has been withdrawn by the 10:10 campaign, because it has been so widely misinterpreted.

Here's a quick BBC online article about the controversy.

You can watch the video itself (that link's to Youtube, but it's all over the place).

My question is - is this film so ambiguous in meaning that it plays into the hands of anti-environmentalists? Or are those who misinterpret it being deliberately stupid? Or is this some kind of difference between the European and American (or left/right) sense of humour?

The video shows a number of scenes with people discussing whether to implement carbon footprint initiatives. One or two people say they can't be bothered to which the reply is 'That's OK, No Pressure'. At the end of each scene a red button is pushed and the 'can't be bothered' people are exploded into bloody fragments of flesh.

Here are two interpretations of what this film means (I've taken these from this metafilter discussion, but you can see the same points made all over the place). I picked them because they are (I think) both made by intelligent people.
I'm afraid this commercial can only have come from . . . well . . . an ivory tower, a place so self-sorted and insulated from other viewpoints that it seems like a refreshing, delightful fantasy to say, in effect, "OMG you guys what if we could just explode those idiots?"

Did you stop to think the message (however poorly delivered) was not that we should kill people with differing opinions, but that the consequences of AGW will be an increasing death toll from heat waves, disease, ?
I also like this one, perhaps less nuanced.
Thanks a lot, you dumb English fucks, with your so-called "special " brand of humor. Should have stuck with Benny Hill and his underwear jokes. Far less damaging than this shit.

And here are some - er - less intellectual critical comments from the Socratic debating arena that is YouTube comments:
"Utterly vile. I would send you all to Auschwitz to see the results of a willingness to murder people with whom you disagree. Eco-nazis indeed!"

"You people are sick-minded! You have blown your agenda into the open. I am now certain that eco-groups are supportive of human extermination. I pull my entire support from your cause. "


What I think? The film appeals to a sense of humour which not everyone shares, and more generally it requires a tolerance of ambiguity. The message is hidden (but very easy to find) within the overt events. It is well known that more right wing and authoritarian people are less tolerant of ambiguity of meaning, more likely to take works of fiction as advocating the events they depict (cf Harry Potter). On top of that there's a deliberate affectation of misunderstanding, for propaganda reasons.

The meaning of this video is obviously not 'Yay let's kill people'. I mean, however impervious you are to nuance, I flat don't believe one person in the world thinks that Richard Curtis, the director of Love Actually, is saying OMG let's all go on a death rampage.

To my mind the meaning of the film ('if you refuse to reduce your carbon footprint, you are risking your very physical existence, for real') is pretty obvious? But do people making advocacy films have to appeal to the least brainy amongst us? Did Richard Curtis do wrong? Was this controversy deliberate? (I don't think it was)

(34 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:sheenaghpugh
Date:October 3rd, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC)
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I'm baffled by the reaction, unless as you say it is disingenuous. I thought the ad was quite funny and I don't even like much of what Curtis writes. Someone on BBC today was saying "you can't show children being killed and expect any different reaction" but that's rubbish; it was all done in such a Tom and Jerry style, it clearly wasn't serious. Is it possible Curtis has got a lot of backs up? if not, it must just be people trying to discredit the green movement.

Of ocurse there are an awful lot of humourless nits about.
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From:communicator
Date:October 3rd, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
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Perhaps because people are looking for excuses to discredit climate change, it was a mistake to make something so open to misinterpretation? Not because people will really misunderstand it, but because it gives them an excuse to pretend to be affronted. But, how boring if we can never make a joke.
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From:altariel
Date:October 3rd, 2010 03:07 pm (UTC)
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I don't think the controversy was intentional. I do think it's a bad film - or, more precisely, I think it's half a bad film.

The first two sections (in the classroom and in the workplace) just aren't funny. They're lame and smug. (Also, "Get Dad to do your insulation!"? Dear oh dear, can't we be both green and non-sexist?)

But the bits at Tottenham and then with Gillian Anderson are funny. Because it's funny to see celebrities pretend that they're tossers and then get blown up extravagantly (slightly funny). Like a mad version of Extras. More importantly, the section at Tottenham concretely describes some of the campaign's achievements. (Assuming all the stuff about the floodlights and organizing coaches for fans is all true.) And then Gillian Anderson is great in the last bit: "You want me to do more than a voiceover? Geez! You people!"

So I think it's a lazy film, and nowhere near as clever or funny as it thinks it is. And it's let a lot of pretty ghastly people get to be very pompous.

Also - taking their own version down but saying you're not going after other copies on YouTube? Pathetic. Either stand by the film you made, or don't.

(Of side interest, Johann Hari has an interesting piece about not supporting the focus of the 10:10 campaign.)

Edited for more accurate statement of my sentiment.

Edited at 2010-10-03 03:08 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:October 3rd, 2010 03:32 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I see what you mean. It is a bit smug, and it's very Richard Curtis. I am increasingly wondering whether it's unwise to make jokes at your own expense in a charged political atmosphere. It's getting riskier to do that.

But, I don't mind that they didn't go after the copies. Because I don't like organisations pressuring YouTube to take things down.
From:huskyscotsman
Date:October 3rd, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC)
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I really think the film is moronic. The message should be "if you refuse to reduce your carbon footprint, you are risking our physical existence", but this us-versus-them stuff doesn't get it across at all. It's more creepy than funny.

I think it falls into a common trap of failed propaganda—preaching to the choir but antagonising the unconverted. "You should join our side, because if you don't we'll think you're a dick. We won't say so, of course, we're far too nice for that, but that's what we think."
From:huskyscotsman
Date:October 3rd, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
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(speaking as one of the lazier members of the choir)
From:emmzzi
Date:October 3rd, 2010 03:26 pm (UTC)
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sttorm, tea cup. I reckon environemntalism is now like wearing seatbelts and smoking. If people don't feel it is important enough to do something about it now more propaganda is just gonna wind them up. Better to spend the film production money on something useful...
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From:communicator
Date:October 3rd, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
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Watching Mad men you notice these - drinking and driving is another that I have seen in my lifetime. And one way it works is to make people think that it's social death to be on the wrong side.I suppose the question is when we reach a tipping point, beyond which further propaganda is unnecessary.
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From:nancylebov
Date:October 3rd, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
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See this for some explanation from someone who was upset.

I really disliked the ad myself. Part of it is a cultural shift in some quarters to take violent images more literally, and I've been hanging out with that sort of people. I think my sensitivity has gotten miscalibrated, but meanwhile, it is where it is, and I won't necessarily move all the way to the range where you're comfortable.

Part of it is that I didn't recognize the stars, so I wasn't going to get that part of the joke.
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From:communicator
Date:October 3rd, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
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I don't think the film is dramatising the argument 'believe us or we will kill you'. it's saying 'believe us or you will die'. Like the Terminator saying 'come with me if you want to live'.

But I think it would have been better to dramatise 'believe us or you will kill us'. Because nature is not fair, and (if the theory is right - leaving that aside) then we will suffer regardless of our beliefs.
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From:andrewducker
Date:October 3rd, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC)
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I see people who don't believe that they need to do their bit (or don't want to do it) being blown up. It seems pretty simple and straightforward to me.

If you're putting something out there to raise awareness then you need to think about how the average person is going to see it. It doesn't matter if the 3% who are already onside and have the right sense of humour appreciate it in the way you intend them to.
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From:communicator
Date:October 3rd, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC)
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you need to think about how the average person is going to see it

I think that is the crucial question I am wondering about. I mean - whether that is a ground rule for propaganda or not. Perhaps it is.
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From:nancylebov
Date:October 3rd, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC)
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It's definitely about those who don't comply (or those who believe it when an authority says "no pressure") who are targeted. Belief doesn't come into it except to the extent that it drives non-compliance.

I have no idea how the general public would see the ad. My guess is that most of the public (except those who'd had very bad experiences with authority or had been too near explosions) would take it as intended, but there's no way to tell without testing. Think about the failure rate for tv shows and movies.

I wonder about those "reduce by n%" campaigns. Don't they punish people who'd already made a major effort to reduce whatever it is?
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From:nwhyte
Date:October 3rd, 2010 06:25 pm (UTC)
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I watched the first two sketches and then stopped watching in disgust. Of course I come from a background where I don't really find it hilarious if people get blown up.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:October 3rd, 2010 09:15 pm (UTC)
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