Climate Narratives: Winners and Losers
Updated: Feb 7
So I’ve previously argued about the need for climate narratives on popular TV shows. They are rare for sure, but they do exist. I think almost all mentions of climate change are a step forward. Almost. Here I’d like to talk about two of the instances that came up in my research. One that hit the nail right on its head and another that missed it completely and left a big ugly hole in the wall.
Let’s start with the good.
In the drama series, Big Little Lies the subplot of one episode (S02E03) was about a little girl having a panic attack after learning the facts about climate change in school. The scene is very dramatised. The little girl faints, feet flying up in the air as she falls. However, it brings up a lot of interesting discussions. How would we have felt learning at such a young age our world was doomed? At what age should children learn the cold hard truth? How do we talk to them about these issues?
Her mother’s response is also very interesting. She pretty much thinks she can solve the issue with money. She states she will buy every kid in the school a polar bear. While silly, it’s an interesting commentary about how the rich think about climate change. That their piles of money will save them from an inhospitable world.
This episode was extremely successful in my opinion. It got people talking. If you google it you’ll find countless articles, blogs, and discussions about this episode. Not only does it highlight the anxiety-provoking nature of climate change, but the mental health of children living in this world. Scratch that, not just children. It’s hard not to feel anxious with the bombardment of news surfacing about all the impacts climate change will have on our futures. Those futures are just longer for the children. This isn’t an issue that’s talked about much, but it is a very common mental health concern today. If nothing else, this show made those climate anxiety sufferers know this is a real issue and hopefully they are more willing to seek out others and talk about it.
Now for the bad.
Modern Family is a show about upper/upper-middle-class consumerism. Maybe it’s about some other things too. Family perhaps. Anyway, it’s not the best depiction of how we should be living.
One episode (S05E12) is a perfect example of climate narratives gone bad. One subplot of the episode was about Mitchell and his neighbour Asher. Mitchell is the “greenie” of the family but that’s not saying much. Asher would be the one truly green character that appears in the show, and he’s only in this one episode. It would be great to see someone with passion about caring for the planet and living sustainably on a show about people that do the opposite. But then, we realise he is a pretentious, self-righteous prick. Do you feel like you’ve seen this depiction of an environmentalist character before? You probably have.
Asher is not only unlikeable, but he even mentions that all his friends and family have dumped him for being so intense. He comes around a bit in the end, but it’s hard to get rid of the bad taste this depiction leaves in your mouth. “If this is an environmentalist, I don’t want to be associated with them” is what many viewers might take away from this. Asher and Mitchell (and Lily) come to a truce by the end, but it all finishes up with two very negative comments. Asher invites them to dinner but states that it takes four hours to make it on solar. Then Lily invites him to play with her dollhouse and Asher asks if it’s made with sustainable materials, to which she replies “forget it!”. So, I guess you just can’t be friends with an environmentalist right?
While in my research I argue for some, ANY, mention of climate change on entertainment TV, obviously you can go wrong. It really is time to show these issues for what they are and drop the tired environmentalist trophe.