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On “The Age of Stupid”

Did you ever wonder why people become subjects in a documentary when they know that they're going to look like fools?

Or maybe they don't know that, and that's why they participate.

Either way, there are many cringe-worthy moments in "The Age of Stupid," which is sort of "An Inconvenient Truth About Oil, with a Particular Focus on Air Travel."

I liked the way the film connects oil use to an oil company. It's about the people and the land. A young woman in Nigeria (can you say Shell Oil?) and a middle-aged man who lives in New Orleans and lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, and who works/worked for Shell Oil, and an entrepreneur in India who started a low-cost airline for the people of his country (and we see none other than a Shell Oil truck delivering its fuel). Different races/ethnicities, different income levels, but remarkably similar intentions: to help people. I do have to say that Shell has been an easy target for years and I hope that people don't focus on them (yet again) as the real enemy and look at themselves for their own complicity instead.

The true stories are all woven together by a convenient narrator from post-apocalyptic 2055, looking back on our generation, which is in the unique position of being able to save the planet. We know what is happening and we know what to do about it. And if we don't do what we need to do, well, you know what comes next.

Here's what irked me: I saw the pre-show, live from the green carpet in NYC, as well as 25 minutes of the post-show discussion with the filmmakers and several experts (but I didn't see the whole thing so I could have missed something) and, I think you know what's coming . . .

There was no meaningful discussion about our inefficient use of resources (grain and water) in the feeding of animals to kill to feed people. With regard to cruelty and suffering, it's clear from the film that the human animal has been profoundly negatively affected by climate change, but there is no attention given to nonhuman animals.

There is one horrifying scene where the young woman in Nigeria is cleaning several live fish (at first I thought they were dead, but then they started moving) with detergent, because they are too filthy to eat. And there is a family in rural England who charts their energy use and we see that food is the second highest use of energy for them (air travel takes up the most). But they dismiss food. And the wife says that one thing the family does is eat less meat and eggs (and they raise the animals on their land), but even that is glossed over. I think those are the only references to diet.

And in the pre and post show (that I saw), even in the interviews with the celebrities who are known vegetarians (I know, I know, they're not vegans . . .), when asked none of them says that one thing they do to combat climate change is to alter what/whom they eat.

Though I don't want to criticize the filmmakers for not making the film I thought they should have made, I do think that if you're going to tell people in 2009 what they can do to help save the planet, you're not doing your job if you neglect to tell them–in a meaningful way–about how their diet fits into the equation.

There was a focus on Copenhagen, particularly post show, as it is upon us. That angle made a larger political and activist message more prominent. But still . . .

Did anyone else see it? I do recommend it, particularly for the discussion about wind power (which always, as far as I know, comes down to aesthetics and I'm glad to see someone make that point in such an effective way). If you know anyone who doesn't understand the connection between our energy consumption (and consumption, in general) and what has become of the planet, "The Age of Stupid" might be a good place to start.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I saw it. There was one scene where it was pointed out that food is the 2nd largest contributor to climate change after flying, but no discussion. There was another scene were the turbine couple talked about eating very little meat. That's it.

    I was disappointed in the film. I didn't come away feeling inspired or energized or sad or worried. I just came away disappointed.

    September 23, 2009
  2. Ron Kearns #


    Thank you for another review. Documentaries can be powerful when they are provocatively inspiring.

    September 24, 2009

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