The Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week has once again broken ratings records, bringing millions of viewers to the wildlife television genre. However, as another Shark Week comes and goes there continue to be disturbing signs that the future of high quality wildlife filmmaking is under threat from cheaper, thrill-based programming.
As the number crunchers at the website TV by the Numbers points out: “Shark Week 2014 continues its TV domination this week (8/10/14-8/11/14) with Discovery currently ranking as the #1 primetime network in all of television* among M18-49 and P/M/W18-34 delivery – beating out all other broadcast and cable networks in these key demos. Discovery’s also earned its highest-rated Shark Week Monday ever in key demos during Prime Time with a 1.81 P25-54 , delivering 3.210 million viewers (Persons 2+).“
But as I discussed a year ago in a post on Discovery’s fake documentary program on the extinct Megaladon shark, Shark Week continues to be characterized by overdramatization, half-truths, and flat out false information. In a trend that has plagued the wildlife film and television genre from the earliest days of cinema, entertainment is coming at the expense of education. With the transition to computer generated images becoming cheaper, Discovery’s tactics are becoming more seductive and seemless. And while I personally have no problem with films like Sharknado 2, which are clearly packaged and promoted as entertainment, Discovery’s continued efforts to push the limits of the documentary mode are disturbing indeed.
For a more complete discussion of this topic, I highly recommend Oregonian reporter Grant Butler’s recent article, “Shark Week’s Dark Side: After Fake Documentary Controversy, Discovery Doubles Down on It’s Own Lies.” Butler interviews, Chris Palmer, a wildlife filmmaker and author of Shooting in the Wild, who runs the environmental filmmaking program at American University.
While Palmer, “points to plenty of good science showcased in Shark Week documentaries, including works by filmmakers Jeff Kurr and Andy Casagrande, who have new programs in this year’s lineup“ he also pins blame for the shift taking place in the genre squarely at the Discover Channel:
““The network will say that their programming is driven by their audience,” he says. “I don’t know what’s more distressing, the fact that the network produces these sensational, inaccurate shows, or whether the public demands them. But I hold the network responsible. They have the ability to produce responsible, exciting films, and they have to set the lead on this.”“
In our introduction, SUNY-Brockport professor Carter Soles and I argue:
“As a literary and cinematic form, ecohorror has thus far been narrowly defined in popular discourse as those instances in texts when nature strikes back against humans as punishment for environmental disruption. Scholarship to this point has demonstrated that ecohorror motifs are most often found in “revenge of nature” narratives like Steven Spielberg’s iconic film Jaws (1975) but may also occur in less overtly ecocritical works. A more expansive definition of ecohorror, which we would like to elucidate via this special cluster of essays, includes analyses of texts in which humans do horrific things to the natural world, or in which horrific texts and tropes are used to promote ecological awareness, represent ecological crises, or blur human/non-human distinctions more broadly. Ecohorror, which assumes that environmental disruption is haunting humanity’s relationship to the non-human world, is present in a broad set of texts grappling with ecocritical matters, and therefore this concentrated study is necessary to sketch out the boundaries of this important new area of ecocritical study.”
Essays included in the cluster are as follows:
Introduction: Living in Fear, Living in Dread, Pretty Soon We’ll All Be Dead (Stephen Rust and Carter Soles)
“Wheels within Wheels,” Ecology, and the Horrors of Mechanophobia (Andrew Hageman) **Will add link as soon as it becomes available**
May be of interest to those of you who teach ecomedia topics in foreign language departments.
CALL FOR ABSTRACTS, Deadline: September 1, 2014.
Essay proposals are invited for a volume in the MLA’s series Teaching Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, under the title Foreign Language Teaching and the Environment: Theory, Curricula, Institutional Structures, to be edited by Charlotte Melin (University of Minnesota). The goal of this volume is to provide an introduction to teaching sustainability and
environmental humanities topics in language, literature, and culture courses.
For a full description and call, see
Abstracts of 250-300 words and CVs should be sent to the volume editor by 1 September 2014.
Please send inquiries and e-mail submissions to Charlotte Melin (email@example.com) using the subject line “FL Teaching & Environment.” Surface-mail submissions can be sent to Professor Melin, Department of German, Scandinavian and Dutch, 320 Folwell Hall, University of Minnesota, 9 Pleasant St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455.
Call for Papers
Notes from Underground:
The Depths of Environmental Arts, Culture and Justice
Already even then I had my underground world in my soul.
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
It is a marvellous reflection that the whole of the superficial mould … has passed, and will again pass, every few years through the bodies of worms.
- Charles Darwin
Keystone XL will not cross Lakota treaty territory…. Their horses are ready. So are ours.
- Honor the Earth
In Notes from Underground (1864), Dostoyevsky explores relations between modernity and its discontents at an important historical conjuncture: the novella’s unnamed, unpleasant hero rails against capitalist industry, imperialist architecture and an emerging social scientific understanding of human behaviour premised on predictability and knowability. By writing from the underground – from the subterranean, from the murk, from the world of refuse – Dostoyevsky asks us to consider the importance of experiences that lie beneath (and both before and after) the shiny edifices of progress, rationality and industry. But the “underground” also asks us to consider what lies beneath us much more literally: crust, tectonic plates, magma, minerals, fossil fuels, aquifers, lakes, caves, fungal networks, clay, compost, worms, ants, nematodes, roots, rhizomes, tubers, seeds, warrens, nests, vaults, graves, landfills, nuclear weapons and waste, buried treasure. In this act of collection – underground elements, underground agents, underground movements, underground epistemologies – we hope to draw attention to the multiple ways in which things underground and the institutions that variously cultivate, harness and contain them, are constantly changing the terrain (literally and politically) on which we stand.
Especially in the midst of such widespread focus on atmospheric climate change, perhaps we also need to look down, under, beneath and below for imaginative aesthetic, critical, pedagogical and activist responses? At our current political and ecological conjuncture, the literal underground is very much the subject of contest – extraction, pollution, depletion, neoliberalisation, cultivation, sovereignty, equity, (re)claiming – suggesting the need for creative new ways of engaging in activism, reading, writing and education in these networks of depth: underground arts, humanities, ecocriticism, justice. For the 2015 ASLE conference, we seek proposals for panels, papers, performances, discussions, readings and roundtables that address this constellation of undergrounds. We invite participants to interpret the conference theme as broadly as possible and to imagine their work in terms not only of underground content but also of subterranean form: we particularly encourage non-traditional modes of presentation, including hybrid, performative and collaborative works; panels that minimize formal presentation in favour of engaged emergent discussion; interdisciplinary approaches; environmentally inflected (earthy?) readings of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, film, theatre and other media; and proposals from outside the academic humanities, including submissions from artists, writers, teachers, practitioners, activists and colleagues in the social and natural sciences. Topics may include, but are certainly not limited to:
A new book by Shane Denson, a postdoctoral researcher at Leibniz University in Hanover, Germany (and now Duke, according to his blog) looks to offer an interesting application of materialism to media and “human-technological co-evolution”. Here’s a blurb from the publisher’s website. This book is also published by the German press Transcript. A PDF of the book’s TOC, forward, and introduction are available at: http://www.transcript-verlag.de/978-3-8376-2817-3/postnaturalism
“Postnaturalism offers an original account of human-technological co-evolution and argues that film and media theory, in particular, needs to be re-evaluated from the perspective of our material interfaces with a constantly changing environment. Extrapolating from Frankenstein films and the resonances they establish between a hybrid monster and the spectator hooked into the machinery of the cinema, Shane Denson engages debates in science studies and philosophy of technology to rethink histories of cinema, media, technology, and ultimately of the affective channels of our own embodiment.“
Foreword by media theorist Mark B. N. Hansen.
In our ongoing effort to highlight the work of undergraduate students, this post features the work of students in my English 381: Ecocinema course taught this past spring quarter at the University of Oregon.
For this assignment, I asked students to create Annotated Keywords that would define and apply key terms in ecomedia studies. By creating these visual platforms, students engaged not just in linguistic learning but as much in visual learning. There are some editing errors here and there and the citations could have been clearer in some cases but I think these representative examples present a good start toward combining a traditional annotated bibliography with visual representation and analysis. These selections represent close readings of the keywords and some skill in graphic design.
I was inspired by Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton’s Lexicon of Sustainability, Raymond Williams’ classic Keywords for cultural studies, and a forthcoming project co-edited by Joni Adamson, William Gleason, and David N. Pellow, entitled Keywords for Environmental Studies to be published by NYU Press. Given the time limit of about two weeks for students to complete this project while keeping up with course readings and other assignments, I think the results are impressive. I hope these examples will inspire fresh discussion and creative approaches to teaching ecocinema and ecomedia.
My thanks to all of the students involved who have given me permission to share their work -
A new collection of essays edited by Birgit Schneider (postdoc fellow at the Institute for Arts and Media at University of Potsdam, Germany) and Thomas Nocke ( a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany) explores the profound impact of images in the scientific and political discourse of climate change. Here’s the rundown below (a PDF of the book’s intro is available on the publisher’s website – click the title linked below):
Image Politics of Climate Change: Visualizations, Imaginations, Documentations (Transcript, Germany, 2014)
Scientific research on climate change has given rise to a variety of images picturing climate change. These range from colorful expert graphics, model visualizations, photographs of extreme weather events like floods, droughts or melting ice, symbols like polar bears, to animated and interactive visualizations. Climate change graphics have not only increased knowledge about the subject, they have begun to influence popular awareness of global weather events. The status of climate pictures today is particularly crucial, as global climate change as a long-term process cannot be seen.
When images are widely distributed, they are able to shape how the world is thought about and seen. It is this implicit basic assumption of the power of images to influence reality that this book addresses: today’s images might become the blueprint for tomorrow’s realities.
Image Politics of Climate Change combines a wide interdisciplinary range of perspectives and questions, treated here in sixteen interdisciplinary case studies. The author’s specializations include both visual practice and theory: in the fields of climate sciences, computer graphics, art, curating, art history and visual studies, communication and cultural science, environmental and science & technology studies. The close interlinking of these viewpoints promotes in-depth insights into issues of production and analysis of climate visualization.
Panel CFP: Ecocriticism and Moving Image Archives
Deadline for Abstracts: August 6, 2014
Archival scholars have frequently turned to geological metaphors to explain the processes of archival selection, preservation, and the ‘unearthing’ of the past. Robert-Henri Bautier, for instance, compares archival collections to ‘sediments of geological layers’ that accumulate organically in “Les archives” (Samaran, L’Histoire et ses méthodes, 1961). Karen I. Ishizuka and Patricia Zimmermann echo this metaphor in Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories, referring to home movie collections as ‘archival mines’ and their study as an ‘excavation’ (2007). Yet ecocritical studies of archival practices and their material impacts on the natural world remain few and far between.
This panel intends to build upon these discursive resonances to ask what an ecocritical study of the archive might resemble, especially in relation to moving image preservation, digitization, recycling and disposal. Since archives arrest the decomposition of material artifacts, they paradoxically entail both the conservation and disturbance of place, cultural fragments and, by extension, ecology. Thus, this panel seeks to bring together archival study with the recent ecological and spatial turns in moving image scholarship.
Papers are encouraged to address, as well as build upon, the following topics:
- Analyses of temporality, history, and space (i.e. geological time versus anthropocentric history, the site-specific nature of archives and environments, etc.)
- Archival and environmental heritage, preservation and conservation
- Archival digitization, e-waste and disposal
- Coding in digital cinema or video game ecologies
- Discursive linkages between archival practice and environmental humanities (i.e. ‘sedimentation’, ‘unearthing the past’, ‘accumulation,’ ‘excavation’)
- Ecocritical readings of recycled archival images (including found footage and compilation films, videos, and databases)
- Ecological impact of the archival technologies and the circulation of archival moving images
- Ecomedia and environmental films as ‘visual archives’ of nature and the non-human
- Ephemera and decomposition
- Landscape as archive
- Materiality and the ecological footprint of digital archives, cloud-servers and databases
- Politics of ‘green’ archiving
Please send abstracts of 300 words (including bibliography, institutional/departmental affiliations, and a short bio) to Rachel Webb Jekanowski (Concordia University) at firstname.lastname@example.org by August 6, 2014. Successful submissions will be notified by August 12.
Rachel Webb Jekanowski
Department of Film & Moving Image Studies
Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema
Concordia University, Montreal