Friday 31 October 2008

related, surely

Charlotte Higgins' Guardian blog picks up on the New York Times piece (blogged here) about the under-representation of female playwrights. Her post adds up the male/female ratio of new plays at the National, the Donmar, the Almeida and the Royal Court. The numbers aren't good.

A major theme of this blog is that for more than ten years climate change has been the front page story that never makes it onto the main stage. It's noticeable that the only major playwright to have addressed the subject of climate change on stage is a woman. The two facts may not be unrelated. more ...

simple and effective

My editor at Intelligent Life writes:

I'm not convinced by the idea that instantly digestible = superficial. Great speakers from Jesus to Obama have come up with simple lines that run deep - 'Love your neighbour as yourself' for one. Rock music is full of them too. Give peace a chance... How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man? etc. The only thing wrong with the phrase 'simple but effective' is the but. The green movement, as you have written yourself, has not always found words to match the simple urgency of its message. more ...

thin art

A reader writes:

I definitely go with your frustration about anything that mentions climate change as being worth admiration. I think that plays into the view that rates the subject matter, and the potential effect, as being the justification for the art. How thin is that?

see also on this blog: two oppositions, art, ads and agit-prop, keep it distinct, the message is not to have one, artists and activists and just asking. more ...

Thursday 30 October 2008

marshall metaphor

What metaphor will characterise America's post-Bush attitude to the climate crisis? Some have spoken of a new Manhattan Project or an Apollo Programme, others still of a New Deal (see here). In Bill McKibben's New York Review article (linked here) about Thomas Friedman's new book (linked here), McKibben picks another analogy,

The controlling metaphor here is not the Manhattan Project or the Apollo moonshot; it is a Marshall Plan for carbons by which the global north makes up some of the difference between cheap coal and more expensive renewable energy for the global south ....
more ...

Tuesday 28 October 2008

two oppositions

A reader says yesterday's blog was 'harsh' on green advertising campaigns,

Are you saying that the connection between the language of consumerism to promote lifestyle choices necessarily produces superficial activities? I think that there's a connection between the aesthetics or the 'how' of a 'message' being delivered and the message itself. But I also think that for some people, the actions that they might take in response to that may be significant for them, meaningful for them, in ways that can't be predicted.

To clarify, there are two oppositions here. One is between green thinking and consumerism and the contradiction involved in using consumer techniques to push green messages. Consumer advertising has a dominant tone/style that's hip, jaunty and sexy and this tone largely crowds out other voices, emotions, experiences. It's as if green messages are having to dress up in someone else's clothes to gain any visibility. At some level, form affects content.

The other opposition is between advertising, which closes down meaning to push a single message, and art/literature, which opens up meaning and possibility and doesn't try to control how it's interpreted.

It's not that the activities that green campaigns promote are superficial. It's that a campaign poster or ad or video has to be instantly digestible. As a form of communication, that makes it superficial. The actions that flow may well be beneficial and meaningful, but judging that isn't part of critical discourse about the arts.

see also on this blog: art, ads and agit-prop, keep it distinct, the message is not to have one, artists and activists and just asking. more ...

Monday 27 October 2008

art, ads and agit-prop

This is a p.s. to keep it distinct which mentioned the 'tricky relationship' between art and green thinking. To spell this out further:

There's propaganda, which has a single message, and there's art, which has many possible interpretations, and then there's political art, which exists somewhere in between the two.

Any work that tries to raise public consciousness about an issue (and stimulate a response) would appear, broadly speaking, to be political art. That's a category, of course, that's embraced everything from Picasso's 'Guernica' to David Hare's Stuff Happens.

But there's also a vein of stylish and imaginative work emerging about climate change that has more to do with advertising than agit-prop (see here and here). That's laudable enough if it expresses your point of view (and it does mine).

But these projects* are going to value slickness, entertainment and superficiality. Why? Because they're employing the language and tone of consumerism to promote lifestyle choices. For many Greens, there's going to be an inherent contradiction there.

The range of creative responses to climate change is going to call for a new set of tools (a new taxonomy, perhaps). The first approach that comes to mind is the one that puts 'propaganda' at one end of the spectrum and 'art' at the other. But there'll be propaganda with high aesthetic value. And there'll be works that seem to be protesting but actually refuse to be pinned down. (Blowin' in the Wind would be a classic example from the Sixties.)

There's likely to be terrific tension between the urgency of the issue and the aesthetic challenges it presents (even assuming that this is something that needs to be aestheticised.) A critical framework is essential. Climate change is going to cause enough damage without it being responsible for a lot of bad art.

*Update: This wasn't clear enough. By 'projects', I meant the posters, ads, and videos, not the actions people take as a response to those. See two oppositions. more ...


Leading climate-change comic, Marcus Brigstocke, has a new panel show where everyone has a proper old dingdong. more ...

fraught business

In the November issue of Prospect, poet Gwyneth Lewis (left) attends a writers' symposium in Norwich on nature and culture and discovers this is 'an increasingly fraught business'. Lewis asks,

'how can writers become advocates for the natural world without propagandising and undermining their credibility.' (Subscriber link only.)

See also on this blog keep it distinct, the message is not to have one, artists and activists and just asking.

Update: the Book of Barely Imagined Beings blogged about Lewis's article on Saturday and defends some other contributors against the charge that they're 'old hat'. The post also seconds my remarks on art and activism. more ...

music and lyrics

Poet Laureate Andrew Motion is working on 'an exciting project on climate change' with composer Peter Maxwell Davies. more ...

Sunday 26 October 2008

nine days to go

Assuming November 4th ever comes ... Larry David more ...


The mosquito knows full well,
Small as he is he's a beast of prey.
But after all he only takes his bellyful,
He doesn't put my blood in the bank.

D. H. Lawrence
HT: Poetry Please more ...

Saturday 25 October 2008

ordinary joe

Playwright David Edgar weighs the dramatic impact of a new character, Joe the Plumber, in the third presidential debate. (Also, Steve Coll on this post-modern fable.) more ...

land of lost content

'The poetry is all being efficiently excised from our land.' Excerpt from Roger Deakin's diary published next week. more ...

not the reason 'y'

On Monday, female playwrights meet representatives of New York's Off Broadway and non-profit theatres. They want to know why only 10 out of the 40 plays by living American playwrights that are being presented at the 14 largest Off Broadway theatres are by women.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck says, 'I personally don’t think playwriting is a gene on a Y chromosome.' more ...

Thursday 23 October 2008

keep it distinct

Last week in Cambridge there was a very good CRASSH conference, organised by Benjamin Morris and Bradon Smith, on 'Representing Climate Change, Ecology Media and the Arts'.

Caspar Henderson read an extract from his Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Joe Smith spoke about his Cape Farewell trip, Michael Hrebeniak discussed the work of the postwar American poet Charles Olson, Abbie Garrington highlighted the unusual attentiveness in Kathleen Jamie's Findings and Jennifer Wallace described the impact of heavy industry on the tribal communities in Jharkhand as Robert Wallis showed his pictures, Ed Morris gave examples of the work of the Canary Project and Oliver Tickell outlined his new book Kyoto 2.

There were many other contributions. It was a rich couple of days. But if there was one underexplored area, it was the tricky relationship between the arts and scholarship on the one hand and activism and green thinking on the other. The best art is unlikely to be reducible to a single interpretation. The best advertising probably is.

It reminded me of part of a reply that Daniel Mendelsohn had made to a correspondent who had disagreed with his review of Brokebank Mountain. One sentence began, 'Because I am a critic (not an activist) ...' It might equally have started, 'Because I am an artist (not an activist) ...'

As more critics and artists engage with the issues of climate change, this is a distinction that is well worth exploring and, in many cases, preserving. more ...


$250,000 prize for a 2000-word piece of non-fiction. And the public decides. It's true. more ...

voting with his feet

For six years Simon Lee was chief executive for Changeworks. Now he's moved to a small croft in the north of Scotland to reduce his carbon footprint. In Run for the hills, he writes, 'If democracy can't defeat climate change I suspect climate change will defeat democracy anyway.' He posted that thought on No Impact Man's Open Discussion and was challenged to elaborate. more ...

that executive experience in full

Jason Jones interviews the current Wasilla mayor, Dianne Keller, for The Daily Show.

Jason Jones: Do you think being a small-town Mayor prepares you to be president of the United States?
Mayor Dianne Keller: An unequivocal yes.
JJ: How?
Mayor: How?
JJ: Let's say you have a problem with the fire department? What would you do?
Mayor: The city of Wasilla doesn't manage the fire department.
JJ: Ok, fine. Let's say there's something wrong with the school system?
Mayor: We don't do the school system.
JJ: Just pick any social service.
Mayor: We don't do social services in Wasilla...
JJ: Um, what do you do?
Mayor: What do we do in Wasilla?
JJ: Take me through the Mayor of Wasilla's day.
Mayor: (nod, nod, nod), Just different, different things on different, well Mondays at 10 o'clock we always have a staff meeting, and then, um, um, (long pause) every Thursday is a check-signing day, so I sign all the checks for the city of Wasilla--pay the bills...

HT for link and transcript: Crunchy Chicken more ...

getting it 50 years ago

This 1958 episode of the Bell Telephone Hour, 'The Unchained Goddess', sets out the threat of global warming that's posed by rising levels of CO2. more ...

what makes a good environmental film?

Leo Hickman nominates Koyaanisqatsi. more ...

Wednesday 22 October 2008

365 days of trash

One man's attempt to throw nothing away for a year. more ...

key attribute

On last week's Saturday Night Live, writes Tina Brown, Sarah Palin showed 'she had a key attribute for long-term political survival: the ability to pretend she finds humiliation amusing.' more ...

Tuesday 21 October 2008

where smart is heading

It's smart to use the things that are limitless and free. It's smart to think about where stuff comes from and ends up. It's even smarter to close the loop between the two. My piece for Intelligent Life about the low-carbon future. more ...

one per cent between them

Tina Fey did a B.A. in drama at University of Virginia, then took night classes at Second City, the improvisational theatre in Chicago, where she discovered she wanted 'to devote my life to improv'.

The Pew Research Centre has found that awareness of Fey's Sarah Palin sketches was running at 42%, only one per cent lower than Palin's own TV interviews. It's also had a significant impact on Palin's favourability ratings.

Since Palin has said that global warming is 'just God hugging us closer', Fey's performance may be the most influential role so far played by an actor in relation to climate change.

The Wiki entry has a good quote from a Fey interview about what she learnt from improv.

'When I started, improv had the biggest impact on my acting. I studied the usual acting methods at college—Stanislavsky and whatnot. But none of it really clicked for me. My problem with the traditional acting method was that I never understood what you were supposed to be thinking about when you’re onstage. But at Second City, I learned that your focus should be entirely on your partner. You take what they’re giving you and use it to build a scene. That opened it up for me. Suddenly it all made sense. It’s about your partner. Not what you’re going to say, not finding the perfect mannerisms or tics for your character, not what you’re going to eat later. Improv helped to distract me from my usual stage bullshit and put my focus somewhere else so that I could stop acting. I guess that’s what method acting is supposed to accomplish anyway. It distracts you so that your body and emotions can work freely. Improv is just a version of method acting that works for me.'
more ...

drrrrrrrrrill, baby, drrrrrrrrrill

Tina Fey asked the Saturday Night Live writer assigned to the Sarah Palin sketches to script in lots of words with Rs in them. 'She loves those Rs," Fey said. "William Ayerrrrrrrrrs and terrrrrorrrrists - I think she thinks there's oil in those Rs, she's digging deep.' more ...

part-time crusader

Edward Abbey

'Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it.' more ...

Monday 20 October 2008

waxing for longer

Malcolm Gladwell says lyric poetry isn't only a young person's game. Just look at the First XI.

'T. S. Eliot’s 'Prufrock', Robert Lowell’s 'Skunk Hour', Robert Frost’s 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening', 'William Carlos Williams’s 'Red Wheelbarrow', Elizabeth Bishop’s 'The Fish', Ezra Pound’s 'The River Merchant’s Wife', Sylvia Plath’s 'Daddy', Pound’s 'In a Station of the Metro', Frost’s 'Mending Wall', Wallace Stevens’s 'The Snow Man', and Williams’s 'The Dance'. Those eleven were composed at the ages of 23, 41, 48, 40, 29, 30, 30, 28, 38, 42, and 59, respectively.'
more ...

2012 is not about the olympics

Nobel prizewinner Rajendra Pachauri says,

'If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.'

quoted in Bill McKibben's review of Thomas Friedman's new book. more ...

from dismal science to deadly one

'We live on a planet with finite resources,' says the New Scientist, 'so why do we have an economic system in which all that matters is growth?' Special issue on how the economy is killing the earth. more ...

dazzling to be alive

Johann Hari says the Wall Street Crash hadn't happened for 80 years. The Arctic Crash hasn't happened for three million years:

This is, perversely, a dazzling time to be alive: every human being who ever lives will deal with the decisions we make here. If we disregard the voices of denial, Europe has a chance to do something extraordinary. We could be the people who saw this threat to our species coming and remade our societies to stop it. more ...

Tuesday 14 October 2008

what's wrong with sustainable

'I don't like the term,' says architect Mitchell Joachim. 'It's not evocative enough. You don't want your marriage to be sustainable. You want to be evolving, nurturing, learning.' more ...

return of the parrot

John Cleese says, 'I used to think Michael Palin was the funniest Palin on earth.'

But now he says there's a Palin in another parrot sketch.

Cleese says, 'Monty Python could have written this.' more ...

Monday 13 October 2008

aristotle in the usa

Hendrik Hertzberg:

If McCain loses, or even if he wins, his campaign will be remembered as a tragedy in the Aristotelian sense, in which a hero is ruined through some terrible choice of his own. One can only hope that the tragedy will be his alone, and not the nation’s. more ...

infected world

Theatre director Richard Olivier has used Henry V and The Tempest for teaching 'leadership skills'. This week he starts a 'Shakespeare and Sustainability' course at Schumacher College using As You Like It as the text. Key quote:

Give me leave To speak my mind
and I will through and through
Cleanse the foul body of the infected world,
If they will patiently receive my medicine.

More on Shakespeare and climate change. more ...

Sunday 12 October 2008

shift in concern

A shift in 'the traditional locus of moral concern', warns a disgruntled Theodore Dalrymple, means that

A man may be an irresponsible father, but that is more than compensated for by his deep concern about global warming, or foreign policy, or the food situation in Africa.

A false opposition: hard to imagine how a responsible father wouldn't be concerned about global warming. more ...

bottling out

Chris Patten's new book says it would require only $15bn to meet the United Nations Millennium Development goal of halving the number of people who lack access to safe drinking water, compared to 'the approximately $100bn a year spent on bottled water'. more ...

into neutral

To understand modern politics in Europe, writes Tom Holland, you have to understand Europe's Christian past

Neutrality, in the dimension of culture and religion, can never itself be a neutral concept: it is too much the product of Christian presumptions and history ever to rank as that. more ...


In a 1,200-word statement about his priorities for government David Cameron failed to mention the words 'environment' or 'climate change'. more ...

Saturday 11 October 2008

'theatre revels ...'

writes Guardian theatre blogger Andy Field,

'in the directness of its relationship with the real world. It is the perfect medium to begin playing with and making something wonderful out of our ever-more miserable weather.' more ...

out of the dark

When electrical problems at the Bush theatre took out the lighting, they scheduled a series of plays in natural light. more ...

Friday 10 October 2008

170,000 sign

Petition asks ABC to reconsider its ban on too 'controversial' ad that promotes alternative energy. more ...

topical developments

Most Victorian scientists kept faith

'with at least one major inheritance from the Romantic period: the belief that science should be conducted in a language available to all intelligent citizens, and that the public should always be educated both in its deepest fundamentals and in its most topical developments.'
more ...

a tragedy of shakespearian proportions

Because McCain did it to himself. more ...

the next great global industry

Thomas Friedman's new book is as much about America, he tells Elizabeth Kolbert, as it is about the next big thing - energy technology

the whole purpose of my book is to redefine green. To redefine it as a geo-political, geo-strategic, geo-economic, patriotic. Green is the new red, white and blue.
more ...

david miliband's either/or

'So the choice is not between an economic growth lifestyle and climate change—I think it is high carbon lifestyle versus low carbon lifestyle.' more ...

Thursday 9 October 2008

why he likes early cultures

The 2008 Nobel prize-winner for Literature, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (left), says

The dawn of peoples is important because we seem now to be living in the dusk. You have the sense that we are getting near the end.

For those who haven't read Le Clézio, a French professor at Columbia University explains his appeal, 'There is a concern for civilizations, a concern for ecology.' more ...

disko days

We've been following Cape Farewell's Disko Bay trip here. They had a bigger boat, more people and better weather than last year. Our associate editor Kellie Gutman, who's been keeping up with the blogs, says:

the most prolific blogger is the comedian Marcus Brigstocke. But all of the crew is blogging, and they are often very long, thoughtful, introspective, descriptive blogs - which is quite a change from last year. We've just scratched the surface with our sampling. There are a lot more video clips as well, and the official photographer has snapped great photos. more ...

the romance of science

Jonathan Bate reviews Richard Holmes' new book The Age of Wonder

Building on a generation of revisionist scholarship that has been barely visible beyond the groves of academe, Holmes triumphantly shows that the Romantic age was one of symbiosis rather than opposition, in which scientists such as Sir Humphry Davy were also poets and poets such as Coleridge had a shaping influence on scientists - we discover indeed that it was Coleridge who was responsible for the early 19th-century invention of the term 'scientist' as an alternative to the older nomenclature 'natural philosopher'.

H-t: Bookslut more ...

doing even less

Nearly two in three opinion leaders (63%) think that sustainability is a low or non-priority for business - and close to half (47%) believe that businesses will do even less in the current economic climate. more ...

the ad ABC won't run

They'll take an ad from Chevron, but not this:

The solution to our climate crisis seems simple. Repower America with wind and solar. End our dependence on foreign oil. A stronger economy. So why are we still stuck with dirty and expensive energy? Because big oil spends hundreds of millions of dollars to block clean energy. Lobbyists, ads, even scandals. All to increase their profits, while America suffers. Breaking big oil's lock on our government ... Now that's change. We're the American people and we approve this message. more ...


So close to garbage, so far from language. more ...

the audition

He cynically picked a running mate with less care than theater directors give to picking a leading actor’s understudy. more ...

Wednesday 8 October 2008

nuts and bolts

Australian theatre critic Alison Croggon quotes the Austrian novelist Robert Musil (left), who maintained that,

'if there was to be real social change of any kind, what was required more than anything else was not idealists nor intellectuals, but managers: those who knew the nuts and bolts of creating and maintaining organisations, and understood how to change organisational structures.'

H-t: Theatre Ideas. more ...

Tuesday 7 October 2008


The U.S. has 5% of the world's population, says the Wall Street Journal, and burns 23% of the world's oil. But what's striking is the make-up of the carbon footprint.

'Industry -- including oil, steel, chemicals and cement -- produces 23% of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the McKinsey study. But a handful of other emission sources more directly controlled by consumers far outweigh industry when those sources are pooled together ... Consumer behavior affects virtually all man-made greenhouse-gas emissions because consumers drive the economy.' more ...

Monday 6 October 2008


The psychoanalyst Adam Phillips discusses Oedipus with Ralph Fiennes,

'The process of revelation in the play is as interesting as what is revealed. ' more ...

Friday 3 October 2008

other people

Nick Elliot, ITV's head of drama (1995-2007), gives his advice to dramatists writing for mainstream ITV and BBC1,

'the key word is empathy. Ordinary viewers need to identify with a sympathetic leading character or set of characters. (These are hopefully played by a relatively small band of actors that inspire loyalty and affection. Usually these actors had some comedy in them and didn't take themselves terribly seriously.) This means avoiding characters (and actors) who are cold, supercilious, cool or trendy.

Avoid situations that ordinary people in ordinary Britain find hard to relate to - metropolitan life, showbiz, journalism, politics, fashion, business. And if you only know those worlds get out of London and meet some other people.

Don't be dark and depressing and don't give us a message of despair or cynicism. We're probably looking for some entertainment so give us colour, pace and a clear concept that can be marketed and understood.

Finally - and this bit is sometimes difficult - don't give us something we've already seen or is very similar to something on another channel.'
more ...


Jonathan Raban writes about Sarah Palin's appeal,

'Importantly, she’s unimpressed by ‘science’, whether it’s the science of evolution, anthropogenic climate change or the Endangered Species Act. In a period of stagnant wages and rising unemployment, science has been vilified as the enemy of working-class jobs in such industries as mining, timber, agriculture and construction.'

more ...

glorious mud

Our leading land artist Richard Long talks to me about mud, Bristol and his relationship to green politics. more ...

Wednesday 1 October 2008

low-priority issue

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, authors of 'The Death of Environmentalism', argue that

'Global warming remains a low-priority issue, hovering near the bottom of the Pew Center for People and the Press' top 20 priorities. By contrast, public concern about gasoline and energy prices has shifted dramatically. '

Gas prices have become the second-highest concern after the economy. more ...

polluter pays

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz applies green principles to the financial crisis

'In environmental economics, there is a basic concept called the polluter pays principle. It is a matter of fairness, but also of efficiency. Wall Street has polluted our economy with toxic mortgages. It should now pay for the cleanup.' more ...


The UK's Met Office says cutting global emissions by 3% a year from 2010 offers the only possible hope of avoiding a global temperature rise of more than 2C. more ...