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Environmentalism in Popular Culture: Gender,…
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Environmentalism in Popular Culture: Gender, Race, Sexuality, and the…

by Noel Sturgeon

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In reading Environmentalism in Popular Culture: Gender, Race, Sexuality and the Politics of the Natural, one cannot help but be reminded of historical blind spots regarding the nature of profit — a spot progressive idealists miss regularly.

One need look no further than something like progressive advocacy of drug legalization as an example of collective amnesia about North American economics. Much of what passes for such support tends to be little more than a timid attempt to carve out a space for small entrepreneurs at the expense of multinational corporations moving in and dominating another market, all while lobbying for special considerations to ensure their continued profitability and presumed right to hawk things people do not often want or need, while claiming harmlessness for ill health and addiction. While media outlets are awash with cautionary tales about cigarettes, fatty foods, alcohol and future landfill material no one needs, the refrain remains the same: the individual, not the company, is responsible for whatever problems junk products create, for the companies just sell it. Funny thing is no one mentions these experiences we all have had with globalization when 4/20 or any other day rolls around. As author Noël Sturgeon illustrates, good ideas without a strong political framework and critique against capital are simply doomed to become cogs in the machine.

Environmentalism in Popular Culture is a necessary challenge of ideas many of us may look upon with positive energy, but which require to be pushed further. Equally, Sturgeon scripts a thought-provoking thesis on how ideas of personal responsibility and individualism have eclipsed ideas of corporate responsibility and social accountability, mainly through persistent messaging presupposing the righteousness of the unregulated free market and the inherent danger of anything approaching the commons as a Communist fantasy.

This volume offers up an appraisal of green business that should be fundamental to anyone’s understanding of such evolutions in capital. Benevolence comes with it many hooks, and Environmentalism in Popular Culture unabashedly calls out the cynicism in which some of the noted benevolence is rooted. Sturgeon is furthermore clear in how North American chauvinism colors ‘green business’ interactions with the Third World, presupposing at once mysticism and helplessness, while failing to offer a lens to Western dominance for such happenings. The result of these ideologies coming to roost is soft capital, in the form of green business, partners with the hardline factions of globalization to present suffering as the natural order of life. Individuals, as the logic goes, are alone responsible for their own lot, not the governments and corporations which engineered societies to their own benefit. Enter theories that are but a hair more sophisticated than eugenics and one is left with the lucky, the cunning and the strong flourishing in a world where regulation is scorned as a roadblock to money rather than a guard for the public interest. What’s more, a focus on individuals simply recycling, buying green and purchasing hybrid cars eludes what Sturgeon calls “social justice in a global context.”

Environmentalism in Popular Culture, Sturgeon says, is heavy in criticism and light in solutions. However, that kind of approach may be just what is needed to advance theory we need right now.

Reviewed by Ernesto Aguilar ( )
  PoliticalMediaReview | Aug 4, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0816525811, Paperback)

In this thoughtful and highly readable book, Noël Sturgeon illustrates the myriad and insidious ways in which American popular culture depicts social inequities as “natural” and how our images of “nature” interfere with creating solutions to environmental problems that are just and fair for all. Why is it, she wonders, that environmentalist messages in popular culture so often “naturalize” themes of heroic male violence, suburban nuclear family structures, and U.S. dominance in the world? And what do these patterns of thought mean for how we envision environmental solutions, like “green” businesses, recycling programs, and the protection of threatened species?

Although there are other books that examine questions of culture and environment, this is the first book to employ a global feminist environmental justice analysis to focus on how racial inequality, gendered patterns of work, and heteronormative ideas about the family relate to environmental questions. Beginning in the late 1980s and moving to the present day, Sturgeon unpacks a variety of cultural tropes, including ideas about Mother Nature, the purity of the natural, and the allegedly close relationships of indigenous people with the natural world. She investigates the persistence of the “myth of the frontier” and its extension to the frontier of space exploration. She ponders the popularity (and occasional controversy) of penguins (and penguin family values) and questions assumptions about human warfare as “natural.”

The book is intended to provoke debates—among college students and graduate students, among their professors, among environmental activists, and among all citizens who are concerned with issues of environmental quality and social equality.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:01 -0400)

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