As Mark Steyn wrote last year, “The ecochondriacs mean it: This’d be a pretty nice planet if we didn’t live here.”
Which is the theme of M. Night Shyamalan’s new film, The Happening. The center-left New Republic and center-right Wall Street Journal don’t always agree on the issues of the day, but neither publication is in doubt about how the repugnant that theme looks when it’s played out on a 30-foot high screen at the local shopping mall’s multiplex.
In TNR, James Kirchick, the author of headline quoted above writes, “the mere existence of the human race is a cause for great shame” in Shyamalan’s film:
As with most of Shyamalan’s films, The Happening has an intriguing plot: centuries of human pollution has prompted nature to retaliate against us by form of a noxious gas released from trees, plants, grass — it’s never really clear. The toxin is first emitted in Central Park, smack dab in the middle of one of the most densly populated places in the United States. First, victims lose their critical faculties. Then they freeze. Then they killl themselves. From New York City “The Happening” spreads all along the east coast, from Boston to Washington. Shyamalan leaves little to the imagination in depicting man’s nature-inflicted suicide. We see a woman stab herself in the neck with a hair pin. A man runs himself over with a lawnmower. On can’t help but leave the theater thinking that Shyamalan derives a sick, masochistic pleasure in showing the deaths of all his bit characters, hopeless rubes are these human beings. They drove their SUVs for too long and had a big carbon footprint and now they’re going to pay.After 90 minutes of this, the culling of humanity ends. We catch a brief television news segment in which a scientist warns us that what the Northeast just experienced was akin to a terrestrial occurrence of oceanic “red tides.” The earth warned us, but thankfully we get another chance to amend the errors of our ways. Like the end of An Inconvenient Truth, we’re left with some hope that environmental catastrophe is not a foregone conclusion. Buy a plug-in car. Use public transportation when available. Turn off the light when you leave a room. An unoffensive, and indeed positive message. The second to last scene depicts the female lead waiting nervously in her bathroom to read the results of a home pregnancy test. To her delight, she is with child. Her husband comes home, they embrace. Humanity soldiers on. What a warm feeling after so many scenes of horrific death.
But Shyamalan is obsessed with conceits at the expense of every other aspect — the script, character development, and most importantly, good taste. He lives by the conceit, and, in this case, dies by it. After the pregnancy scene, the screen goes dark and we find ourselves in Paris, the Jardin des Tuileries to be exact. It’s eerily reminiscent of the film’s opening, with two men walking, engaged in pleasant conversation about their plans for the evening. A gust of wind! One of the men starts to stutter. People freeze. Screams. Mon Dieu!. Roll credits.
This isn’t just radical environemntalist fare; it’s perverse and anti-human. Shyamalan cuts immediately from the natural joy of pregnancy to its consequence: mass, nature-inflicted murder. It’s not carbon output, styrofoam cups or the clearing of the rain forests that so angers Mother Earth and, thus, her self-appointed human spokesman. It’s us.
Meanwhile, in the Wall Street Journal, (found via Dirty Harry’s new film blog) Joseph Rago notes, “We have arrived at a strange moment in American pop culture when movie-goers spend two hours in the theater being informed that we all deserve to die”:
In a recent interview, Mr. Shyamalan, best known for “The Sixth Sense” (1999), said that “The Happening” is intended to “wake everybody up” and “get back to the correct relationship with nature.”Obviously it isn’t Hollywood’s first environmental disaster flick. Think of 2004’s “The Day After Tomorrow,” where all it takes is the CO2-induced obliteration of the East Coast for Dennis Quaid to learn how to be a better dad. But catastrophic climate change in that movie was a simple plot device that could be replaced easily enough with, say, space aliens. “The Happening” is honest-to-Gaia green agitprop: Like the Lorax, Mr. Shyamalan is speaking for the trees.
Environmentalism’s seam of misanthropy traces back to John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club in 1892, and probably to Thoreau. We’re just another species, the thinking goes, or would be had our iniquities not made us unworthy of a place in the ecosystem. The existence of Homo sapiens is an affliction and cause for profound shame.
Today the position persists along the fringes of the “deep ecology” movement, where adherents can still be found chanting, “Four legs good! Two legs bad!” But the message also has some mainstream appeal: A best-selling book last summer was “The World Without Us,” in which science journalist Alan Weisman gleefully imagined how nature would respond if man abruptly went extinct and how great it would be for the planet. “The Happening” merely takes this misanthropy to its logical extreme.
Of course, most mainstream greens limit themselves to nagging on behalf of Mommy Nature. Yet amid the much ado about global warming, the people problem is asserting itself with a neo-Malthusian vengeance. Almost every element of modern life is reducible to carbon. Like it or not, a higher population leads inexorably to more anthropogenic greenhouse gases.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ranks demographic proliferation as a “driver for emissions.” British environmental minister Hilary Benn — most recently spotted endorsing carbon rationing cards as a set of new sumptuary laws — notes with approval that “family planning is the ultimate carbon offsetting scheme.” Even though Paul Ehrlich’s “population bomb” has been defused again and again, Jeffrey Sachs, Jared Diamond, Bill McKibben and others have come to similar conclusions.
Since population control led to such PR disasters of the late 20th century as mass forced sterilizations under Indira Gandhi and China’s one-child policy, it makes people queasy. Instead, the greens, when not plumping for massive carbon tax-and-regulation schemes, focus on behavioral alterations — like taking public transit or installing the correct light bulbs. The weight given to consumer-driven change, however, means that the people problem can’t help but seep out into the culture at large. Having kids is the most carbon-intensive choice most people will ever make.
Not surprisingly, more than a few of the recent handbooks for “green living” recommend thinking seriously about children. The Sierra Club says that the ideal number is two. Messrs. Weisman and McKibben say it’s one. Mr. Shyamalan seems to think it’s zero. It can’t be long before we’re being offered another helpful “tip”: Kill yourself.
But that’s already occurred. In mid-2006, Tammy Bruce, amongst other pundits and bloggers, reported a speech given by Dr. Eric R. Pianka, a University of Texas evolutionary ecologist named the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist by the Texas Academy of Science. In mid-2006, the academy enthusiastically cheered upon the conclusion of this speech:
Professor Pianka said the Earth as we know it will not survive without drastic measures. Then, and without presenting any data to justify this number, he asserted that the only feasible solution to saving the Earth is to reduce the population to 10 percent of the present number.He then showed solutions for reducing the world’s population in the form of a slide depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War and famine would not do, he explained. Instead, disease offered the most efficient and fastest way to kill the billions that must soon die if the population crisis is to be solved.
Pianka then displayed a slide showing rows of human skulls, one of which had red lights flashing from its eye sockets.
AIDS is not an efficient killer, he explained, because it is too slow. His favorite candidate for eliminating 90 percent of the world’s population is airborne Ebola ( Ebola Reston ), because it is both highly lethal and it kills in days, instead of years. However, Professor Pianka did not mention that Ebola victims die a slow and torturous death as the virus initiates a cascade of biological calamities inside the victim that eventually liquefy the internal organs.
After praising the Ebola virus for its efficiency at killing, Pianka paused, leaned over the lectern, looked at us and carefully said, “We’ve got airborne 90 percent mortality in humans. Killing humans. Think about that.”
With his slide of human skulls towering on the screen behind him, Professor Pianka was deadly serious. The audience that had been applauding some of his statements now sat silent.
After a dramatic pause, Pianka returned to politics and environmentalism. But he revisited his call for mass death when he reflected on the oil situation.
“And the fossil fuels are running out,” he said, “so I think we may have to cut back to two billion, which would be about one-third as many people.” So the oil crisis alone may require eliminating two-third’s of the world’s population.
How soon must the mass dying begin if Earth is to be saved? Apparently fairly soon, for Pianka suggested he might be around when the killer disease goes to work. He was born in 1939, and his lengthy obituary appears on his web site.
When Pianka finished his remarks, the audience applauded. It wasn’t merely a smattering of polite clapping that audiences diplomatically reserve for poor or boring speakers. It was a loud, vigorous and enthusiastic applause.
Pianka’s Wikipedia entry notes:
The host of the speech, the Texas Academy of Sciences, has released a statement stating that “many of Dr. Pianka’s statements have been severely misconstrued and sensationalized.”
Much like Reverend Wright would later be, it seems. This is a variation on the “botched joke” do-over the left claims for themselves whenever a Kinsley-esque gaffe of an unusually potent nature occurs. But as Tammy Bruce noted at the time, two years before Shyamalan’s new movie, such eco-doomsday thinking isn’t all that unusual:
I have been arguing for years now that the destruction of humanity, literally, is the actual agenda, conscious and unconscious, of Leftists worldwide. They have become progressively ugly and hateful politically and otherwise because they hate themselves and consequently project that hate, as Malignant Narcissists do, back onto humanity as a whole. Their frustration at the rejection of their agenda (history at least has taught us something) that they bother less and less with sugar-coating their nihilistic rage.
Now playing at a theater near you!
Hey, how about if we save the earth by migrating into space? Somehow, I don’t think they’ll like that, either.
Maybe that explains this.