Friday, March 2, 2012

When hypocrisy is good business: "The Lorax"

Alright, I may be coming at you today with another flurry of posts to send you into the weekend. As usual, I promise nothing, but I've got all sorts of good intentions.

The ostensible purpose of this particular post is to share with you what just might be the greatest movie review ever written. You may have heard about the movie version of "The Lorax" already, and you almost certainly have if you watch Fox News (which, if you're reading this blog... ehhhh, you probably don't, but I digress). You see, many on the far right have latched onto The Lorax as their most recent cause célèbre, vilifying the movie as Hollywood's latest attempt to "indoctrinate" our kids with a dangerous message of conservation.

I could seriously spend hours unpacking the idiocy behind that one, but I won't bother. Because, as New York Times movie reviewer A.O. Scott points out, ultimately the joke is on Fox News. In a piece that is honestly one of the greatest examples of journalistic criticism in recent memory, Scott unleashes the awesomest, meanest, most beautifully-crafted negative review I've ever read (well, at least since Homer Simpson's review of "The Legless Frog").
Having donned recyclable 3-D glasses and seen the thing for myself, I’m not sure whether to mock the enemies of “The Lorax” for their cluelessness, to offer them reassurance or to compliment them for being half-right. Thematically the movie... dutifully lectures its audience on the folly of overconsumption and the virtue of conservation. At times the imagery takes on a dark, almost apocalyptic cast as it surveys the smogged-up, denuded landscape where the trees used to be and the shiny, commercialized pseudo-utopia (called Thneedville) that an alienated humanity, having lost the memory of nature, now calls home. 
Don’t be fooled. Despite its soft environmentalist message “The Lorax” is an example of what it pretends to oppose. Its relationship to Dr. Seuss’s book is precisely that of the synthetic trees that line the streets of Thneedville to the organic Truffulas they have displaced. The movie is a noisy, useless piece of junk, reverse-engineered into something resembling popular art in accordance with the reigning imperatives of marketing and brand extension. 
This is not a matter of hypocrisy or corporate green-washing on the part of the filmmakers, nor of reflexive Loraxian dogmatism on my part. The corporate entertainment system has shown itself perfectly capable of injecting soul into what it sells, and at inflecting some of its products with a critical spirit. “Wall-E” is a transcendent example, brilliantly embracing its own contradictions, but there are plenty of other movies, animated and not, that manage to pay tribute to the beauty of the natural world even as they revel in giddy, merchandising-friendly artifice.
Wow, wow, wow. Seriously, every word of this thing is perfectly chosen, and I highly suggest that you read it in its entirety. I read it aloud to my wife last night and I could barely finish the thing without grinning like an idiot at the sheer brutality of it all.

But the thing is, Scott is dead on. I've already seen The Lorax shilling for Mazda SUVs and doing random promotional spots for TBS (two of apparently 70 "launch partners" for the film, many of whom have tenuous ties at best to any environmentalist movement), and I'm sure there's more on the way. All I know is, if I see the Lorax showing up courtside at Lakers games, I'm outta here.

As I said earlier, ultimately the joke is on Fox News here for assuming that The Lorax's "message" is in any way genuine. After all, the directors and producers are doing more damage to their own "message" with this hypocrisy than any conservative broadcaster could ever do. Actions always speak louder than words, and their actions here are extremely loud and in your face.

As a business entity, "The Lorax" is essentially doing what just about every corporate titan is doing these days--attempting to co-opt the "green" movement as a corporate slogan, spending more money publicizing its supposed good deeds than was ever spent actually pursuing those same deeds. It's brilliant P.R., but it's also in most cases incredibly dishonest and fraudulent.

Interestingly enough, Fox News could actually learn a little something from The Lorax here--these days, it's good business to pretend to be green, whether or not you actually are. Actually, I'm pretty sure the Republican Party of today is built on just this kind of hypocrisy... ironic, isn't it?

[New York Times]

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