Saturday, October 13, 2007

Appealing to authority - better than appealing to celebrity

A good article on celebrity hypocrites, points out that even if they are hypocrites, it doesn't mean the message is wrong. Though it's great fun to rip into them:

This week Leonardo DiCaprio's new film The 11th Hour opens in cinemas. It's a grab bag of gloomy scenarios about the impending end of the world overlaid with footage of hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters. Leo solemnly intones a call for our society to radically rethink our over-consumption of natural resources and to start to live more sustainably. The message itself is laudable… [yet the movie's co-producer - DiCaprio] is putting a bigger carbon footprint in one hour in his private jet than an average American will put driving an SUV for a year.

The token nature of trendy celebrity causes reached a zenith in April this year when the Pimp My Ride crew made an Earth Day special. As American comedian Lewis Black pointed out at the time, the last people who should be giving environmental lessons are a bunch of guys who spend each episode hotting up cars to the point where they're as fuel inefficient as possible.

That same day Oprah handed out energy efficient light globes to her entire audience – which probably won't go too far towards undoing the damage caused by the day she gave everyone in her audience free cars.

As enjoyable as it is to beat up on celebrity hypocrites, there is always the sneaking suspicion that some critics are simply playing the man and not the ball. That is to say, their excessive focus on the hypocrisy of stars is a way of discrediting the message and to excuse inaction by the rest of us on the environment.

"Too often the criticisms imply that a green-celeb's errors render their environmental message moot and their actions meaningless."

…the only reason we even listening to their environmental message is because of who they are – not because they actually have any real knowledge of the subject.

How can we engage with the underlying scientific debate when the discourse is reduced to trendy slogans uttered by the rich and famous?

Does Leonardo DiCaprio really understand the intricacies of scientific debate about the release of methane from clathrate compounds that are hypothesised as a cause for other warming events in the distant past, including the Permian-Triassic extinction event and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum?

Or is DiCaprio just an actor?

"We've totally devalued expertise," says Dr Jackie Cook, from the School of Communications at University of South Australia. "We don't understand knowledge or research any more, we only understand opinion and image. What we have to do is shift from the surface into the depths (of an issue) but image floats faster through the (media's) system than anything else."

Read the whole thing.