20 June 2009

Repower and Propaganda

Every time I see the old fellow on the "Repower America" commercials, it makes me just a little angry. Not angry in an I'm going to throw a book at the television way, but more in a "do you think I'm an idiot?" way.

The speaker in the commercial is an older gentleman with a non-urban type of accent; both of these aspects are purposefully chosen by the ad's creators. The hope is that the viewer sees the speaker as a down to earth, common sense spokesman. So when this spokesman says that the country burns oil "in ways that kill God's green earth", the hope is that we - the audience - will agree, in part influenced by his age and demeanor.

But what is at work is a plain-folks propaganda technique coupled with anthropomorphizing of the planet. This is the image: a trust-worthy guy tells the audience that burning petroleum distillates has the unbelievably immense consequence of bringing mortality to the very ground the audience stands on. That is a very strong statement.

When I was younger, the Cold War was still on. It was understood that a nuclear war - not just a one-off explosion - would kill most if not all life on the planet. Mass extermination, and that outcome was and is clearly demonstrable. The planet - for what it would be worth - would survive. Life and the taking of it belongs to the living.

The effectiveness of anthropomorphizing the planet is deep and lasting, which is why such language is used by "Repower America". So, one might ask, how can we cure our nearly dead earth? The speaker has an answer.

The speaker asks - rhetorically - "Why can't we use our own clean energy and create good-paying jobs here instead of sending billions overseas?" It's rhetorical because he asks the question while walking in a wind-turbine farm as flashes of solar mirrors come and go. Never mind the fact that currently a very small slice of energy is produced from those two sources. Never mind the infighting between environmentalists who want wind and solar power and those who claim that there's too much of an environmental impact from those sources. We can, the speaker claims, just use this ready energy and make jobs. Easy. Done! Who would guess that the solution would be so simple?

The speaker closes the commercial with the demand that "It's time to get real." At this point, I begin to agree with him. The United States really has lots of oil and natural gas within the borders of our great country. The United States really can build and run nuclear power plants and safely reprocess spent fuel rods. The United States really can pursue conservation and curb the growth of energy consumption. Why does "Repower" not advocate those positions? The earth is dying for an answer...right?

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