Gulf Oil Spill [July 19-23, 2010]

Avi Santo's picture

Monday July 19, 2010 – Kevin Sanson (University of Texas at Austin) presents: Feeling Place

Tuesday July 20, 2010 – Elizabeth Schwarz (University of California, Riverside) presents: Cleaning Up the Gulf With Twitter

Wednesday July 21, 2010 – Joelle S. Underwood and Janelle A. Schwartz (Loyola University New Orleans) present: Spilling the Story

Thursday July 22, 2010 – Carrie Packwood Freeman (Georgia State University) presents: Dawn Soap: Greenwashing our way to cleaner wildlife

Friday July 23, 2010 – Shana Heinricy (University of New Mexico) presents: In Need of a Jazz Funeral: Hypermediated Mourning of the Gulf Coast


Theme week organized by Noel Kirkpatrick (Georgia State University)

Picture from Kris Krüg via Flickr, used and altered under Creative Commons License permission.

  • Feeling Place by Kevin Sanson

  • While we might explain the “newsworthiness” of the adjacent clip as a reaction to the ways in which Rep. Melancon violates some of our assumptions about gendered, national, and even regional identities (i.e., How do we frame a story about a southern statesman who cries?), I want to posit that it makes a much more radical statement about our sense of place in an increasingly mediated world.

    At the very least, the congressman’s emotional display ruptures any sense of place as neutral, static, or meaningless. Sure, we might assume place is just a passive entity—somewhere we pass through, fly over, or walk by without much further thought. Yet, seeing Melancon choke back tears not only forefronts just how deeply rooted our identities are in particular places, but also makes clear how much emotion and meaning we invest in these “mere” locations. After all, home is much more than a spot on a map.

    Additionally, in the wake of the BP Oil Spill (and, earlier, Hurricane Katrina), I think it is fair to say Coastal Louisiana has become a site of frenzied mediation. It continually reappears across our newspaper and magazine pages, broadcast and cable networks, and Internet sites.  These narratives and images bring so many of us at a distance into much closer proximity to the tragedy at hand—but to what a/effect?

    I worry that our experience of this place is inextricably bound up with its representation. That is, our connection to the actual place itself is loose and incidental.  We briefly learn from the incessant (yet, fleeting) news coverage how to care about “them” over “there” without ever being fully implicated ourselves.

    Again, I think this clip works to reframe our sense of place in a crucial way. Here, the marshes are not only constitutive of Melancon’s identity, but also central to a larger sense of nationhood. The marshes are, in fact, “America’s wetlands.” The sense of “us” and “them” might waver ever so slightly in this moment as the affective qualities of place are shared across multiple communities, making the rest of us feel just as emotionally invested—equally at home—in the Gulf Coast as the congressman.

  • Cleaning Up the Gulf With Twitter by Elizabeth Schwarz

  • How do messages of 140 characters or less influence change?

    Twitter is a microblogging website that allows users to communicate by sending messages that are 140 characters or less. Leroy Stick (the pseudonym of the individual behind the fake Twitter account, BP Global PR) created a satirical Twitter account a month after the Deep Horizon oil spill out of frustration of the lack of action by BP. @BPGlobalPR has close to 200,000 followers and is found on over 6,000 Twitter lists. The verified BP account has almost 20,000 followers and is found on just over 1,000 Twitter lists.

    In a way, Stick created a new identity for BP on Twitter. The Twitter bio states, “This page exists to get BP’s message and mission statement out into the twitterverse!” In addition to the countless satirical tweets describing the situation as it unfolds, Stick critically appropriated the BP logo, transforming the familiar green and yellow sunburst into a darker version of itself with drops of what appears to be oil falling from the black burst. 

    Stick revealed, ”I started off just making jokes at their expense with a few friends, but now it has turned into something of a movement.  …  People are sharing billboards, music, graphic art, videos and most importantly information.” But will the frustrations voiced and information shared on Twitter be catalysts for change? So far, the account has raised over $20,000 for the Gulf Restoration Network through donations and purchases of BP Cares t-shirts. The account also promotes BP Cares Art Shows occurring across the country that raise money for the Gulf.

    Many environmental activists call for systemic changes – can actions like those taken by @BPGlobalPR lead to the changes activists believe are necessary?  For now, Stick gives companies the following advice, “You know the best way to get the public to respect your brand?  Have a respectable brand.  Offer a great, innovative product and make responsible, ethical business decisions.” 

    You can donate to the Gulf Restoration Network at

  • Spilling the Story by Joelle S. Underwood and Janelle A. Schwartz

  • In Tim O’Brien’s 1990 novel, The Things They Carried, we are told that “story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” We are told, in the context of the Vietnam War, that “by telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others.” In short, there are consequences to be reconciled and lessons to be learned. But what these lessons are—these stories—are up for debate. On June 15, 2010, President Obama spoke from the Oval Office “about the battle we’re waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens.” Like O’Brien’s account of the Vietnam War, Obama’s remarks on the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico tell a true war story—replete with battles, assaults, tragedy, recovery, and restoration. As Obama’s rhetoric would have it, oil is the enemy that we, the American people, must subdue. This is a story-truth of his address. But could we not equally submit that our human need of oil is the enemy? That it is not the oil mounting a siege per se, but human error and greed? That we are, proverbially, our own worst enemy? In the same June 15 address Obama stated “that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the [oil] industry,” we must learn from the Deepwater Horizon explosion that “drilling for oil these days entails greater risk.” This is another story-truth. One more oriented perhaps to the human challenge of self-mastery. Thus, just as we pin down certain truths, we make up others. “Stories,” says O’Brien, “are for joining the past to the future.” Stories “make things present.” That’s the story-truth. 

    Here’s the happening-truth: On the accompanying slides, we present data related to the BP Gulf oil spill, oil consumption in the United States, and the habitat, wildlife, and people of the Gulf of Mexico. (Slides are best viewed in full screen mode.) The facts, figures, and images represent our objective experience of the spill as Louisiana residents.  Although the event under discussion is still unfolding, data is accurate as of July 20, 2010.  Because we are tracking a live disaster, without the benefit of hindsight, and because scientists, media and the layperson lack access to both definitive data and the physical sites of affected areas, this information must be continually updated and refined.   

    So what is the “truth” of the Gulf Oil Spill?

    Second Harvest Food Bank of New Orleans and Acadiana provides assistance to families of Louisiana affected by the oil spill.   

  • Dawn Soap: Greenwashing our way to … by Carrie Packwood Freeman

  • I was pleased to see Colbert and NPR call out Proctor & Gamble for the hypocritical aspects of their
    “Dawn saves wildlife” greenwashing campaign. The TV commercial showing a simulation of Dawn being used to clean oil-soaked otters and ducklings prophetically started airing before the Gulf oil spill. Is this how humans become “wildlife champions” these days? (“Everyday Wildlife Champions” is the title of Dawn’s facebook page) Apparently we just preemptively buy products from eco-unfriendly corporations who then donate some money and detergent to help clean up the next environmental mess we humans are sure to make. It almost makes the oil spill seem like it’s good for business and gives us humans a chance to be heroic animal-lovers.

    We could be TRUE wildlife champions if we took serious, collective steps to curb our consumption, sprawl, pollution, fossil fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions (such as shifting to an organic plant-based diet). This progressive change would NOT include purchasing products like Dawn that contain chemicals (and petroleum ironically), come in non-recycled plastic packaging, and are/were tested on nonhuman animals. P&G has notoriously conducted animal testing for decades and continues to do so (reluctantly, according to their sustainability webpage) as they keep introducing new chemicals into their products. So, to see their cheery commercial featuring adorable sudsy animals seems more than disingenuous. Advertising naturally avoids ugly imagery that shows detergent chemicals being forced into the eyes and skin of mice or other animals in P&G labs.

    When the commercial’s song optimistically claims the animals’ troubles are going to “wash away,” it greenwashes the reality that many cleansed animals will not survive oil contamination of their bodies and homes, as their lifespans and ability to reproduce and find nontoxic food is permanently diminished. And the ad doesn’t show fish, as they cannot be rescued from the Gulf’s toxic environment (and presumably we tend to care more about fish collectively as part of a food chain and not as individual beings, like turtles or marine birds). I do appreciate that money is being donated to bird and marine mammal rescue organizations as part of this campaign, but we needn’t spin it as a heroic consumer solution when it’s really too little too late.

    To help support the creation of park reserves around the world’s oceans, see the following charity: (you can pick a “hope spot” to protect the Gulf of Mexico’s deep reefs)

  • In Need of a Jazz Funeral: … by Shana Heinricy

  • The adjacent image appeared first as ads in the Gambit, New Orleans’ alternative weekly newspaper. Mignon Faget, a local, well-known jewelry designer, adapted her collection of solid silver Gulf Coast animals in the spirit of mourning jewelry, by placing a black ribbon behind each pin. The pin could then be used to raise awareness about the issues or  to signify the collective mourning taking place throughout the Gulf Coast. The ad was striking, placing the proper word on the responses and emotions of the people of New Orleans. I have seen people break into tears in conversations about the spill. The Gambit  published a sidebar of their unscientific survey which showed  that 59% of New Orleanians have “experienced significant depression from hearing about the Gulf oil disaster,” with another 16% claiming, “It’s coming” (July 6, 2010, p. 9).

    It seemed that this sort of outward display of mourning through wearing a pin, of some sort of action of mourning, may be necessary here in lovely New Orleans. We have traditions of collective, public actions, much more so than other locales in the United States. Mardi Gras and jazz funerals are obvious examples, but so are events such as the continual parades, festivals, and second lines that occur throughout the year.  

    The experience of this mourning is simultaneously personal, collective, and hyper-mediated. Individuals and organizations often find out more about the event from the news media than from those involved in the spill’s economic, environmental, personal, or recovery wake. News coverage of the spill is extraordinarily important, including sustained coverage when new events come along. News outlets such as CNN have been successful in this regards. I am not criticizing the news media’s coverage, but simply drawing attention to the ways that the hyper-mediation of this disaster (as well as other disasters) influences the collective mourning of those affected by the event.  There is no space to hide, become reclusive, or recover. This mourning is public, occurring as a group in and through the public culture of the media and the city.

Publication date (from feed): 

Mon, 19 Jul 2010 04:02:44 +0000