boy meets planet

Last night I went to the premiere of THE ELEVENTH HOUR, the new documentary about global warming produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Leo — I’m tempted to call him The Leo, but I won’t, and I’m too lazy to keep spelling out his last name, so I will refer to him as if he’s just this dude I happen to be friends with, which of course I am not — looked great. Slim, grown-up, suave and handsome. Very different from the Leo I saw in a club a handful of years ago, this then-husky kid (he still looked like a kid) in jeans and t-shirt pumping his fist to the music, surrounded on the dance floor by his very protective posse.*

What you can expect when you attend a premiere: people will be dressed in everything from formal wear (the actresses who star in the film and have to face the red carpet, and the out-of-town relatives of cast and crew who have never been to a premiere before and think that everyone dresses like the actresses who have to face the red carpet) to jeans and t-shirts. Most fall somewhere in the range of ‘business casual’, since they’re probably coming from work (these things are held on weeknights) and a premiere is basically a glorified office party where people schmooze and network. They just tend to be really good-looking.

There are two entrances to the theatre holding the premiere. One is lined with photographers. It has a red carpet and a backdrop. The other entrance does not. Most of us are directed to the latter entrance.

It will seem on the invite that the premiere officially begins at 7. This means it might start at 7:45. Or 8:30. Or later. There is no way to know. It is the great mystery. Perhaps there are premieres that really do start on time, but I have never been to one, and I suspect they are mythical things: like unicorns, or flying toasters.

The premiere does not start with the actual movie. The director or producer gets up on stage, if there is a stage, and speaks to the audience for a while and introduces whatever cast members have actually shown up. (When THANK YOU FOR SMOKING made its American premiere at Sundance, someone in the audience yelled to director-writer Jason Reitman, “Where’s Katie Holmes?” Jason — who was the man of the moment, and the scruffiest guy in the room, sporting an ensemble that had a rather homeless je ne sais quoi kind of quality– paused, leaned in to the mikestand, and said, “Deeply in love.”)

The movie plays. If people love it, they clap and stamp and whistle (THANK YOU FOR SMOKING). If they didn’t, they give polite, tepid applause (THE PHANTOM MENACE). And if they hate it, they get the hell out of there before they might have to speak to anyone involved in the making of it.

THE ELEVENTH HOUR drew a solid response. I was expecting to hate it, actually, not because I deny global warming*** but because of a conversation with a producer friend who had already screened it. He found it too sensationalistic, too brutal, he said, so that by the time you reach the cautiously hopeful ending you are too suicidal to care. And there is some truth to that. I did experience that my-god-I-should-just-kill-myself-now-before-the-planet-does-it-for-me kind of feeling.

But if Leo has, as my producer friend charged, an ‘everyman’s’ understanding of global warming — informed, passionate, but not as deep or finely detailed as someone like Al Gore’s — I don’t think this is such a bad thing. It is not a subtle movie. It is also not a subtle issue. If AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH focused on both exposing and then clearing away the deliberate misinformation sowed, over years, throughout the culture to invoke enough doubt and uncertainty so that certain interests would remain protected –( because TRUTH, in my mind, was never aimed at converting the deniers, so much as it was speaking to people like me, people who figured, yeah, there probably is some kind of a problem, but maybe it’s not such a big thing so why waste time worrying over it and hey, I’m off to the mall)– then HOUR is about taking that awareness one step further. About replacing that confusion and complacency with enough drive, community and urgency to give us a shot at actually solving the problem.

I do not like the term ‘climate change’ — it offends me and I don’t use it — largely because I met the guy who coined it and learned why he did and who paid him to do it. This still-youngish guy — a very engaging, fascinating man to talk to over dinner, which I’ve done once in a friend’s backyard high in the hills of Bel Air and again a year or so later, after he went on a late-night talk show to argue with host and guests, and then a group of us trooped from the studio to a nearby bar and grill — is an expert in how language affects perception affects reality. He tells politicians what phrases to use on the people in order to sway their perceptions and make them think what those politicians want them to think. He was hired by a certain political party seeking to win a very big election, and part of what they asked him to do was to downplay global warming.

So he gave them the term ‘climate change’.

It took, as he knew it would, because it’s kinder and gentler and makes people feel better.

‘Global warming’ implies that the planet is going to hell. There is no return. We’re heating up and we’ll keep heating up until the air burns and the sky rains acid. This is not a feel-good concept.

‘Climate change’ implies that the planet is undergoing a much more natural, cyclical kind of process, that these ‘changes’ are in fact inevitable, which allows for the possibility that we’re making a huge fuss over nothing. And fossil fuels are good for the economy. Carry on.

*I think it was Mood, back in the day when Mood was having its five minutes of Hollywood It-ness. I remember red walls, dark-wood flooring and vaguely exotic little alcoves: a vague suggestion of an opium den, or what a Hollywood clubgoer might want an opium den to be. Maybe that wasn’t Mood. Who knows. These clubs blur into each other: it’s all the same people anyway, the same places, only the names and decor that change.

** My sister, on one of her first visits to LA from our small Canadian hometown, was delighted to celebrity-sight young master Leo. “He looks so joyful,” she said enviously, “like he’s having such a great time.” But it was another sighting that made an impression on me. I kept puzzling over this tall heavyset middle-aged guy dressed in a nondescript denim shirt and looking out of place as he moved among the hipsters and pretty young things. He didn’t even look like one of the rich guys who aren’t particularly hip or pretty but don’t mind spending a thousand dollars on two bottles of alcohol and so can buy a table. He sort of resembled Kevin Costner, except Kevin Costner was handsome and sexy and this guy was not. This guy was kind of schlumpy, so surely he couldn’t be Costner? Except why were these young sexy women — three or four of them — hovering and fluttering around him, batting their eyes, forming their own ring around him whenever he moved through the club? I took the adoring, so-attentive presence of those women to suggest that the dude was Costner…maybe. I had not spent enough time in LA to learn that the only way a club like Mood would let in some overweight schlumpy middle-aged kind of guy who looked a bit like Kevin Costner gone to seed, would be if he was actually Kevin Costner.

(What an elite LA nightclub and a Silicon Valley boardroom have in common: it’s the worst-dressed guy there who often turns out to have the most power and status.)

*** You can argue over how alarmist we should be, how the science of global warming should be weighed and interpreted, but denying global warming itself, in this day and age, is like denying the Holocaust. There are, of course, people who deny the Holocaust, and they have the right to their opinion, but the media doesn’t bother to give them a platform and the culture doesn’t take them seriously. If we’re not at that point yet with the “global warming is a political hoax/science is just another opinion” brigade — and unfortunately we are not, and it just might be possible that the time they’ve cost us in addressing the problem will end up dooming us all — we will be soon. There really was a Holocaust. Men really did land on the moon. If we keep heating up the planet the way we’re doing, the planet will adjust and go on until it finally gets hit by a comet or swallowed by the sun or sideswiped by aliens or something, but we really will be extinct, having so neatly destroyed ourselves and everything we took along with us. The question is not whether global warming exists; the question is how long it will take before we hit the point of no return and lose all hope of correcting the course we are currently on. When I started this blog, I promised myself that I would avoid the political. And I do. This is not a political issue. This issue has been highly politicized, to the misfortune of us all. Because global warming, in and of itself, doesn’t give a damn who you vote for.


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