Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Surviving Progress

Will this be what finally puts these ideas in the public consciousness? Will it be like Supersize Me or Food Inc? Will it be handed around and become an underground hit? It seems to very well made. Here's a good review from Architectural Record (?!):
 The film, based on the book A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright, is framed around the existential question: What is progress? Wright serves as a kind of moderator for the discussion between viewer and 20 authors, scientists, theorists, and activists — including Jane Goodall, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Hawking, and J. Craig Venter (the mapper of the human genome). They take up issues such as “progress traps” (what feels progressive but actually portends doom), pillaging of earth's natural resources, and the role of debt in human development, but the conversation is lopsided and self-affirming.
Right now, the documentary says, progress is tied to economic development, which leads to all sorts of practical, sociological, ecological, and environmental problems. Humans are consuming too much, reproducing too fast, and being systematically crushed by economic forces — all in the name of progress. While this might be profitable for a few right now, it puts our entire species in peril. Their points are driven home in the film’s cinematography. We get time-lapse shots of the disappearing Amazon rainforest and booming, pollution-billowing metropolises, both man-made catastrophes of the highest order. There are aerial shots of greed and subjugation in the form of gated communities on open tracts of verdant land that bleed into densely packed urban spaces where the only thing green is faded paint on a shanty. And Roy and Crooks recall the ultimate we’re-all-doomed documentary, Koyaanisqatsi, with montages of people, cars, and machinery choking the life out of our modern world
Everyone seems to agree that the status quo is unsustainable. The economy must cease to be the engine that drives progress, and progress must be measured in a different way to ensure humanity’s survival. It's hard to argue the point since we are given few alternatives or little dissent. (The only time anything close to a debate occurs is when the film moves into discussing synthetic biology and genetic engineering.) In the end this view is probably right, but a fleshed out counter-argument — that “progress” has put humanity on a path to endless prosperity rather than imminent demise — would make the film rhetorically robust.

But time is the bigger problem here. Surviving Progress runs a meager 87 minutes. Topics such as progress traps, which will probably be new to laymen viewers, demand more oxygen, but they’re suffocated by an overlong discussion of debt and oligarchical control of societies. It’s an interesting subject, to be sure, but the economy has been endlessly picked over in countless documentaries over the past four years. Roy and Crooks could have distinguished their film in a crowded field by developing fresh areas of argument viewers likely haven’t confronted elsewhere
And a mention in Slate:
“We’re now reaching a point at which technological progress threatens the very existence of humanity.”

That terrifying pronouncement comes from the documentary Surviving Progress, directed by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks. Surviving Progress, based on Ronald Wright’s 2004 book A Short History of Progress, asks whether our advancement—and, in particular, the consumption that it drives—could have devastating consequences for the planet and the human race. Should we be concerned, or will these warnings one day seem as quaint as early fears about the telephone? Sharing their views on the past, present, and future of humanity are leading thinkers like Margaret Atwood, author of science fiction books Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood; primatologist Jane Goodall; scientist J. Craig Venter, who works with synthetic life; and renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking.
I think a lot of people across all political persuasions and social classes have a feeling that things are out of control at every level. Somone asked me recently what this blog was about. In a lot of ways, the same things that this movie appears to be about. I can't wait to see it. And yhe timing of the film is excellent (and a 2012 release to boot!).

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