Table of Contents

Preface By The Author

Please note: This thesis was written 5 years ago in 2008 and does not necessarily represent the current views of the author, however the work is still important in outlining some of the issues humanity must overcome to reach the next stage of our evolution on this planet, and the “planetary” stage of evolution this might entail. Much further study and experiences, and unseen developments, such as the emergence of cryptocurrency, 3D printing, crowdfunding, technonomadism, and many other ever evolving and proliferating technological, cultural and economic breakthroughs, now give a new sense of wonder to the author for a bright future for humanity on Spaceship Earth and beyond. Funnily enough, 6 months after this thesis was submitted the global financial crisis struck and the system did very much teeter on the brink of collapse; baring the failings of the current system of global capitalism to all, which is the form of capitalism condemned repeatedly in this thesis (it could easily be argued the current system is still undergoing a process of collapse). It is the global banking system’s form of capitalism which is condemned in this thesis, and not the market forces involved in the fundamentally disruptive technology of cryptocurrencies: which, along with many other developments, may be ushering in an empowering new paradigm for us all. - Blake Zachariah, April 2013

Out of Control: Mapping Emerging Mythologies of The World System’s Relationship With Gaia Through Hollywood’s Visions of Climate Change And The Environmental Collapse of The Globalised World System

Abstract:

The evidence from scientists, academics, government agencies worldwide, and the United Nations is clear: the globalised world system faces an environmental crisis of ominous proportions, and is having an unprecedented impact on the Earth, or Gaia. In the last 100 years, global human population has exploded from 1.5 billion to over 6 billion. According to ecologists, biologists, and geologists, we are in the midst of the most dramatic species extinction event since the demise of the Dinosaur’s 65 million years ago: the anthropocene. This is an anthropogenic extinction event caused by human activity. Anthropogenic climate change also threatens the future of both Gaia, and the globalised world system, as we know it. This thesis will analyse the three most recent popular Hollywood movies exploring environmental collapse from a mythological perspective: Stanton’s 2008 film WALL-E, Emmerich’s 2004 The Day After Tomorrow, and Spielberg’s 2001 AI Artifical Intelligence. Synthesising the work of Levi-Strauss, Barthes, and Drummond, it will be seen that the films are simultaneously involved in the construction, and expression, of global capitalism’s symbolic cultural constructions of reality. From a mythological perspective, it can be seen that three dominant concepts circulating in the world system concerning the ecological crisis and climate change are repeatedly signified in the movies. The first is an anxiety and an awareness of our unprecedented impact on the planet, and the profound consequences of this for both humanity, and Gaia more generally. Secondly, the movies on some level all exhibit mythological communication concerning capitalism as the key driving force behind our present global environmental predicament. Thirdly, the increasingly likely possibility of the collapse of the globalised world system as a result, is repeatedly explored. Ultimately, the movies will be seen as a mythological manifestation of a culture attempting to come to terms with its unprecedented impact on Gaia.

Glossary:

Anthropocene: The current unprecedented anthropogenic species extinction event occurring on Gaia, also called the sixth extinction.

Anthropogenic: A process caused by human activity. For example: scientifically proven anthropogenic climate change as a result of the globalised world system’s ever increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Biomass: In ecology, biomass is the total weight of living organisms in a particular context: for example the global biomass of humanity is estimated to be at least 100 million tonnes.

Biosphere: In ecology the biosphere is the global ecosystem consisting of all the living organisms on the Earth.

Anthropogenic climate change: The scientifically observed, and predicted, dramatic changes in global climate due to the greenhouse gas emissions of the globalised world system. 99% of climate scientists agree that most observed climate change is anthropogenic: attributable to human activity.

Futures Studies: A discipline that aims not to predict the future per se, but which uses a range of qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis, to produce scenarios of possible and probable futures. Often used in business contexts for commercial gain, where it goes under the alias of strategic foresight. However, it is also used with the underlying assumption that it is important to conceptualise the possible futures of humanity, in order to guide the globalised world system’s actions in the present, in the interest of creating an environmentally sustainable, technologically responsible, and humane future.

Gaia: A holistic model of the Earth system in which all life forms, including human beings, climate patterns, atmospheric composition, and all other ‘natural’ phenomena are dynamically interrelated.

Globalised World System: The contemporary globalised social, cultural, economic, technological, and physical processes of humanity; involving dynamic flows of people, media, ideas, resources and goods across Gaia.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP): The total economic turnover of a nation or transnational corporation, usually expressed in US dollars. In capitalist economics a high and growing GDP is seen as the key indicator of a ‘strong’ economy: an implicit assumption of capitalism is that GDP must increase every single day. Often criticised by environmentalists for the fact that sweatshops, wars, environmental and other disasters, and over consumption of Gaia’s productive capacity dramatically increase GDP: therefore capitalism explicitly thrives off such phenomena.

Mediascapes: A phrase coined by the anthropologist Appadurai as a means to conceptualise the multidimensional transnational flows of film, DVD’s, books, newspapers, online and other media in the globalised world system

Postindustrial: Nations such as America, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, which rely less on primary industry, and more on high technology, services, knowledge, and information to power their economies. Postindustrial nations are also characterised by far higher consumption of Gaia’s productive capacity per capita than the industrial and industrialising nations.

Chapter 1 - Thesis outline:

‘Macro-questions are at least as important as micro-questions, and therefore deserve to be studied with at least the same level of scholarship, creativity, and academic rigor [as micro-level analyses].’ – Nick Bostrom, Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, on the need for macro scale academic endeavours (Bostrom 2009).

Previous societies and cultures have always had an impact on Gaia; in some cases the over-consumption of resources in their immediate locality was a key factor in their collapse (Chew 2000; Diamond 2005; Weiskel 1989). However, according to activists, scientists, academics, ecologists, the United Nations, and futures studies practitioners, the globalised world system’s present impact on Gaia is of an unprecedented nature (Ayres 2000; Bodley 2008; Daly 1994; Inayatullah 2004; Raskin et al. 2002; Suzuki 2003c; Tonn 2007; UNEP 2002; Vitousek et al 1997; Wackernagel et al 2002). In anthropology and sociology as disciplines more specifically, there is also a growing awareness of the extraordinary scope and scale of the present day environmental crises (Baer 2007; Baer 2008; Batterby 2008; Bodley 2008; Garcia 2005; Jennaway 2008; Milton 2008; Moran 2006; Rose 2008). More of Gaia’s productive capacity is being consumed every year than can be replaced, and anthropogenic species extinction is causing the most dramatic species extinction event on Earth in 65 million years (See Figure 1.1: 7; Graaf et al 2005; Imhoff et al. 2004; Loh & Wackernagel 2004; Wackernagel et al 2002; Wilson 2006). The ever expanding oil based infrastructure of the globalised world system is leading to anthropogenic climate change, which is a prodigious threat to both the future of the globalised world system, and Gaia (Flannery 2005; IPCC 2007a; IPCC 2007b; Lovelock 2007; Romm 2007). As a result of these unprecedented crises, a macro scale collapse of the globalised world system is a very real possibility (Flannery 2005, 2008; Garcia 2005; Lovelock 2007; Meadows 1974).

In this thesis I will analyse Hollywood’s emerging visions of the environmental collapse of the globalised world system from a mythological perspective; acknowledging how the proliferating discourses in the world system addressing the global environmental crises are repeatedly signified in Hollywood cinema concerning our unprecedented impact on Gaia. It will be seen that these emerging mythologies represent a culture coming to terms with its unparalleled relationship with Gaia.

In the second chapter I will provide a summary of evidence concerning the globalised world system’s unprecedented impact on Gaia, and the possible catastrophic consequences of this. This is extremely important in outlining the wider context in which Hollywood’s mythologies regarding our unprecedented impact on the planet are operating in. In elucidating the relationship between the globalised world system and Gaia, a complex adaptive systems framework will be utilised. Global capitalism is repeatedly condemned in the movies to be analysed, and as such its perceived role in the global environmental crisis will be outlined. Finally, it will be seen that the collapse of the globalised world system as a result of these crises is a distinct possibility.

In chapter three I will construct an anthropological framework with which to analyse Hollywood cinema as a mythological form of communication in the globalised world system. In constructing this model Levi-Strauss’ and Barthes’ frameworks will be combined (Barthes 1973; Levi-Strauss 1967). Justifying Hollywood cinema as a significant cultural phenomenon worthy of anthropological analysis, aspects of Drummond’s approach will also be used (Drummond 1984; Drummond 1996). In this context mythological communication both expresses and constructs cultural constructions of reality: therefore a mythological analysis of the movies will reveal widespread assumptions concerning the global environmental crisis.

In the fourth chapter I will analyse Hollywood’s visions of the environmental collapse of the globalised world system as a result of the unprecedented global anthropogenic environmental crisis. Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow focuses on abrupt climate change, in which a super storm envelops Gaia in its entirety, causing the collapse of the globalised world system in the space of a week (Emmerich 2004). A post catastrophic climate change world is the setting of Spielberg’s AI Artificial Intelligence, in which the vast majority of the billions alive today have perished due to rising sea levels, water shortages, crop failure, conflict and disease (Spielberg 2001). Stanton’s 2008 film WALL-E is set on a dead future Earth, in which Gaia has totally collapsed due to the unsustainable consumption patterns inherent to global capitalism (Stanton 2008). It will be seen that all the movies mythologically express anxieties and an awareness concerning the globalised world system’s unprecedented impact on Gaia; including global capitalism’s role in this process, the threat of collapse, and the dangers posed by catastrophic climate change.

In the conclusion I will look at the tension between Hollywood as entangled in global capitalism, with the fact that all the Hollywood movies to be analysed appear to mythologically condemn global capitalism. In summary, it will then be seen that from a mythological perspective the movies are a manifestation of a culture developing an awareness of its phenomenal impact on Gaia. Finally, it will be argued that hopefully these movies indicate a culture beginning to show greater responsibility towards Gaia, instead of signifying a culture coming to terms with its inevitable demise.

Chapter 2 - The evidence and implications of the globalised world system’s unprecedented impact on Gaia

Chapter outline:

In this chapter I will outline the scope and scale of the globalised world system’s unprecedented impact on the Earth by utilising a Gaian and complex adaptive systems framework. The evidence for the present ecological crisis, including the threat of catastrophic climate change, will then be discussed. As the dominant, hegemonic, economic formation of the globalised world system, global capitalism’s key role in this process will also be outlined. The increasing likelihood of an eventual collapse of the globalised world system will be demonstrated.

Gaia, the globalised world system, and global capitalism: a complex adaptive systems approach

James Lovelock was the first scientist to conceptualise the Earth and its life forms as a complex, ever evolving, adaptive system; in which organisms, climate composition, weather patterns, and other natural phenomena are dynamically interrelated (Lovelock 2000a). His idea was revolutionary in arguing that life forms themselves play a fundamental role in maintaining conditions conducive to life on Earth; for example, the evolution of single celled organisms led to the emergence of a breathable atmosphere (Lovelock 2000b). This holistic, Gaian, approach of perceiving the planet as a complex adaptive system is gaining increasing credibility in scientific models of the Earth (Lenton 2002; Levin 1998; Levin 2005).

In this Gaian framework, human activity can be conceptualised as a subset of the Gaian complex adaptive system, involved in a dialectical relationship with other Gaian processes: as the globalised world system (Baccini & Brunner 1991; Ehlers & Krafft 2006; Ehlers &Krafft 2001; Raskin et al 2002). The globalised world system is the contemporary globalised social, cultural, economic, technological, and physical processes of humanity; involving dynamic flows of people, cultures, media, ideas, resources and goods across the Earth (Appadurai 1996; Raskin et al 2002). As the globally dominant economic formation of our time, global capitalism can be seen as a subsystem of the globalised world system; governing many of the processes occurring in the world system (Fuchs 2007; Raskin et al 2002).

There are three dynamically interacting layers to the Earth system in this model: Gaia is the overarching system, the globalised world system is a subset of Gaia, and global capitalism is an internal, but highly influential, subset of the globalised world system. Importantly, this systems model accounts for the complex dialectic between human activities and environmental phenomena, and the fact that humanity relies on the rest of Gaia to survive.

The unprecedented global ecological crisis: the evidence and implications

Human beings have always influenced Gaia’s processes, but never to the scale that we are witnessing across the planet in this historical moment (Bodley 2007; McKibben 1989; Raskin et al 2002; Wilson 2006). In the last 100 years, an evolutionary blink of an eye since the emergence of modern humans approximately 200 000 years ago, global human population has exploded from just over one billion to over six billion (Bodley 2007; Ehrlich 1971; Suzuki 2003b; Wilson 2006). According to Wackernagel et al and others, humanity consumed 70% of Gaia’s productive capacity in 1961, this rose to 120% in 1999, and then to 125% in 2002: this trend is steadily increasing (See Table 1.1: 7; Imhoff et al. 2004; Loh & Wackernagel 2004; Wackernagel et al. 2002). This mutation in the scale of human consumption has occurred incredibly fast; the anthropologist Bodley argues that ‘the rapidity of the cultural transformations that created the present global [environmental] crisis is astounding’ (Bodley 2008: 3). Global capitalism, as the dominant, exponentially growing, mode of economic organisation in the globalised world system, is seen by many as a major factor in this process (See Table 1.3: 22; Baer 2008; Daly 1994; Graaf et al. 2005; Highfield 2008).

Table 1.1: The globalised world system’s over-consumption of Gaia’s productive capacity

Graph of collated data by Wackernagel et al published in the Proceedings of the Academy of Science of the United States of America, illustrating humanity’s increasing dramatic over-consumption of Gaia’s productive capacity since 1981 (Wackernagel et al 2002).

In 1992, the Union of Concerned Scientists, an international body consisting of 1700 scientists, including three anthropologists, and the vast majority of Nobel Prize winners in the physical sciences, issued a statement, the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity (Union of Concerned Scientists 1992). They argued that:

'Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.’ (Union of Concerned Scientists 1992) [italics added].

It is not just scientists that are concerned about the present environmental crisis: scholars in many disciplines, the United Nations, authors, activists, and others are in a state of alarm at the rate at which the globalised world system is depleting the Earth’s resources, straining Gaia, and causing the extinction of species (McKibben 2006; Daly 2008; Garcia 2005; Graff et al 2005; Highfield 2008b; UNEP 2002; Suzuki 2003a; Suzuki 2003b; Suzuki 2003c; Highfield 2008a; Jackson 2008; Suzuki 2008; Simms 2008).

According to the geographer Vaclav, as recently as 1900 the biomass, or total physical weight, of wild mammals most likely equalled that of humanity; today humans and their domesticated vertebrate animals account for 97 percent of vertebrate biomass on the planet (Vaclav 2002). This dramatically increasing human appropriation of Gaia’s resources in the last century is having a detrimental impact on other species worldwide. The zoologist Wilson estimates that species extinction is currently 1000 to 10 000 times higher than the background rate; the extinction rate during the geological epochs before the appearance of humanity (Wilson 2006). He argues that 137 species go extinct daily, or 50 000 species a year (Wilson 2006). Bodley, drawing on a report issued by the United Nations World Conservation Union in 2006, states that:

‘Biodiversity is declining worldwide at an alarming rate. According to the Red List of Threatened Species, prepared by the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN-World Conservation Union in 2006, 40 percent of the world’s known terrestrial vertebrates, 64 percent of fish, 95 percent of mammalian invertebrates, and 87 percent of vascular plants are either extinct, endangered, vulnerable, near threatened, or their survival is dependent on active conservation measures.’ (Bodley 2008: 59, IUCN 2006).

Due to the ever increasing impact of human activities on the biosphere, and the exponentially growing human appropriation of Gaia, many commentators have argued that we are now in the midst of an extinction event called the ‘anthropocene’ (Flannery 2008; Rose 2008). The anthropocene is an anthropogenic, or human caused, extinction event on a scale the Earth has not undergone since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago (Wilson 2006; Bodley 2008; Graaf et al. 2005). In a Gaian framework, all life on Earth is interdependent (Lenton 2002; Levin 1998; Levin 2005). Therefore, dramatic species extinction events such as the anthropocene have far reaching and profound effects on the overall functioning of Gaia. Global capitalism’s fears concerning the possible total collapse of Gaia as a result of the anthropocene are signified in Stanton’s 2008 film WALL-E (Stanton 2008).

The anthropocene is but one manifestation of the impact of the contemporary globalised world system’s activities on Gaia. Global biomass, the total weight of living organisms both flora and fauna on the Earth, has halved in the last 10 000 years: most of this occurring in the last century (Rojstaczer et al. 2001). In 1984, Myers outlined how 31 million hectares of rainforest are cut down every year (Myers 1984: 44). According to the Worldwatch Institute and the American Energy Information Administration, an average American over their lifetime will consume over 40 000 gallons of water, and over 2500 barrels of oil (Postel 1996; Energy Information Administration 1997). The scale and rate of the consumption of resources of postindustrial nations such as America is on a scale that has never before been seen in human history (Bodley 2008; Graaf et al. 2005).

Throughout his work Anthropology and Contemporary Human Problems, Bodley argues that the globalised world system is having a phenomenally greater impact on the planet than previous societies and cultures (Bodley 2007). The Global Scenario Group, a futures studies oriented think tank based at the Stockholm Environment Institute in Boston, argues that the globalised world system is entering a ‘planetary phase’ of civilization (Raskin et al. 2002: 3). They define this as the idea ‘that humanity is in the midst of a new historical transition with implications no less profound than the emergence of settled agriculture and the industrial system’ (Raskin et al. 2002: 5). Integral to this concept is the idea that humanity is having an unprecedented, global impact on Gaia; as illustrated by climate change, ozone layer depletion, and the present environmental crisis (Raskin et al. 2002). In futures studies as a discipline more generally, it is also widely accepted that the global environmental crisis is exceptional, and represents a fundamental paradigm shift in the scale of humanity’s relationship with Gaia (Ayres 2000; Inayatullah 2004; Tonn 2007).

It is important to acknowledge that human societies in the past did also have significant impacts on their local environment, including societies such as Easter Island; which consumed all the available resources, and subsequently collapsed (Diamond 2005). The Global Scenario Group and Bodley also acknowledge that human activities always influence Gaia in some way (Bodley 2008; Raskin et al. 2002). However, they also argue, as many others do, that the scale, scope, and severity of the impacts are currently on a scale that quantitatively represents a new paradigm in humanity’s association with Gaia (Ayres 2000; Bodley 2008; Flannery 2008; Garcia 2005; Inayatullah 2004; Raskin et al. 2002; Rose 2008; Vitousek et al 1997).

In their 1997 article ‘Human domination of Earth’s ecosystem’ published in Science, Vitousek et al argue that ‘the rates, scales, kinds, and combinations of [anthropogenic environmental] changes occurring now are fundamentally different from those at any other time in history’ (Vitousek et al 1997 et al: 498). As Kofi Annan’s introduction to the 2002 United Nations’ Global Environment Outlook report states, humanity must take responsibility in utilising Gaia’s resources ‘without compromising the ability of the planet to provide for the needs of future generations’ (UNEP 2002: xv). Implicit in this statement is the increasingly prevalent idea that the globalised world system now has the potential to severely deplete and unbalance Gaia on a planetary scale. As we have seen, by many accounts this is already occurring. The globalised world system’s increasing awareness of this is mythologically signified in The Day After Tomorrow, WALL-E, and AI Artifical Intelligence; all of these films depict the collapse of the globalised world system due to present unprecedented anthropogenic impacts on Gaia (Emmerich 2004; Stanton 2008; Spielberg 2001).

Anthropogenic climate change:

Global warming, or climate change, is increasingly being named the greatest issue facing the globalised world system today; in popular media, politics, and scientific discourse (Townsend & Harris 2004; Schwartz & Randall 2003; Goklany 2003; Joint Science Academies 2005; Spratt 2007; Flannery 2005; Lovelock 2006; Connor 2007; Campbell et al. 2007). According to 99% of the scientific community, the link between observed climate change, and the greenhouse gas emissions of the world system, is clear: climate change is anthropogenic, caused by the activities of the globalised world system (IPCC 2007a; IPCC 2007b; IPCC 2007c; Oreskes 2004; Kennedy 2001; Romm 2007; Flannery 2005). From a Gaian perspective, it can be seen that greenhouse gas emissions from human industrial processes, as with carbon dioxide released from organisms in respiration, alter the composition of Gaia’s atmosphere, and subsequently its heat retention properties (Lovelock 2007). Indicating the significance and scope of the crisis, the vast majority of government bodies worldwide, including in the USA, the European Union, the UK, and Australia, have commissioned reports into the far reaching repercussions of anthropogenic climate change; all concluding that it represents a prodigious threat to contemporary social, cultural and economic formations (Allen Consulting Group 2005; Hennessy et al. 2006; Schwartz & Randall 2003; Hulme et al. 2007; Stern 2006; Watkiss et al. 2005; Blok et al. 2005; Turekian & Gustafson 2001; Garnaut 2008a; Garnaut 2008b).

Transport, agriculture, animal farming, industry, entertainment, and energy generation processes intrinsic to the functioning of the globalised world system are extremely carbon intensive; dumping 25 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into Gaia’s atmosphere every year, on top of the roughly half a million times a million tonnes of carbon humanity has already emitted (Lovelock 2006; Romm 2007). Far from emissions decreasing worldwide in the near future, it is estimated that over the next fifty years a thousand new coal power plants will be built, and a billion new cars will take to the roads; factoring in government regulation schemes, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to rise by at least 40%-110% in the next 25 years (Canadell et al 2007; Romm 2007: 21; IPCC 2007a: 44).

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a United Nations body consisting of over 1500 scientists worldwide, including many Nobel Prize winners. According to the IPCC, the average surface temperature of the earth has already risen by over half a degree Celsius in the last 30 years; with temperatures in Alaska rising by 3.5 C (Lovelock, IPCC 2007a: 40; IPCC 2007b). As stated in the 2007 IPCC report, 'eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850)' (IPCC 2007a: 30). Worldwide, many national records concerning the number, duration and intensity of heat waves, bushfires, droughts, hurricanes and floods have been repeatedly broken in the last ten years (Romm 2007; Flannery 2005). In their 2007 report, the IPCC argue that Gaia’s average temperature will most likely rise by around 3 C by the end of the 21st century, greatly exacerbating these problems (IPCC 2007a; IPCC 2007b; IPCC 2007c; Lovelock, 2007).

In late 2007, the North Sea passage in the Arctic opened for the first time in recorded human history; earlier climate models predicted that this was not going to occur until around 2050 (Spratt 2007). As reported in the media, many climate scientists who focus on the Arctic in their research argued that this means the worst case climate change scenarios may be coming to fruition; many stated that there could be no summer ice in the Arctic by as early as 2013 (Borenstein 2007; Inman 2007; Beck 2007; Amos 2007; White 2007; Spratt 2007). According to geological records, this has not occurred for over a million years (Lovelock 2007). As the Arctic ice continues to shrink, a number of feedback loops in Gaia’s climate system could be activated, leading to what many have called 'runaway climate change'; beyond the control of humanity to stop (Lovelock 2006; Flannery 2005; Romm 2007).

These feedback loops are not included in the IPCC reports; many argue the estimate of a likely 3 C temperature rise by 2100 is hopelessly conservative (Flannery 2008; IPCC 2007a; IPCC 2007b; IPCC 2007c; Spratt 2007; Romm 2007). Feedback loops include that as the polar ice melts it enables more water to absorb the sun's heat, whereas formerly the white ice reflected this heat through an albedo affect (Flannery 2005; Lovelock 2007). The Arctic permafrost contains 3600 billion tonnes of CO2, which will begin to be released due to rising temperatures in the region (Flannery 2005; Lovelock 2007). As temperatures continue to climb, this will greatly accelerate the melting of the permafrost in Siberia, containing 70 billion tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times as potent as CO2 (Lovelock 2007; Romm 2007). By mid-century, the Amazon rainforest, which acts as a major 'carbon sink', will begin to die from lack of rainfall, releasing billions more tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (Romm 2007; Lovelock 2006). Due to elevating CO2 levels and consequent temperature rise, these processes will exponentially feed into each another, leading to 'runaway climate change'; the world system will be helpless to act except to conduct damage control. According to scientists, this eventuality would raise global average temperatures by at least 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, and probably much more (Lovelock 2007; Spratt 2007).

Table 1.2 illustrates projected IPCC global average surface temperatures for the rest of the century (IPCC 2007c: 15). Due to the new evidence that has come to light concerning feedback loops and increasing global emissions after the release of the latest 2007 IPCC report, Chris Field, a senior IPCC scientist commented that ‘fossil emissions have proceeded much more rapidly than anticipated in any of the scenarios that were characterised in detail… we're on a different trajectory of emissions and therefore an unknown trajectory of warming’ (ABC 2009). Accordingly, the worst case scenario depicted in this graph can now be seen as a conservative estimate; this will be reflected in the upcoming 2014 IPCC report.

Table 1.2: IPCC Projections of Future Global Average Surface Temperatures IPCC graphic projecting three possible future global average temperature scenarios as a result of different emissions trajectories taken by the globalised world system; unfortunately, the most recent data points towards the most extreme (lower images) scenario now being a conservative estimate (IPCC 2007c: 15).

A 2007 report by the American think tank CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies), titled The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change, names a 5 C temperature rise by 2100 'catastrophic climate change', and argues that 'this catastrophic scenario would pose almost inconceivable challenges as human society struggled to adapt.' (Campbell et al. 2007: 7). This scenario includes rising sea levels, ecosystems collapsing worldwide as many species cannot adapt and become extinct, the loss of all coral reefs worldwide, the collapse of fisheries, and a general dramatic reduction in rainfall worldwide (Campbell et al. 2007; Flannery 2005; Lovelock 2007; Romm 2007). Heat waves, droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events, like hurricane Katrina, and the tragic Victorian bushfires of February 2009, will become the norm. Agricultural output will be dramatically reduced. This will have deleterious effects on social formations worldwide. As resources, especially food and water, become ever scarcer, regional conflict will increase, and many nations will descend into anarchy (Campbell et al. 2007; Flannery 2005; Lovelock 2007). Heightened tensions may well lead to nuclear or biological war, as nations bicker over the limited resources that remain (Campbell et al. 2007; Martin 2005; Schwartz & Randall 2003). Billions of environmental refugees, especially from developing nations, will inundate the globe in a mass exodus on a scale never before seen (Campbell et al. 2007; Flannery 2005; Lovelock 2007; Martin 2005).

One of the consequences of anthropogenic climate change includes the possibility of abrupt climate change. This would occur due to a shutdown of the trans-Atlantic Gulf Stream current, which is a key process in regulating climate Gaia wide: especially in maintaining the relatively mild climate of the United Kingdom, Europe and the northern United States (Alley, et al 2003; Flannery 2005; Hulme 2003; Romm 2007). The disruption could be triggered by ice cold melt water from the Greenland ice sheet, which is disintegrating at the rate of 200 cubic kilometres per year, affecting the flow of warm water in the current (Flannery 2008: 20; Romm 2007). According to climate scientists, if this occurred the climate patterns of the world would change dramatically in the space of ten years: abrupt climate change. Due to the rapid shifts in global climate, the world system would struggle to survive (Flannery 2005; Hulme 2003; Romm 2007; Schwartz & Randall 2003)

All of the movies to be analysed signify emerging mythologies regarding the threat climate change poses to the future of both the globalised world system, and Gaia more generally. In Spielberg's 2001 A.I: Artificial Intelligence, the setting is a post-catastrophic climate change future; sea levels have risen by 75 meters, and most nations have long ago collapsed due to disease, starvation and warfare (Spielberg 2001). In The Day After Tomorrow abrupt climate change causes a collapse of the globalised world system (Emmerich 2004). Stanton’s 2008 WALL-E depicts Gaia having undergone a dramatic extinction event; if catastrophic climate change does occur a mass extinction is likely (Flannery 2008; IPCC 2007a; IPCC 2007b; Ward 2007)

It is not just scientists, activists, government departments worldwide and the United Nations that are apprehensive about the dangers of climate change: in anthropology as a discipline more specifically, there is growing recognition of the threat that catastrophic climate change poses to the globalised world system (Baer 2007; Baer 2008; Batterby 2008; Moran 2006; Jennaway 2008; Milton 2008; Rose 2008). I could only find two anthropological articles published in the 1980’s concerning climate change, but it appears that as the evidence has stacked up, attention has been rising (Rayner 1989; Torry 1983). In 2006, Moran, one of the few anthropologists on the IPCC, passionately argued: 'Do we recognize that business as usual threatens the end of life as we know it? Are we willing to use the considerable mental capacity, and exercise our political will, to ensure our survival and that of our children? Or are we so self-satisfied in our own material success that we cannot recognize overwhelming evidence when we see it?' (Moran 2006: 21-23).

This activist stance towards the threat that climate change poses was also expressed in a 2008 issue of the Australian Journal of Anthropology, featuring a series of articles calling for anthropologists to recognise the dangers of global warming (Baer 2008; Batterby 2008; Jennaway 2008; Milton 2008; Rose 2008; Toussaint 2008). Batterby argues that the mounting scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change requires that anthropology moves beyond purely cultural analyses in this context, and takes a ‘critical realist’ approach; acknowledging in part the correspondence between the scientific discourse concerning global warming, and the observed and predicted consequences of this phenomenon (Batterby 2008: 64). This thesis is written in that spirit, of acknowledging the solid and growing scientific evidence for both climate change, and the global ecological crisis. Batterby goes on to state that 'for me, anthropology without a sense of urgency about global warming is unthinkable' (Batterby 2008: 64). I also believe the mounting evidence for both climate change and the global ecological crisis can no longer be ignored by anthropologists, or indeed academics of all disciplines. The mythological presence of these attitudes in the movies to be analysed seems to indicate this stance is also becoming increasingly prevalent in the globalised world system more generally.

The culprit: contemporary global capitalism?

‘We are living by an ideology of death’ – Herman Daly, former senior economist of the World Bank, commenting on the exponential growth and consumption of Gaia’s resources inherent to global capitalism (Suzuki 2003c: 116).

‘This theory of the global system, then, revolves around the perceived necessity for global capitalism to continually increase production and international trade…’ (Sklair 1991: 51) [italics added].

It is widely accepted that global capitalism is the dominant, hegemonic mode of economic organisation in the globalised world system; in our framework it is a system internal to the globalised world system, but it also highly influences many processes in the world system (Collins 2007; Fuchs 2007; Jameson 2005; Raskin et al 2002; Sklair 1991). In contemporary thought global capitalism is increasingly being seen as a key factor behind the globalised world system’s unprecedented and ever expanding impact on Gaia (Bodley 2008; Daly 1994). Global capitalism here will be defined as Sklair conceptualises it: as the dominant, exponentially expanding, self perpetuating global economic mode of organisation of our time (Sklair 1991). As Bodley outlines, global capitalism is not only an economic formation, but is also a cultural field with its own underlying assumptions, including how the globalised world system should interact with Gaia (Bodley 2008). From a mythological perspective, it can be seen that the movies signify global capitalism’s increasing doubts concerning some of its deep underlying operational assumptions; which many argue are integral in causing the global environmental crisis.

Activists such as David Suzuki have been passionately arguing that global capitalism is the key force behind the environmental crisis for years (Suzuki 2003c). But many others are bringing their voices to the chorus, including anthropologists, scientists, and former officials of the World Bank and other international financial institutions (Baer 2008; Bodley 2008; Daly 1994; Highfield 2008a). In late 2008 the popular science magazine New Scientist published a special issue titled ‘The Folly of Growth: Why Our Economy is Killing The Planet’ which included a series of articles by many thinkers on the role that global capitalism is playing in the global environmental crisis (Highfield 2008a; Highfield 2008b; Jackson 2008; Suzuki 2008; Daly 2008; Simms 2008).

The crux of the critiques lies in Highfield’s comment, who asks: ‘how do we square the Earth’s finite resources with the fact that as the economy grows, the amount of natural resources needed to sustain that activity must grow too?’ (Highfield 2008b: 40). This is where many commentators see the problem lies with global capitalism; its underlying assumption that exponential economic growth and consumption patterns are vital to the human project is ultimately incompatible with Gaia, which is a closed system with limited productive capacity (Highfield 2008a; Baer 2008; Bodley 2008; Highfield 2008b; Jackson 2008; Suzuki 2008; Daly 2008; Simms 2008; Graaf et al 2005; Daly 1994; Raskin et al 2002; Suzuki 2003a; Suzuki 2003b; Suzuki 2003c; Suzuki 2003d). As we have seen, the scale and rate of the consumption of Gaia’s resources is already at the highest levels in known human history (Graaf et al 2005). With Gaia’s resources already stretched, Highfield sees the projected doubling of the global economy in the next twenty years as a cause of great concern, with the even higher consumption rates this will entail (Highfield 2008b).

As the hegemonic mode of economic organisation governing the rapid spread and impact of industrial processes in the globalised world system, many academics and scientists have also linked global capitalism with the ever increasing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions observed on Gaia in the last twenty years (Baer 2008; Brett & York 2005; Canadell 2007; Grimes & Kentor 1997). Grimes and Kentor make the convincing case that as global capitalism has inexorably spread across Gaia, global emissions have continued to rise in tandem with this phenomenon (Grimes & Kentor 1997). Due to the infinite growth required by capitalism in its present form, this inevitably entails the expansion of industry, and subsequently ever increasing global emissions of greenhouse gases (Baer 2008; Brett & York 2005; Grimes & Kentor 1997). Monbiot, and others, have also outlined how corporate sponsored ‘sceptics’, and oil company led disinformation campaigns have considerably delayed tangible action being taken on climate change worldwide (Monbiot 2007; Romm 2007; Wallerstein 2007). In relation to climate change too, it is therefore possible to see that global capitalism, and blatant corporate greed, is playing a key role in causing anthropogenic climate change.

Baer, an anthropologist at the University of Melbourne argues that:

'…global capitalism… has so many inherent contradictions that ultimately it must be transcended if humanity and the planet are going to survive in some reasonable fashion' (Baer 2008: 61).

This is essentially what many critiquing global capitalism argue (Daly 1994; Raskin et al 2002). It is also the sentiment mythologically expressed by our culture in all of the movies to be analysed; The Day After Tomorrow, WALL-E, and AI Artificial Intelligence all condemn global capitalism, mythologically stating it must be left behind for both humanity’s, and Gaia’s survival (Emmerich 2004; Spielberg 2001; Stanton 2008).

Collapse: the limits to growth and the death of Gaia

‘If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.’ - The Club of Rome’s conclusion in their significant 1972 report The Limits to Growth, based on their computer simulation run at MIT, World3 (Meadows 1974: 23). Many indications point to this pessimistic scenario becoming a reality; including the projected doubling of the global economy within the next twenty years by mainstream economists (Garnaut 2008a; Highfield 2008b).

In 1972 the Club of Rome published their groundbreaking report The Limits To Growth; in which they argued that humanity’s exponentially expanding appropriation of Gaia’s resources is unsustainable and will lead to a macro scale collapse of the world system (Meadows 1974). According to an updated book on the limits to growth, work by the CSIRO, and Simmons ‘so far, not a single observed trend has emerged to allay the fears and concerns laid out by the Club of Rome’ (Simmons 2000: 30; Garcia 2005; Meadows et al 2004; Turner 2008). The Day After Tomorrow, and especially WALL-E, mythologically signify the concept that global capitalism’s overconsumption of Gaia’s productive capacity is fundamentally flawed, and will lead to the collapse of the world system if significant changes are not made to this economic mode of organisation (Emmerich 2004; Stanton 2008).

If the extreme climate change scenarios become a reality, many argue that the collapse of the globalised world system becomes a near certainty; due to the extinction of most of the other species on Gaia, higher incidences of natural disasters, dramatically reduced rainfall, widespread crop failures, and heightened international tensions and conflict over the few remaining resources (Flannery 2008; Lovelock 2007; Lynas 2008; Monbiot 2007). WALL-E, Artificial Intelligence and The Day After Tomorrow all signify emerging awareness concerning this scenario (Spielberg 2001; Stanton 2008; Emmerich 2004).

Beyond the collapse of the globalised world system, anthropogenic stressors on Gaia may lead to the collapse of the wider Gaian system itself. In this scenario, climate change and the ecological crisis unbalance Gaia’s self regulating mechanisms through species extinction and the dramatic alteration of global climate; leading to total collapse of the Gaian system. In his work Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, The Mass Extinctions of The Past, And What They Can Tell us About Our Future Ward demonstrates there is significant evidence in the geological record indicating that major global climate shifts in Gaia’s past have been an important factor in many mass extinctions (Ward 2007). The IPCC also argues that if global temperatures rise by over 5 degrees C by 2100, over 40% of species on Gaia will become extinct (IPCC 2007a: 51). As we have already seen, due to ever rising emissions, a global average temperature increase of higher then 5 degrees Celsius is a distinct possibility. Lynas collated hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific articles in his work, and argues that with an increase of 6 degrees C, Gaia will basically become lifeless (Lynas 2008).

The possibility of collapse, of both Gaia and the globalised world system, is not only of concern to scholars and other commentators; according to Ojala, the vast majority of young people surveyed in various studies expressed a grave pessimism for the future of Gaia, and humanity (Eckersley 1999; Hicks 1996; Ojala 2007). Kay Milton argues that the complexity, extreme lack of tangible action, and the scale of urgent crises such as global warming has led to widespread despair (Milton 2008). This anxiety concerning our unprecedented impact on Gaia, and the possible dark futures of both Gaia and humanity, is mythologically signified in all the movies to be analysed, with their dramatic depictions of the collapse of the globalised world system, and in WALL-E’s case, Gaia itself (Emmerich 2004; Spielberg 2001; Stanton 2008).

Conclusion: tying it all together

As we have seen, according to scientists, anthropologists, activists, academics, government agencies worldwide, and the United Nations the globalised world system faces an environmental crisis of ominous proportions, and is having an unprecedented impact on Gaia (McKibben 2006; Daly 2008; Garcia 2005; Graff et al 2005; Highfield 2008b; UNEP 2002; Suzuki 2003a; Suzuki 2003b; Suzuki 2003c; Highfield 2008a; Jackson 2008; Suzuki 2008; Simms 2008). This may well lead to the demise of the globalised world system, and may even upset the balance of Gaia itself. Global capitalism, with its emphasis on exponential growth and unsustainable consumption, is seen by many as a key factor in causing this crisis (Baer 2008; Bodley 2008; Suzuki 2008; Daly 2008; Simms 2008; Graaf et al 2005; Daly 1994). It will be seen that these emerging concepts and anxieties in the world system are mythologically signified in The Day After Tomorrow, AI Artifical Intelligence, and WALL-E; with their dramatic imagery, such as New York swamped by a massive storm surge as a result of anthropogenic climate change in The Day After Tomorrow (Emmerich 2004). These movies signify a global culture becoming increasingly concerned with these issues. However, before we can proceed to the analysis, we will construct a framework with which to conceptualise Hollywood cinema as a significant cultural phenomenon in the globalised world system.

Chapter 3 - Hollywood cinema as a mythological form of communication in the globalised world system

Chapter outline:

In this chapter I will offer a brief historical survey of anthropological approaches to cinema, and also outline an anthropological foundation for approaching Hollywood cinema concerning environmental collapse as a mythic form of communication. The 'cultural documents' methodology espoused by Mead, Bateson and others in the 1940's and 1950's will be discussed, followed by a short overview of the contemporary practice of media ethnography. The cultural imperialism, hermeneutic, and functional anthropological approaches to contemporary televisual media will also be explored, before moving on to a discussion framing Hollywood cinema as a mythic form of communication in the context of global capitalism. Levi-Strauss’ contribution to the conceptualisation of myth as an integral aspect of culture will be outlined, and his framework will be assessed, and modified for use in this context (Levi-Strauss 1967). Barthes’ Mythologies will then be discussed, and aspects of his conception of myth, and his methodology of analysis, will be adopted for use here (Barthes 1973). It will be seen that myth is deeply embedded in the dynamic process of the construction of symbolic cultural reality for the globalised world system. Simultaneously, mythological communication also expresses global capitalism’s cultural constructions of reality; therefore, analysing the movies from a mythological angle will reveal how our culture perceives the dilemmas arising from its unprecedented relationship with Gaia.

Anthropological approaches to cinema: the wider context

Anthropology has a long history of applying its conceptual frameworks of analysis to visual media such as film. In the 1940's, Mead, Bateson, Gregory and others explored movies as 'cultural documents'; arguing that films could be read to reveal the cultural and social practices of the society of origin (Mead 1953; Weakland 1995). This practice developed during World War II, as a method of gathering social and cultural intelligence on the enemy during wartime (Weakland 1995). This approach was concerned with discovering overall cultural and social patterns in the corpus of movies under analysis, such as in Kracauer's 1942 analysis of a multitude of German films from 1919 to 1933 (Weakland 1995). A seminal text in this field was Mead's 1953 work, The Study of Culture at a Distance, which also used Freudian psychoanalytic models in discerning the motives of protagonists in texts (Mead 1953; Ginsburg 2005). This model of analysis has all but been abandoned by contemporary anthropology. However, it did lay the foundation for much contemporary anthropological work on cinema, and as Weakland comments in his 1995 article 'it has both theoretical and practical potentials, especially in the otherwise difficult study of large and complex contemporary cultures (Weakland 1995: 45)'. It is this idea, of approaching popular cinema as a key focal point of symbolic culture in the complex and dynamic context of the globalised world system, which drives this present work.

The cultural documents approach to televisual media forms has largely been replaced by media ethnography in contemporary anthropology. This involves analysing how individuals and groups engage with media, how they interpret its messages, and the particular significance media assumes in unique social and cultural locales (Coman & Rothenbuhler 2005). A representative example would be Abu-Lughod's Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt (Abu-Lughod 2005). This work explores the disparity between the pedagogic role of Egyptian television dramas as perceived by the educated individuals involved with the production of this media, with how these televisual dramas are interpreted by individuals as a result of their unique social and cultural context (Abu-Lughod 2005). In contrast to the cultural documents methodology, media ethnography involves intensive fieldwork, with media anthropologists often spending months or even years in the field. The key strength of this approach is that it addresses how individuals interpret televisual media in their day to day lives, a problem that has plagued media anthropology, and media studies more generally, since its inception. Media ethnography is beyond the scope of this thesis; therefore a more conceptual framework is required in this context.

In his 2005 article 'Proposal for Mass Media Anthropology', Osirio argues that there are three main schools of thought in contemporary anthropological studies of mass media (Osirio 2002). The first is the 'cultural imperialism' school, based on the work of Stuart Hall, which Osirio argues involves perceiving mass-media as exposing passive audiences to hegemonic messages with agency which shape their cultural reality (Osirio 2005). Second, Osirio outlines the 'hermeneutics' school, which argues that mass media simultaneously reflects and constructs the cultural reality of wider society (Osirio 2005). This approach is based on the work of Geertz's symbolic interpretive anthropology, in which culture and its media forms are seen as an open text to be uniquely interpreted by the anthropologist, resulting in an ethnographic 'thick description' (Geertz 1977). Third, he outlines the functionalist school, which argues that the mass media are 'the primary medium[s] by which culture is transmitted' (Osirio 2005: 43). This approach is built primarily on Levi-Strauss's structuralism, in arguing that televisual media assume a pivotal function in society; the means of the diffusion of culture. Commentators such as Mirzoeff do argue postindustrial culture is primarily a visual culture; due to the unprecedented, ubiquitous presence of television, cinema, advertising, and other visual media forms (Mirzoeff 2003).

The mythological framework I will use to analyse popular Hollywood cinema depicting the collapse of the globalised world system as a result of anthropogenic environmental stressors involves elements of all three of the frameworks outlined by Osirio. Following Barthes, it will be seen that Hollywood cinema does play a role in shaping the viewer’s cultural construction of reality, in a similar manner to Hall’s model (Barthes 1973). Building on Levi-Strauss, Drummond, and Barthes, it will be argued that this mythological communication also expresses communal cultural constructions of reality; the underlying cultural consensus of what constitutes ‘reality’ (Barthes 1973; Drummond 1996). In this way the model is hermeneutic, in demonstrating how Hollywood cinema simultaneously expresses, and constructs, cultural reality in the context of global capitalism. Following the functionalist school, it will also be demonstrated that Hollywood cinema is one of the key media forms through which culture is diffused in the globalised world system (Osirio 2005). It will be shown that primarily we are interested in mythological communication as expressing cultural constructions of reality; therefore, analysing the symbolic content of the movies will unearth underlying cultural assumptions of global capitalism concerning its unprecedented relationship with Gaia. To establish our theoretical framework for approaching Hollywood cinema as mythological communication, first we will look at the work of Levi-Strauss. Levi-Strauss and his intellectual progeny: mythology as a key to understanding culture

The French anthropologist Levi-Strauss and his distinct breed of structuralism had a profound impact on anthropological thought in the mid to late 20th century. It should be noted that structural anthropology is a slippery, complex term which can be difficult to define, and that Levi-Strauss' approach to mythology is inconsistent at times (Deliege 2004; Kirk 1973; Silverstone 1981). Nevertheless, Levi-Strauss' structuralism perceives society and culture as a self-regulating, coherent system: kinship formations, modes of subsistence, ritual, and myth are dynamically interrelated processes of the same whole (Levi-Strauss 1967; Hawkes 1977). In this way it is similar to a systems model in which all aspects of society, culture and subsistence patterns are interrelated. One of his key contributions was fundamentally reconceptualising the concept of mythology; from a peripheral cultural phenomenon, to a generative process at the core of the cultural construction of reality (Levi-Strauss 1967; Levi-Strauss 1981; Drummond 1996). The foundational precept of Levi-Strauss' structuralism is that all of humanity shares a deep underlying disposition to culturally construct reality as consisting of binary oppositions between, for example; cold and hot, nature and culture, life and death. It is this universal dichotomising structure of the human psyche, and the resulting dynamic social and cultural manifestations, that Levi-Strauss' structuralism refers to, so that 'structure itself is a primordial fact’ (Levi-Strauss 1981: 627 italics in original). For Levi-Strauss, myth does not just express cultural constructions of reality. It is also a means of coming to terms with, or 'neutralising' these seemingly incommensurable opposites and contradictions inherent to human experience, such as the ultimate problematics of mortality (Levi-Strauss 1967; 1970; 1981).

In his mythological analysis, Levi-Strauss divided myths into important points in the narrative, or mythemes. A key aspect of this structural mode of analysis is a self-proclaimed focus on the structure of the relationships between groups of mythemes, rather than on the content of the specific mythemes themselves: 'The true constituent units of a myth are not the isolated relations but bundles of such relations, and it is only as bundles that these relations can be put to use and combined so as to produce meaning (Levi-Strauss 1967: 207)'. For Levi-Strauss, it is primarily through focusing on the structural relationships between groups of mythemes, rather than on the explicit 'surface' content of mythological communication itself, that the underlying cultural purpose and meaning of a myth can be revealed to the anthropologist. While it is important to outline Levi-Strauss’ method of analysis, it will be seen that in outlining the correspondence between Hollywood’s mythological communication and the wider environmental crisis, another method of analysis is required. We will be retaining Levi-Strauss’ conception of mythology as an integral phenomenon in the cultural expression and construction of reality, while disregarding his structural method of analysis.

Interestingly, Levi-Strauss himself argued that his structuralism, including its methodology of mythological analysis, could not be applied to contemporary media forms in postindustrial contexts (Levi-Strauss 1967). However, Drummond, Silverstone, Coman and Osirio all demonstrate that aspects of Levi-Strauss's conception of mythology can be applied to symbolic mass media forms in postindustrial cultural contexts (Coman 2005; Drummond 1984; Drummond 1996; Silverstone 1981; Silverstone 1988; Osirio 2005). This includes conceptualising myth as an integral process in the cultural construction of reality (Coman 2005; Drummond 1984; Drummond 1996; Silverstone 1981; Silverstone 1988; Osirio 2005). In his article Cultural Anthropology and Mass Media: A Processual Approach, Coman argues that Levi-Strauss’s conception of myth can be applied to contemporary mass media (Coman 2005). Drawing a parallel between oral myth in preindustrial contexts and contemporary mass media forms he states that:

'Mass media, like non-modern manifestations studied with the aid of concepts such as myth, rite, sacred, liminality, magic, and so on, create and impose symbolic systems of thinking surrounding reality and of articulating it in cultural constructs that are accessible and satisfying to the audience.' (Coman 2005: 46)

Following Lev-Strauss, Coman is arguing that mass media conceptualised as mythological communication is a symbolic cultural force, expressing and providing society’s symbolic schemas for interpreting reality. However, instead of focusing on the relationship between myth and cultural context, he believes that mythological analysis should be concerned with unearthing mythological ‘archetypes’ that may appear in texts (Coman 2005: 48). The analysis I propose is focused on the cultural context the myth emerges from; the relationship between the mythological communication, and the unprecedented environmental crisis occurring in the wider globalised world system. In this context, it is far more useful to conceptualise Hollywood’s mythologies as windows into the world system’s cultural assumptions concerning its unprecedented relationship with Gaia.

Drummond is the only anthropologist I am aware of who has analysed popular Hollywood cinema as myth, both in his article 'Movies and Myth: Theoretical Skirmishes', and in more detail in his subsequent book American Dreamtime: A Cultural Analysis of Popular Movies (Drummond 1984; Drummond 1996). In this context, Drummond’s work is very important, in perceiving Hollywood cinema as a significant cultural phenomenon, and therefore worthy of anthropological attention (Drummond 1984; Drummond 1996). In his 1996 work American Dreamtime Drummond synthesises the models of Levi-Strauss’ and Barthes’ in relation to analysing contemporary Hollywood cinema as a form of mythology. He marries Levi- Strauss' idea concerning the primacy of myth in the construction of cultural reality, with Barthes’ 'semiology' to analyse the cultural significance of these myths (Drummond 1996).

Peterson argues that Drummond's model is post-structural, as it modifies Levi-Strauss' structuralism (Peterson 2003). However, Drummond establishes a rigid framework epistemologically similar to Levi-Strauss by seeing all myth as negotiating three universal binary contradictions inherent to human life; animals and machines, us and them, and the life and death force (Drummond 1984; Drummond 1996; Peterson 2003). According to Drummond, all mythic communication takes place on this underlying semiotic continuum (Drummond 1996). This is quite rigid in assuming that mythic communication in all cultures explores these three key tensions underlying all cultural practices. Following Barthes, I want to argue that the cultural significance of Hollywood’s movies is relative to processes occurring in the wider culture of origin: such as in the context of the present day globalised world system’s unparalleled impact on Gaia.

Barthes and his Mythologies:

Barthes is best known for outlining a comprehensive methodology for analysing the semiotic content of the ubiquitous manifestations of capitalism’s consumer culture; including books, magazines, television shows, clothing, cars, food, advertising, and most importantly here, movies. He developed his particular 'semiology', or 'science of signs' in the seminal essay Myth Today, included in his key work Mythologies, first published in English in 1973 (Barthes 1973). He expanded on this in Elements of Semiology, written after Mythologies, but translated into English prior to Mythologies publication in English (Barthes 1967). Barthes argues that all symbolic communication consists of a necessarily arbitrary signifier, and a signified, forming the intrinsic culturally determined relationship between them; that of the sign (Barthes 1973). The signifier is an arbitrary symbol, such as an image or word, which signifies the signified, the signified being an underlying culturally constructed concept or idea (Barthes 1967; Barthes 1973). According to Barthes, these culturally determined signs permeate all aspects of symbolic culture; defining the collective cultural reality in an almost infinite ocean of culturally determined and dynamic signifiers and signifieds. In a similar manner to Levi-Strauss and his followers, Barthes’ model perceives myth as a cultural phenomenon at the core of the dynamic process of the cultural construction of reality.

It should be noted that the postmodern turn in semiotics argues that there is no longer any meaningful relationship between the signifier and signified. Due to the ubiquitous, and extremely rapid and disjointed nature of ‘postmodern’ media such as television it is argued that there is no longer any tangible relationship between signifiers and signifieds; they have become a kind of semiotic soup, all mixed up (Jameson 2005). Taken to its extreme, postmodern theorists such as Baudrillard argue that due to this widespread semiotic disjunction we are now living in a simulation; where signs only signify other culturally constructed signs in endless feedback loops, with the ‘real’ nowhere in sight (Baudrillard 1988). These theories do have applications, in looking at how emergent postmodern media may have significantly modified semiotic configurations and postindustrial cultural constructions of reality. However, in this context, a ‘traditional’, structural semiotic model such as Barthes’ is most useful, in exploring the cultural correspondence between cinematic images such as New York locked in ice in The Day After Tomorrow, and the possibility of anthropogenic abrupt climate change (Emmerich 2004).

For Barthes, a mythology is a potent sign, or combination of signs, that powerfully convey an underlying cultural concept or idea through the process of signification: the relationship between the signifier and signified forming the mythological communication (Barthes 1973). In Barthes’ framework, myth is usually embedded in visual media; as opposed to the less complex, and less subtle, chains of signification involved in interpreting language (Barthes 1973). As with Levi-Strauss’, Drummond’s and Coman’s model, myths are expressions of culturally constructed agreements of what constitutes reality, or cultural concepts (Barthes 1973; Coman 2005; Drummond 1984; Drummond 1996; Levi-Strauss 1967). These are often concerned with the ‘relations between man and the world’; a particularly poignant aspect of mythological communication in this context, as we will be looking at global capitalism’s mythologies concerning its relationship with Gaia (Barthes 1973: 140). Barthes argues that these cultural concepts are integral to mythological communication; the mythological sign is a manifestation of the naturalised concept circulating in the culture of wider global capitalism. From this perspective, it will be seen that the mythological signs operating in Hollywood cinema concerning the environmental crisis express three interrelated cultural concepts: that human activity is having an unprecedented impact on Gaia, that this may lead to the collapse of the globalised world system as we know it, and finally that globalised capitalism, with its emphasis on exponential growth, regardless of the ecological cost, is the key driving force behind this phenomenon. Importantly, in Barthes’ framework of semiotic analysis a signified, or cultural conception of reality, can have many signifiers (Barthes 1973: 120). During our analysis it will be seen that the above three core cultural concepts concering the globalised world system’s relationship with Gaia are signified repeatedly with a myriad of signifiers. Likewise, a signifier can also signify multiple signifieds simultaneously; much of the striking imagery in the Hollywood movies to be analysed signifies a number of cultural concepts at the same time (Barthes 1973). Barthes also argues that it is not only individual relationships between signifiers and signifieds which are important, but also the key signifieds revealed when the signs in media forms are taken as an aggregate: ‘In myth… the concept can spread over a very large expanse of signifier. For instance, a whole book [or movie] may be the signifier of a single concept’ (Barthes 1973: 120). This can be extrapolated to perceiving general patterns of mythologies which are expressed across the entire corpus of movies to be analysed. It will be seen how the repetition of particular signifiers and signifieds throughout the movies converge to express the three key cultural concepts concerning our unprecedented impact on Gaia.

Summary: Hollywood cinema as a mythological form of communication in the globalised world system

Before concluding, it is important to return to Osirio, in order to establish the scope of Hollywood’s mythological communication as phenomena intrinsic to the cultural construction of reality in this context. When arguing for a functional, mythological approach to analyses of the form and function of contemporary mass media forms, including cinema, Osirio delineates between two distinct schools of thought in this camp, the 'weak sense' of 'cultural transmission', and the 'strong sense' (Osirio 2005: 42-44). The 'weak sense' involves a conception of mass media as 'merely one of the mechanisms for the transmission of culture[,] or…[that] some cultural elements are currently transmitted through the mass media' (Osirio 2005: 43). Conversely, cultural transmission in the strong sense is defined as the belief that 'mass media are the vehicle of the transmission of culture.. in the process of the evolution of societies, mass media (especially television) became the primary vehicle for the transmission of culture… this is the way in which culture is transmitted' (Osirio 2005: 43). The strong sense is a bold assertion, for while postindustrial society is a media saturated culture, culture also diffuses through social interactions, and as Silverstone argues, the mythic in television and movies is but one facet of how culture is constructed (Mirzoeff 2003; Silverstone 1981). Nevertheless, it can be seen that Hollywood’s visions of environmental collapse are an important aspect of the mediascapes that permeate the globalised world system; a symbolic form of communication expressing global capitalism’s mythologies concerning its unprecedented relationship with Gaia.

Treading a similar conceptual path to Weakland’s ‘cultural documents’ approach, Drummond’s framework is important in conceiving popular cinema as a key nodal point in the expression of the cultural reality of complex, contemporary social and cultural formations such as the globalised world system (Weakland 1995; Drummond 1996). While other producers of cinema do export significant numbers of films every year to a growing audience, Hollywood has by far the largest reach of any producer of cinematic media on the planet (Appadurai 1996; Balio 1998). As such, in the globalised world system, Hollywood’s cinematic visions are a significant global cultural phenomenon; as a considerable aspect of transnational mediascapes (Appadurai 1996).

When analysing the movies, it will be seen that three interrelated dominant cultural concepts are signified frequently in The Day After Tomorrow, AI Artifical Intelligence, and WALL-E (Emmerich 2004; Spielberg 2001; Stanton 2008). The first is awareness and an anxiety relating to our unprecedented impact on the planet, and the profound consequences of this for both humanity, and Gaia more generally. Secondly, the movies all signify the discourses’ denouncing capitalism as the key force behind the present global anthropogenic environmental crisis. Thirdly, the increasingly likely possibility of the collapse of global capitalism, and the globalised world system, as a result of this is repeatedly signified. The underlying cultural assumption behind all three of these mythological constructs is that as a species we are having an unprecedented impact on Gaia: it is a hallmark of our time. Building on Barthes, Levi-Strauss and Drummond, it can be seen from a mythological standpoint that these semiotic messages embedded in the films are a potent cultural manifestation of these ideas increasingly circulating in the wider globalised world system.

Chapter 4 - Hollywood’s visions of environmental collapse: mapping emerging mythologies of the globalised world system’s unprecedented relationship with Gaia

'The boundary between science-fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.' – Cyborg feminist Donna Haraway, on her perception of the role of science fiction, in this context including Hollywood’s visions of environmental collapse, in society (Haraway 1991: 149).

Overview: Hollywood’s mythologies of environmental collapse

In this chapter, I will analyse the three most recent popular Hollywood films which express the world system’s emerging mythologies concerning its unprecedented relationship with Gaia: Emmerich's 2004 The Day After Tomorrow, Spielberg's 2001 AI Artificial Intelligence, and Stanton's 2008 WALL-E (Emmerich 2004; Spielberg 2001; Stanton 2008). Barthes argues that it is through observing recurrent patterns and themes in media that the core, dominant cultural mythologies are revealed (Barthes 1973: 120). The films contain recurrent stark imagery: including New York 75 meters under sea-level as a result of anthropogenic global warming in Spielberg’s AI Artificial Intelligence, and the dead future Earth of WALL-E, where Gaia has collapsed due to the exponentially unsustainable consumption patterns of global capitalism (Spielberg 2001; Stanton 2008).

The semiotic mythologies embedded in WALL-E, AI Artificial Intelligence and The Day After Tomorrow all condemn global capitalism, inextricably linking it to the present environmental crisis (Emmerich 2004; Spielberg 2001; Stanton 2008). The threat of collapse, both of the globalised world system, and of Gaia more generally, as a result of these processes is also repeatedly signified (Emmerich 2004; Spielberg 2001; Stanton 2008). It will be seen how the corpus of Hollywood films which millions have viewed worldwide, are a mythic cultural manifestation of the globalised world system’s awareness of its unprecedented impact on Gaia. The movies signify the increasingly prevalent view that 'now our fate and that of our planet will be determined by the rate at which we, as a species, can mature and develop a new sense of responsibility’ (Flannery 2008: 8).

The Day After Tomorrow: abrupt climate change

'Yes, but not in our lifetime, this is too fast.' – Climatologist Jack Hall referring to the catastrophic events of climate change in The Day After Tomorrow; this statement dovetails with information released after the latest 2007 IPCC report, and other recent climate change literature (ABC 2009; Emmerich 2004; Flannery 2008; Lovelock 2007; Spratt 2007).

'If humans pursue a business-as-usual course for the first half of this century, I believe the collapse of civilisation due to climate change becomes inevitable.' – 2007 Australian of the Year Tim Flannery, on the threat posed by catastrophic climate change (Flannery 2005: 209). The Day After Tomorrow, a 2004 20th Century Fox film directed by Roland Emmerich, depicts a failure of the Gulf Stream current in the Atlantic ocean, due to the melting of the polar ice caps as a result of anthropogenic climate change (Emmerich 2004). This leads to extreme weather events worldwide, ultimately resulting in the collapse of the contemporary globalised world system, as the Earth violently enters a new Ice Age (Emmerich 2004). The movie develops into a fable of family reconciliation; as Jack Hall, a climatologist, treks from Washington DC to Manhattan to rescue his son Sam, the protagonist, who is trapped in the New York State Library with friends, attempting to survive the lethal super storm which has enveloped the Northern Hemisphere (Emmerich 2004). However, beyond being a tale extolling the virtues of the nuclear family, the movie signifies many aspects of contemporary discourse relating to anthropogenic climate change. This includes anxieties concerning the catastrophic effects of abrupt, irreversible climate change due to a shutdown of the Gulf Stream, and the protestations of many thinkers who argue that present global capitalism is both incompatible with Gaia, and the main factor driving present global warming (Alley et al. 2003; Baer & Althanasiou 2002; Baer 2007, 2008; Brett & York 2005; Bodley 2008; Emmerich 2004; Flannery 2005, Grimes & Kentor 1997; Hulme 2003; Lovelock 2007; Martin 2006; Monbiot 2007; Monget 2007; Overpeck & Cole 2006; Schwartz & Randall 2003; Wallerstein 2007). As with all the movies, the cultural mythology underlying The Day After Tomorrow in its entirety is that the globalised world system is having an unprecedented impact on Gaia (Emmerich 2004). While only receiving a rating of 46% at the aggregate movie review website Rotten Tomatoes, the film grossed over five hundred and forty million US dollars at the box office, indicating the significance of the symbolic content of the movie for viewers across Gaia (Box Office Mojo, 2008b; IGN Entertainment 2008b).

In The Day After Tomorrow, melt water from the polar ice caps runs into the ocean, disrupting the trans-Atlantic Gulf Stream current, plunging the entire Northern Hemisphere into a new Ice Age in the space of 10 days (Emmerich 2004). It begins with a series of extreme weather events worldwide; snowing in New Delhi, hailstones the size of golf balls in Tokyo, Los Angeles all but completely obliterated by extremely powerful tornadoes, and New York inundated with a massive storm surge (Emmerich 2004). Most commentators argue that climate change, including the collapse of the Gulf Stream, will lead to bizarre, and highly destructive, weather; this dramatic imagery in the virtual world of The Day After Tomorrow can be seen as mythologically signifying cultural anxieties concerning these predictions (Flannery 2005; Hulme 2003; Lovelock 2007; Romm 2007; Schwartz & Randall 2003). Before long a super ice storm engulfs the Northern Hemisphere, this apocalyptic event kills off billions of people, as all major cities such as New York and London are locked in ice; anthropogenic disruption of the Gulf Stream current has led to a convulsive collapse of the globalised world system (Emmerich 2004). This is a dramatic symbolic representation of the effects of a collapse of the Gulf Stream current, which government and scientific reports outline has a good chance of occurring, if carbon emissions are not reduced (Alley et al. 2003; Hulme 2003; Schwartz & Randall 2003; Overpeck & Cole 2006).

According to a 2006 peer reviewed scientific report by Schlesinger et al, there is over a 50% chance of a collapse of the Gulf Stream if tangible action is not taken to address rising CO2 levels (Schlesinger 2006). The most accurate scientific models to date predict that climate would shift abruptly over the course of 10 years, rather than the 10 days depicted in The Day After Tomorrow (Schwartz & Randall 2003). The effect would most likely not be a new Ice Age, but rather a dramatic drop in the rainfall, and temperature of most of the northern hemisphere, and an abrupt increase of these phenomena in the southern hemisphere; leading to widespread social unrest, even more pathological shortages of food and water, escalating military conflicts, and increased incidences of terrorism (Flannery 2005; Hulme 2003; Lovelock 2007; Schwartz & Randall 2003).

Nevertheless, the global apocalyptic catastrophe that overwhelms the contemporary world system in The Day After Tomorrow, as a result of anthropogenic climate change and subsequent disruption of the Gulf Stream, signifies global capitalism’s concerns over the possibility of this scenario becoming an eventuality, as well as the world system’s concerns relating to the effects of catastrophic climate change more generally. Two powerful images which signify global capitalism’s mythologies concerning its unprecedented effect on Gaia, the possible detrimental effects of a Gulf Stream current shutdown, and the possible collapse of global capitalism as a result, are when Los Angeles is devastated by a monstrous super tornado, and when New York is inundated by a massive storm surge (Emmerich 2004; See Figure 4.1; Figure 4.2). Signifiers can signify many cultural concepts simultaneously, so it is possible to see how the following images signify, and are therefore cultural manifestations of, all these concepts at the same time (Barthes 1973: 140).

In figure 4.1, Los Angeles is in the process of being annihilated by a monstrous super tornado caused by a collapse of the Gulf Stream, and subsequent chaotic weather patterns. The super tornado can be seen as a signifier of our unprecedented impact on Gaia, including through climate change, and that this may result in the collapse of global capitalism, signified by Los Angeles. Los Angeles, as a contemporary, global city, signifies the globalised world system in its entirety and as such its destruction signifies that anthropogenic stressors on Gaia may lead to the collapse of the globalised world system (Sassen 2001).

In figure 4.2 New York is engulfed by a colossal storm surge, an extreme weather event caused by a Gulf Stream shutdown. Again, this dramatic imagery signifies cultural awareness of the world system’s impact on Gaia, including through climate change, and the probable collapse of global capitalism. In this context the storm surge signifies the widespread perception of our unprecedented impact on Gaia, anthropogenic climate change, and the possibility of abrupt climate change. Therefore, New York, signifying global capitalism and the world system, signifies the possible collapse of global capitalism, and the world system as a result.

Figure 4.1: Los Angeles devastated by a super tornado in The Day After Tomorrow

Figure 4.2: New York inundated by a colossal storm surge in The Day After Tomorrow

'These past few weeks have left us all with a profound sense of humility, in the face of nature's destructive power. For years, we operated under the belief that we could continue consuming our planet's natural resources, without consequence. We were wrong. I was wrong.’ – The American Vice-President’s address to the surviving people of America at the end of The Day After Tomorrow.

As the narrative progresses, The Day After Tomorrow explicitly condemns global capitalism as intrinsically related to the unprecedented environmental crisis; this concept circulating in wider global society is mythologically embedded in the movie (Baer 2008; Daly 1994; Graaf et al 2005). Near the start of the film, Jack Hall, a climatologist, is giving a presentation to world leaders concerning the possibility of a Gulf Stream current shut down, arguing that drastic action must be taken to ensure that this does not eventuate. He is mocked by the American Vice-President, who comments that to curb global warming ‘would cost the world’s economy hundreds of billions of dollars' (Emmerich 2004). Romm and Hamilton both argue that there are powerful financially motivated vested interests preventing significant global action on anthropogenic climate change (Romm 2007; Hamilton 2007). This signifies the present debates surrounding climate change, and the current prioritising of the global capitalist economy over environmental concerns that is perceived by many activists and academics (Baer 2008; Daly 1994; Graaf et al 2005; Suzuki 2003a; Suzuki 2003b; Suzuki 2003c). The Vice-President’s change of face during his address at the end of the film, quoted above, refers to the growing discourse expressed by Baer and others; that global capitalism must be transcended if we are to avert a major environmental catastrophe (Baer 2008; Daly 1994). In the context of the film, the above Vice-President’s address also signifies the increasing realisation that the exponential consumption of Gaia’s resources seen in Tables 1.1 and 1.3 is incompatible with the biosphere. From a mythological perspective, therefore The Day After Tomorrow itself can be seen as a cultural manifestation of the idea that present economic formations are incompatible with the long term survival of both Gaia, and the present globalised world system.

As the super storm that envelops the entire northern hemisphere of the planet grows, the movie is increasingly littered with semiotic signifiers pointing to the collapse of global capitalism as we know it. This includes a frozen shopping centre that Jack Hall traverses over as he is trekking to find his son; the shopping centre is deserted and buried under the ice; signifying the end of global capitalism and current modes of consumption as a result of climate change (Emmerich 2004). If an abrupt climate change shift was to occur, there is a strong likelihood that present social formations, including the ever accelerating consumption patterns intrinsic to global capitalism, would come to an end, as the developed nations turned to providing the basic necessities of life to their citizens (Campbell et al 2007; Schwartz & Randall 2003). The most striking expression of this mythology concerning the incompatibility of global capitalism with Gaia in The Day After Tomorrow is later in the film, when New York is shown completely abandoned and locked in ice (See Figure 4.3).

In figure 4.3 New York is shown locked in ice as a result of abrupt climate change, and subsequent collapse of the Gulf Stream (Emmerich 2004). New York is seen by some scholars as the epicentre of global capitalism, and indeed the globalised world system itself (Sassen 2001). As with the earlier examples, this image signifies that global capitalism, signified by New York, is incompatible with Gaia, and as many argue, will most likely collapse if change does not occur (See Figure 4.3).

From a mythological angle, The Day After Tomorrow in its entirety can be seen as a cultural manifestation of the world system’s anxiety concerning its unparalleled relationship Gaia. Through its powerful imagery, and key points in the narrative, the movie can be seen to signify concepts regarding the incompatibility of global capitalism with Gaia, the threat posed by anthropogenic climate change, and the possible collapse of the globalised world system as a result. It contains powerful apocalyptic imagery which millions have watched worldwide.

Figure 4.3: New York locked in ice as a result of anthropogenic abrupt climate change in The Day After Tomorrow

AI Artificial Intelligence: a post catastrophic climate change world

'If these huge [anthropogenic climate] changes do occur it seems likely that few of the teeming billions now alive will survive' – James Lovelock, the scientist who conceptualised the Earth as Gaia, and discovered the effect of CFC’s on the ozone layer, on the possible future consequences of catastrophic climate change (Lovelock 2007: 60).

‘At the start of the 21st century, humankind finds itself on a nonsustainable course – a course that, unless it is changed, could lead to grand-scale catastrophes.’ – James Martin, founder of the futures studies oriented James Martin 21st Century School at Oxford University (Martin 2006: 3).

Spielberg's 2001 film AI Artificial Intelligence is arguably a futuristic fable concerning love, the complex relationship between humans and technology, and what it means to be human; following the spiritual journey of the anthropomorphic android boy David, who embarks on a quest to 'be a real boy' (Beale 2002; Rutherford & Ogilvie 2001; Spielberg 2001). However, the setting of the movie is an integral aspect of the storyline; a post catastrophic climate change world, where sea levels have risen by 75 meters, swamping New York and most other major cities, and where most nations have long ago collapsed (Spielberg 2001). If anthropogenic climate change continues unchecked, many argue that this scenario of extremely high sea level rise, and the consequent collapse of most nations of Earth, is a possibility (Campbell et al. 2007; McKibben 2006; Romm 2007). The film signifies discourses regarding the anthropogenic forcing contemporary global capitalism is exerting on Gaia’s climate, and explores the possibility of the collapse of the globalised world system if climate change continues unabated. Artificial Intelligence received a rating of 72 percent at the aggregate movie review website Rotten Tomatoes, and grossed over two hundred million at the box office (Box Office Mojo 2008c; IGN Entertainment 2008c).

In the first scene of Artificial Intelligence the narrator’s voice over sets the scene:

‘Those were the years after the ice caps had melted, because of the greenhouse gases, and the oceans had risen to drown so many cities along all the shorelines of the world, Amsterdam, Venice, New York: forever lost. Millions of people were displaced, climate became, chaotic. Hundreds of millions of people starved in poorer countries. Elsewhere, a high degree of prosperity survived, when most governments in the developed world introduced legal sanctions to strictly license pregnancies.’ (Spielberg 2001).

The movie opens with a shot of rolling seas, as the narrator informs the viewer that the polar ice caps have melted due to anthropogenic climate change, and most of humanity has become extinct (See Figure 4.4; Spielberg 2001). The few survivors, of the post industrial nations, inhabit a society of high technology but low resources. This is a future Earth in which, as Martin, Baer and Althanasiou argue may occur, the postindustrial nations have adopted a 'Fortress' position; isolating themselves and closing their borders, while the less fortunate billions in the developing world have perished, due to rising sea levels, lack of drinking water, crop failure, pestilence, natural disasters, and conflict over the limited remaining resources (Martin 2006; Baer & Althanasiou 2002). McKibben outlines how if the ice caps, and land based glaciers were to melt, the sea would rise by 75 meters, as is depicted in Artificial Intelligence (McKibben 2006). The rolling seas of Figure 4.4, the opening shot of AI Artificial Intelligence, combined with the narrator’s voice over, signify apprehension over humanity’s unprecedented impact on Gaia, and the possibility of runaway anthropogenic climate change causing a collapse of the world system, including rising seas engulfing major cities worldwide. As we have seen, including in Table 1.2, catastrophic climate change may well lead to such a collapse.

Figure 4.4: The rolling seas which have swallowed cities in the opening shot of AI Artificial Intelligence

Near the end of the film, Artificial Intelligence also offers powerful imagery of the fate of present globalised capitalism. When David and Joe arrive in New York, flying in a stolen police helicopter, the viewer sees a city that has been largely submerged; the upper third of the Manhattan sky line rising from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean (Spielberg 2001). In figure 4.5 New York, the centre of globalised capitalism in the contemporary world system, has become, in the words of Gigolo Joe 'a lost city at the end of the world' (See Figure 4.5; Sassen 2001; Spielberg 2001). This image signifies the increasing alarm over our unprecedented impact on Gaia, climate change, and the probable collapse of capitalism and the globalised world system as a result (Flannery 2005; Lovelock 2007; Lynas 2008). New York is here again a signifier of global capitalism, and its demise as a result of anthropogenic climate change signifies the growing discourse that global capitalism is incompatible with Gaia.

Figure 4.5: New York reduced to a submerged ‘lost city at the end of the world’ in Artificial Intelligence

Significantly, Artificial Intelligence is the only movie in the corpus to depict the eventual extinction of humanity; in the last scene it is revealed that benevolent artificial intelligence has inherited Gaia (Spielberg 2001). In this way the movie signifies growing discourses in the globalised world system concerning the possible extinction of humanity as a result of catastrophic climate change (Leslie 1996; Lynas 2008; Ward 2007). This also signifies the despair expressed for the state of the future by the majority of young people as outlined by Ojala (Ojala 2007).

As with the other movies, Artifical Intelligence signifies many cultural concepts in the globalised world system regarding the anthropogenic global environmental crisis. This includes the incompatibility of global capitalism with Gaia, and the fear that if climate change continues unabated it may lead to the demise of the vast majority of humanity (Baer 2007; Campbell et al. 2007; Daly 1994; Flannery 2005; 2008; Graaf et al 2005; Lovelock 2006). Underpinning Artifical Intelligence in its entirety is the increasingly prevalent view that we are having an unparalleled impact on Gaia; the movie is a cultural manifestation of this increasing awareness in the world system.

WALL-E: the death of Gaia

Stanton’s 2008 Disney film WALL-E is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth; Gaia has collapsed, and has become a desert planet, devoid of life except for the robot WALL-E and his constant companion, a cockroach (Stanton 2008). WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class) the protagonist robot, spends his days amidst a bleak, decaying cityscape; cleaning up mountains of rubbish the humans have left behind, and salvaging odd trinkets from the wreckage (Stanton 2008). In this way the film explores the role of contemporary global capitalism in biosphere collapse; the ‘BuyNLarge’ corporation’s unsustainable consumption of Earth’s resources has led to a total Gaian breakdown (Stanton 2008). WALL-E can be seen mythologically as a manifestation of the globalised world system’s concerns of the incompatibility of global capitalism with Gaia, and the catastrophic consequences of unchecked climate change (Daly 1994; Stanton 2008). The movie signifies the increasing discourse in the world system regarding the anthropocence; the only life Gaia can support at the start of the movie is a cockroach (cockroaches are infamous for being able to survive anything), and a solar powered robot (Flannery 2005; Wilson 2006; Stanton 2008). As with the other movies, fundamentally WALL-E is a mythological manifestation of the globalised world system’s increasing awareness of its unprecedented impact on Gaia. Significantly, the movie is computer generated, and primarily aimed at children; what does it mean when a culture shows the youngest generation dramatic imagery of the failure of their own culture? I believe it indicates how deeply these mythologies are beginning to permeate our contemporary global culture. WALL-E grossed over five hundred million at the box office worldwide, and received a percentage rating of 96% at the aggregate movie review website Rotten Tomatoes (Box Office Mojo 2008a; IGN Entertainment, 2008a).

WALL-E condemns contemporary global capitalism even more explicitly than The Day After Tomorrow; as it is revealed that the ‘Buy N Large’ corporation’s unsustainable consumption of Gaia in the film has led to the collapse of both Gaia, and the world system (Emmerich 2004; Stanton 2008). The name of the corporation ‘Buy N Large’ itself refers to the exponential untenable consumption of Gaia by global capitalism that has been demonstrated in Tables 1.1 and 1.3. The opening scene of the movie abounds with signifiers pointing to our unprecedented impact on Gaia, and the possible collapse of the world system as a result (See Figures 4.6; 4.7)

In figure 4.6 the ‘Buy N Large Ultrastore’ amidst the ruins of a city on the dead future Gaia signifies transnational corporations and the workings of global capitalism; which many argue is incompatible with the biosphere, and may lead to the collapse of the world system, and even Gaia (See Figure 4.6; Baer 2008; Bodley 2008; Chisholm 1995; Daly 1994; Graaf et al 2005). The ‘Ultrastore’ and the decaying city in ruins signify the collapse of global capitalism, and the surrounding dead Earth signifies global capitalism’s unsustainable impact on Gaia (See Figure 4.6). Figure 4.7, depicting the Earth covered in towering mountains of waste the humans have left behind, again signifies these increasingly prevalent perceptions (See Figure 4.7).

As the future Earth of WALL-E is essentially a dead Gaia, this signifies increasing concern over the profound consequences of the anthropocene; the current unprecedented anthropogenic species extinction event (Flannery 2008; Rose 2008; Stanton 2008; Wilson 2006). This is a future that the Union of Concerned Scientists’ has warned us we are creating; in which Gaia has totally collapsed due to ecosystem failure worldwide (Union of Concerned Scientists 1992), The lifeless world of WALL-E not only signifies anxiety regarding the future consequences of the anthropocene, but also in regards to the 50 000 species a year already becoming extinct (Wilson 2006).

Figure 4.6: A ‘Buy N Large Ultrastore’ amidst the ruins of global capitalism in WALL-E

Figure 4.7: The future Earth of WALL-E; a dead Gaia enveloped in towering mountains of waste from global capitalism’s unsustainable consumption

The lifeless world of WALL-E also signifies the possibility of mass species extinctions as a result of catastrophic climate change; which will most likely occur unless action is taken globally to move to a carbon neutral economy as soon as possible (Flannery 2008; IPCC 2007a: 51; Lovelock 2006; Ward 2007). Figure 4.8, a ‘Buy N Large’ petrol station, signifies that the dead Gaia of WALL-E was also caused by anthropogenic climate change; therefore the desolate imagery of WALL-E also signifies widespread concern about global warming (See Figure 4.8). The lifeless Gaia is a world in which the worst case IPCC scenario in Table 1.2 has become a reality at the very least. The petrol station has approximately 50 bowsers under its canopy, signifying our current dependence on fossil fuels, even though most people are now aware of the dangerous consequences of this (Romm 2007; See Figure 4.8). Again, the ‘Buy N Large’ logo in this image could signify that emissions, and therefore fossil fuel use, is actually dramatically increasing worldwide (Canadell et al 2007; Romm 2007: 21; IPCC 2007a: 44).

In contrast to Artificial Intelligence, WALL-E does ultimately signify hope (Spielberg 2001; Stanton 2008). During the film WALL-E finds a seedling that has germinated; life is beginning to return to a dead Gaia. The few remaining humans have been living aboard a spaceship called the Axiom for generations; waiting for Gaia to regenerate so that they can return (Stanton 2008). At the end of the film, with the aid of WALL-E, the humans return to Gaia, discovering that seedlings have sprung up all over the desert; signifying the endurance of Gaia and that there is still hope (Stanton 2008). Unfortunately, in light of the worse case scenarios, this seems a little naive, but it does signify the idea that if global capitalism and its unsustainable consumption is curbed, there is still time to shift to a global sustainable mode of organisation (Daly 1994; Meadows et al 2004; Raskin et al 2002; Stanton 2008).

Figure 4.8: ‘Buy N Large Gas’ station rising from the desert of Gaia in WALL-E

As with The Day After Tomorrow and AI Artifical Intelligence, WALL-E mythologically expresses and signifies a myriad of concepts in the world system regarding the paradigm shift in our relationship with Gaia (Emmerich 2004; Spielberg 2001; Stanton 2008)..

Conclusion: a culture coming to terms with its unprecedented impact on Gaia

The Day After Tomorrow, AI Artificial Intelligence, and WALL-E manifest and signify many emerging mythologies circulating in the world system concerning the globalised world system’s unprecedented impact on Gaia (Emmerich 2004; Spielberg 2001; Stanton 2008). This includes the idea that global capitalism is a key factor behind the ecological crisis and anthropogenic climate change, and that a collapse of the globalised world system is likely if we do not shift to a sustainable economic configuration in the near future. Interestingly, both The Day After Tomorrow and WALL-E share very similar closing shots: Gaia from space. Figure 4.9, the last shot of WALL-E signifies that ultimately human activity takes place within the Gaian system, and that humanity should take account of this to avert a total biosphere collapse. The final shot in The Day After Tomorrow, Figure 4.10, is also Gaia from space; again signifying Gaia as one complete system, of which the globalised world system is a part. This challenges notions in economics that global capitalism is not constrained by Gaia, including by Gaia’s limited productive capacity (Daly 1994). These images could also signify the beginning of the planetary awareness and responsibility towards Gaia that Raskin et al argue is emerging (Raskin et al 2002).

Figure 4.9: Gaia from space, the last shot of WALL-E

Figure 4.10: Gaia from space, the closing shot of The Day After Tomorrow

Chapter 5 - Conclusion: Emerging mythologies of our unprecedented impact on Gaia: planetary awareness or planetary collapse?

As we have seen, the mythological content of The Day After Tomorrow, AI Artifical Intelligence, and WALL-E, three very popular Hollywood films worldwide, are cultural indicators of the world system’s emerging awareness of its unprecedented impact on Gaia (Emmerich 2004; Speilberg 2001; Stanton 2008). As an aggregate, they signify a culture coming to terms with the fact that for the first time in history, anthropogenic processes now have the potential to dramatically upset the balance of the planetary, self regulating system, which is Gaia (Bodley 2008; Flannery 2008; Lovelock 2007; Raskin et al 2002). A planetary system we depend on to survive. This includes signifying the growing awareness of the incompatibility of the global capitalist mode of economic organisation, with the long term survival of both Gaia, and humanity (Baer 2008; Daly 1994; Highfield 2008b; Raskin et al 2002; Suzuki 2003c).

Taken as a collective, the mythologies expressed in the corpus of films signify a global culture coming to terms with the fact that for the first time in history ‘we humans are poised to become… the means by which Gaia will regulate at least some of its essential processes’ (Flannery 2008: 6). This truly is The End of Nature Bill Mckibben first proclaimed in 1989 (McKibben 2006). It is clear that in the very near future we will either begin managing Gaia responsibly, or the globalised world system, if not Gaia itself, will collapse due to anthropogenic environmental stress. Raskin et al’s futures studies work Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead, argues that we are undergoing a significant historical transition towards a ‘planetary stage of civilisation’; which includes attentiveness towards the paradigm shift in our relationship with Gaia (Raskin et al 2002). However, they do admit that ‘the momentum toward an unsustainable future can be reversed, but only with great difficulty’ (Raskin et al 2002: 94). I believe ‘great difficulty’ may be a euphemism, but there is certainly still a chance that a planetary cataclysm can be averted: to think otherwise is futile. If this challenge is overcome, I also believe, along with Raskin et al, that this process will fundamentally alter dominant global cultural perceptions of both Gaia, and of humanity’s relations with Gaia. I hope that the corpus of movies signify the beginning of this process.

Unfortunately, at present these films provide prophetic glimpses into possible futures which on our present course we are busy creating for ourselves. Anthropologists, other academics, activists, professionals, and those in positions of power worldwide must do everything they can to ensure they remain but symbolic glimpses, and do not become a reality. The movies must retain historical significance in the future as signifying a phenomenal historical moment, when humanity became increasingly aware of its new found power and responsibility towards Gaia, instead of the movies becoming the future itself…

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