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The relevance of film 'Don't Look Up' in today's world of blind pursuit for growth

The film’s unique tone makes its climate change message clearer

The relevance of film ‘Don’t Look Up’ in today’s world of blind pursuit for growth
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The relevance of film ‘Don’t Look Up’ in today’s world of blind pursuit for growth 

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When economist Kate Raworth urged tweeple to watch the film Don't Look Up saying "it is profound and devastatingly familiar," I couldn't resist. The film, available on Netflix, is a powerful satire on the way thing are today, the way politics, media and big business is collaborating to hurtle the world towards an impending disaster.

After having watched the film that evening, for a few moments I sat quiet, contemplating how clearly and sharply the film had brought out the dominant but obfuscating narrative that the world has inadvertently been sucked into believing – the promise of infinite growth and prosperity. Backed by an irresponsible and fun-loving media and a compromising political leadership, the film tells us how a technology-savvy big business takes the world literally towards a doom.

And this time, there is no superman, no hero. Till the end, I was waiting for the likes of an Arnold Schwarzeneger or Akshay Kumar, dressed as a superman in a flowing gown, to appear and save the planet from the big bang – to fly out into the space and stop or wreck the fast headed comet. Instead the comet, about which two astronomers, played by Leonardo Di Caprio and his student Jennifer Lawrence, had forewarned, hits the planet and eventually causes doom. No sophisticated technology and the equally fanciful promise of putting it to use to extract minerals from the speeding comet, that has immense commercial value thereby expected to put stock markets on a roller-coaster ride managed to save the planet.

In lot many ways, the world is fast headed in that direction. As the political leadership globally, only keen on how to win an election and stay in power even if it comes at the cost of a foreseeable disaster, sees and hears no warning. Making a mockery of scientific warnings, the US President in this film, a role played by Meryl Streep, may appear to be comical but in reality shows how casually the political leaders take to governance. On the side of big business, and going by the promise of big bucks that the billionaire CEO of a technology company had promised, she is even willing to ignore the scientific calculations that warn of a time-ticking bang. Greed plays over the harsh realities, and Meryl Streep succumbs to it. If you look around, there are similarities here. And this is what makes the film a powerful portrayal of the times we are living in. Whether it is the time-ticking warnings of a climate catastrophe ahead or the warnings of a natural resource plunder that would make the planet inhospitable, political leadership is not only indifferent but seems to be mesmerised by the GDP numbers instead. A GDP report card is what any of the Head of the State will like to flaunt, pushing all uncomfortable social and environmental statistics under the carpet.

The race to a higher GDP is costing the Earth. The higher the greenhouse gas emissions, the higher is the GDP. The more the destruction of the natural resources, the more economists tells us how valuable the contribution towards economic growth is. The more the environmental destruction as a consequence, the more is the reliance on technology to take care of it. Every disaster therefore becomes a business opportunity. Perhaps in the film Meryl Streep as US President was also thinking on the same lines.

While the world needs only $100 billion to wipe out poverty, and another $100 billion as climate finance to ward-off the climate rise threat and make developing countries take appropriate steps, there is always money constraint we are told. But last year alone, the central banks had printed $9 trillion of surplus money, which according to Morgan Stanley's Chief Strategist and author Ruchir Sharma, had gone to swell the pockets of rich and wealthy. In other words, instead of bridging the ever-growing inequality, economists point to it as an outcome of enterprise and innovation not telling us how conveniently public money has been given away to buttress private coffers.

In the popular morning talk show, which features Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett as the co-hosts, the film has very well portrayed the fun-loving media, which has often launched easy going shows with the intention of having a good time for the viewers to keep them relaxed. The real news or the hard news as they say gets trivialised in the process. We are presently living in times when even news has been turned into entertainment, and media is being used to influence minds with all kinds of gibberish talk and fake statistics.

In a way, much of the corporate global media has turned into His Master's Voice, and whether viewers realise it or not it tries to build up the argument in support of the big business that finances the media house. That is why the media continues to hype privatisation and corporatisation as the way ahead even though serious questions are being asked about the relevance of neoliberal economics in these difficult times. Most journalists simply play to the tune.

Don't Look Up looks up at the global happenings of today in a metamorphic way. See it in the context of the raging debate over climate change or the illusion of sustainable growth created by rising GDP numbers, the film is certainly 'devastatingly familiar'. By picking up the three most important stakeholders on the global stage – the politician, the big business and the big media – the film has very effectively drawn the attention of viewers to how the nexus plays out. It certainly will be unfair to paint every major stakeholder with the same brush, but the collaborative role they play in the film is something we can easily identify with.

Basically, it is all about greed. That is exactly what Mahatma Gandhi had warned about when he said the world has enough for man's need, and not for greed. If only the world had listened to him, and if only the message had percolated to the people who matter – the elite class that the film Don't Look Up has portrayed, along with others, the world wouldn't be moving towards a highly unsustainable future. It is time to read the warning, it is time to realise how fast economic inequality, environmental destruction and climate catastrophe is threatening to engulf the mankind. We can't first allow the Earth to be destroyed, while hoping that the rich and powerful will escape to another planet. For the likes of billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, the film has a message that is loud and clear. Even Meryl Streep in the film does escape to an alien world, where she finally meets her end.

(The author is a noted food policy analyst and an expert on issues related to the agriculture sector. He writes on food, agriculture and hunger)

Devinder Sharma
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