All that natural beauty made my eyes itch
Illustrator’s Subpar Parks series uses one-star online reviews of national parks to underscore their glory
Nobody will ever ask me to create a school curriculum. But if they did, I would suggest just two essential classes to help students navigate life.
Not home economics or shop. You can figure out how to hammer or bake on your own. While I’ve had reason to use algebra since learning it in seventh grade, I’ve never again used a band saw.
No, my two classes would be Dealing with Deceit and Managing Toxicity. The first is so obvious I’m surprised it isn’t already taught. Lies infect much of our world. Not just in the miserable nadir of Trump, but before. Religion demands we accept the most ludicrous untruths without a flicker of doubt. History encourages wild overvaluation of ourselves and our accomplishments. Commerce puts us on a treadmill, doing jobs we don’t like so we can buy crap we don’t need but are tricked into wanting.
Yet we assume people are honest. Back in April, when Trump said the nation would open up by Easter, I was talking to a neighbor who said, in essence, “Well, he must know something, have some secret plan, or he wouldn’t say that.” I almost screamed. Knowing all we know, educated people cling to a touching, baseless faith in the president’s honesty. Our default is still to automatically believe any random stranger is telling the truth.
We have to fix that. “Is this person lying?” should be our go-to reaction to just about anything. I’d have the class chanting it, declining it like grammar: “Am I lying? Are you lying? Is he lying? Are we lying?”
And toxicity. Social media is a snake pit of mean, stupid people, inflamed by certainty, shielded by anonymity, gleefully inflicting damage. Maybe if we learned that in second grade, kids — and adults — wouldn’t suffer so much.
How do you manage toxic people? How to armor yourself against the vindictiveness lurking in every corner of social media?
One way is to turn it into art. I noticed a series called Subpar Parks, where actual onestar reviews of U.S. National Parks are paired with gorgeous renditions of those treasures. No park escapes dismissal by somebody.
Rocky Mountain National Park? “Super unimpressed.”
Yosemite? “Trees block view and there are too many gray rocks.”
The Grand Canyon? “A hole. A very, very large hole.”
The series is being created — 52 parks down, 10 to go — by North Carolina illustrator Amber Share.
“I was taking an online course last fall about creating passion projects by fellow illustrator and lettering artist Lauren Hom,” said Share, who lives in Raleigh and is an avid hiker, “and decided I wanted my passion project to involve illustrating all of the parks, but I wanted to find a way to make it unique and incorporate my sense of humor.”
The National Park Service has been putting out gorgeous posters for a century. How to compete with that?
“There are already so many iconic park illustrations out there,” she said. “I felt like another set would just be white noise. I stumbled upon a post on Reddit that had rounded up a few one-star reviews, and it was kind of a lightning bolt moment.”
If you squint, you can almost see who penned these pans. The sighing, bored Goth teens. The cow-eyed, incurious adults.
People who work in the parks appreciate Share’s work.
“I’ve heard from a lot of park rangers in particular who get a huge kick out of it,” she said, “since they’re often on the receiving end of negative comments.”
Aren’t we all?
“The internet and the veil of anonymity that it provides seems to give people license to be really cruel and forget the human being on the other side of the screen,” said Share, who sells posters, cards and stickers of the series. “I’ve learned that you can’t really focus on it or take it personally — that way lies madness. And I hope Subpar Parks can show people how to not only deflect or ignore the cruelty online, but to laugh at them too, and to laugh at that grumpy impulse to complain on the internet that exists in all of us. If the best the planet has to offer can get a one-star review, you don’t have a chance of pleasing everyone. Just focus on finding your people, and let go of the rest.”
Amber Share’s Subpar Parks series of illustrations — such as this one of the Grand Canyon — pairs renditions of U.S. National Parks with one-star online reviews of them. AMBER SHARE ILLUSTRATIONS
Cooled lava, one hopes.