Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age
Nicole Seymour, University of Minnesota Press (OCTOBER) Softcover $26.95 (304pp) 978-1-5179-0389-3
As it turns out, climate change and the environment can be a laughing matter—at least, at an absurd or satirical level. In her wide-ranging scholarly study, that’s where Nicole Seymour focuses her attention, analyzing films, television shows, literature, and performances that represent “bad environmentalism,” which she defines as “environmental thought that employs dissident, often-denigrated affects and sensibilities” to the current environmental crisis.
With a concentration on Western culture from the 1990s to the present, the works discussed range from broadly popular to obscure. Seymour thoroughly and carefully critiques each with an eye toward expanding the audience’s views of environmentalism. She does so by comparing and contrasting environmentally themed films, studying bizarre nature and wildlife programming, and discussing the manner by which poetry, fiction, animation, and comedy take aim at environmentalism.
Perhaps the most startling aspect of the book is the relationship it reveals between environmentalism and sociopolitical factors. One chapter addresses “queer environmental performance” with the unusual examples of the Canadian Lesbian National Parks and Services and a US activist group, Queers for the Climate. Another highlights the sometimes uneasy associations of environmentalism with Native Americans and African Americans; as Seymour puts it, “sentimentalizing Native Americans and framing African Americans as ecophobic” serve as “distractions from the environmental injustices that both groups suffer in common.”
The book’s conclusion is as provocative as the book itself: that works representative of “bad environmentalism” are “important alternatives to the status quo” because they expose elements of environmentalism in a completely irreverent way. Exploring those derisive works is what makes Bad Environmentalism a unique book.