This contribution belongs to a series of student blogs written as part of a seminar offered by EHC staff as part of our Research Master’s Environmental Humanities specialization. This year, this seminar was devoted to the Corona pandemic.
Not Distancing; Dying
Laurence Auener, RMA Forensic Linguistics (VU)
On March 15, 2020, the Dutch prime minister Rutte announced the 1,5 meters rule of social distancing to the public in order to restrain the number of victims by the coronavirus. One would think that these drastic measures would convince the public to take the virus and the measure seriously. However, not everyone seemed to comply with this rule.
This carelessness was also the center of attention in an episode of the Dutch, satirical television show ‘Zondag met Lubach’ [‘Sunday with Lubach’] on March 22nd (Lubach, 2020). Every Sunday night, a new episode of ‘Zondag met Lubach’ airs, in which comedian and presenter Arjen Lubach discusses topics that have been covered in the media during the preceding week. The fragment covering the carelessness started by Lubach showing some video clips of people being interviewed on their lax attitudes towards the 1,5 meters rule and making jokes about their reactions. Throughout the fragment, Lubach continued to stress the importance of social distancing, in that it does not only prevent oneself from catching the virus, but also from passing it on to others. What followed was a body movement, in which Lubach first spread his arms and then crossed them, while saying respectively “distancing; not dying” and repeating this multiple times. Immediately after this movement, he made another one by doing the opposite and saying “no distancing; dying”.
This is an excellent example of the impact framing has on people’s behavior or attitudes (Neimanis, Åsberg & Hedrén, 2015). As the authors show, higher uncertainty combined with a positive frame produces stronger intentions to act (p. 77). The example above may look like a negative frame, but being that the show is satirical, this actually results in a positive frame. Moreover, juxtaposing “distancing; not dying” with “not distancing; dying” displays the feeling of an action that is easy to take. This particular body movement ended up in a national commercial on spreading awareness and hope in this difficult period.
Lubach, A. [vpro zondag met lubach]. (2020, March 22). Afstand houden | Zondag met Lubach (S11) [YouTube]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?=Ud8wQWnB6FE&feature=youtu.be
Neimanis, A., Åsberg, C., & Hedrén, J. (2015). Four Problems, Four Directions for Environmental Humanities: Toward Critical Posthumanities for the Anthropocene. Ethics and the Environment, 20(1), 67-97.
“The Earth is Healing”
Laken Sylvander, RMA Critical Studies Art & Culture (VU)
As shelter-in-place orders continue to quiet the outside world, many across the internet and media outlets have found a positive to break up the waves of tragic, anthropocentric news concerning human suffering due to the coronavirus—animals are “returning” to their “natural” habitats. These claims have been met with a wide variety of responses. When it became known that a viral post claiming that dolphins and swans had returned to the Venetian canals due to lack of human activity was in fact false (the photos were not from Venice), some responded with parody that highlights the ability of social media to spread fake news, particularly amongst a global population that is vulnerable to believing fake news given the overwhelming need to seek out positive news during these times. Below, we see two posts, one on Twitter by Mark Lee and the other from Instagram meme account ‘trashcanpaul,’ both of which mock the gullibility of the masses on social media. Lee tweeted ‘This photo of the Hudson River was taken yesterday. The earth is healing. We are the virus.” to accompany an illustration from the popular colouring-book series by Lisa Frank, a staple of 90’s visual culture amongst millennials.
Lee has chosen the most exaggerated illustration of a thriving, “healing” Earth to make his point, and it worked—it has been retweeted 53,000 times and has over 200,000 likes on Twitter. The extreme, in-your-face visual to accompany the caption eliminates the possibility of actually believing it. Lee’s selection of the Hudson River, widely known to be extremely polluted, and trashcanpaul’s pairing of an image of a Caribbean island with a tongue-in-cheek caption about Detroit (met with nearly 80,000 instagram likes) make a strong point about how consumers of media respond to environmental news.
These posts speak directly to the third problem in Neimanis et. all’s “Four Problems, Four Directions for Environmental Humanities: Toward critical posthumanities for the anthropocene,”—this problem being that of negative framing of environmental information, news, and prospects. These authors outline how, “in the context of the Anthropocene, a negative tone of urgency is taking considerable hold,” regarding climate change communications, and cite studies that highlight how such a consistently negative tone and framing works against its intentions to stimulate action—this framing actually is shown to have the opposite effect. As a human population, we have become so accustomed to apocalyptically-framed environmental news-sharing, which has had the unforeseen consequence in the era of coronavirus of being highly-susceptible to believing any positively-framed environmental news. This is directly contributing to the spread of fake news, which these two posts pointedly and successfully call out by nature of their visibly extreme falseness.