Ain’t My Fault by Gulf Aid All Stars and Balls in Your Mouth by Jimmy Fallon and Eddie Vedder

Mos Def and Ben Jaffe were inspired to rewrite the lyrics to “Ain’t My Fault,” a song written by Smokey Johnson and Wardell Quezergue, after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in New Orleans. Mos Def, Lenny Kravitz and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, recorded the song to raise money for the charity “Gulf Aid.”

The lyrics are written from the perspective of a New Orleans resident who is listening to various companies in the oil industry trying to shift the blame for the spill from themselves: “awwwwwww, it ain’t my fault.” The narrator recognizes that someone is definitely to blame but what is more important is that he or she is confused about how to deal with the spill in his or her daily life.

 

IT AIN’T MY FAULT

Mama no don’t ya say

ah

oil and water don’t mix

petroleum don’t go (go) with no fish

Awwwwwwww, IT AIN’T MY FAULT

BP….big pimpin

Big pile of BAD presses

boiling point

billionaire point pressure

Awwwwwwww, IT AIN’T MY FAULT

Say Man:

Who pushed the marshes back?

It’s where the hurricane shelter

and the gardens at

Awwwwwwww, IT AIN’T MY FAULT

Sing…

from the government’s coast

to the broke levee wall

somptin goin on

and it’s somebody fault…I said

Awwwwwwww, IT AIN’T MY FAULT

said they go to the rock

to hide they face

said the rock cried out

“No Hiding Place!”

said they go to the rock

to hide they face

said the rock cried out

“No Hiding Place!”

said they go to the rock

to hide they face

said the rock cried out

“No Hiding Place!”

Oh no, oh no

“IT AIN’T MY FAULT”

Energy narrative characteristics found in this song: environmental degradation, corporate ruthlessness, political oppression, exaggerated inequalities, convenient racism.

Balls in Your Mouth

The narrative structure of this song is very simple: the narrator is telling his or her audience not to swim in the ocean because there are tar balls in it as the result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The point behind the simple structure and the silly title is that the fact that there are tar balls in the ocean is utterly ridiculous. Granted, the last thing I want to do is call an accident that called 11 people “ridiculous” when it is in fact “tragic,” but drilling that deep without taking proper safety precautions was an unnecessary and dangerous risk. Now, it may be that I think that because I am looking at the issue in hindsight, like the argument in my most recent post on South Park, but I think that tar balls are a poetic (and deeply unfortunate) consequence to a ridiculous problem.

 

Energy narrative characteristics found in this song: environmental degradation, corporate ruthlessness, political oppression, exaggerated inequalities.

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South Park: Coon and Friends 2. What could possibly be worse than a fire that kills 14 people.

In this episode, the kids of South Park, Colorado don their superhero costumes and become “Coon and Friends” to protect their town from crime. Meanwhile, BP drills into the ocean outside of New Orleans (in a boat that reads “BP: We Care”), and causes a massive oil spill. As fighters of crime, Coon and Friends vows to assist the Gulf with their troubles. However, another superhero, Captain Hindsight, is already working to critique BP on what they could have done to avoid the spill:

Captain Hindsight: “You see where that rig is drilling?”

People in New Orleans: “Yes”

Captain Hindsight: “It’s in too deep of water. They shouldn’t have drilled in that deep of water because now they can’t get machines deep enough to fix the spill.”

People of New Orleans: “Ah-ha!, yes, yes.”

Captain Hindsight: “Now if it’s a valve that ruptured then what they should have down is installed a backup valve in case that broke.”

People of New Orleans: “I believe they did install a backup safety valve, Captain Hindsight.”

Captain Hindsight: “Hmm. Right. Then they should have had a backup safety valve to that backup safety valve!”

People of New Orleans: “My god he’s right!”

Captain Hindsight: “My work here is done!

Meanwhile, BP CEO, Tony Hayward, shoots an advertisement where he says the phrase “we’re sorry” over and over again.

 

However, BP, now Dependable Petroleum (DP), drills further into the ocean in an attempt to stop the spill. However, by drilling deeper they open a gateway to another dimension and monsters escape from the hole and start terrorizing the earth.  A television reporter states: “The oil company stated that it knew a portal to another dimension was there but didn’t think drilling into it would prove problematic. Now hundreds of creatures from another dimension are spilling out into our reality and wreaking havoc.” Hayward shoots another “we’re sorry” advertisement and then determines that if DP drills on the moon it will change its gravitational pull on the Earth and calm the ocean, which will allow them to place a cap on both the spill and the dimension gateway. Of course, drilling on the moon causes them to release the dark lord, Cthulhu, and as a result, causes 3000 years of darkness on earth.

 

This episode is an obvious parody of the aftermath of the explosion of BP Deepwater Horizon. BP is characterized as a bunch of careless fools who perform risky tasks without researching what their consequences might be. However, the writers are also attempting to show that the BP hatred might be a little overwrought. The introduction of the character of Captain Hindsight is meant to show that while we realize all of BP’s mistakes now, it is because we are viewing them in retrospect. The writers are also attempting to show that maybe the media is making a bigger deal out of the spill than it actually is, after all it’s not like they released the dark lord Cthulhu. The writers of South Park are famous for taking this middle ground. They parody both sides and often do not come to an obvious conclusion about what is right.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life=energy, environmental degradation, nature fights back, corporate ruthlessness, exaggerated inequalities.

The Newsroom: Trying to Toss a Hat on a Fire Hose

The first episode of the TV series, The Newsroom, follows the story of the British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill off the coast of Venice, Louisiana, which took place on April 20, 2010. The episode describes the event from the perspective of journalists who put out a national news show. The journalists discover information about the explosion and the spill and relay that information to their audience .

Senior producer Jim Harper reads an associated press (AP) alert that there has been an explosion on a BP oil rig about 50 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana. The AP reporter claimed that coastguard evacuated 7 people all of them critically injured, and they are searching for 11 confirmed missing, and that flames from the rig had reached 150 feet in the air. Journalist, Neal Sampat reads the report and determines that there might be a bigger problem than the missing crew members. He claims that since the rig was drilling at 18,000 feet below sea level that the explosion could have caused a massive oil spill and that fixing it would be like “trying to toss a hat on a fire hose.”

Sampat and Harper experience some resistance from outgoing executive producer, Don Keefer, but are able to convince their bosses, incoming executive producer, Mackenzie McHale and news anchor Will McAvoy, that the story is worth pursuing. Harper receives two phone calls from anonymous sources, one at BP and one at Halliburton, a company that was used to supply the cement mix for the oil rig. Harper’s source from BP claims that BP does not know how to cap the well, and Harper’s source from Halliburton said that Halliburton performed tests on the cement mix and the tests showed that it was going to fail.

Neal: “After an explosion like that, the first thing that’s supposed to happen is the underwater blowout prevent should automatically close.”

Jim: “The flames are still 150 feet high, so that obviously didn’t happen. Now when they get the fire out, they’re gonna send a submersible ROV down there to turn the preventer on manually, but my source says ‘at that depth with that much pressure, it has to be the mechanics that failed and not the electronics.’ In other words, trying it manually isn’t gonna work either.”

Neal: “So they’re gonna have to build relief wells and that’s gonna take months.”

Jim: “Months of oil spilling into the Gulf at a rate of 4.2 million gallons a day.”

Don: “And just for the record, the Gulf of Mexico contains 643 quadrillion gallons of water. I think you may be overreacting.”

Jim: “You are dramatically underreacting.”

Don: “I’m the only one who isn’t dramatically doing anything.”

Jim: “In four days, it’ll have spilled as much oil as the Exxon Valdez. It’s a week before the oil reaches Louisiana shores, three days if the wind shifts.”

Mac: “Is the wind gonna shift?”

Jim: “Only if Louisiana’s luck stays exactly the same.”

Don warns Jim that if he takes Halliburton’s name through the muck and is incorrect, that they will destroy his career and his livelihood: “If you’re wrong about Halliburton, that’s the first line of your bio forever: ‘Isn’t this the same guy who said that Halliburton caused that spill?’ And, by the way, you publicly accuse them of negligent homicide and you’re wrong, they will take you to court. They will win and they will end up owning AWM. They will have their own record label. They will have theme parks.”

Despite all of this McAvoy agrees to not only run the story but to make that their primary focus for the show. The team continues to investigate during the broadcast to make sure that they cover every angle. Associate producer Margaret Jordan discovers that there was a lack of government oversight from the Minerals Management Service in inspecting the well.

Maggie: “It’s the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and they have 56 inspectors overseeing 3,500 production facilities that operate 35,591 wells in the Gulf region. That’s according to the Interior Department, not Wikipedia.”

Mac: “56 inspectors for 35,000 wells?”

Jim: “It gets better.”

Maggie: “Inspections for drilling rigs are required monthly, but Deepwater Horizon was only inspected nine times in 2009 and six times in 2008. The last inspection was done 20 days ago by Eric Neal, who was sent by himself even though he had only just started his training as a government inspector of drilling rigs.”

 

The point of this energy narrative is to expose how when corporations and government work together that serious negative consequences occur for the weaker force, in this case the environment. These two corporations were trying to make money and save money and in so doing they cut corners and pursued dangerous options. The point of government is to ensure a citizen’s right to safety and therefore regulate the unsafe practices of businesses, but since oil is needed by both the business world and the government, the government shirked its duty.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life=energy, environmental degradation, corporate ruthlessness, political oppression, exaggerated inequalities.

Cities of Salt: the Myth of the Positive Energy Narrative

“How is it possible for people and places to change so entirely that they lose any connection with what they used to be? Can a man adapt to new things and new places without losing a part of himself?” (Cities of Salt 134).

Like Oil!, Cities of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif, is an example of the classic corporate ruthlessness story. A group of Americans, likely backed by the government, drill for oil in the 1930s Persian Gulf. They displace and abuse the groups of people there as well as destroy the environment. Cities of Salt begins with the Americans discovering oil in a desert oasis, called Wadi al-Uyoun. The Americans that come to the Wadi al-Uyoun are referred to with religious imagery. The people there wonder if they are jinn because they are not Muslims yet they speak Arabic, and do not appear to want the water that is found in the wadi. The emir tries to convince the people that the Americans are not jinn but rather their saviors with a more positive form of religious imagery: “Don’t be afraid. We want you to help them in every possible way. They have come from the ends of the earth to help us.”

When the Americans start drilling for oil in the wadi, the machines are described with religious imagery as well: “Lights that shone from them were like shooting stars” (98). Miteb al-Hathal, an elder in the community, is vehemently against the Americans taking up residence in the wadi. He sees the machines as a sign of the apocalypse: “Deep inside him he knew, when the thunder stopped, that the world had ended” (98). The people of Wadi al-Uyoun have similar feelings to Miteb al-Hathal as they “looked on with fearful eyes in utter silence, not knowing when the gates of Hell would open up and swallow everything.” Later in the novel, the Arabs still refer to the Americans using religious imagery. They name the pleasure cruise that arrives in Harran (I will explain more about Harran later) “King Solomon’s ship” and “Satan’s ship” because of the American’s wild displays of pleasure. The workers consistently claim that the Americans have some sort of supernatural powers: “The Americans have come between our men and their wives; they’ve made fools of us and tomorrow they’ll use their witchcraft to turn men into women and women into men! They’ll conjure us into monkeys! God damn them and the day they came here! God help us—I seek refuge in God fro Satan the accursed” (531). Munif’s use of religious imagery is reminiscent of the positive energy narratives found in religious myths. By making the Americans into devils, he is asserting, whether consciously or unconsciously, that there are no positive energy narratives anymore. There will never be another god or angel delivering life force in the form of an energy resource to a group of people suffering from sickness, death and other demons. Instead, the people will suffer at the hands of the new evil, greed.

After the Americans start drilling, the wadi ceases to be a paradise and can no longer sustain the community that lives there: “After destroying the first grove of trees, the tractors turned to the next with the same bestial voracity and uprooted them. The trees shook violently and groaned before falling, cried for help, wailed, panicked, called out in helpless pain and then fell entreatingly to the ground, as if trying to snuggle into the earth to grow and spring forth again” (106). As a result, many of the residents of the Wadi al-Uyoun follow the Americans to their new place of interest, Harran, in hopes of finding work. The Americans mock the workers in Harran because they do not know what they are doing. The workers also have to use dangerous machines that they do not know how to operate. Many of them consider leaving but as soon as they receive their first paycheck, they change their minds: “No one had ever dreamed of getting that much money, and none had ever possessed that amount before” (185). The Americans soon segregate Harran into two sections, American Harran and Arab Harran, thereby forcing the Arabic workers into the more rundown part of the city. In addition, the Americans divide the workers into castes. For example, they send the troublemakers to “Station 4,” which is notoriously dirty and difficult work, to segregate them from the other workers.

Mizban, an Arabic worker, dies as a result of poor working conditions, yet the Company refuses to pay: “The company stubbornly refused to pay any payment, because the ‘law is the law, and rules are rules.’ Their excuse was always that responsibility for the workers’ welfare had not been transferred to the company until after Mizban’s death, “and before that date the company did not recognize or assume any rights or liabilities’ (366). Mizban’s death and later, the death of Hajam, causes the workers to have their first thoughts of rebellion: “When workers talked about the armed Bedouin who were to avenge Hajam and Mizban—for they were all sure that they would come today or the next day—they lowered their voices and agreed that they would prepare a place for Ibn Hathal and his Bedouin to stay; they would be hidden in places that no one would discover, and Ibn Rashed would never find out” (384). One of the workers, Daham, starts carrying a gun around, and later fire is set to the American camp. The Americans believe that it is Miteb al-Hathal who is responsible but the novel is never clear. It is possible that a disgruntled worker is really to blame.

The Americans start work on a pipeline from Wadi al-Uyoun to Harran. They find the heat in the desert unbearable. In this instance, we see nature fighting back, since had they not destroyed the wadi, they would have had some shelter from the heat:

The Americans were in the same nervous, quarrelsome frenzy that had possessed them during the dredging of the harbor, with one difference: this time they were in the desert, in the midst of Hell itself. They were used to going back to their compound ever day, to its swimming pools and air-conditioned rooms, but here, now, they were like animals surrounded by raging fire (505).

The workers start playing pranks on the now vulnerable Americans. One worker captures a jackal and lets it loose in the American camp. He sings a afterward about nature will exact retribution on the Americans for their crimes: “O blue-eyed Americans, wherever you go/ Wherever you try to flee,/ The sun is above and the scorpions below./ The lizards mangle your balls/ And the foxes feast on your asses,/ O blue-eyed Americans, wherever you go/Where will you flee, O eyes of blue?”

When the Americans finish their pipeline they let go many of the workers and as a result a strike breaks out. The company doesn’t believe they are at fault: “We’re convinced that the matter goes beyond the firing of the twenty-three workers. The company has laid off workers in the past and there was no reaction at all. Not only that, the company subsequently rehired them, or some of them. But this time our preliminary assessments indicate the existence of other reasons, of acts of incitement that did not obtain in previous instances. We believe that these causes, these acts have nothing to do with the company.” The workers band together and feel more and more empowered as they do so:

They felt afraid, but still dared to say things they would never have said had they not been so consumed with sorrow and anger. Why did they have to live like this, while the Americans lived so differently? Why were they barred from going near an American house, even from looking at the swimming pool or standing for a moment in the shade of one of their trees? Why did they Americans shout at them, telling them to move, to leave the place immediately, expelling them like dogs? Juma never hesitated to leash out with his whip when he found the workers in “restricted areas” (595).

The company asks their Arabic security guards to put an end to the strike, without violence, at least at first, they said. However, violence is exactly what happens. First, two men are killed, but this seems to inspire the workers to charge despite the gunfire and overwhelm the company’s security force. The workers take the day and the company is forced to reinstate them: “His Highness ordered the reinstatement of all workers to the company, and the company has acceded to his wishes. His Highness also ordered for the formation of a committee to study and identify the responsibility for the recent events.” Munif ends the novel on a positive note, despite the fact that the Americans still remain in the Gulf. I tend to agree with Amitav Ghosh’s theory about the ending, that Munif wanted to give the workers the positive ending that he knew they would never receive in real life.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this novel: life=energy, environmental degradation, nature fights back, religious element, corporate ruthlessness, political oppression, exaggerated inequalities, segregation, convenient racism, nomadic existence, insurrection.