The Hunger Games

The plot of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is driven by coal. The main characters in the series, Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, all live in District 12, which was formerly known as Appalachia: “Even hundreds of years ago, they mined coal here. Which is why our miners have to dig so deep” (42).  In this post-apocalyptic world, District 12 provides all of the coal for a country called, Panem, which is ruled by “the Capitol.” District 12 is one of the poorest districts in Panem, and is divided into two social classes, the coal miners of the Seam and the merchant class that sells to them, a clear example of exaggerated inequalities and convenient racism. The worlds of both classes revolve so entirely around coal, that the curriculum in District 12 schools is entirely based on it:

Somehow it all comes back to coal at school. Besides basic reading and math most of our instruction is coal-related. Except for the weekly lecture on the history of Panem. It’s mostly a lot of blather about what we owe the Capitol. I know there must be more than they’re telling us, an actual account of what happened during the rebellion. But I don’t spend much time thinking about it. Whatever the truth is, I don’t see how it will help me get food on the table. (41-42)

The descriptions of the coal miners in District 12 are quite similar to the ones in King Coal: “Men and women with hunched shoulders, swollen knuckles, many who have long since stopped trying to scrub the coal dust out of their broken nails, the lines of their sunken faces” (4). Not only is it uncomfortable work, coal mining appears to have returned to being just as dangerous as it was during Sinclair’s time:

Then there are the mine accidents…A family once brought in an unconscious young man pleading with my mother to help him. The district doctor who’s responsible for treating the miners had written him off, told the family to take him home to die. But they wouldn’t accept this. He lay on our kitchen table, senseless to the world. I got a glimpse of the wound on his thigh, gaping, charred flesh, burned clear down to the bone, before I ran from the house. I went to the woods and hunted the entire day, haunted by the gruesome leg, memories of my father’s death. (178-179).

As she references in this passage, Katniss’s father died in a mine explosion, leaving her to be the provider for her family. Without Katniss’s help her family would starve:

Starvation’s not an uncommon fate in District 12. Who hasn’t seen the victims? Older people who can’t work. Children from a family with too many to feed. Those injured in the mines. Straggling through the streets. And one day, you come upon them sitting motionless against a wall or lying in the Meadow, you hear the wails from a house, and the Peacekeepers are called in to retrieve the body. Starvation is never the cause of death officially. It’s always the flu, or exposure, or pneumonia. But that fools no one. (28).

Katniss had to sign up for the “tesserae” at an early age. Beneficiaries of the tesserae receive a year’s supply of grain and oil in exchange for their submitting their name into the Hunger Games lottery additional times. The Hunger Games is a battle royale between young adult representatives of each district. The Capital hosts it every year as punishment for the rebellion of the districts many years earlier. Naturally, Katniss and Peeta win the famous lottery and are sent to kill each other and kids from other districts in the Hunger Games arena. With some clever survival techniques and a political romance, both Katniss and Peeta make it out alive, but it seems that they might have accidentally inspired a revolution in the process.

In Catching Fire this revolution plays out. The Capital cracks down on each of the districts, especially District 12. They close the mines, introduce more capital punishment, try to starve the citizens and eventually send Katniss and Peeta back into the Hunger Games arena. However, these tactics only cause the rebellion to spread:

As the days pass, things go from bad to worse. The mines stay shut for two weeks, and by that time half of District 12 is starving. The number of kids signing up for tesserae soars, but they often don’t receive their grain. Food shortages begin, and even those with money come away from stores empty-handed. When the mines reopen, wages are cut, hours extended, miners sent into blatantly dangerous work sites. The eagerly awaited food promised for Parcel Day arrives spoiled and defiled by rodents. The installations in the square see plenty of action as people are dragged in and punished for offenses so long overlooked we’ve forgotten they are illegal. Gale goes home with no more talk of rebellion between us. But I can’t help thinking that everything he sees will only strengthen his resolve to fight back. The hardships in the mines, the tortured bodies in the square, the hunger on the faces of his family (Catching Fire 131-132).

Finally at the end of Catching Fire, full-blown rebellion brakes out. The Capital firebombs District 12 in retaliation and most of the population dies. A few people are able to escape including Katniss, Peeta, Gale and Katniss’s family and eventually in the final book, the districts are able to overturn the Capital and establish a new government for themselves.

The Hunger Games series is one of the clearest examples of the life and energy equivalency that I have studied. The Capital does not care about District 12 as long as they meet their coal quotas. They do not have any safety laws in place. They do not care if there are accidents or deaths in the mines, as long as their coal quotas are met. To ensure that their energy is paid for, as all energy must be paid for with life, the Capital creates the Hunger Games, which requires two human sacrifices from District 12. Their deaths make sure that the coal is paid for. In the year that there are no deaths from District 12 in the arena, the Capital loses their energy, and in order to get it back they must go to war. However, the rebels realize that they can pay for it with their own lives and so the Capital is destroyed in this pretty bleak energy narrative.

 

Energy narrative characteristics found in these novels: life=energy, environmental degradation, political oppression, exaggerated inequalities, impedes labor unions/civil rights campaigners, segregation, convenient racism, nomadic existence, insurrection.

Damages Season 2

In the second season of Damages, the ruthless Patty Hewes is back and this time she is taking on an energy corporation. Patty believes that Ultima National Resources (UNR) may have had her friend Daniel Purcell’s wife killed because he could prove that a substance they use in their coal plants, called aracite, is toxic to both humans and animals. Ultima has had come through many class-action lawsuits, like the one that Patty intends to bring to their doorstep, unscathed with the help of hotshot lawyer, Claire Maddox.

Tom: “Ultima National Resources is destroying the environment. [hands Patty a photo] West Virginia. Acid rain from coal burning powerplants has pushed mercury levels to 87 times the national average. Residents tried to bring a class action the judge through the case out of court.”

Patty: “So they’ve had more than 200 lawsuits filed against them in the past three years?”

Tom: “And they’ve lost exactly one of them. They didn’t even bother to appeal. Know why? It was for 100 million. That’s two days’ profit for them. You’re right, this is huge. But what does it have to do with defending Purcell?”

Patty: “I have no idea whether Daniel killed his wife but his consulting firm has worked for UNR for more than a decade. He must know more than he’s telling me.”

After receiving a tip from Purcell, Patty sends Ellen and Tom down to a UNR coal plant in West Virginia to find a journalist who is doing research on the toxicity of aracite. Purcell contacted the journalist about aracite after reading one of his obituaries. Josh has been attempting to gather information about aracite ever since and has been routinely thwarted by Ultima CEO Walter Kendrick’s thugs.

Josh: “One of the county’s largest hog farmers hanged himself after his whole stock got wiped out. Mr. Purcell thought he knew what was killing the animals.”

Tom: “When we first got here there were fires alongside the road and there was a smell.”

Josh: “Yeah, that’s the dead livestock. They burn them at night. Draw a circle around the county, and every quarter mile closer you get to Ultima’s facilities, there’s a 30 percent increase in livestock fatalities.”

Tom: “Can you prove that?”

Josh: “Yeah, I’ve got the research. But it’s not only affecting livestock. Leukemia rates around here are 145 percent above the national average. And anyone who speaks out against them, anyone who speaks out against them gets silenced.”

Tom and Ellen take back a water sample that Josh managed to grab. Patty has Purcell test the water, but he dumps the sample into the lake behind his house instead. Purcell flips on the stand and says that aracite is not toxic and forces Patty to drop the case. It is later revealed that UNR personnel helped Purcell cover up his murder of his wife after she threatened to go to the EPA with evidence that aracite is toxic and so ruin the deal Purcell struck with UNR for money in exchange for his silence. However, Purcell does make Kendrick promise to clean up aracite in West Virginia and to stop using it all together. Kendrick assures him it will be done and asks Purcell to come work for him. The murder of Purcell’s wife is yet another example of the life and energy equivalency. Her life pays for energy.

It becomes apparent that Kendrick wants to go through a merger and Patty’s investigation into aracite is preventing that, and with Patty’s case now out of the way the merger goes through. Later, Maddox discovers that Kendrick is involved in a trading scheme and tries to have him ousted from the company. She fails and is fired herself but she tips Patty off about energy trader, Finn Garrety, whom Kendrick is using to control energy prices:

Claire Maddox: “A couple weeks ago, Walter Kendrick asks me to defend a prostitute on cocaine charges. The john’s name was Finn Garrety.”

Purcell: “I don’t know that name.”

Maddox: “I did some research. Turns out he’s a big player on Wall Street. He trades energy futures.”

Purcell: “Since the merger I’ve been watching UNR.”

Maddox: “And?”

Purcell: “They’ve had some unusual power outages across the country.”

Maddox: “I was told that too much energy demand was placing a strain on the grid.”

Purcell: “Maybe. But what if someone at UNR was purposely shutting off the supply?”

Maddox: “The price of energy would go right up. If Walter Kendrick is leaking information about the timing of the shutdown, an energy trader would know exactly when to place a bet.”

Purcell: “They’d make a fortune.”

Eventually, all of the events play out and the EPA starts to clean up aracite in West Virginia.

 

Energy narrative characteristics found in this novel: life=energy, environmental degradation, corporate ruthlessness, political oppression, exaggerated inequalities, impedes labor unions/civil rights campaigners, segregation, convenient racism, insurrection.

King Coal: Undercover Boss

“Mary,” he said, “did you ever read about ants in Africa?”

“No,” said she.

“They travel in long columns, millions and millions of them. And when they come to a ditch, the front ones fall in, and more and more of them on top, till they fill up the ditch, and the rest cross over. We are ants, Mary” (58).

In King Coal by Upton Sinclair, Hal Warner, the son of a rich coal tycoon, decides to go undercover to learn about the mining business from the workingman. Hal dons the name “Joe Smith” and gets a job with the General Fuel Company (GFC), the company of one of Hal’s college friends, Percy Harrigan’s father, so that his own employees will not recognize him. In order to get the job Hal has to swear that he does not belong to a union. Over time, Hal befriends the miners and begins to realize the corrupt business practices taking place. For example, the bosses show favoritism to certain workers because of their ethnicity, which causes racism to be rampant in the coal camp. Hal also laments about the difficulty of the work itself, after he changes positions from taking care of the mules to working directly in the mines:

If any one had told him the horror of attempting to work in a room five feet high, he would not have believed it. It was like some of the dreadful devices of torture which one saw in European castles, the “iron maiden” and the “spiked collar.” Hal’s back burned as if hot irons were being run up and down it; every separate joint and muscle cried aloud. It seemed as if he could never learn the lesson of the jagged ceiling above his head—he bumped it and continued to bump it, until his scalp was a mass of cuts and bruises, and his head ached till he was nearly blind, and he would have to throw himself flat on the ground…It was amazing how many ways there were to bruise and tear one’s fingers, loading lumps of coal into a car. He put on a pair of gloves, but these wore through in a day. And then the gas, and the smoke of powder, stifling one; and the terrible burning of the eyes, from the dust and the feeble light. There was no way to rub these burning eyes, because everything about one was equally dusty. Could anybody have imagined the torment of that—any of those ladies who rode in softly upholstered parlour-cars, or reclined upon the decks of steam-ships in gleaming tropic seas? (38)

Hal also realizes that the coal bosses are cheating the workers out of their commission. The bosses weigh each worker’s cart of coal and determine how much that worker will be paid. The bosses always underrepresent the amount of coal in each cart. Hal notes that the government has passed a law that allows for the workers to appoint a check weigh man to check the bosses’ estimate of the coal weight. Hal argues with one of the miners about whether unions are needed to enforce such laws:

“How do you feel about unions?”

Hal answered, “They’re one of the things I want to find out about. You hear this and that—there’s so much prejudice on each side. I want to help the under dog, but I want to be sure of the right way.”

“What other way is there?” And Olson paused. “To appeal to the tender hearts of the owners?”

“Not exactly; but mightn’t one appeal to the world in general—to public opinion? I was brought up an American, and learned to believe in my country. I can’t think but
there’s some way to get justice. Maybe if the men were to go into politics—”

“Politics?” cried Olson. “My God! How long have you been in this place?”

“Only a couple of months.”

“Well, stay till November, and see what they do with the ballot-boxes in these camps!”

“I can imagine, of course—”

“No, you can’t. Any more than you could imagine the graft and the misery!”

“But if the men should take to voting together—”

“How can they take to voting together—when any one who mentions the idea goes down the canyon? Why, you can’t even get naturalisation papers, unless you’re a company man; they won’t register you, unless the boss gives you an O. K. How are
you going to make a start, unless you have a union?”

It sounded reasonable, Hal had to admit; but he thought of the stories he had heard about “walking delegates,” all the dreadful consequences of “union domination.” He had not meant to go in for unionism!

Olson was continuing. “We’ve had laws passed, a whole raft of laws about coal-mining—the eight-hour law, the anti-scrip law, the company-store law, the mine-sprinkling law, the check-weighman law. What difference has it made in North Valley that there are such laws on the statute-books? Would you ever even know about them?”

“Ah, now!” said Hal. “If you put it that way—if your movement is to have the law enforced—I’m with you!”

“But how will you get the law enforced, except by a union? No individual man can do it—it’s ‘down the canyon’ with him if he mentions the law. In Western City our union people go to the state officials, but they never do anything—and why? They know we haven’t got the men behind us! It’s the same with the politicians as it is with the bosses—the union is the thing that counts!”

Hal found this an entirely new argument.

“People don’t realise that idea—that men have to be organised to get their legal rights” (41-42).

Hal will change his opinion about unions later in the novel, but first he tries to convince the bosses to the change their ways with the law. The miners choose Hal to be their check weigh man, however when Hal tries to work with the bosses, they try to bribe him into keeping his mouth shut. When it becomes clear that the Hal cannot be bought the marshal attempts to frame Hal for accepting a bribe so that the workers will no longer trust him. Though Hal outwits them, he is eventually put into the jail by the marshal. The marshal threatens Hal and tells him that he has two choices: he can admit to stealing money and be fired or he can go to jail for ten years. Hal lets the marshal in on the fact that he is not really a worker but the son of a wealthy businessman. The marshal immediately changes his tune and lets Hal go.

Shortly thereafter, there is an explosion in the mine. The explosion was caused by the dryness of the air, which is saturated with coal dust and allows for sparks with any sort of friction. These explosions can be prevented by the sprinkling of a special chemical around the mine, something that the bosses frequently neglect to do. After the explosion, the GFC seals the mine because it will suffocate the fire and leave much of the coal unburned, however, this seals up many of the workers as well. The bosses are only interested in saving the property, one of them even shouts: “Damn the man! save the Mules!” Hal tells this story to a reporter, who prints the story but claims that since his is from a poor-man’s newspaper that it will not prompt a rescue operation. Hal seeks out Percy Harrigan and tells him and his guests about the horrors of the mine:

“You’ll hardly be able to believe it; but nothing has been done to rescue these men. The criminal has nailed a cover of boards over the pit-mouth, and put tarpaulin over it—sealing up men and boys to die!”

There was a murmur of horror from the diners.

“I know, you can’t conceive such a thing. The reason is, there’s a fire in the mine; if the fan is set to working, the coal will burn. But at the same time, some of the passages could be got clear of smoke, and some of the men could be rescued. So it’s a question of property against lives; and the criminal has decided for the property. He proposes to wait a week, two weeks, until the fire has been smothered; then of course the men and boys will be dead” (137).

Percy agrees to tell his father’s employees to open the mine but they convince him that everything is already being done to do so and that Hal Warner is wrong. The workers organize a strike and a union to demand their rights from the bosses.

Hal pleads with the United Mine Workers to support the strike. They tell him that though they would love to be able to support the workers they do not have the ability to help them, since it would take resources away from strikes they are more invested in:

Don’t misunderstand us!” [the union boss] cried. “It’s heartbreaking—but it’s not in our power to help. We are charged with building up the union, and we know that if we supported everything that looked like a strike, we’d be bankrupt the first year. You can’t imagine how often this same thing happens—hardly a month we’re not called on to handle such a situation. (192)

King Coal is the quintessential novel about the early American coal industry. It exposes the seedy underbelly of big business at the turn of the twentieth century. It is similar to Oil! in that the book is extremely dense and full of important passages about corporate corruption, lack of political oversight, racism and the need for Sinclair’s socialism and unions. Coal was what moved the world before oil and still provides a significant amount of energy to power grids across the United States. While the ruthless and supposedly now, archaic practices of the GFC in the novel can no longer exist to the same degree today in the United States, they still exist around the world, and we support them through our consumerism.

I attended a lecture recently by Prismatic Ecologies author, Jeffrey Cohen on “Geophilia, or the Love of Stone.” His lecture inspired me to think about humanity’s fascination with not only coal but also oil and other energy minerals in a new way. Cohen one of the reasons for humanity’s fascination with stone especially in Medieval thought because it represents immortality. I wonder if it is this obsession with taking an immortal substance from the earth and using it as a life force is just a way for humans to try to rob the mineral of its immortality. This theory would both explain the life and energy equivalency that is so common in energy narratives and the hesitation of humans into looking into alternative energy sources.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this novel: life=energy, environmental degradation, corporate ruthlessness, political oppression, exaggerated inequalities, impedes labor unions/civil rights campaigners, segregation, convenient racism, nomadic existence, insurrection.

Avatar: an Alien Invasion Film

“This isn’t a war,” said the artilleryman. “It never was a war, any more than there’s war between man and ants.”

― H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

 

The plot behind Avatar is simple: aliens leave their home planet, which they have depleted of natural resources, and invade a new planet with the hope of stealing its natural resources. Luckily, the people rise up and kick the aliens out with the help of a handy computer virus and the President’s kick-ass fighter pilot skills! Oh, wait a minute, that’s Independence Day… Joaquin Phoenix melts their skin with water and beats them with a bat? Nope, that’s Signs. Right, right, this movie is where the cowboys blow up the aliens that are searching for gold.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Avatar is just another alien invasion film, except that this time, humans are doing the invading. And what are they invading for? Energy resources of course!

The corporation that is inspiring the ruthless invasion in this movie is referred to as “the Company,” as James Cameron is rarely a fan of subtlety. The Company is after a super-conductive mineral named unobtanium, which is used for all sorts of things, including energy production. They fund an expedition to a moon, referred to by the humans as Pandora. Pandora appears to be a giant rainforest and is inhabited by the Na’vi, giant, blue-skinned humanoids with cat-like features and cat-like reflexes. The Na’vi live in complete balance with nature, so naturally they are upset by the idea of humans mining their world for unobtanium. The Company funds a project called the Avatar program, where scientists mix human and Na’vi DNA to create Na’vi bodies that humans can “drive”. Being inside an avatar allows for humans to explore Pandora since its air is toxic to humans and its environment is difficult to navigate. The Company, who is represented on Pandora by a character named Selfridge (more subtlety), also hopes that humans who appear to be Na’vi will be more effective in convincing the Na’vi to allow humans to mine on Pandora.

Selfridge to Grace Augustine (lead scientist in the Avatar program): “Look, you are supposed to be winning the hearts and minds of the natives. Isn’t that the whole point of your little puppet show? You look like them, you talk like them, and they’ll start trusting us. We build them a school, we teach them English. But after, what, how many years, relations with the indigenous are only getting worse.”

Augustine: “Yeah that tends to happen when you use machine guns on them.”

Selfridge: “Right. Come here. [holds up mineral] This is why we’re here. Unobtanium. Because this little gray rock sells for 20 million a kilo. That’s the only reason. It’s what pays for the whole party. It’s what pays for your science. Comprendo? Now those savages are threatening our whole operation, we’re on the brink of war and you’re supposed to be finding a diplomatic solution. So use what you’ve got and get me some results.”

The Company recruits Jake Sully, a paraplegic former marine, to take over his late twin brother’s avatar. Sully is approached by the head of security on Pandora, Colonol Quaritch, and asked to spy on the scientists, whom he believes to be less and less accepting of the idea of mining unobtanium. Sully becomes a bodyguard to Dr. Grace Augustine, the lead scientist in the Avatar Program, and her assistant, Norm Spellman. While Augustine and Spellmen are out researching the local flora, Sully’s avatar is attacked by the local fauna and is forced to flee into the forest. He is rescued by Neytiri, the Na’vi chief’s daughter. Neytiri determines that Sully is protected by the Na’vi goddess, Eywa, after Sully is touched by a seed of the Eywa tree. She then takes him to her her mother, Mo’at who is the clan’s spiritual leader. Mo’at says that it is the will of Eywa that Sully learn the ways of the Na’vi. As Sully becomes more and more integrated into the Na’vi’s society, he begins to regret his mission to spy on them for Quaritch. Sully learns that Selfridge and Quaritch want to mine directly under the Na’vi’s village, (called Hometree). Quaritch becomes impatient and threatens to use force to remove the Na’vi if Sully does not convince them to move in a timely manner:

Selfridge: “Sully, find out what the blue monkeys want. You know I mean, we tried to give them medicine, education, roads. But, no, no, no, they like mud. And that wouldn’t bother me, it’s just that their…their damn village happens to be resting on the richest unobtanium deposit within 200 klicks in any direction. I mean, look at all that cheddar.”

Sully: “Well, who gets them to move?”

Col. Quaritch: “Guess.”

Sully: “What if they won’t go?”

Col. Quaritch: “I’m betting that they will.

Selfridge: “OK, OK, OK. Look. Look. Killing the indigenous looks bad. But there’s one thing that shareholders hate more than bad press, and that’s a bad quarterly statement. I didn’t make up the rules. So, just find me a carrot that’ll get them to move. Otherwise, it’s going to have to be all stick. OK?

Col. Quaritch: “You got three months. That’s when the ‘dozers get there.”

 

Instead of convincing the Na’vi to move, Sully takes out a bulldozer that is set to destroy a sacred sight to the Na’vi and Quaritch manages to catch it on film. Quaritch also raids Sully’s personal video logs and shows Selfridge one of the logs where Sully admits that the Na’vi will never leave Hometree, so Selfridge, somewhat reluctantly, orders a raid on Hometree.

Col. Quaritch to Sully: “You let me down son. So what, you find yourself some local tail, and you just completely forget what team you’re playing for?”

Augustine: “Parker, there is time to salvage the situation.”

Col. Quaritch: “Shut your pie hole.”

Augustine: “Or what, Ranger Rick? You gonna to shoot me?”

Col. Quaritch: “I could do that.”

Augustine: [to Parker Selfridge] “You need to muzzle your dog.”

Selfridge: “Yeah, can we just take this down a couple notches, please?”

Sully: [to Col. Quaritch] “You say you want to keep your people alive? You start by listening to her.”

Augustine: “Those trees were sacred to the Omaticaya in way that you can’t imagine.”

Selfridge: “Aw, you know what? You throw a stick in the air around here, it’s going to land on some sacred fern for Christ’s sake.”

Augustine: “The wealth of this world isn’t in the ground. It’s all around us. The Na’vi know that, and they are fighting to defend it. If you want to share this world with them, you need to understand them.”

 Col. Quaritch: “I’d say we understand them just fine thanks to Jake here…

[Sully on tape]: “They aren’t going to give up their home. They’re not going to make a deal. For what? For lite beer and blue jeans? There’s nothing that we have that they want. Everything they sent me out here to do is a waste of time. They’re never going to leave Hometree.”

Col. Quaritch: “So, since a deal can’t be made I guess things get real simple, Jake.”

Augustine, Sully and Spellmen are able to escape from the base, with the help of helicopter pilot, Trudy Chacón. Sully is able to rally of the clans of the Na’vi to attack the Company forces, in an attempt to drive them from Pandora for good.

Sully prays to Eywa to join their fight against the humans. The Na’vi fight against the humans and just when it appears that all hope is lost the animals of Pandora launch a concentrated attack and take out the remaining humans. The humans are forced to leave Pandora with the exceptions of Sully, Spellmen and a few other scientists. Sully says: “the aliens went back to their dying world. Only a few were chosen to stay.”

The plot’s similarities to an alien invasion film are a metaphor for how ridiculous it is for a company to come in and take a society’s natural resources. The audience is always behind the humans in an alien invasion film and feels a sense of global pride when they work together to kick out the invaders. So why do we think it is okay to send a company to a foreign country to drill for oil and commit atrocities to the people and the environment there in the process? Sully claims that the Company was able to do this by making the Na’vi their enemy: “This is how it’s done. When people are sitting on s*** that you want, you make them your enemy, then you’re justified in taking it.” The humans develop a convenient racism towards the Na’vi, calling them blue monkeys and referring to them as if they were animals, and so they feel justified in destroying them. Fortunately in this narrative, the weaker force is both able to revolt and win their revolution (with aid from nature herself!) against the invaders, even if that is not the way it is in real life.

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

Futurama: Oh poop.

An Introduction

Futurama takes place in the year 3000. The main characters Fry, Bender the Robot, Leela, Amy and Zoidberg work at a spaceship delivery service, called Planet Express, which is owned by the crotchety genius Professor Farnsworth. The professor’s arch nemesis is Mom who is the head of earth’s one major corporation, Mom’s. The characters also have run-ins with the government and military, the Democratic Order of Planets (DOOP). The main source of fuel throughout the series up until the episode “Bender’s Game” is dark matter. Of course this series, which was created by the same creators as the Simpsons, is utterly ridiculous, focuses mainly on parody and completely disregards the rules of physics and narrative continuity. However, Futurama does provide a humorous look at various environmental causes including energy use.

Loves Labours Lost in Space

The episode begins with the Professor giving the crew an explanation of their next mission. He wants them to travel to Vergon 6, which was once filled with dark matter. The dark matter has been mined out of the planet leaving it hollow, as capitalism has run amuck by this point in time and environmentalism apparently did not stick.

Planet Express is sent on a mission to rescue the animals of Vergon 6 before the planet implodes. On the way to the planet, Leela, Fry and Bender run into Zapp Brannigan, one of the most famous captains in the Democratic Order of Planets (DOOP). Leela asks Brannigan for help in rescuing the animals but he refuses, citing Brannigan’s Law, which forbids the interference with underdeveloped planets such as Vergon 6 (*cough, the prime directive). Leela tells him that it was a DOOP mining crew that created the problem in the first place therefore the planet has already been interfered with, but Brannigan refuses to listen. Brannigan places the crew under arrest to prevent them from reaching the planet, but he lets them go after Leela begrudgingly has sex with him.

The Planet Express crew is able to round up all of the animals before the planet implodes but they encounter a tiny and adorable creature that was not on their list. Leela becomes enamored with the animal and names it Nibbler. The crew places Nibbler in the cargo hold with the rest of the animals but while the crew is off doing other business Nibbler devours all of the animals in the hold. Leela tries to take off from the planet but realizes that Bender has forgotten to put fuel in the tank, leaving them stuck. However, the crew discovers that Nibbler has pooped as a result of his feast and that poop is composed entirely of dark matter, which they use to fly safely back to Planet Express. Nibbler’s poop is what fuels the Planet Express ship on the rest of their journeys until dark matter is rendered inert by the events in “Bender’s Game.”

This episode is supposed to parody the human consumption of energy by displaying it in extreme terms. There is no way that human beings would mine a planet so much that it became completely hollow, even if it were physically possible. But the episode uses humor to point out that over-mining is a common problem that government constantly sweeps under the rug.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life= energy, environmental degradation and destruction, corporate ruthlessness, political oppression, nomadic existence.

Doctor Who: 42. Humans! You Grab Whatever’s Nearest and You Bleed it Dry!

The Doctor and Martha land the TARDIS onboard a cargo ship that is going to crash into a sun in 42 minutes; exciting, huh? One of the crew, named Korwin, has been infected with a parasite that causes his body temperature to skyrocket to an impossible level. He slowly picks off the crew one by one by burning them to death with heat escaping from his eyes. During this time, the Doctor realizes that the captain ordered the crew to mine energy from the sun. In an attempt to save Martha from Korwin, the Doctor becomes infected with the same parasite and realizes that the parasite is part of the sun from which the captain mined energy, making the sun a living thing.

 

Doctor (Infected): “You mined that sun, scooped its surface for cheap fuel. You should’ve scanned for life…that sun’s alive—a living organism. They scooped out its heart and used it for fuel, and now it’s screaming!

Cpt. McDonnell: “What do you mean? How can a sun be alive?” (to Martha) “Why is he saying that?”

Doctor (Infected): “Because it’s living in me. Humans! You grab whatever’s nearest and you bleed it dry! Aah! You should have scanned!”

Cpt. McDonnell: “It takes too long. We’d be caught. Fusion scoops are illegal.”

The sun is desperate to get the parts of itself back that are still remaining in the ship’s fuel tanks. The crew is able to vent the fuel back into space and so cure the Doctor and save themselves.

Episodes like this are one of the reasons for my love affair with science fiction. Writer, Chris Chibnall is able to create both a unique moral/ethical issue and one that is eerily familiar. It is unlikely that humans are going to discover that oil, coal, water, sunlight or nuclear energy have been sentient beings all this time and so using a sentient being as an energy source is a unique problem found in science fiction, one where, once again, life is payment for energy. However, if we assume that the sun found in “42” is a metaphor for the environment itself, then this narrative becomes an exercise in personification. The environment is speaking up for itself and fighting back, which is a common characteristic for an energy narrative. So think of it this way, if the earth could speak about fracking, deepwater drilling and climate change, what would it say?

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

Doctor Who: The Impossible Planet. We could revolutionize modern science. We could use it to fuel the Empire. Or start a war…

The Doctor and Rose travel into humanity’s future and discover a space station that is sitting on top of an “impossible planet”. The planet is orbiting a black hole without falling in. The team of scientists in the space station discovered that a power source deep inside the planet is causing the planet to counteract the black hole’s gravity, in addition to creating a gravity funnel, which allows for a spaceship to safely travel to and land on the planet’s surface without being pulled into the black hole. The scientists are drilling down into the planet to learn about the energy source so that they could potentially harvest the source and use it to power the Human Empire.

Chief Science Officer: “We could revolutionize modern science.”

Chief Security Officer: “We could use it to fuel the Empire.”

Doctor: “Or start a war…”

 

The humans in this narrative intentionally put themselves in a dangerous situation in order to research and potentially harvest a power source, because this power source is potentially worth their lives. Here again, is an example of the life and energy equivalency in energy narratives. In addition to putting themselves in danger, the scientists are using a race called the Ood to do the drilling. According to the scientists, the Ood presented themselves to the humans and asked to serve them saying that that is their desired purpose in life. While, we never see the crew members abuse the Ood, they tend to treat them like cattle as a result of their convenient racism.

Of course, the power source is something much more dangerous that it appears. The humans discover that it can never be harvested and only some of them make it off the planet with their lives, which is more than can be said for the Ood.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life= energy, religious element, political oppression, convenient racism.