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bad environmentalism

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Irony and Irreverence
in the Ecological Age

Nicole Seymour

university of minnesota press

minneapolis | london
Excerpts from Wendell Berry, “The Vacation,” in New Collected Poems
(Berkeley, Calif.: Counterpoint, 2012), copyright 2012 by Wendell Berry, are
reprinted by permission of Counterpoint Press. Excerpts from Bourgeois &
Maurice, “Apocalypso,” copyright 2013 by Bourgeois & Maurice, are
reprinted by permission. Excerpts from “Poof the Tragic Drag Queen,”
copyright 2005 by Eggplant Faerie Players; “Big Girl,” copyright 1996 by
TomFoolery; and “Culture Thieves,” copyright 1995 by Eggplant Faerie
Players, are reprinted by permission. Excerpts from LaTasha N. Nevada
Diggs, “My First Black Nature Poem™,” copyright 2011 by LaTasha N.
Nevada Diggs, are reprinted by permission of the author. Excerpts from
Sherman Alexie, “Fire as Verb and Noun” and “How to Write the Great
American Novel,” in The Summer of Black Widows (Brooklyn: Hanging Loose
Press, 1996), and from “The Fight or Flight Response,” “Size Matters,”
“In the Matter of Human v. Bee,” “Avian Nights,” and “When Asked What
I Think about Indian Reservations, I Remember a Deer Story,” in Face
(Brooklyn: Hanging Loose Press, 2009), are reprinted by permission of
Hanging Loose Press.

Portions of chapter 1 were previously published in “Irony and Contemporary

Ecocinema: Theorizing a New Affective Paradigm,” in Moving Environments:
Affect, Emotion, Ecology, and Film, edited by Alexa Weik von Mossner
(Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2014).

Copyright 2018 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a

retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.

Published by the University of Minnesota Press

111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290
Minneapolis, MN 55401-­2520

ISBN 978-1-5179-0388-6 (hc)

ISBN 978-1-5179-0389-3 (pb)

A Cataloging-in-Publication record for this book is available from the Library

of Congress.

Printed in the United States of America on acid-­free paper

The University of Minnesota is an equal-­opportunity educator and employer.

UMP BmB 2018


introduction 1

1. “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”: Irony, Ecocinema, and 39

the Problem of Expert Knowledge

2. “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”: Perverting 73

Nature/Wildlife Programming

3. Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can 111

Be Campy: On Queer Environmental Performance

4. Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t: 149

Rewriting Racialized Environmental Affect

5. Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers: 189

Toward Trashy Environmentalisms

conclusion 225

acknowledgments 235
notes 239
bibliography 261
index 293
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You just can’t out-­gloom an environmentalist.
—­Jonah Goldberg, “Inhospitable Earth”

We should treat all trivial things very seriously, and all the
serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.
—­Oscar Wilde, in a letter to Robert Ross regarding
The Importance of Being Earnest

We live in troubling times. In addition to staggering income inequal-

ity, the resurgence of white nationalism, religious radicalization, and
other widespread global problems, we face environmental problems such
as drinking water contamination, oil spills, air pollution, drought, habi-
tat destruction, mass species extinction, plastic pollution, overfishing,
sea level rise, ocean acidification, and the behemoth of them all, climate
change. Moreover, as activists and scholars have shown, sociopolitical
problems are not necessarily separate from environmental problems, and
in fact often compound one another.1
But these times, especially for those of us living in the Western
world, are also rather peculiar ones, defined by ironies and riddled with
absurdities. To begin with a few examples: The U.S. Senate—­noticeably
late to climate action in general, compared to its counterparts elsewhere
in the world—­approved a resolution in early 2015 declaring that “climate
change is real and not a hoax”; fifteen minutes later, they rejected a second
resolution stating that “climate change is real and caused by humans”
(Goldenberg 2015). Meanwhile, scientists overwhelmingly agree that
climate change is anthropogenic, and historic heat waves, storms, and
blizzards continuously plague regions across the planet.2 Environmental
activists and documentarians such as Al Gore and Judith Helfand have
dedicated themselves to educating the public about climate change, but

2  |  Introduction
sociologists such as Kari Norgaard (2011) have recently found that
information overload on such topics leads to emotional paralysis—­thus,
in many cases, the more one knows about climate change, the less likely
one is to act.
On top of all this, public animosity toward environmentalism runs
rampant. A study from the University of Toronto, titled “The Ironic
Impact of Activists: Negative Stereotypes Reduce Social Change Influ-
ence,” observed the following:

Researchers have previously attempted to understand . . . resistance to

social change by examining individuals’ perceptions of social issues and
social change. We instead examined the possibility that individuals resist
social change because they have negative stereotypes of activists, the
agents of social change. Participants had negative stereotypes of activists
(feminists and environmentalists), regardless of the domain of activ-
ism, viewing them as eccentric and militant. (Bashir et al. 2013, 614,
emphasis added)

Reporting on the latter study, one journalist’s headline concluded,

“Everyone hates environmentalists and feminists” ( Jacobs 2013). But
most of us did not need sociological research to know that; environmen-
talists (and feminists) have long been the butt of cultural jokes in the
West—­skewered, sometimes rightfully so, for their sanctimony and sin-
cerity.3 The cultural revulsion toward environmentalists is ironic in and
of itself, in at least two ways: the public hates the very people poised to
address the problems we fear,4 and, as the Toronto study’s title suggests,
people’s very efforts to make a difference may actually prevent them from
doing so. Not to mention the fact that environmentalism is perceived
as demanding, difficult, and exacting, even by those sympathetic to the
cause—­as evidenced by the titles of recent popular nonfiction books
such as Mark Watson’s Crap at the Environment: A Year in the Life of One
Man Trying to Save the Planet (2008) and Sara Gilbert’s The Imperfect
Environmentalist: A Practical Guide to Clearing Your Body, Detoxing Your
Home, and Saving the Earth (without Losing Your Mind) (2013).
Affect, in all senses of the term—­emotional pull, visceral reaction,
comportment—­plays a central role in this current reality. In addition to
the negative public emotions stoked by environmentalists, environmen-
tal degradation itself engenders great emotional distress, especially for
Introduction  |  3
those who experience it firsthand. For example, in looking at two Aus-
tralian regions impacted by mining and severe drought, environmental
philosopher Glenn Albrecht and his coauthors found that “in both
cases, people exposed to environmental change experienced negative
affect that is exacerbated by a sense of powerlessness or lack of control
over the unfolding change process” (2007, 95). Albrecht’s team sub­
sequently coined the neologism “solastalgia” to describe this type of
distress (96). And even those who do not experience environmental deg-
radation directly may suffer emotionally or even physiologically; when
surveying Australian children, a research team led by psychologist Joe
Tucci found that “just over four in ten (44%) are nervous about the
future impact of climate change and 43% of children are worried about
air and water pollution” (2007, 7)—­more than 10 percent higher than
the rates of concern over terrorism. We should also note that those on
the front lines of environmental science research, not just the receiving
end, are themselves affected; conservation biologists and climate sci­
entists have reported high rates of depression, burnout, posttraumatic
stress disorder, and even something one scientist termed “pretraumatic
stress” (Richardson 2015, emphasis added; see also Thomas 2014). Per-
haps we need look no further than the derisive phrase “gloom and doom,”
so often lobbed at reportage on environmental problems by audiences
of all political stripes, to understand the role of affect.5
Some activists and scholars have begun to pursue more hopeful
avenues in response to this gloomy paradigm, launching initiatives such
as the social media project Ocean Optimism and bringing terms such as
“resilience” to the forefront of environmental discussions.6 In a Rachel
Carson Center Perspectives journal issue titled “Beyond Doom and Gloom:
An Exploration through Letters,” for example, the writer, educator, and
issue editor Elin Kelsey catalogs instances of nature bouncing back:
“Bikini Atoll, home to the world’s biggest nuclear explosion[,] is now a
scuba divers’ paradise. The Chernobyl Power Plant disaster site turns
out to be the best place in Europe for wolf conservation” (2014, 68).
However, as I suggested in my own contribution to this issue, optimism
about the environment can be easily co-­opted, even used to license fur-
ther destruction (Seymour 2014a, 41). Indeed, I propose that despair and
hope, gloom/doom and optimism are often merely different sides of the
same coin, a coin that represents humans’ desire for certainty and neat
4  |  Introduction
narratives about the future. Here I agree with queer theorist José Este-
ban Muñoz, who has argued in another context that “hope along with its
other, fear, are affective structures that can be described as anticipatory”
(2009, 3). Let us take those Chernobyl wolves. The media was quick
to jump on the story of their unexpected population boom, trumpeting
the “thriving” and “rebounding” of wildlife in the exclusion zone—­an
irony in itself, to be sure (see Shylenko 2016; Sim 2016). But when we
look closer, the picture is more complicated. As one report summarizes,
“Scientists are struggling to untangle the positive effects of the absence
of humans from the negative effects of the radiation” (Sim 2016). Sim-
ply put: yes, the wolves are thriving, but they are also radioactive. As one
commenter on the report joked, “[Maybe] there aren’t more animals,
they are just easier to spot since they glow in the dark.” The wolves
of Chernobyl exceed the boxes of despair and hope, and challenge our
equation of wildlife with purity.
Bad Environmentalism speaks to these strange times. It calls atten-
tion to contemporary Western works that both identify and respond to
the aforementioned absurdities and ironies, often through absurdity and
irony, as well as related affects and sensibilities such as irreverence, am-
bivalence, camp, frivolity, indecorum, awkwardness, sardonicism, perver­
sity, playfulness, and glee. While these works—­including the U.S. nature
program parody Wildboyz (2003–­6), German Italian director Hannes
Lang’s deadpan climate change documentary Peak (2011), and the mis-
chievous social media contributions of U.S. activist group Queers for
the Climate—­evince environmental concern, they demonstrate none of
the classic hallmarks of environmentalism. These works show, for exam-
ple, individuals performing drag in response to sea level rise rather than
(just) wringing their hands over it; they profile endangered species while
poking fun at them. I argue that these works thereby respond not just
to the current environmental moment but to mainstream environmen-
talism itself, challenging how the movement typically reacts to prob-
lems such as sea level rise or species endangerment, and questioning its
broader ideals of nature.
More specifically, these works largely reject the affects and sensi-
bilities typically associated with environmentalism. In addition to gloom
and doom, these include guilt, shame, didacticism, prescriptiveness, sen­
timentality, reverence, seriousness, sincerity, earnestness, sanctimony,
Introduction  |  5
self-­righteousness, and wonder—­as well as the heteronormativity and
whiteness of the movement.7 As an illustration of some of these tenden-
cies, I turn to the 2011 Sierra Club anti-­mercury pollution ad campaign,
part of their Beyond Coal project. While the organization has adopted
an admirable stance on environmental and social justice issues in recent
years—­opposing, for example, U.S. president Donald Trump’s pro-
posed U.S.–­Mexico border wall—­the aforementioned campaign engages
in familiar mainstream environmentalist tactics. It features images of
pregnant bellies (the putative mothers’ faces not visible), with captions
such as “She’s [the fetus] going to be so full of joy, love, smiles, and
mercury,” and “This little bundle of joy is now a reservoir of mercury.”
Many scholars, myself included, have shown how such campaigns con-
tribute to a culture of “fetal citizenship” (Berlant 1997, 22) and “eco-­
normativity” (Di Chiro 2010, 199). But what often goes unmentioned in
such analyses are the specific affective appeals of such campaigns—­their
sentimentality, their reverence, their serious fear-­mongering—­as well
as the existence of alternatives to such appeals. This book attempts to
fill that analytical gap. I claim that, in eschewing affects and sensibilities
like those described above, the works in my archive undercut public
negativity toward activism while also questioning basic environmental-
ist assumptions: that reverence is required for ethical relations to the
nonhuman, that knowledge is key to fighting problems like climate
change. They suggest that it is possible to “do” environmentalism with-
out the aforementioned affects, and perhaps even without knowledge.
Importantly, these works—­and this book—­do not ask us to merely
“flip the switch,” to move from one affective side to another. While, as
I have described, they have a clear preference for one side, their inter-
ventions are much more complicated than that schema might initially
indicate. For one thing, these works occasionally span both sides, as
with the mock-­seriousness of the Lesbian National Parks and Services
(discussed in chapter 3). Moreover, the difference of these works inheres
not just in the tenor of their affect but also its structure. I show, for exam-
ple, how irony’s conceptual doubling allows it to disrupt the binarized
logic of despair/hope and to dispute mainstream environmentalism’s
claims to authenticity and straightforwardness. That is, even though
irony seems to belong on one particular affective side, its power actually
lies in challenging binaries. Thus, the works in my archive do not simply
6  |  Introduction

Figure 1. A sentimental ad campaign. Image courtesy of the Sierra Club.

offer alternative modes of environmental engagement—­which readers

could take or leave; they teach us something crucial about what is intrin-
sic to environmentalism as most of us know it, and what environmental
stewardship already is and entails.8
Through my readings of these works, then, I develop my concept
of “bad environmentalism”: environmental thought that employs dissi-
dent, often-­denigrated affects and sensibilities to reflect critically on
both our current moment and mainstream environmental art, activism,
and discourse. I show that such thought is both widespread—­spanning
multiple media forms and genres in the Western world, including ani-
mation, documentary and fiction film, performance art, poetry, prose
Introduction  |  7
fiction, reality TV, social media, sketch comedy, and stand-­up comedy
since at least the 1970s—­and understudied. As a first gesture toward
recovering this tradition, my coverage is necessarily selective. That is,
rather than attempting to catalog all possible instances of bad environ-
mentalism, I offer vivid examples. My project thus outlines a neglected
tradition of alternative environmentalism and expands our narrow un-
derstandings of what environmentalism looks, sounds, and, most impor-
tantly, feels like.
Bad Environmentalism also features a significant metacritical com-
ponent, probing the assumptions of environmental humanities scholar-
ship. For example, I question ecocritics’ tendency to reproduce the same
dominant affects and sensibilities found in mainstream environmental-
ism, and to judge artworks primarily by their functionality: their capac-
ity to educate the public or spark measurable change. I demonstrate,
instead, how a less strictly instrumentalist approach allows us to imagine
additional, or different, capacities for environmental art—­say, revealing
the strict codes of environmentalism, expressing dissatisfaction or disaf-
fectation with the environmentalist status quo, bearing witness to crisis,
enacting catharsis, raising activist morale, building community, serving
as cultural diagnoses, indexing and helping us understand our current
eco-­ political moment, “separat[ing] [ourselves] from . . . obligatory
response[s]” to disaster (Kuipers 2005, 21), mitigating the “partisan
divide over environmental matters that has . . . hardened [over the past
fifty years] into a . . . wall of bitterness” (Souder 2013, 335), inculcating
a new range of responses to crisis, modeling flexibility and creativity in
the face of crisis, and inspiring what geographer Shiloh Krupar calls “art-
ful endurance” (2013, 25). I thus hope to model a criticism that is non-
normative, self-­reflexive, and noninstrumentalist—­or, at the very least,
open to the multiple possibilities of cultural works. Through its criti-
cal and metacritical readings, then, Bad Environmentalism seeks to both
diversify the archive of environmental art and reassess how that archive
is constituted in the first place.
In the following sections, I situate my work more explicitly within
several contemporary contexts, including rhetorical and cultural accounts
of irony; climate change denial and skepticism in the Western world;
the tendencies and tactics of mainstream environmentalism; queer tra-
ditions of camp, parody, and performance; and the recent turns toward
8  |  Introduction
affect in queer theory, ecocriticism, and the humanities at large. Among
other things, then, this book makes the rare academic move of taking
climate denialism/skepticism and antienvironmentalism seriously—­at
least to the extent that we can understand how cultural works engage
with those forces in complex and surprising ways. Moreover, as I show,
Bad Environmentalism offers responses to many of the political, aesthetic,
and intellectual challenges presented by these contexts.

What’s So Ironic ’bout Peace, Love, and Environmental Crisis?

The ironies and absurdities to which I have referred above are legion,
making a concentrated look at the relationship between these phe­
nomena and environmental issues long overdue. This section will offer
that look, beginning with what we might find ironic or absurd about
environmental crisis. But first the designation “ironic” deserves a little
explanation, as it is so widely misunderstood. Indeed, who could forget
the backlash to Alanis Morissette’s 1995 smash hit song “Ironic,” which
listed matters such as “rain on your wedding day” and then asked, “Isn’t
it ironic? Don’t you think?” Many were quick to point out that, no, such
things are not really ironic; they are just shitty.9 But, unlike Alanis, I have
access to the Oxford English Dictionary. “Ironic,” as I use it in this book,
describes “a situation, event, or outcome” that is “cruelly, humorously,
or strangely at odds with assumptions or expectations.” Importantly, lit-
erary theorist Sianne Ngai reminds us that irony is “a rhetorical attitude
with a decidedly affective dimension, if not a ‘feeling’ per se” (2005,
10).10 Thus, the manifestation of unexpected or inappropriate environ-
mental feelings, or the coexistence of contradictory environmental feel-
ings, could be described as ironic—­as several of my chapters do.
With these definitions in hand, one could see modern environmen-
tal crisis on the whole as ironic, as does political theorist Douglas
Torger­ son when he refers to the “technological quest to dominate
nature [and] that quest’s terribly ironic consequences” (1999, 87) and
calls environmental crisis a “turning point in the confident expectations
of the modern age” (84). Thus, a specific phenomenon such as climate
change, with its threats to human health and livelihood, can be seen as
quintessentially ironic insofar as it constitutes unintended and unex-
pected consequences of human actions. The way most of us experience
Introduction  |  9
environmental crisis is ironic as well; as cultural studies scholar Freder-
ick Buell observes in his 2003 book, From Apocalypse to Way of Life: Envi-
ronmental Crisis in the American Century, crisis is no longer a state of
exception but has instead become a part of our everyday life, whether
materially or mentally.11 It should be acknowledged, of course, that such
observations threaten to put all of humanity into one homogeneous
lump, as does the widely circulated but widely criticized concept of the
“Anthropocene.”12 Moreover, these scenarios may look ironic only from
certain vantage points; as environmental crisis disproportionately affects
the poor, people of color, and other already marginalized groups, crisis is
actually rather expected for some. But even so, such insights may prompt
us to look ironically at the Anthropocene as a concept, if not a “reality.”
As environmental scholar-­ activist Kyle Powys Whyte (Potawatomi)
argues, “Climate injustice, for Indigenous peoples, is less about the
spectre of a new future and more like the experience of déjà vu” (2017b,
88). Moreover, considering that mindful adaptation is central to the his-
tories and lifeways of many Indigenous peoples, “‘Anthropogenic’ envi-
ronmental change is not new as an idea nor does it date to the invention
of Western machines or technologies” (90). Fittingly, as I will show,
several of my works approach the idea of future adaptation with quite
mixed feelings.
Just as environmental crisis is, from certain vantage points, laden
with ironies and absurdities, we can also find those elements in the dis-
course around it. Noting that “public discussions of environmental
problems have been locked into a ‘catastrophic’ groove for decades,”
historian Jacob Darwin Hamblin zeroes in on a particular, recent irony.

In defending the findings of groups such as the United Nations In-

tergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [against climate
skep­tics], scientists found the rhetoric of environmental catastrophe
irresistible. By employing it, they merely reinforced skepticism among
those who had ridiculed such rhetoric for decades, across a host of
environmental issues. (2013, 250, emphasis added)13

When we consider environmentalists’, and not just scientists’, reactions

to climate denialism or skepticism, we find yet another irony: environ-
mentalists may now find themselves in the position of defending sci-
ence, when in fact modern Western environmentalism emerged from a
10  |  Introduction
critique of science. As biographer Linda Lear reminds us, influential
activists such as Rachel Carson struggled against a cultural climate in
which “the public endowed chemists . . . with almost divine wisdom. . . .
In postwar America, science was god, and science was male” (2002, xi).
Similarly, but more broadly, Elizabeth S. Anker and Rita Felski identify
a major ironic twist in contemporary intellectual and political discourse,
drawing on the recent work of Bruno Latour: “Tactics forged by the
Left—­skepticism about the status of facts, exposure of the problematic
motives of scientists—­now drive the arguments of the Right, evident
in positions such as climate change denial” (2017, 16). In the following
chapters, I show how texts such as Mike Judge’s dystopian comedy Idioc-
racy (2006) find the fraught relationship of expert scientists and non­
expert environmentalists to be a major source of irony and absurdity.
And they sidestep questions of the factual in favor of the affective,
though in unexpected ways.
Scholars such as Buell have concurred with Hamblin’s assessment
of science communication, highlighting the “liabilities” of what he calls
“crisis discourse” as well as its ironies: “the worse one feels environmen-
tal crisis is, the more one is tempted to turn one’s back on the environ-
ment” (2003, 201, emphasis added)—­echoing Norgaard’s finding that
the more one knows about environmental crisis, the less likely one is to
act. Buell thus wonders if “crisis discourse [is] still necessary or even . . .
useful and helpful at all?” (199). The works in my archive suggest that
no, it is not, and they present alternatives to such discourse. But some-
times, one does not actually feel so bad about environmental crisis. With
a 2016 New York Times headline declaring, “Global Warming Feels
Good,” political scientists Patrick J. Egan and Megan Mullin recently
offered an explanation for Americans’ relative lack of concern over cli-
mate change: the weather is actually getting more pleasant for the
majority of U.S. citizens, especially in the wintertime. Egan and Mullin
are quick to state that the trend will not last, but I cannot help but note
the gleeful perversity of welcoming climate change, encapsulated in that
ironic-­sounding headline. While undeniably disturbing on many levels,
this gleeful perversity illuminates a major gap—­not, I propose, between
expert scientists and uninformed laypeople but in scholarly attention to
bodily and emotional experiences of climate change and other environ-
mental problems: how they are felt by different populations, how such
Introduction  |  11
feelings intersect with knowledge, and how such feelings might trans-
late into aesthetics. The works I treat in this book ask us not to dismiss
these processes.
But while irony, absurdity, perversity, and the like are thus central
to environmental crisis in all the ways I have described, they have made
few appearances as tactics, or even subjects, in most environmentalist
repertoires. A brief etymology of irony as tactic will help us investigate
this point. According to literary scholars M. H. Abrams and Geoffrey
Galt Harpham,

In Greek comedy the character called the eiron was a dissembler, who
characteristically spoke in understatement and . . . pretended to be less
intelligent than he was, yet triumphed over the alazon—­the self-­
deceiving and stupid braggart. . . . In most of the modern critical uses
of the term “irony,” there remains the root sense of dissembling.
(2012, 142)

Anthropologists James W. Fernandez and Mary Taylor Huber explain

further that “an ironist [does not use] a figurative meaning opposite
to the literal meaning of the utterance, but . . . instead mention[s] the
literal meaning of the utterance and express[es] an attitude toward it
of ridicule, disapproval, or disbelief” (2001, 3, drawing on Jorgenson,
Miller, and Sperber 1984). Scholars seem to agree that such tactics are
ill-­suited to mainstream politics. Torgerson, for one, testifies that “poli-
tics as we commonly know it demands that we deny our doubts, that we
speak and act with unhesitating conviction” (1999, 83). He does admit,
interestingly, that theorists such as Harry Kariel have shown that irony
and inconclusiveness can play a political role, but when considering
whether this applies to green politics, he concludes that “immediate
appearances are not encouraging” (83).
So, why? While politics as we know it may demand conviction, there
may be something else about environmental politics, something unique
that precludes modes such as irony. To begin with the basic facts: the word
“ecology” comes from the Greek for both “house” and “environment.”
We could also consider queer ecology scholar Sarah Ensor’s insight that
“ecocriticism . . . has traditionally had an uneasy relationship to distance,
in large part because of a belief that immediacy of experience is a prereq-
uisite for environmental investment or care” (2012, 34).14 If proximity is
12  |  Introduction
built into the very concept of ecology, not to mention iterations of envi-
ronmentalism such as the local food movement, then a distancing mode
like irony seems utterly unecological and unenvironmentalist. And in
fact, far outside environmental contexts, many see the mode as funda-
mentally uncritical and apolitical—­contributing to a widespread back-
lash and ensuing paradigm that literary scholar Lee Konstantinou has
dubbed “postirony” (2016, 37). Konstantinou cheekily observes that not
only does irony “arous[e] surprising passions” (xi), but “worrying about
[it] can, today, win you column inches in America’s paper of record.
Those tormented by anaphora are not so fortunate” (14). To wit: liter-
ary scholar Christy Wampole claimed in an op-­ed in that very paper, the
New York Times, that “the ironic frame functions as a shield against crit-
icism,” insisting that “wherever the real imposes itself, it tends to dissi-
pate the fogs of irony” (2012, quoting Robert Pogue Harrison).
But the works in my archive find quite the opposite. It is precisely
when confronting “real” issues such as climate change, environmental
racism and classism, species endangerment, or sea level rise that they
reach for responses such as irony, absurdity, perversity, and camp. More-
over, while Wampole concludes that “the most pure nonironic models
in life . . . are to be found in nature: animals and plants are exempt from
irony, which exists only where the human dwells” (2012), this book pro-
ceeds from the general view that there is no place where humans dwell
apart from animals and plants—­and it shows that the ironies found in
and around “nature” are quite worthy of discussion. Take, for instance,
the image of two male lions engaged in sex play that recently went viral
online.15 Surely part of the image’s affective appeal, and the reason for
its gleeful circulation, is its irony and perversity: how it challenges ex-
pectations for animal heterosexuality, not to mention the nobility, lack
of frivolity, and stoic family values that we specifically attribute to lions.
The image, in short, opposes nature’s usual status “as a place where
order reigns and heteronormative values are mirrored back to human
society” (Barton 2012, 8, drawing on Desmond 1999). Its irony and per-
versity tell us a great deal about how animals and nature have histori-
cally been framed in environmentalist and other discourses, and how
that framing has both scientific and social implications.
Thus, I agree with Fernandez and Huber that “irony almost always
has what Linda Hutcheon (1994) calls a critical ‘edge’” (2001, 3). As
they explain,
Introduction  |  13
Because it most often is used to express skepticism toward authority,
“irony” has come to describe, not just a figure of speech, but a question-
ing attitude and critical stance as well. . . . In the face of uncertainty . . .
many people have found irony a valuable resource for inciting the
moral and political imagination against whatever is given, assumed, or
imposed. (2001, 1)

Against the notion of irony as uncritical and apolitical, the works in my

archive employ this and many other dissident affects and sensibilities as
they tackle environmental questions. They take mainstream environ-
mentalist and other dominant logics apart and show how they function,
but they also rebuild, developing responses suited to our present
moment of crisis. And, suggesting that the self-­righteous conviction ref-
erenced above is part of the problem, they embrace doubt, uncertainty,
and ignorance as both rhetorical and aesthetic practices. Abrams and
Harpham’s sketch of the New Critics’ celebration of irony proves help-
ful here.

Poems in which the writer commits himself or herself unreservedly to

a single attitude or outlook, such as love or admiration or idealism, are
of an inferior order because they are vulnerable to the reader’s ironic
skepticism; the greatest poems, on the other hand, are invulnerable to
external irony because they already incorporate the poet’s own “ironic”
awareness of opposite and complementary attitudes. (2012, 189)

I do not take a New Critical approach in my readings more generally,

and my goal here is not to argue that the representations in my archive
are “the greatest.” But this philosophy captures what I find notable
about these works: they are capable of articulating complex and con­
tradictory sensibilities, and they are self-­aware and open to critique—­
whereas, as I demonstrate below and in the next section, environmental-
ism tends to lack self-­awareness and self-­reflexivity. And in fact, writer
Jennifer Price has called our ideals of the natural world the “Achilles
heel . . . of self-­awareness generally. . . . Nature—­as the Last Absolute—­
circumnavigates self-­awareness about how we construct the meanings
of Nature” (1999, 249). I thus insist that modes such as irony and self-­
awareness are not only possible in environmental texts but perhaps more
fitting than we might otherwise think, considering the cultural context
described above.
14  |  Introduction
In almost every work I consider in this book, irony, along with ab-
surdity, irreverence, playfulness, and so forth, is directed at least partly
inward, not just outward. Sociologist Bronislaw Szerszynski has observed
that, in the rare moments when irony is deployed by environmentalists,
it is usually outwardly directed, claiming the “moral high ground” (2007,
347). (See chapter 1.) Such positioning, of course, has earned environ-
mentalists a reputation for self-­righteousness and sanctimony. One could
argue that it is precisely this lack of self-­awareness or self-­reflexivity that
so easily renders environmentalists the butt of jokes, that makes them
“vulnerable,” to use that language of New Criticism. As Henri Bergson
argues in his classic work Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic,
“a comic character is generally comic in proportion to his ignorance
of himself. The comic person is unconscious. . . . He becomes invisible
to himself while remaining visible to all the world” (1911, 16–­17). By
employing dissident affects and sensibilities in what Szerszynski calls
a “thoroughgoin[g]” (2007, 350) rather than “corrective” manner, the
works in my archive remain “visible” to themselves as well as to their

Environmentalism “As We Know It”

Throughout this book, I draw on Sarah Jaquette Ray’s broad definition of
environmentalism “as a description of nature, as a social movement, and
as a code of behavioral imperatives” (2013, 11). The works in my archive
technically meet that definition, while simultaneously challenging it;
they offer unusual descriptions of nature, provide new visions of social
activism, and break codes of behavioral—­and affective—­imperatives.
When I speak of the “environmentalism” to which these works oppose
themselves, what I have in mind is mainstream environmental art, activ-
ism, and discourse, or efforts focused on “conventional environmental
issues: wilderness protection, recreation, a strictly aesthetic appreciation
of nature, protection of endangered species, and nostalgic attachment
to a preindustrial, ‘pastoral’ world” (Ray 2013, 121). This dominant
brand of environmentalism might be best represented by the Sierra
Club campaign described above, Al Gore’s documentary work, Richard
Louv’s best-­selling book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children
from Nature-­Deficit Disorder (2005), or Wendell Berry’s poem “The
Introduction  |  15
Vacation” (2012). I will briefly sketch out the latter two examples. First,
as its title implies, Louv’s book is at once sentimental, nostalgic, and
self-­righteous, even as it makes an (arguably) unimpeachable case for
children’s access to safe outdoor space. He recalls an idealized, carefree
past spent playing outdoors, and calls for the “rebirth of wonder and
even joy” (2005, 4). Louv justifies this call through claims about the evils
of television and other media (7) and through a dramatic designation
that he admits is not a proper medical diagnosis but one that patholo-
gizes nonetheless: “What I have come to call nature-­deficit disorder [is]
a way to think about the problem and the possibilities—­for children,
and for the rest of us as well” (10). Similarly, Berry laments modern
detachment from nature, describing a man’s decision to film “the river,
the trees, / the sky, the light” that he encounters on a boat trip. The
poem ends with these dramatic, and fairly sanctimonious, lines:

. . . after he had had [the vacation] he would still

have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it. (2012)

Somehow I suspect Berry would not be thrilled to learn about the selfie
stick—­though the man in question might.
While the aforementioned works exemplify mainstream environ-
mentalism, I do, however, occasionally group their likes alongside what
some might call corporate greenwashing or political co-­optation rather
than “true” environmentalism. For instance, chapter 5 discusses the U.S.
and UK organic supermarket chain Whole Foods as the ostensible tar-
get of the animated series The Goode Family (2009, U.S.). However, I
maintain that such distinctions are ultimately irrelevant, for mainstream
environmentalism, corporate greenwashing, and political co-­optation
of environmentalist rhetoric all tend to make affective appeals based in
ideals of wholesome, healthy citizenship. Take, for example, the part-
nership of U.S. anti-­abortion group Georgia Right to Life and the pro-­
adoption Radiance Foundation; in light of comparatively high abortion
rates among African American women, billboards erected in Atlanta,
Georgia, announced that “black children are an endangered species.”
Or, consider the famous example of the 1971 “Crying Indian” commer-
cial (discussed further in chapter 4), which implored the public, “Get
16  |  Introduction
Involved Now. Pollution Hurts All of Us.” Noël Sturgeon, along with
others such as science writers Heather Rogers (2006) and Elizabeth
Royte (2005), has argued that the seemingly innocuous conservationist
message of the commercial should be better understood as one of the
earliest examples of greenwashing; paid for by a corporate consortium
including Philip Morris and PepsiCo, it “proposed individual solutions
to the problem of pollution, rather than addressing corporate respon­
sibility” (Sturgeon 2009, 65). But for many, if not most, members of
the public, the Crying Indian commercial is largely indistinguishable
from the Sierra Club ad. More to the point, both mobilize maudlin
sentiment on (apparent) behalf of the environment and the future—­as
does the anti-­abortion billboard. Thus, if the affective appeals are virtu-
ally the same in each case, all three contribute to the general reputation
of environmentalism as sanctimonious, self-­righteous, and sentimental.
Perhaps, then, instead of seeing corporate greenwashing or political co-­
optation as a nefarious hijacking of environmentalism, we could see how
environmentalism’s affective tendencies play right into the hands of a
corporate consortium or a Georgia Right to Life.
While environmentalism’s reputation for sanctimony and self-­
righteousness—­or, as Torgerson puts it, “moralism and . . . crusading
sense of high purpose” (1999, 84)—­can be located in contemporary phe-
nomena such as the aforementioned campaigns, it also has longer roots.
Jennifer Price claims that “there’s been a long association of American
environmentalism with personal virtuous acts” (2012, 18), often mean-
ing that environmentalists feel good about themselves while disdaining
others. More specifically, historian Evan Berry argues that “theologi-
cally rooted [Christian] notions of salvation, redemption, and spiritual
progress . . . established the horizons of possibility for the national en-
vironmental imagination” in the United States; he insists that “these
threads of religious influence” did not peter out in the eighteenth or
nineteenth century but “remain vitally constitutive of our environmen-
tal inheritance” today (2015, 5). To see them, we need look no further
than, say, popular nature writer Terry Tempest Williams, who, as her
biographer enthuses, “speaks with the emotion of biblical prophets and
seeks to relate the mysteries of the divine” (Whitt 2017, 3). But as any-
one who has been dragged to church services in their youth can proba-
bly attest, notions of salvation, redemption, and the divine create a tense
Introduction  |  17
dynamic in which the virtuous believer is patronizingly positioned as
morally correct, thus thrusting the nonvirtuous nonbeliever into shame
and (possibly) submission. The texts I discuss allude to mainstream en-
vironmentalism’s dynamics of salvation and redemption, but they depict
individuals ridiculing moralism, boasting ignorance, and embracing in-
decorum rather than submitting shamefully.
Compounding its reputation for sanctimony and self-­righteousness,
environmentalism is known for being out of touch and unrelatable.
Political theorist John M. Meyer has identified what he calls the “reso-
nance dilemma,” wherein “far-­reaching efforts to address [environmen-
tal] challenges rarely seem to resonate with citizens in the United States
and other affluent, postindustrial societies” (2015, 1). In many cases, lack
of resonance is an issue of demographics. Writer Adrienne Maree Brown,
who frequently blogs on African American issues, confirms Meyer’s point
and raises the issue of race and class when she states that, “for a lot of
young people right now, the environment is an issue for the privileged
or the issueless. People who feel they are becoming extinct care less
about the extinction of owls and oak trees” (2005). (Importantly, Brown
employs the language of environmentalism without slipping into the
sentimentalizing found in the Georgia Right to Life campaign.) Indeed,
much has been written about mainstream environmentalism’s inability
to speak to people of color and working-­class people and its failure to
reflect the diversity of nations such as the United States. According to a
recent study from Green 2.0, a U.S. group focused on diversity in envi-
ronmentalism, “minorities did not exceed 16 percent of the boards or
staffs of some 300 environmental organizations, foundations and gov-
ernment agencies” (G. Nelson 2015).
But I suspect that we cannot separate this lack of relatability from
affect. If one is already marginalized, affective appeals such as sanctimony,
earnestness, seriousness, and didacticism seem distasteful and overwhelm-
ing, particularly if they are divorced from the issues that directly impact
one’s community. And if one is relatively privileged, such affect is not
particularly appealing either; no one likes to feel bad, especially not
about themselves. Consider the following exchange from a 2007 episode
of the Australian TV sitcom Kath & Kim (discussed in greater depth in
chapter 5), spoken as two of the aspiring-­ to-­
middle-­class suburban
characters head out for a night of “fringe theater”: “It’s a play about
18  |  Introduction
climate change? Sounds pretty serious.” “Oh no, apparently it’s a com-
edy.” “Oh, beaut!” The joke, of course, turns on the first character’s
immense relief that he will not be browbeaten or served a lecture, as
well as on the (perceived) absurdity of the very idea of a climate change
comedy. Many others seem to agree with Kath & Kim’s implicit assess-
ment of environmental art and discourse. Nature writer David Gessner,
known for contemporary classics such as Return of the Osprey: A Season of
Flight and Wonder (2001), has turned a self-­critical eye toward his own
genre with the essay collection Sick of Nature, which playfully tells us,

Throw an imaginary kegger and fill the room with nature writers
throughout history and you’ll get the idea. Henry Beston, looking
dapper if overdressed, alternates tentative taco dabs at the cheese
dip with Aldo Leopold; Barry Lopez sits in the corner whispering to
Thoreau about the sacredness of beaver dams; Joseph Wood Krutch
stands by the punch bowl and tells Rachel Carson the story of how he
first came to the desert as Carson listens earnestly. In fact, everything
is done earnestly; the air reeks with earnestness. . . . You might think
Ed Abbey could spark the party to life, but until the booze to blood
ratio rises he remains painfully shy. (2005, 4–­5)

In very different ways, Kath & Kim’s punchline and Gessner’s nonfiction
all speak to the typical affective moves of environmentalism.
As I have suggested above, this affective status quo is often com-
pounded by a lack of self-­awareness, as well as an inability to accept
outside critique. We can see this tendency in, for instance, UK com-
mentator George Monbiot’s editorial “The Culture of Nature,” which
complains that “those of us whose love of the natural world is a source
of constant joy and constant despair, who wish to immerse ourselves
in nature as others immerse themselves in art, who try to defend the
marvels which enthrall us, find ourselves labeled—­from the Mail to the
Guardian—­as romantics, escapists and fascists” (2013). Monbiot does not
acknowledge the ample evidence that shows many strains of environ-
mentalism to be culturally exclusive at best, nor does he consider that
some critics deride environmentalists not (only) for their politics per se
but for their affect and sensibility. And in fact his affective repertoire is
notably binaristic: “joy” and “despair.” At the very least, Monbiot seems
not to have received literary theorist Timothy Morton’s memo that
Introduction  |  19
“nowadays, hardly anybody likes it when you mention the environment.
You risk sounding boring or judgmental or hysterical, or a mixture of all
these” (2007, 1). To be clear, my intention here is not to caricature or
stoke further public revulsion toward environmentalists. First, such
revulsion and caricatures already exist in the public imagination—­and
they are often based in some truth, as I have indicated. Second, I am not
aiming to establish empirical facts. Regardless of the extent to which it
is “really true” that, say, environmentalists are killjoy sticks in the mud,
they are largely perceived as such. In such a climate, texts that compli-
cate that perception are worthy of attention.

Frameworks: Affect, Queerness,

and the Environmental Humanities
“Affect” and “queerness” are two of the major concepts that guide Bad
Environmentalism. As such, affect theory and queer theory serve as my
primary theoretical frameworks, while I simultaneously seek to move
those frameworks in new directions. I use affect theory to identify and
analyze the affective moves of the works in my archive, and of ecocriti-
cism and environmental humanities scholarship more generally. And I
turn to queer theory as a touchstone, more specifically, for the topic of
dissident and contrarian affects. Next, then, a few words on the complex
concepts of “affect” and “queerness.”
“Affect” has become an increasingly important category in the
humanities in recent years, appearing across countless conference pan-
els, publications, working groups, and seminars. As I have argued else-
where, however, the term is rather slippery (see Seymour 2012). For
one thing, it has been defined in multiple ways that have shifted over
time. Performance studies scholars Erin Hurley and Sara Warner have
tracked the term over six centuries, demonstrating how its denotations
and connotations have ranged from “an inner disposition or feeling”
to “‘the outward display of emotion or mood,’ as manifested by . . .
posture, gestures, or tone of voice” to the “innate, fleeting, and instinc-
tive biological response to a stimulus” (2010, 103–­4). Moreover, defini-
tions of affect can be somewhat contradictory. For example, at times the
term seems to refer to the genuine (what one feels, as in “the death of
Bambi’s mother affected me deeply”), while at others it seems to mark
20  |  Introduction
the inauthentic (what one displays, as in “Madonna has affected a British
accent and it drives me crazy because we all know she’s from Michi-
gan”). Finally, while some theorists draw strict distinctions between
“feelings,” “emotions,” and “affects”—­as communication studies scholar
Eric Shouse puts it, drawing on Brian Massumi’s Parables for the Virtual:
Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002), “Feelings are personal and biographical,
emotions are social, and affects are prepersonal,” meaning “affect is always
prior to and/or outside of consciousness” (Shouse 2005)—­others never
define these terms at all, or else treat them as interchangeable, as with
queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Touching Feeling: Affect, Peda-
gogy, Performativity (2003, 18, 19) and feminist and affect theorist Sara
Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2013, 45, 146).
Despite, or perhaps because of, their diversity, all these definitions
are relevant to my work. In this sense, I am aligned with critical theorist
Mel Y. Chen: “I define affect without necessary restriction, that is, I
include the notion that affect is something not necessarily corporeal and
that it potentially engages many bodies at once, rather than (only) being
contained . . . within a single body. Affect inheres in the capacity to
affect and be affected” (2012, 11). I do, however, follow the theoretical
rather than the cognitive school of affect theory, and I cleave most
closely to two definitions of affect in particular. First, scholars such as
the anthropologist Kathleen Stewart have considered affect in terms of
the “pull” that objects, people, or memories “exert . . . on us” (2007, 4).
Second, scholars such as Sianne Ngai have considered it as comparable
to “tone” or “disposition.” As she explains in Ugly Feelings, “by ‘tone’
I mean a literary or cultural artifact’s feeling tone: its global or organiz-
ing affect, its general disposition or orientation toward its audience and
the world” (2005, 28). Another word for Ngai’s assemblage might be
Throughout this book, I approach affect in multiple ways. One is
representation: I look at depictions of affect, both corporeal (as in the
disgust that induces vomiting in Wildboyz, discussed in chapter 2) and
performed (as in the mock-­seriousness of the Lesbian National Parks
and Services). Another is appeal: I look at what my works ask of their
audiences, affectively (such as to laugh uncomfortably, as with the come-
dians discussed in chapter 4 and the conclusion) or even what they fail
to ask (as with Peak’s reluctance to cue emotional responses, discussed in
Introduction  |  21
chapter 1). And another way is perhaps more nebulous: I look at my
works’ own affect. To further explain how all this functions, I return
to that affect theory vocabulary from above, including “pull,” “tone,”
and “disposition.” First, it is clear that the object in question in all my
works—­quite broadly speaking, the mesh of natural and constructed
ecosystems and their inhabitants—­is affective in that it exerts “pulls.” It
makes multiple, sometimes conflicting, demands: inciting us, as I have
suggested above, to despair and to hope, toward gloom/doom and
toward optimism, toward anger and toward love. My specific interest, of
course, is in how cultural works demonstrate that one may perversely
resist the pulls of that object, or experience them in unexpected ways. I
ask, How are we supposed to feel in our relations with environment and
living creatures, what happens when we do not feel that way, and how
do these works represent or help us understand that state of play? I am
also interested in how cultural representations exert their own perverse
pulls—­asking us to, say, shudder at rather than admire the nonhuman
animals they showcase—­and I consider how delicious that perversity can
feel to certain audiences. Finally, then, I ask, What does it mean when a
work employs the “wrong” tone or adopts the “wrong” disposition for
the subject matter in question?
Here, affect and queerness come together. As Ahmed points out,
“Queer feelings may embrace a sense of discomfort, a lack of ease with
the available scripts for living and loving, along with an excitement in
the face of the uncertainty of where the discomfort may take us” (2013,
155). In other words, what we might consider queer about many of my
works is not only that they fail to follow the available scripts for appro-
priate environmental feeling but that they fail to feel in ways that are
clearly directed or otherwise obviously “useful.” This failure resonates
with my own resistance to measuring these works’ “usefulness.” One
major insight from affect theory becomes particularly relevant here:
that certain feelings, emotions, and/or affects are privileged over others.
Ahmed, for example, reminds us that “some emotions are ‘elevated’ as
signs of cultivation, whilst others remain ‘lower.’ . . . The story of evo­
lution is narrated . . . as the story . . . of the ability to control emotions,
and to experience the ‘appropriate’ emotions at different times and
places” (2013, 3). Meanwhile, Ngai observes that “something about the
cultural canon itself seems to prefer higher passions and emotions [such
22  |  Introduction
as anger]—­as if minor or ugly feelings [such as irritation] were not only
incapable of producing ‘major’ works, but somehow disable the works
they do drive from acquiring canonical distinction” (2005, 11). Not sur-
prisingly, then, the works I study—­which are more irreverent than ear-
nest, more ambivalent than wonder-­struck, and, thus, appear less useful
than other works—­are by and large not part of the Western canon of
literature and art, much less environmental literature and art.
My innovation vis-­à-­vis the body of affect theory scholarship, then,
is to raise the neglected question of environmental affect, to consider bad
environmental affect in particular, and also to explore its queer dimen-
sions. And indeed, with the exception of a few scholars and writers such
as Kyle Bladow, Heather Houser, Jennifer Ladino, Elin Kelsey, and Alexa
Weik von Mossner, the affective turn has not reached ecocriticism, envi-
ronmental education studies, or the other environmental humanities to
the same extent as areas such as cultural studies or queer theory.16 As
Kelsey remarks, “There is a strange silence about the emotional impact
of the ways in which we talk about the environment” (2014, 5). That is
to say, while affect may be central to environment and environmental-
ism as I have described, there has historically been little discussion of
that larger relationship, and even less of those specific affects and sen­
sibilities I consider here. As literary scholar and editor Thomas Cook
writes of Houser’s Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction: Environment
and Affect (2014), the “book may be a necessary preliminary step in a
branch of criticism that, for all its engagement with the physical world
in which we live and breathe, still has strides to make in its diagnosis of
our affective responses to that world” (2014, 286). Bad Environmentalism
attempts to make some of those additional strides. This turn toward
affect can help us think beyond the content or even the form of envi­
ronmental artworks, to the feelings and reactions they depict, elicit, and
exhibit—­and, thus, to think through the question “What makes an art-
work environmentalist?” in nuanced ways. As I show in this book, the
kinds of answers most of us think we know—­say, “A reverent disposition
toward the natural environment”—­are incorrect or, at least, severely
As I have demonstrated elsewhere, queer theory has not been par-
ticularly interested in environmental questions; while scholars in the field
have taken up topics as diverse as terrorism (Puar 2002) and childhood
Introduction  |  23
(Stockton 2009), environment has been glaringly left out.17 It was this
gap that prompted scholars such as Greta Gaard (1997) and Catriona
Mortimer-­ Sandilands to develop the interdisciplinary framework of
queer ecology—­which “prob[es] and challeng[es] the biopolitical knots
through which both historical and current relations of sexualities and
environments meet and inform one another” (Mortimer-­Sandilands and
Erickson 2010, 5). My first book, Strange Natures: Futurity, Empathy,
and the Queer Ecological Imagination (Seymour 2013), has further con-
tributed to the development of queer ecology, rereading well-­known
contemporary queer novels and films as environmentalist polemics and
theorizing why such readings have not been possible before; I argue that
homophobic public discourse, ecocritical norms, and queer-­theoretical
tendencies have all had the effect of alienating “the queer” from “the
natural” and “the environment,” conceptually and otherwise.
So why turn back to queer theory in a book about environment? In
finishing Strange Natures, I had an epiphany: while queer ecology takes
from queer theory its interest in minoritarian sexual practices and what
counts as “natural,” what it has left behind are queer theory’s trademark
sensibilities: its playfulness, its irreverence, its interest in perversity,
and its delight in irony. I realized that I wanted to know more about the
roles that such modes have (and have not) played in environmental art
and discourse. I wanted to think through where we might locate playful-
ness, irreverence, perversity, and irony in the context of environmental
problems—­and to model those sensibilities myself. Thus, this book re-
turns to queer theory, sometimes implicitly, to take up these trademark
Indeed, I believe it is fair to say that queer theory boasts the rich-
est scholarly tradition of thinking about the central categories of this
project: not just irony, irreverence, perversity, and playfulness but also
absurdity, camp, frivolity, indecorum, ambivalence, and glee. We could
begin with Lee Edelman’s claim that irony is the “queerest of rhetorical
devices” (2004, 26), or with Jack Halberstam’s observation that “indiffer­
ence, ironic distancing, indirectness, arch dismissal, insincerity and camp
make up what Ann Cvetkovich has called ‘an archive of feelings’ associ-
ated with [the] anti-­social [strain of queer] theory” (2011, 152).18 Or we
could consider how Halberstam, Muñoz, and others have paid attention
to low­brow texts, frivolous pursuits, and marginalized subcultures, and
24  |  Introduction
have displayed “unserious” and otherwise contrarian sensibilities in
their scholarship. To wit: Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure (2011)
includes the cartoon program SpongeBob Square Pants as a primary text
and announces “not being taken seriously” as its goal: “being taken seri-
ously means missing out on the chance to be frivolous, promiscuous,
and irrelevant. The desire to be taken seriously is precisely what com-
pels people to follow the tried and true paths of knowledge production
around which I would like to map a few detours” (6). While Queer Art
focuses on the artistic representation of failure per dominant social stan-
dards, Halberstam’s choice of archive itself arguably represents a failure,
one that this very book might be enacting: the failure to choose primary
texts that would be considered worthy by dominant academic, and activ-
ist, standards.
Moreover, queer theory has long been preoccupied with the notion
of improper attachments and inappropriate feelings, and it has taken
pleasure in situations of indecorum—­making it ripe for explicating the
rather unceremonious works in my archive. As Chen puts it, “I think [of
queer] more in terms of the social and cultural formations of ‘improper
affiliation’” than in terms of “sexual contact among subjects identified as
gay and lesbian” (2012, 105); the works I treat here are thus queer insofar
as they affiliate improperly with environmental phenomena. I also find
concepts such as Sara Warner’s “gaiety” to be of prime importance here.
As she writes, “How might reclaiming gaiety enable us to create new
modes of resistance, new forms of community, and new opportunities
for inquiry into LGBT history and culture?” (2012, xvi). In this book, I
repurpose this question: How might reclaiming gaiety and other contrarian
modes enable us to create new modes of resistance, new forms of community, and
new opportunities for inquiry into environmental crisis?
I believe that such repurposing can be forgiven, especially consider-
ing how queer theory understands “queerness” as a stance more than an
identity. I share this understanding, taking a queer approach to works
that bear no apparent LGBTQ affiliations, as well as to those with
explicit LGBTQ affiliations. My project thus parallels scholarly works
such as Halberstam’s Queer Art, Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (2011),
and Scott Herring’s The Hoarders: Material Deviance in Modern American
Culture (2014), which take queer approaches to a wide variety of texts
Introduction  |  25
and topics. In sum, while only some of my chapters explicitly take up
issues of gender and sexuality, one could say that a queer sensibility ani-
mates this entire book. But perhaps my work could be called queer in at
least one more sense. As queer ecology scholar Robert Azzarrello has
claimed, “Environmental studies looks to ‘the natural’ to find a norma-
tive ethics upon which it can build a political framework” (2016, 17).
“From a queer perspective,” he tells us, “what is most troubling in this
discourse is that the most popular terms to describe environmental
crisis—­unnatural, diseased, pathological, risky, contaminated . . . and so
on—­are exactly those terms that have been used historically to stigma-
tize sexual misfits and to instigate social panic and apocalyptic threat”
(125). In refusing the affective vocabulary of crisis, panic, and apoca-
lypse, the works I cover in this book resist the stigmatizing potential of
such discourse and thus participate in a deeply queer project.
In addition to affect theory and queer theory, this book draws on
scholarship from a wide range of humanities and social science disci-
plines, including history, sociology, film studies, literary theory, commu­
nication studies, theater and performance studies, political science, and
political theory. In doing so, of course, it also draws on environmental
humanities scholarship, including ecocriticism. However, I often depart
from that scholarship’s common tendencies. To begin with, ecocriticism
has historically drawn on a narrow affective repertoire, similar to that
found in environmental art, activism, and discourse. Here, I echo Robert
Hayashi’s observation that “ecocritical inquiry still remains rooted in
American environmentalism and constrained by limitations that stifle
its evolution” (2007, 60)—­but with a specific eye toward affect. Some
ecocritics have themselves admitted to that affective narrowness; Law-
rence Buell, for example, has pointed out how the field engages in “save-­
the-­world moral earnestness” (2013, x), while, in a review of Morton’s
Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (2013) and
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s edited collection Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory
Beyond Green (2013), critic Tom White argues,
Underwriting many green readings is the supposed serenity of the
natural world and, in turn, a faith in the restorative powers of natural
landscapes; this nature is somewhere we go to, rather than something
within which we live, hopelessly imbricated, each day. As a mode of
26  |  Introduction
inquiry green “too frequently signifies a return, however belatedly, to
the verdancy of an unspoiled world, to whatever remnants of a lost
paradise might be reclaimed.” (2014, quoting Cohen 2013)

As a scholar, I aim to disrupt those tendencies, just as the works I discuss

do the same.
Ecocriticism, also like environmentalism, has largely avoided self-­
awareness, self-­reflexivity, and metacritique. Serpil Oppermann states
that the field “cultivat[es] environmental consciousness at a distance
from critical reflexivity”—­due, in part, to its historical aversion to “the
poststructuralist strand of literary theory that has . . . restored signifi-
cance to the ‘word’” (2011, 153). As ecocriticism enters a certain aca-
demic maturity—­twenty-­five years now, depending on your yardstick—­a
few scholars have begun to call for, and participate in, critical reflexivity.
Morton, for one, proposes in Ecology without Nature (2007) a mode that
he calls “ecocritique,” which “is critical and self-­critical. This is the
proper sense of critique, a dialectical form of criticism that bends back
upon itself” (6). I share his sense that “environmental art and ecocriti-
cism . . . must be addressed critically, precisely because we care about
them and we care about the earth, and, indeed, the future of life-­forms
on this planet” (5). But this book does not seek merely to critique the
status quo of environmental art, discourse, or scholarship; I hope to
study, and model, alternatives. Thus, my curation of an archive of “bad
environmentalisms” doubles as a performance of “bad ecocriticism”—­
one that I hope further diversifies the scope of the field and participates
in a valuable form of self-­assessment.
As I briefly noted above, ecocritics have also tended to take an in-
strumentalist approach to environmental art, from foundational texts
such as Lawrence Buell’s own The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau,
Nature Writing, and American Culture (1995) to the present moment.
That is, they have regularly evaluated cultural texts on their capacity
to inculcate “proper” environmentalist feelings—­often, reverence, love,
and wonder—­educate the public, incite quantifiable environmental activ-
ism, or even solve environmental problems. As Richard Kerridge and
Neil Sammells’s important book, Writing the Environment: Ecocriticism and
Literature (1998), puts it, ecocriticism is a paradigm that “seeks to evalu-
ate texts and ideas in terms of their coherence and usefulness as responses
Introduction  |  27
to environmental crisis” (5). We see the same philosophy in more recent
scholarly texts, such as John Parham’s Green Media and Popular Culture
(2016). A long-­overdue consideration of “low” artworks such as soap
operas and video games, the book assesses such artworks primarily in
terms of their pedagogical or political value, pondering “which approaches
seem most effective in helping to promote . . . global ecological aware-
ness” (28). Thus, Parham concludes, understanding “whether popular
culture can translate environmental ideas and conscript people into eco-
logical advocacy, will require detailed audience research. That remains
the most obvious task facing a green media and culture studies” (266,
emphasis added).
Diction such as “conscript” seems to confirm the negative reputa-
tion of environmentalism as didactic, prescriptive, and demanding. But
more to the point, instrumentalist scholarly approaches can overlook or
overshadow the textual potentialities beyond inciting “ecological advo-
cacy” that I outlined earlier—­bearing witness to crisis, enacting cathar-
sis, serving as cultural diagnoses, and so on. That is, instrumentalism
potentially marginalizes artworks that do not articulate obvious or rec-
ognizable environmentalist agendas but that nonetheless have some-
thing to tell us. We might look here at another recent scholarly text,
Houser’s Ecosickness. Like me, Houser is interested in the wide range of
environmental emotions in the contemporary era. But we part ways to
some extent when it comes to how we approach those emotions: her
book “theoriz[es] specific affects that energize or weaken environmental
consciousness” (2014, 22, emphasis added) and asks, “How might emo-
tions make us pay attention to our . . . environmentally precarious pres-
ent? How might they ferry us from awareness to an obligation to respond?”
(24, emphasis added). In addition to echoing Parham’s diction (“obliga-
tion” recalls “conscription”), such moments suggest that affect is impor-
tant primarily for how it directly serves, or fails to serve, recognizable
environmentalist agendas. This approach can perhaps be best summed
up by a recent Facebook post from the networking hub Humanities for
the Environment: “Political commitment requires maintaining a posi-
tion of wonder.”19
This book wants to think aslant of such service and such require-
ments. In this sense, I follow queer theorist Heather Love, who, in read-
ing LGBTQ modernist literature focused on feelings such as shame, has
28  |  Introduction
stated: “While I do not want to argue for the political efficacy of any
particular bad feeling . . . I do argue for the importance of such feelings
in general. [They] serve as an index to the ruined state of the social”—­
here, I would add “and natural”—­“world. . . . Most important, they
teach us that we do not know what is good for politics” (2007, 27). Fur-
ther, like Ngai, I am attuned here to feelings that “tend to be diagnostic
rather than strategic” (2005, 22), and I agree with the latter’s claim that
“the nature of the sociopolitical itself has changed in a manner that
calls forth and calls upon a new set of feelings—­ones less powerful than
the classical political passions, though perhaps more suited . . . for mod-
els of subjectivity, collectivity, and agency not entirely foreseen by past
theorists” (5).20 This book shows that contemporary environmental cri-
sis calls forth, and upon, “bad” affects.
Of course, an instrumentalist scholarly approach is understanda-
ble, considering that “many [ecocritics] are also green activists” and that
“ecocriticism coheres more by virtue of a common political project than
on the basis of shared theoretical and methodological assumptions”
(Heise 2006, 512, 506). Similarly, environmental humanists John Tall-
madge and Henry Harrington suggest that ecocriticism is unusual among
academic paradigms for how it is defined by its sensibility—­calling it
“less a method than an attitude” (2000, quoted in Oppermann 2011,
154). And this book surely engages in some form of instrumentalism
itself, especially in my explicit attempt to broaden the recognized reper-
toire of environmental affects—­a repertoire upon which environmental
movements could draw in the future—­and in my implicit understanding
of these works as comparatively more accessible and relevant to con-
temporary audiences. But my point is that approaching cultural works
with the intent of determining whether or not they “succeed” at X or Y
task threatens to replicate the didactic and prescriptive tendencies of
mainstream environmentalism and potentially detracts from the real job
of criticism: to see how cultural works present us with problems and
make things messy rather than neatly resolving them.21 Finally, while I
agree with Oppermann that ecocriticism’s status as “less a method than
an attitude” has led to a general lack of methodological and theoretical
rigor in the field, I believe that we cannot dispense with “attitude” just
yet. Indeed, it might be precisely what needs theorizing most.
I also hope to embrace, rather than dissimulate, the contradic-
tions, complications, and ambivalences of environmental humanities
Introduction  |  29
scholarship. Reverberating with Linda Lear’s (2002) comments on the
relationship between science and environmentalism, Ursula Heise points
to the vexed relationship between science and ecocriticism:
Ecocriticism’s engagement with modernization has been partly shaped
by environmentalists’ ambivalence toward scientific inquiry. On one
hand, science is viewed as a root cause of environmental deterioration,
both in that it has cast nature as an object to be analyzed and . . . pro-
vided the means of exploiting nature more radically than was possible
by premodern means. On the other hand, . . . the social legitimation of
environmental politics . . . centrally depend[s] on science. In ecocriti-
cism, this ambivalence has translated into divergent perceptions of
how the sciences should inform cultural inquiry. (2006, 508–­9)

Heise concludes that “understanding itself in this way, as both derived

from and resistant to modernity, may . . . help ecocriticism develop
modes of critique of the modern that are less dependent . . . on recourse
to pre-­modern forms of inhabitation and culture” (508). In the decade
or so since Heise made this proposal, such modes of critique have
emerged; we have seen, for instance, a rejection of “purity politics” (Ah-­
King and Hayward 2013, 5) and the rise of specific subfields such as
queer ecology and the urban environmental humanities. And even a
decade before, of course, we saw scholars trouble the Nature-­Culture
binary and complicate definitions of “environment” itself, as in environ-
mental historian William Cronon’s influential edited collection Uncom-
mon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (1996). This book
extends such efforts.
In looking beyond canonical nature writing and the other “high-
brow” artistic forms that initially preoccupied many ecocritics and
toward the “lowbrow,” the popular, and the marginal, this book aligns
itself with scholarly texts such as Noël Sturgeon’s Environmentalism in
Popular Culture (2009), Parham’s Green Media and Popular Culture, and
Anthony Lioi’s Nerd Ecology: Defending the Earth with Unpopular Culture
(2016). As the latter reminds us, “Though the ecological tropes and envi-
ronmentalist themes in popular culture suggest a rich field of inquiry for
[the environmental humanities], forays into popular culture have been,
at best, sporadic” (2016, 9). I share these texts’ interest in neglected
forms, genres, and audiences. But I differ in my insistence on affect and
sensibility. For example, I look at artworks such as the Isabella Rossellini
30  |  Introduction
short film series Green Porno (2008–­9) not primarily because of their
accessible mode of distribution or their fervent fandom but because,
through their gleeful perversity, they tell us something about how we
are typically expected to feel and comport ourselves in interactions with
the nonhuman.
Finally, Bad Environmentalism is affined with scholarship that seeks
to diversify the scope of environmental humanities research in terms of
both demographics and affect/sensibility. I build on scholarly texts rang-
ing from Richard White’s 2002 review essay “The Natures of Nature
Writing”—­which claims that “a genre [nature writing] that is for the
most part remarkably devoid of irony, purposeful paradox, and satire
may not only be satirized but eventually begin to read like a satire of
itself” (145)—­to Catriona Mortimer-­Sandilands and Bruce Erickson’s
edited collection Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire (2011) to
Sarah Ray’s The Ecological Other: Environmental Exclusion in American Cul-
ture (2013) to Shiloh R. Krupar’s work of experimental scholarship, Hot
Spotter’s Report: Military Fables of Toxic Waste (2013). I share Krupar’s belief
that “pedagogical play and aesthetic practices [are] central to political
responses and coalitions” (2013, 15), and, like her, I “dra[w] on political
rhetorics of satire, camp, and irony to diagnose and speak back to absurd
realities of nuclear ecologies and governance” (Lloyd 2015, referring to
Krupar 2013). But my scope of concern is broader; the “absurd realities”
I consider extend beyond the nuclear to include environmental issues
such as climate change (chapters 1 and 3); habitat destruction and spe-
cies endangerment (chapter 2); food politics (chapters 2 and 5 and con-
clusion); sea level rise (chapter 3); land conservation and national parks
(chapters 3 and 4); environmental racism and classism (chapters 4 and
5); and dam construction and mountaintop removal (chapter 5). More-
over, I both draw on and study modes like satire, camp, and irony, con-
sidering their potentials as well as, occasionally, their limitations.

Scope of the Book

Bad Environmentalism focuses primarily on cultural works from the
1990s forward, though in some cases my discussion stretches back to
the origins of contemporary Western environmentalism in the 1960s
and 1970s. Some of my examples are quite popular, much more so than
Introduction  |  31
many mainstream environmentalist artworks could ever hope to be, while
others are somewhat obscure. Some are relentless in their bad affect—­as
with the unceasingly flat and, thus, ironically titled Peak—­while others
are more varied, as with the alternately gleeful and grave Goodbye Gauley
Mountain, discussed in chapter 5. But, generally speaking, all are outliers
from the environmental mainstream in terms of affect and sensibility.
Moreover, many (but not all) emerge from minority viewpoints, includ-
ing those of LGBTQ individuals, working-­class people, and people of
color. The United States is most heavily represented here, though I also
examine texts from Australia, Canada, Germany/Italy, and the United
Kingdom. This is not to suggest that critiques of Western environmen-
talism from other regions do not exist, nor that modes such as irony
and absurdity do not play a role in non-­Anglophone or non-­Western
environmental movements.22 But my goal here is to trace a particular
dynamic, in which dissident environmentalist texts emerge in direct re-
sponse to mainstream Western environmentalism.
Over the past several years that I have been working on this book, I
have received dozens of suggestions for primary texts from colleagues
and friends. The most frequently recurring is no doubt the 2006 “Smug
Alert” episode of the U.S. animated series South Park, which introduces
the Toyonda Pious—­a clear play on the Toyota Prius and, as the South
Park Wikia page describes it, “a hybrid electric/petrol automobile that
has the ability to turn [its] owners . . . into smug pious self-­righteous
jerks” (n.d.). Such texts are instructive for how they exemplify the wide-
spread extent of antienvironmentalism in public and popular culture,
and I cite them occasionally throughout this book. But they are not
my main focus here. Indeed, popular antienvironmentalism is a subject
all its own, one that is ripe for analysis. First, then, I have chosen to
focus on artworks that demonstrate some identifiable environmental
investment—­not those that merely poke fun at environmentalism or that
merely display bad affect in the context of environmental questions. For
example, I do not discuss Comedy Central’s Brickleberry (2012–­15, U.S.),
a raunchy animated show set in a second-­rate national park. While sev-
eral people recommended it to me, I quickly found, along with review-
ers such as Dennis Perkins, that the show “hails from the . . . school of
comed[y] where obviously offensive things are tossed out for shock
value and if you don’t laugh, you’re a tight-­ass who doesn’t get the other
32  |  Introduction
levels to the jokes” (2012). Such works maintain traditional social hier-
archies while mischaracterizing political objection as personal oversen-
sitivity—­as did Brickleberry’s executive producer and stand-­up comic
Daniel Tosh when he famously remarked of an audience member who
had just objected to his rape jokes, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got
raped by like, five guys right now?”23 It is worth invoking here the dis-
tinction between modes such as irony, one of my main foci, and modes
such as sarcasm, which Brickleberry and Tosh predominately employ. As
Abrams and Harpham point out, while irony retains its “root sense of
dissembling . . . not . . . in order to deceive, but in order to achieve
special rhetorical or artistic effects,” the root meaning of sarcasm is “to
tear flesh” (2012, 10). Similarly, Fernandez and Huber remark that,
unlike “true irony,” sarcasm is “positioned confidently as to what is right
and wrong in the world” (2001, 21). I am most interested in works that,
in dissembling, disassemble mainstream environmentalist logics, while
remaining uncertain or awkward rather than “positioned confidently as
to what is right and wrong.”
Second, and relatedly, I have chosen to focus only on works that
demonstrate some degree of self-­ awareness or self-­reflexivity, those
qualities so often missing in both mainstream environmentalism and
ecocriticism. Even so, many works that would have otherwise made the
cut—­from Canadian playwright Elyne Quan’s satirical climate change
play Cuisine to the witty work of Indigenous artist Wendy Red Star
(Apsáalooke [Crow]) to U.S. “culture-­jamming” duo the Yes Men to the
“Fossil of the Day” awards given at the UN climate summits—­are not
represented here, primarily for reasons of space. As these additional
examples suggest, it is not that environmentalist artworks that engage
with and employ irony, absurdity, and so forth are necessarily so rare.
But they may go unrecognized as environmentalist, due to environmen-
talism’s prevailing reputation for seriousness, sentimentality, and the
like. Moreover, such works have received little to no scholarly or critical
attention, and certainly not in terms of the capacities and potentialities
I have outlined.24 Thus, my readings fill a significant gap in the scholarly
Finally, while I am heartened by the growing attention to humor and
the comic in environmental humanities circles, and while I am generally
influenced by literary scholar Joseph Meeker’s The Comedy of Survival:
Introduction  |  33
Studies in Literary Ecology ([1974] 1997),25 I am only interested here in
works that go beyond or complicate the modes of humor and the comic.
First, traditional generic definitions of comedy refer to works that offer
reconciliation and resolution, as in the Shakespearean marriage plot—­
whereas, as I have just indicated, the works I consider rarely offer such
things. Indeed, whereas Meeker argues that the “comic way is to restore
normalcy” (10), my examples emphasize the nonnormative and refuse
to route things back to the familiar.26 This is crucial work, I argue, in a
time when environmental crisis is widely normalized, whether as a cop-
ing mechanism or as a political strategy. Second, just as irony can be
merely “corrective,” so can humor and comedy reaffirm normative
values—­perhaps more often than, say, absurdity or perversity. Consider,
for example, the online videos recently released by the U.S.-­ based
“grassroots movement” known as Nature Rx. In the style of a television
pharmaceutical commercial, the video titled “Nature Rx Part 1” (2015)
touts the wondrous benefits of nature, “a nonharmful medication shown
to relieve the crippling symptoms of modern life.”27 The video depicts
cheerful, able-­bodied white people hiking and camping, with a female
voice-­over that advises, “If you are overly cynical, jaded, or emotionally
numb, you may need to increase your dose of nature.” As is probably
clear, the video reinscribes the traditional view of nature as something
“out there,” separate from culture; draws on “common-­sense” equa-
tions of nature, health, and purity; and reproduces the image of wilder-
ness as a racially white space—­all through the mode of gentle humor.
Moreover, the Nature Rx video (unwittingly?) confirms the idea of envi-
ronmentalism as, quite literally, prescriptive. Suffice it to say here that
not all things that appear to oppose typical environmentalist affects and
sensibilities—­and not all things that are “funny”—­oppose that status
quo in practice.
The works I discuss are not perfect, to be sure. (Distressingly, at
least one creator of said works seems very imperfect.28) And while I
occasionally address their imperfections, I do not spend an inordinate
amount of time on them. In this sense, I am inspired by Eve Kosofsky
Sedgwick’s proposal, recently taken up by Rita Felski and others, that
critics consider alternatives to the historically dominant mode of “para-
noid reading”—­which, among other things, seeks to expose the prob-
lematic or biased elements of a text. As Sedgwick explains, this mode
34  |  Introduction
often assumes naïveté on the part of the average reader and “plac[es] . . .
an extraordinary stress on the efficacy of knowledge per se—­knowledge
in the form of exposure” (2003, 138). Throughout this book, I question
environmental art’s typical drive to expose and to impart knowledge. But
more to the point, I assume that my readers can identify the many poten-
tial risks and faults of the works in my archive. My aim is not to idealize
these examples as the best alternatives to the environmentalist status
quo—­though, depending on one’s point of view, some of them might
be—­or to call for “bad” affects to replace the more typical environmen-
tal affects everywhere. In short, I do not seek to reframe the “badness”
of these works as “good,” or to render those terms meaningless by in-
verting them. Rather, I want to call attention to these works’ existence
and to theorize the implications and capacities of their badness.
As my archive includes a wide range of cultural works, my chapters
employ a wide range of methodologies, including both close reading
and “surface reading” (Best and Marcus 2009, 1), cultural and historical
contextualization, rhetorical analysis, and visual analysis. Through my
readings, I respond to several pressing questions recently raised by envi-
ronmental humanities scholars, including: “Can a film be moralist but not
moralistic?” (Ingram 2013, 52, emphasis added); “What are the implica-
tions for the activist ambitions and aesthetic tastes of eco-­film criticism
if ‘bad’ art inspires people just as much as, if not more than, the ‘good’?”29
(Ingram 2013, 52); “How to invent a theater”—­or any other artwork—­
“that [can] adequately reflect the reality of the present crisis without
reproducing the sentimental discourse of a romanticized nature, the
‘capital N-­opposite of culture nature’ which is partly responsible for that
very crisis?” (Chaudhuri and Enelow 2013, 5); and “Is it possible to move
beyond the story templates of elegy and tragedy and yet to express con-
tinuing concern that nonhuman species not be harmed more than strictly
necessary?” (Heise 2016, 13). The works in my archive respond affirma-
tively to these yes-­or-­no questions and provide—­and, in fact, themselves
constitute—­surprising and innovative answers to the open-­ended ones.
Each of my first three chapters highlights a “bad” affective mode or
sensibility that responds to the tendencies of mainstream environmen-
talism: irony, perversity, and camp. (As will become clear, though, many
of my works engage with more than one mode or sensibility.) These first
three chapters also center on a specific media form: respectively, cinema,
Introduction  |  35
television, and performance art. Chapter 1, “‘I’m No Botanist, But . . .’:
Irony, Ecocinema, and the Problem of Expert Knowledge,” considers
the deployment of irony in recent environmentally themed films. I read
Hannes Lang’s quirky documentary Peak (2011, Germany/Italy) and
Mike Judge’s absurdist comedy Idiocracy (2006, U.S.) against works
such as An Inconvenient Truth (dir. Davis Guggenheim, 2006, U.S.) and
Everything’s Cool (dir. Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold, 2007, U.S.).
I show how the former films employ affective modes such as thorough­
going irony, awkwardness, and the deadpan to counter the dominant
tendencies of ecocinema in general, and climate change documentary in
particular—­including didacticism, seriousness, and the prioritization of
expert knowledge. Here, I advance the provocative hypothesis that cli-
mate change denialism/skepticism can be understood at least in part as
a reaction to those latter tendencies. I thus understand Lang and Judge’s
embrace of ignorance and inexpertise to be a form of political media-
tion, and their brand of irony a promising model for the new reality de-
scribed above—­in which, for instance, knowledge about climate change
does not necessarily lead to action.
Chapter 2, “‘So Much to See, So Little to Learn’: Perverting Nature/
Wildlife Programming,” builds on chapter 1’s discussion of knowledge
and ignorance by focusing on recent perversions of an educational phe-
nomenon: nature/wildlife programming. I show how the MTV reality
program Wildboyz (2003–­6, U.S.) and the series of very short films Green
Porno (2008–­9, U.S.) respond to this traditional genre and its affective
maneuvers. Whereas those traditional works, from the 1950s TV show
Zoo Parade to today’s Disneynature films, evoke awe and wonder and
appeal to sentimental family values, Wildboyz and Green Porno take per-
verse delight in the queerest and most repulsive of animal, including
human animal, behaviors. I argue that the latter works thereby inter­
rogate the foundational assumptions of nature/wildlife programming,
assumptions also found in mainstream environmentalism and environ-
mental humanities scholarship—­including that love and reverence are
key to investment in the nonhuman world and that the aesthetically
pleasing, sociable, and heteronormative aspects of nonhuman animals
are the strongest basis for arguments on their behalf.30 This chapter
introduces the category of performance, which I take up in greater
depth in the next chapter.
36  |  Introduction
Chapter 3, “Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy:
On Queer Environmental Performance,” directly takes up the queer
concerns introduced in the previous chapter by focusing on the queer
tra­dition of camp. This chapter offers what I believe is the first explicit
theorization of queer environmental performance, examining the work
of performance art/musical troupe the Eggplant Faerie Players (1995–­,
U.S.), performance project the Lesbian National Parks and Services
(1997–­, Canada), and activist collective Queers for the Climate (2014–­,
U.S.). I theorize the functions of queer environmental performance,
from disrupting the heteronormativity encoded in dominant depictions
of nature to demonstrating the importance of “gaiety” in environmental
movements. In the process, I argue, queer environmental performances
reveal that mainstream environmentalism is itself a performance, one
with very strict codes. Indeed, the texts treated in this chapter realize
that “‘nature’ is a focal point that compels us to assume certain attitudes”
(Morton 2007, 20), and then they impishly assume other attitudes. The
queer environmental performances I consider here create space for camp,
gaiety, and frivolity, all of which have been sorely lacking in mainstream
environmental movements.
The final two chapters focus on the sociopolitical categories of
race and class, respectively, and take up multiple media forms, includ-
ing poetry, fiction, stand-­up comedy, sketch comedy, and animation.
Chapter 4, “Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t: Rewrit-
ing Racialized Environmental Affect,” looks at two seemingly opposed
racial tropes, the myth of the Ecological Indian and the stereotype of the
Urban African American. I argue that these tropes are, centrally, issues
of affect—­ sentimentalizing Native Americans and framing African
Americans as ecophobic—­as well as distractions from the environmen-
tal injustices that both groups suffer in common. I show how contempo-
rary Native American and African American writers including Sherman
Alexie, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, and Percival Everett employ bad
affective modes such as irony, satire, and ambivalence to both critique
the status quo of racialized environmental affect and forge new environ-
mental relationships in its face, including cross-­racial and cross-­species
relationships. This chapter also considers the complementary efforts
of phenomena such as the Native American sketch comedy group the
1491s and the documentary web series “Black Folk Don’t”—­highlighting
Introduction  |  37
how these texts playfully disarticulate the equation of nature and white-
ness. This chapter thus shows how race shapes dominant expectations
for proper affective relationships with the nonhuman.
Chapter 5, “Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers: Toward
Trashy Environmentalisms,” builds on the previous to show how class,
like race, shapes affective relationships with the nonhuman. I begin
by demonstrating how environmentalists often labor under threat of
shame and charges of hypocrisy. In my readings of Mike Judge’s ani-
mated TV sitcom The Goode Family (2009, U.S.) and the live-­action TV
sitcom Kath & Kim (2002–­7, Australia), I demonstrate how this dynamic
is particularly classed: afraid of being labeled “trashy” in all senses of the
word, the protagonists in these shows see mainstream environmental-
ism as a means of realizing their middle-­class aspirations. I then turn
to a set of environmentalist artworks that embrace trashy behavior,
sometimes quite literally—­as with Homer, the donut-­gobbling, beer-­
bellied, working-­class polluter-­turned-­savior of James L. Brooks and
Matt Groening’s animated The Simpsons Movie (dir. David Silverman,
2007, U.S.), and the radical antiheroes of Edward Abbey’s novel The
Monkey Wrench Gang ([1975] 2006)—­indiscriminate litterers who love
to tear through the desert in a Jeep. I claim that these works thereby
propose gleeful hypocrisy as an antidote to anxious perfectionism. I
close with an extensive reading of Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle’s
Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story (2013, U.S.), a docu-
mentary about Appalachian mountaintop removal. Drawing together
the work of my previous chapters, I show how the film employs bawdy
queer performances to disrupt the classic binary of privileged, expert
environmentalists versus polluting, ignorant “white trash” denizens.
I conclude the book with a brief look at the comedy of Simon
Amstell, a gay British Jew who frequently discusses his veganism on stage
and on film. I take Amstell’s awkward, playful performances in his UK
specials Do Nothing: Live (2010), Numb: Simon Amstell Live at the BBC
(2012), and Carnage: Swallowing the Past (2017) as an occasion to reflect
on the rewards and risks of bad environmentalism and, more broadly, on
the role of “inappropriate” affective modes in times of crisis.
While, as I have noted, some of the works discussed in these chap-
ters are quite popular, all are technically failures by the dominant affec-
tive standards of environmentalism. I therefore do not expect them to
38  |  Introduction
become exemplary models, to be widely taught in classrooms—­though
that would be a kick—­or to dethrone the classic canon of environmen-
tal literature and film. But this book contends that even if, and perhaps
particularly if, bad environmental art “fails,” it is still worthy of our
attention. My archive exemplifies what Halberstam calls “traditions of
political action that, while not necessarily successful in the sense of
becoming dominant, do offer models of contestation, rupture, and dis-
continuity for the political present” (2011, 19). In this sense, the ability
of these works to turn (some) audiences off may be precisely the point:
they gesture to the dominant preference for environmentalism to be
straight, white, clean, and neat, despite the queer, diverse, messy gross-
ness of the world, not to mention of environmental politics. In sum, the
examples I examine have not yet, and probably never will, become dom-
inant. But in their practices of alternative environmentalisms, they re-
mind us of the unlimited imaginative possibilities of an era facing some
of the most troubling limits we have ever known.

“i’m no botanist, but . . .”

Irony, Ecocinema, and the
Problem of Expert Knowledge

The most appropriate philosophical foundation for ecological

politics is . . . a cultural modernism of which a generalised irony
is the master trope.
—­Bronislaw Szerszynski, “The Post-­ecologist Condition”

In the fall of 2016, Mike Judge’s 2006 comedy film Idiocracy appeared in
select theaters across the United States. Ostensibly a ten-­year-­anniversary
event, the rerelease also happened to coincide with Donald Trump’s
presidential candidacy and the impending U.S. election. Having become
entrenched in the Western popular lexicon since the film’s release—­
often serving as a lament over the state of U.S. politics and even the
populace as a whole—­“idiocracy” seemed as timely a term as ever.
Indeed, the promotional campaign for the rerelease asked fans to tweet
questions to Judge and costar Maya Rudolph with the hashtag “#idioc-
racytoday.” Around this same time, Judge and screenwriter Etan Cohen
were making plans—­eventually quashed by Twentieth Century Fox Stu-
dios, which owns the film—­to create a series of anti-­Trump advertise-
ments featuring the film’s fictional U.S. president, Dwayne Elizondo
Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Terry Crews). Just a few months
before the rerelease, in fact, Cohen (2016) had tweeted in reference
to Trump, “I never expected #idiocracy to become a documentary”—­
breathing new life into an already existing Facebook group calling itself
a “Movement to Classify ‘Idiocracy’ Film as Documentary.”1
Idiocracy tells the comic tale of an average Joe (Luke Wilson)—­
named, appropriately, Joe—­who finds himself, along with female counter­
part Rita (Rudolph), in the environmentally ravaged, hypercorporatized,

40  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
dumbed-­down dystopian future of 2505 after a bungled government
hibernation experiment. There, garbage is piled sky-­high and denizens
embrace such entertainment options as a reality TV show titled Ow My
Balls! Following a disastrous theatrical release, Idiocracy found new life as
a cult film.2 Perhaps the strangest manifestation of this cult status has
been the real-­life licensing and manufacture of one of its fictional prod-
ucts, a Gatorade-­type sports drink called Brawndo, “the Thirst Mutila-
tor.”3 Brawndo features prominently in one of the film’s most beloved
sequences, wherein our hero discovers that the drink has replaced water
as the result of a corporate buyout of government bureaus, thus trig­gering
mass agricultural collapse and environmental disasters such as a “Great
Dustbowl.” When Joe relays his findings to a befuddled U.S. Cabinet,
the Attorney General (Sara Rue) slowly ruminates: “So wait a minute.
What you’re saying is that you want us to put water on the crops. . . .
Water. Like out the toilet?” An exasperated Joe responds, “The plants
aren’t growing, so I’m pretty sure that the Brawndo’s not working. Now,
I’m no botanist, but I do know that if you put water on plants, they grow.”
This exchange raises the problems of environmental and scientific
knowledge—­particularly, the facets of expertise and communication.
First, Joe defers to the experts by admitting (albeit sarcastically) that
he is not a scientist, but he nonetheless tries to claim some expertise
on an environmental issue: “I do know.” While for some on the political
spectrum, the links among expert knowledge, science, and environ­
mentalism are idealized, they are grounds for concern for others, who
view both environmentalists and scientists as exclusive elites. Second,
the Attorney General greets Joe’s common-­sense factuality with imme-
diate suspicion, raising the question of how, if at all, environmental and
sci­entific knowledge can be communicated to those who would resist it.
This filmic sequence thus speaks presciently to our current moment, one
marked by interrelated phenomena including a resurgence of authori­
tar­ian populism, a “postfactual” or “posttruth” atmosphere in which
“alternative facts” can gain currency, the widespread embrace of con-
spiracy theories, and climate change denialism/skepticism.4 As Trump
supporter and journalist Jeffrey Lord stated in a CNN discussion of his
candidate’s inaccurate statements during the presidential debates, “I
honestly don’t think that this fact-­checking business . . . is anything more
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  41
than [an] out-­of-­touch, elitist media type thing. I don’t think people out
here in America care” (“Is Fact-­Checking Hopeful” 2016).5
I begin with Idiocracy here not only because it thus broaches the
contemporary problems of environmental/scientific knowledge but also
because its reception points—­albeit facetiously—­to the question of how
we typically conceive of documentary. As I show in this chapter, both
are issues of affect as much as politics (or anything else). In what follows,
I further sketch out the problems of environmental/scientific knowl-
edge and their affective dimensions, then consider their relationship
to documentary film. Then, I turn to Hannes Lang’s Peak, a climate
change documentary that resists many of the rules of that form, espe-
cially the imperative to impart knowledge, through modes such as flat
affect, irony, and awkwardness. I suggest the category of “unnatural
documentary” as a way of understanding this unique film. I conclude the
chapter with a deeper look at Idiocracy, the comedy that some would
have reclassified as a documentary, and how its ironic and irreverent
approach to knowledge establishes it as an example of what I have
dubbed “low environmental culture.” I argue that, in very different
ways, these films propose the same affective-­philosophical approach to
environmental problems such as climate change: a deeply ironic form
of adaptability.

The Contemporary Problems of

Environmental/Scientific Knowledge
Climate change denialism/skepticism are perhaps the most high-­profile
examples of the problems of environmental/scientific knowledge. In
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (2005), author (and HIV/AIDS
denialist) Tom Bethell establishes a broad suspicion of scientific exper-
tise: “Scientists seem to enjoy a measure of immunity. . . . Experts hate
to challenge one another, just as doctors do. . . . So challenge and dis-
agreement rarely arise. The priesthood of science is undisturbed, and
that is the way they like it” (v). Bethell then throws suspicion on cli-
mate science, drawing on fiction writer Michael Crichton’s infamous
Cal Tech speech, in which he declared that “consensus science . . . ‘is
an extremely pernicious development. . . . Historically, the claim of
42  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid
debate by claiming that the matter is already settled’” (13). Similar sen-
timents have been aired across other conservative outlets, critiquing the
very foundations of academic research. In an article for the conservative
thinktank American Enterprise Institute, for example, Jay Richards refers
to the “cliquish nature of publishing and peer review in climate science”
The problems of logic here will be obvious to many readers. First,
Bethell, Crichton, and Richards fail to imagine that climate skepticism
may create the very scenario it critiques: if any inkling of dissent serves
as an excuse to write climate change science off wholesale, scientists
might be reluctant to express it.6 Moreover, climate denial/skeptic dis-
course is often fundamentally contradictory or simply incoherent. While,
in The Politically Incorrect Guide, peer review is suspect and the outlier is
valued over the majority simply for being an outlier, climate deniers/
skeptics default to peer review and majority findings when it proves use-
ful to their cause, as in the extremely misleading Forbes report from cli-
mate skeptic James Taylor (not, fittingly, the same James Taylor who has
seen fire and has seen rain), titled “Peer-­Reviewed Survey Finds Major-
ity of Scientists Skeptical of Global Warming Crisis” (2013). Such con-
tradictions inhere within The Politically Incorrect Guide itself, as when
Bethell tells us that “this [alleged] stifling of dissent [among climate
scientists] . . . is bringing all climate research into disrepute. ‘There is a
fear that any doubt will be used by politicians to avoid action,’ [climate
change skeptic] Benny Peiser said” (2005, 15). In the upside-­down
world of the skeptic, apparently, one can both cast doubt on climate sci-
ence and voice concern that climate science could be doubted.
But might environmental scholars and activists find it in themselves
to muster some sympathy for these, shall we say, “complicated” stances?
Might we find some value in or affinity with postfactual conspiratorial-
ism, or, at least, its contrarian spirit?7 We might begin by noting that
conservatives are not the only ones to worry that environmental and sci-
entific issues are the exclusive province of an elite “priesthood.” Indeed,
many progressive critiques center on that very premise. Consider, for
instance, recent criticisms of the March for Science that point to the
history of scientific racism.8 Or consider African American musician and
writer Al Young’s assertion that “the average person can’t understand
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  43
what those Green Peace people and ecology people are driving at”
and his disclosure that, until he encountered the framework of environ-
mental justice, “I used to didn’t understand it, either. Far as I was con-
cerned, that was white yuppie stuff” (2011, 122). Similarly, white U.S.
writer and documentary film subject Colin Beavan confesses early on in
the film No Impact Man (discussed further below), “I wasn’t a trained
environmentalist”—­as if there were something like a degree or certifi-
cate in environmentalism itself. Meanwhile, white British comedian
Mark Watson confides in his comic guide, Crap at the Environment: A
Year in the Life of One Man Trying to Save the Planet (2008), “It’s often
seemed to me that to be truly interested in the environment . . . you have
to do hours and hours of homework. Washing up, going to the toilet,
buying a hat, it’s all an eco-­minefield and one I’ve tended to see as a nice
idea in theory but too complicated for my small, distractable brain” (36).
Watson recalls an awkward encounter with a friend who recommends a
website written by “actual scientists” skeptical of climate change; he re-
sponds, “‘I think, um, I think most “actual scientists” do agree the world’s
heating up. The thing is, on the net, everyone’s opinion counts for as
much as anyone else’s.’ He looked [at] me as if to say: and so what? That’s
a great thing, isn’t it?” Here, we see that climate denialism/skepticism
might be informed by a certain version of anti-­elitism—­ironically enough,
a value that many progressives hold dear.
Recent environmental humanities scholarship has also expressed
dissatisfaction with rationalist appeals to knowledge and facts, and with
other “straightforward” environmentalist approaches. For example, en-
vironmental sociologist Bronislaw Szerszynski has argued that “envi-
ronmental politics has . . . been dominated by a moral earnestness that
has gone hand in hand with its over-­estimation of the epistemic power
of science, and by a neglect of the way that meanings and values about
nature are not just socially situated and partial but also shot through
with ironies and aporias” (2007, 351–­52). Drawing on political sociolo-
gist Ingolfur Blühdorn (2004), he comments on the dynamics of com-
munication in such a scenario.
The persistence of unsustainability is due not simply to the ignor-
ance or duplicity of individuals, or even to the mere logic of the capi-
talist system, but also to a crisis in political meaning in which we are
all implicated. . . . The solution . . . is not to be found in a simple
44  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
restoration of political language’s reference to a reality outside lan-
guage, as if language is a flapping sail that can simply be re-­secured to
its mast. (338)

Szerszynski thus casts doubt on the idea that we can solve environmen-
tal problems simply by swapping out corporate or conservative “untruths”
for environmentalist “Truth”—­and on the idea that environmental prob-
lems arise in the first place because people simply do not know any bet-
ter. Roughly a half century after the dawn of postructuralism—­with its
skepticism of categories such as “Truth”—­and a few years into both the
postfactual era and the ecocritical turn toward questioning “Nature,”9
such assumptions seem naïve at best. Again, we see an ironic overlap
between very disparate groups when it comes to the tendency toward
skeptical questioning.
Importantly, Szerszynski’s work establishes a link between envi­ron­
mental/scientific knowledge and affect. First, above, we see that ratio-
nalist, science-­based epistemologies “g[o] hand in hand” with “moral
earnestness.” Second, he also invokes irony, a mode that, as I explain
in the introduction, can describe an affect or sensibility itself, or the
coexistence of multiple, contradictory affects and sensibilities. He states

the irony generally deployed in environmental and alternative globali-

sation protests is a “corrective” irony. . . . Movements reveal situational
ironies in order to shame their targets into repentance (Szerszynski,
2002: 56): Schweppes, Shell or British Nuclear Fuels, for example,
present themselves as responsible corporate citizens, but are revealed to
be otherwise. [These tactics] positio[n] the ironist as an outside observer
of the irony, on the moral high ground looking down, rather than
implicated in it. (2007, 347, emphasis added)

Such deployments of irony are often undertaken in a serious or even

sanctimonious manner, dedicated as they are to “reveal[ing]” hidden
knowledge and tending as they do to “loo[k] down”—­which would seem
to confirm skeptics’ fears of environmentalist and scientific elitism.
Meanwhile, these deployments incite, or aim to incite, a rather different
affect—­shame—­in their targets. (See chapter 5 for an in-­depth discus-
sion of shame.)
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  45
As an alternative, Szerszynski proposes “thoroughgoing irony,”
which “would involve a reflexive awareness of the limited and provisional
nature of human understanding, while at the same time not lapsing into
cynicism or quietism” (2007, 350, emphasis added). Again, the affective
scenario is implicit: the thoroughgoingly ironic environmentalist laughs
at herself, not just at others. We see this ethos in, say, Watson’s refer-
ence to his “small, distractable brain,” but not in, say, U.S. liberal come-
dian Seth Meyers’s preelection assertion that Trump’s brain “doesn’t
have room for facts and figures because it has to hold seven words”—­
“wall,” “Ivanka,” “best,” “huge,” “big,” “great,” and “tremendous,” as a
diagram illustrates (Mazza 2016). A thoroughgoingly ironic stance would,
for instance, have the comedian admit to some ignorance or culpability
on his own side. And in fact, some scholars have suggested that comedy
and laughter, as both devices and markers of group self-­congratulation
and self-­assuredness—­“social cement,” as Alison Bodkin puts it (2014,
55)—­played a direct role in Trump’s unexpected victory, indulging view­
points that would have otherwise been rejected and preventing citizens
from preparing for other outcomes. “To what extent,” film and media
studies scholar Maggie Hennefeld asks, “are comedy and laughter re-
sponsible for enabling Trump’s rise amid a pathologically entertaining
political media landscape?” (2016).
In a similar vein to Szerszynski, environmental sociologist Kari
Norgaard has cast doubt on the role that knowledge has been assumed
to play in environmental activism and discourse. In her study of a small
Norwegian town palpably impacted by, but slow to respond to, climate
change, she declares that “widespread public belief that climate change
is happening clearly contradicts the assumption that lack of information
is the key variable behind public apathy” (2011, 68)—­an assumption
known as the “knowledge-­deficit hypothesis.” And yet, as I show below,
that hypothesis undergirds the genre of environmental documentary.
Indeed, Norgaard finds that the more one knows about climate change,
the less one is likely to act—­an irony in and of itself, as I have claimed in
my introduction. As she explains, the real problem is not lack of knowl-
edge or information but how the presence of knowledge or informa-
tion can incite paralyzing emotions such as fear, helplessness, and guilt,
which then make processing and acting on that knowledge or informa-
tion difficult or even impossible. Somewhat conversely, Norgaard also
46  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
reports that, even in cases “in which people in Bygdaby lacked informa-
tion, this absence of information didn’t seem to be the limiting factor
in their reaction to climate change. [Many] individuals were concerned
about global warming, despite their confusion or missing information”
(2011, 67). In both scenarios, we see again that knowledge is connected
to affect, but in rather unexpected ways.
If climate change skeptics can face mountains of scientific data and
still be unconvinced, and if other people can be concerned about envi-
ronmental problems without fully understanding them, then knowledge
becomes something of a red herring in environmental art, activism, and
discourse. Irony is central to this scenario, as I have been suggesting.
First, the larger situation is itself ironic: conservatives and progressives
unexpectedly share many of the same concerns around environmental
knowledge, while environmental knowledge does not function in the
ways that we expect. Second, despite irony’s reputation as apolitical (see
introduction), corrective irony has played a major, though problematic,
role in environmental activism and discourse. Extending Szerszynski’s
proposal, we might imagine that environmental art could embrace thor-
oughgoing irony as an alternative, using it for purposes other than im-
parting knowledge—­say, to help us reconsider the role that knowledge
has been assumed to play in environmentalism, or to model a reality in
which environmental action takes place outside knowledge. Indeed, thor­
oughgoing irony might even constitute a kind of environmentalist ethos,
especially considering its antihierarchical bent. Next, I explore how
contemporary environmental documentary approaches knowledge and
takes up, or fails to take up, these capacities of irony.

“Prepare for More Religious Propaganda”:

Environmental Documentary and Public Discontent
Environmental documentaries, almost by definition, are didactic: they
seek to impart knowledge, facts, and information, employing tactics
such as scientific graphs and data and talking-­head-­style interviews with
experts. Accordingly, their affective stances have tended toward serious-
ness, earnestness, and prescriptiveness; as queer ecology scholar Lauran
Whitworth observes, “Tragedy is the go-­to tonal armature of environ-
mental documentaries” (forthcoming). In recent years, however, at least
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  47
a few environmental documentaries have attempted to shake off this sta-
tus quo, displaying (some) self-­awareness and (occasionally) employing
affective modes such as humor and irony. In what follows, I survey a set
of recent North American examples that spans both traditions, includ-
ing Blue Vinyl (dir. Daniel B. Gold and Judith Helfand, 2002), Super Size
Me (dir. Morgan Spurlock, 2004), Everything’s Cool (dir. Gold and Hel-
fand, 2007), An Inconvenient Truth (dir. Davis Guggenheim, 2006),10
No Impact Man (dir. Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, 2009), The Cove
(dir. Louis Psihoyos, 2009), Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling
Us? (dir. Taggart Siegel, 2010), Chasing Ice (dir. Jeff Orlowski, 2012),
and Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story (dir. Grant Baldwin, 2014). Collec-
tively, these films have received a great deal of attention, often lauda-
tory, from ecocritics and environmental humanities scholars. Meanwhile,
Peak and Idiocracy have essentially received no academic attention.11 I
turn to David Ingram for a possible explanation.
Some eco-­film critics have tended to take a moralist position in their
notion of ecocinema. Such concerns may be justified by the sense of
crisis and the subsequent need for action that informs ecocriticism.
The drawback of this stance, however, is a tendency to be overly pre-
scriptive. For [these] ecocritics, eco-­aesthetics is largely conflated with
environmental ethics, so that a good eco-­film tends to be one that the
ecocritic agrees with ethically. (2013, 57)

Peak and Idiocracy lack straightforward ethical stances, as I will show

later, making them “bad” ecofilms by the schema Ingram describes.
They question the imperative to impart knowledge; they do not pre-
scribe any particular action for the viewer to take; and they fail to make
familiar, or even comprehensible, affective appeals. Moreover, both test
formal and generic boundaries, while Idiocracy takes a lowbrow approach
to serious environmental questions. This chapter thus rectifies these
films’ absence from the scholarly literature while theorizing what
accounts for it.
An Inconvenient Truth and Chasing Ice are classic examples of didac-
tic environmental documentary. For one thing, both draw heavily on
expert knowledge. An Inconvenient Truth, as most readers know, con-
sists mainly of former U.S. presidential candidate Al Gore standing on
a stage and presenting a lecture that features scientific graphs, computer
48  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
models, and time-­lapse photography. Chasing Ice, which follows U.S.
photographer James Balog as he attempts to document glacier collapse,
showcases lectures on climate change that employ the same visual ele-
ments as Gore’s. Chasing Ice also weaves in testimony from multiple
scientists and other experts, while An Inconvenient Truth relies mainly
on Gore’s singular talking head. The films’ respective presentations of
these lectures literally divide those sympathetic to climate science and
environmentalism from the rest of the masses—­thus potentially exacer-
bating the sense of environmentalism as an exclusive club. For example,
we never see either Gore or Balog take questions from their onscreen
audience members or engage in direct conversation with critics or skep-
tics. Meanwhile, their audience members model the behaviors that we
as external audience members are no doubt supposed to mirror. In An
Inconvenient Truth, they laugh at Gore’s jokes, murmur their approval
of his claims, and tsk-­tsk along with him at the stupidity and hypocrisy
of the unconverted. Chasing Ice juxtaposes time-­lapse images of glacier
retreat with shots of viewers’ faces as they react with concern and aston-
ishment—­as with one transfixed young boy, whose dropped jaw moves
only to mouth the word “wow.”
These films thereby highlight the issue of consensus in environ-
mentalist discourse, and in ecocinema in particular. In his work on An
Inconvenient Truth, literary scholar Mark Minster reminds us that “per-
suasion is less the goal of rhetoric than identification”; therefore, “it is
not so much that films about environmental issues are trying to change
audiences’ minds, but that they are tapping into latent desires their
audiences already have to join the whole, the common” (2010, 36). Sim-
ilarly, psychologist and media scholar Ed S. Tan reports that “because
of self-­selection mechanisms, we would not expect major shifts of world-
view in the natural audience as a result of watching a movie. Natural
viewers tend to be attracted by the kind of film that fits their beliefs”
(2011, 73).12 An Inconvenient Truth depicts consensus as an already done
deal, with the presumably handpicked or at least self-­selected audience
on Gore’s side from the start. Chasing Ice briefly features one of the
converted—­a former Shell employee who quit his job after seeing Balog
give a lecture—­but does not address those who might remain unswayed.
Here, Bethell and Crichton’s conservative fears about consensus start to
look well founded.
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  49
Queen of the Sun, a U.S.-­made global survey of the decline in bee
colonies known as “colony collapse disorder,” relies less heavily on sci-
entific expertise than the two films already discussed. However, its
approach is generally didactic. For example, British beekeeper Ian tells
us, “There is a reverence to bees. There is also a reverence to the
gods. . . . Don’t you think in some way that we should actually be rever-
ing them?” Here, we as audience members are told how to feel, but we
are given no explanation for this imperative. That is, it is unclear how
our reverence could help fight colony collapse disorder—­or, put the
opposite way, how a lack of reverence for bees could have contributed to
it. Queen of the Sun is also highly sentimental and sincere in image, dia-
logue, and sound. One sequence depicts people slowly stirring honey
and holding dripping honeycombs against black backgrounds as classi-
cal music plays, while some interviewees could almost be mistaken for
characters in the U.S. sketch comedy series Portlandia: one woman
declares, “My name’s Wisteria and I’m a backyard beekeeper in Port-
land, Oregon,” while a Swedish beekeeper tells us, “I . . . see the flight
of a bee like a golden thread in the landscape, from flower to flower.”
The film ends with “Sweet Nectar,” a syrupy folk song by Omiza River
that tells us that bees “work all together in symmetrical bliss / There’s
something we humans can surely learn from this” (emphasis added; note
the focus on knowledge). Neither the film nor its participants demon-
strate any kind of self-­awareness in such moments—­and, thus, for many
audiences, it may confirm the stereotype of the hippy-­dippy, out-­of-­
touch environmentalist. Indeed, as ecomedia scholar John Parham has
shown, environmentalists become subject to ridicule because of their
perceived “lack of real world values” (2016, 1).
The sentimentality and sincerity of environmental documentaries
sometimes shades into heteronormative “purity politics,” making appeals
to the natural that potentially exclude certain viewers. In Queen of the
Sun, for instance, a beekeeper discussing artificial bee insemination
insists, “We have to raise queens again the natural way, and we have to
respect that nature is much wiser than we are.” Another beekeeper makes
an appeal for the restoration of bee colonies on behalf of his “children’s
children”; we then watch his children speak to the camera before the
filmmakers show the family heading out into the field together. And
even innovative films such as Blue Vinyl, an exposé of the environmental
50  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
dangers of vinyl siding that billed itself as the “world’s first toxic com-
edy,” frequently make solemn appeals to the natural and the normative.
Helfand tells us, “When she was pregnant with me, my mother was
given . . . DES, a synthetic estrogen that was supposed to prevent miscar-
riage. [It gave] me a rare form of cervical cancer [and subsequent infer-
tility]. After my experience . . . I figured any material [like vinyl siding]
so loaded with synthetic chemicals had to pose some kind of risk” (empha-
sis added)—­hence her investigatory interests. While Helfand turns out
to be right about vinyl siding, and while she has no doubt experienced
immense trauma, she does not distinguish between reproductive justice
and the fetishization of “natural” or “normal” reproductivity.13 The film-
makers end Blue Vinyl with an appeal in this latter vein, showing a young
white boy and girl riding their bikes past Helfand’s parents’ suburban
home, now stripped of vinyl siding and covered in real wood. The film’s
resolution, that is, centers on the symbolic restoration of the natural fam-
ily. Here, we see that the (supposed) straightforwardness so often found
in environmentalist discourse is “straight” in multiple senses of the term.
Chasing Ice and The Cove are both, to some extent, about their own
making, and thus arguably have more potential for self-­reflection and
self-­criticism than the films previously discussed. In Chasing Ice, we
watch Balog’s crew struggle in harsh conditions to install and maintain
twenty-­five cameras in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, and Montana; the
cameras will record glacier change over the next three years and pro-
duce many of the images we see in the film. In The Cove, we watch as
the filmmaking crew pursues their undercover plot to expose dolphin
slaughter in Taiji, Japan. However, these crews never engage in self-­
reflection or self-­criticism, and the films’ heist-­like plots become oppor-
tunities to aggrandize themselves as daring heroes. Nearly incapacitated
by knee surgery, for instance, a relentless Balog climbs a snowy mountain
on crutches. “Frankly, I can’t believe we actually managed to pull this
off,” he remarks later, a self-­congratulatory statement that could have
come from The Cove. Meanwhile, The Cove’s crew does not, for example,
address their similarities with the Japanese men who guard the Taiji
cove with videocameras in tow—­a failure that has led many critics and
viewers to charge the film with cultural insensitivity, if not outright rac-
ism.14 At other times, both films teeter dangerously close to unintentional
self-­parody with their sentimental overtures. In The Cove, activist Ric
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  51
O’Barry shares his tearful tale of how former show dolphin Flipper
“committed suicide” in his arms, while Chasing Ice’s Balog is reduced to
tears when he discusses a glacier “dying.” At such moments, the lack of
self-­awareness in these films may prompt the skeptical viewer to slip out
of their argumentative holds—­or even to laugh, in all the wrong ways.
Like many of the aforementioned environmental documentaries,
Super Size Me and No Impact Man center on the efforts of a few good
men. But unlike those films, they present their leads as personable, fal-
lible average Joes and adopt a relatively light-­hearted, humorous tone.
Super Size Me depicts the thirty days Spurlock spent eating only fast food
from McDonald’s, while No Impact Man depicts the year that Beavan
and his family spent reducing their ecological footprint. (While perhaps
not explicitly environmentalist, Super Size Me takes on relevant issues
including industrial food production and public health.) The same con-
ceit is found in Just Eat It, in which filmmaker Baldwin and his wife eat
only salvaged food for six months, and, of course, in Mark Watson’s
aforementioned book Crap at the Environment, in which the author gives
himself a year to improve upon his environmental citizenship.15 Though
these gimmicks make for accessible narratives, they often sweep aside the
experiences of those for whom environmentalism is a matter of neces-
sity, rather than choice, as well as the existence of grassroots, collective
movements, such as those around environmental injustice. Beavan does
grasp this latter point, but quite belatedly: fifteen minutes before its end,
the film tacks on an interview with African American activist Majora
Carter of Sustainable South Bronx, the only person of color who speaks
in this New York City–­based film.16
Surprisingly, though, No Impact Man calls its own subject out on
such counts. At one point, community gardener Mayer Vishner tells
Beavan that his work “enables [privileged] people to fool themselves,
that all they have to do is change the light bulb and recycle their plas-
tic bag. Well, as long as they feel that way, no politician will pick [the
mantle] up.” And in fact, No Impact Man embraces self-­reflection and
self-­criticism more often than any of the documentaries I survey in this
chapter. Beavan occasionally kvetches about his project being a “crock
of shit,” while several interviewees essentially confirm that idea. How-
ever, neither the storyline of the film nor Beavan’s underlying earn­
estness ultimately shift as a result. In fact, the film’s gestures toward
52  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
self-­reflection and self-­criticism often morph into self-­congratulation.
For example, when wife Michelle worries that “people hate us,” a sym-
pathetic journalist named Kerry Trueman hypothesizes that the project
“mak[es] people feel guilty and defensive about their consumer habits”—­
much as, as we have seen, other environmentalist campaigns shame cor-
porations and their customers. The film hereby does the important work
of acknowledging environmentalism’s typical affective moves, as well as
their pitfalls—­one of the main interests of this book, of course. But
Trueman’s hypothesis effectively elides the family’s responsibility for
making those unpleasant affective moves and ignores additional factors
that might be sparking public ire, such as their socioeconomic privilege.17
And the scene ends with Trueman assuring Michelle, “This [project] is
being a good American.” The film’s final scenes attempt to confirm this
self-­righteous, upbeat claim: we follow Beavan as he gives lectures to
multiple groups of students and declares that “the most radical political
act there is is to be an optimist.”
The backlash to which No Impact Man alludes has also followed
Super Size Me’s Spurlock, despite that film’s success as one of the high­est-­
grossing documentaries of all time. This backlash demonstrates wide-
spread discontent with how environmental documentaries position them­
selves with respect to viewers, specifically when it comes to knowledge.
Consider writer and comedian Gabe Delahaye’s (2011) response to The
Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock’s 2011 release about, and paid for by,
corporate advertising.

The only thesis statement less in need of proving than “fast food is
bad for you” . . . is “corporate advertising is everywhere.” If Morgan
Spurlock’s documentaries were a magazine it would put Duh Aficionado
[the fictitious magazine to which Delahaye frequently refers] out of
business. Even more importantly, though, he’s got his math upside
down. . . . It’s still going to cost me $12 to go see this in the theater,
so what the fuck do I care if the movie was paid for by sponsorship
agreements? get [POM Wonderful, the film’s sponsor] to buy my
movie ticket and then we will talk about what a great trick you
have pulled off, sir.

Delahaye voices the common view that activists turn their critical eyes
on everyone and everything except themselves, and that they fancy
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  53
themselves as knowledgeable and enlightened vis-­à-­vis the ignorant
masses. We might also note here that left-­leaning satire site The Onion
recently made similar points, perhaps even with Spurlock in mind, with
an article titled “Disturbing Fast Food Truth Not Exactly a Game-­
Changer for Impoverished Single Mom of 3” (2014). As the article
Despite the release of a new documentary exposing the disturbing
practices and adverse health effects associated with the fast food indus-
try, impoverished single mother of three Karen Ford told reporters
Thursday that the revelations . . . haven’t exactly “flipped [her] world
upside down.” “Look, I’m working two minimum-­wage jobs just to
keep my kids fed and clothed, so I can’t say I’m quite ready to throw
the playbook out the window just because the cheapest and only locally
convenient source of food happens to contain some GMOs and trans
fats,” Ford [said], noting that the film’s advocacy of cooking most
meals at home from fresh produce and sustainably raised meats hasn’t
really changed the fact that her take-­home pay is just under $400 a

The article concludes, “Ford added that she would definitely sit right
down and intently watch the full documentary the minute she had a
few hours free from her 75-­hour workweek and around-­the-­clock par-
enting duties”—­thereby speaking skeptically to the knowledge-­deficit
hypothesis. We also see here the critical value of irony: when the fic-
tional single mother promises to “sit right down and intently watch the
full documentary,” she actually means the opposite of what she says. But
to the point: if figures like Spurlock can alienate even those who are
in theory politically aligned with them—­prompting Delahaye to com-
plain that the former has “ma[de] a career out of self-­aggrandizing con-
descension” (2011)—­ then the genre of environmental documentary
clearly has a resonance problem.
Indeed, both documentary and fictional ecocinema have become
susceptible to charges of “preaching” or “sermonizing” from both the
left and the right—­again, showing ironic overlap in those groups’ senti-
ments. The difference, however, is that leftist critiques, like Delahaye’s
and The Onion’s, tend to be funny and at least somewhat self-­reflexive,
perhaps modeling what they feel to be missing in the texts in question.18
For example, in a Telegraph commentary on the 2009 environmentally
54  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
themed blockbuster Avatar, writer Lucy Jones stated that “there’s one
thing holding me back [from seeing the film]: [director] James Cameron
has come over all preachy. . . . He sees it as a ‘broader metaphor’ of how
‘we treat the natural world’ and warned that ‘we’re going to find out the
hard way if we don’t wise up.’ As soon as I read this, I . . . zzzzzzzzzzz”
(2009, second set of ellipses in original). Jones insists that the problem
lies not in her lack of environmentalist sympathies but in the dynamic
between filmmaker and viewer: “I am completely behind stopping the
destruction of rainforests and the slaughter of snow leopards (and the
like) but I’m not paying for a Hollywood sermon when I order my
popcorn.” A conservative review of the 2004 climate change–­themed
blockbuster The Day after Tomorrow (dir. Roland Emmerich, U.S.) echoes
liberal Jones, though much more sourly: “Prepare for more religious
propaganda: [The Day after Tomorrow] is the New Left’s doomsday evan-
gelism with ecology as its religion” (Holleran 2004). A political conser-
vative complaining about “religious propaganda” is, of course, an irony
in itself, though one a bit beyond the scope of this chapter.19 Didacti-
cism and preachiness may not necessarily hurt an ecofilm’s success, as
we see with Avatar and The Day after Tomorrow, but they nonetheless
contribute to negative public perceptions of environmentalism.
In addition to the humor and light-­heartedness on display in the
likes of Super Size Me and No Impact Man, some environmental docu-
mentaries occasionally flirt with irony. But they do so largely in a cor-
rective manner, thus failing to engage in self-­awareness, self-­reflection,
self-­criticism, self-­reflexivity, or self-­deprecation. We see this scenario
perhaps most clearly in An Inconvenient Truth: over and over, Gore points
out the hypocrises of antienvironmental politicians and climate change
deniers, while never admitting that his own position or that of environ-
mentalists might be fraught. For example, in one sequence, he refers to
a leaked document that revealed climate change deniers’ objective to (as
a slide with red print tells us) “Reposition Global Warming as Theory
rather than Fact.” As the camera cuts to a projection of a vintage adver-
tisement enthusing that “more doctors smoke camels than any other
cigarette,” Gore tell us that “this has happened before.” The audience
laughs and then breaks into applause. Doctors (and/or cigarette companies)
told us cigarettes were safe, but they actually weren’t! Pundits and politicians
tell us climate change isn’t happening, but it actually is! The “Aha! Gotcha!”
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  55
feel of this sequence is premised on a belief in the transparency of truth—­
which will out—­and in the inevitability of progress: one day everyone
will laugh at these climate change deniers, just as we all laugh at these
old ads. It is just that we special smart people are prescient enough to
laugh at the deniers now, rather than later.
We see the same logic at work in Gold and Helfand’s Everything’s
Cool, which, similar to their previous film Blue Vinyl, billed itself as a
“toxic comedy about global warming.” (Netflix categorizes it as both
“Dark” and “Witty.”) Its featured expert, a scientist named Heidi Cullen,
who was hired as a global warming commentator for the Weather Chan-
nel, articulates much of the film’s corrective irony. In one scene, Cullen
discusses with her producer the fact that global warming has reduced
the number of days that companies can successfully prospect for oil.
“The irony of that is not lost on us,” she tells him. Cullen then turns
to the camera and complains,

I wanted to add the word ironic there [in my newscast]. Why is it ironic?
It’s basically an education thing. In order for you to know that it’s ironic,
you have to know that greenhouse gases are a byproduct of fossil-­fuel
burning. And so then I said, how about if I say, “a global-­warming
irony is that oil-­exploration’s already been impacted”? . . . [But] that
still wasn’t clear enough. (emphasis added)

The debate continues, as her producer argues, “I just don’t know that
people will get that.” Cullen presses on, “For me it just screams out for
the word ‘irony.’” She thus fails to consider how her position as a scien-
tist affords her a kind of expertise that may alienate the average viewer.
Moreover, while her frustration may be rightfully aimed at a dumbed-­
down news culture, she does not consider how the deployment of correc-
tive irony in particular can add fuel to that cultural fire. In other words,
it is not necessarily the content of statements such as Cullen’s that is so
objectionable but the tone or disposition that accompanies them.
And indeed, on the whole, Everything’s Cool creates an us-­and-­them
dynamic, with the viewer (ideally) positioned as part of the knowledg-
able, enlightened “us.” In the documentary’s opening scene, for exam-
ple, we follow the filmmakers as they drive to a county fair in a truck
bearing the partially completed phrase “Global Warming”; they chal-
lenge passersby to complete the phrase à la Wheel of Fortune. Whether
56  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
or not we as viewers actually find this scene funny, it is structured to
play for laughs, and self-­congratulatory ones at that: since we as viewers
know the film’s topic to be global warming, we are set up to mock those
who do not know this “obvious” answer. Everything’s Cool thus exempli-
fies the classic insight that jokes function not merely to entertain but to
police social boundaries.20 This particular filmic setup, in turn, frames as
laughable the responses that Gold and Helfand gather from these white,
middle-­to lower-­class subjects—­including one man’s opinion that “I
don’t think what man does affects [the climate] a lot,” and one woman’s
conclusion that “one day . . . you’re gonna be home with [God] and this
isn’t gonna matter.” Here, Gold and Helfand’s impulse toward humor
and irony manifests itself as classist elitism. Moreover, their dismissal of
the “little guy” is particularly problematic, considering the ways in which
extractive industries such as coal and oil—­not to mention the likes of
Donald Trump—­have successfully framed their interests as coincidental
with those of the little guy, despite great evidence to the contrary.
Such tactics threaten to re-­entrench the suspicion of environmen-
talists and scientists discussed earlier—­the sense that they are arrogant,
overeducated snobs, not to mention atheists. But these tactics also work
against the films’ own structuring premises. As Everything’s Cool tells
us early on, in the early twenty-­first century, “there was an enormous
gap between what scientists knew [about climate change] . . . and what
Americans understood.” By poking fun at those who do not understand,
the filmmakers threaten to widen that gap rather than close it. Likewise,
when Gore tells us that doubt about climate change crops up in 53 per-
cent of popular press output and 0 percent of scientific literature, all he
has established is that the public and science/environmentalism are at
odds—­which is the problem in the first place. He never addresses the
issue of why people would doubt scientists/environmentalists, or what
it means that they do. His explanations for climate change apathy thus
seem rather questionable: “It takes a sudden jolt sometimes before we’re
aware of a danger. If it seems gradual . . . we’re [prone to] just sitting
there and not responding and not reacting.” As climate change manifests
itself over and over again in tangible ways, we can no longer explain the
problem as a perceived lack of impact or lack of knowledge. Similarly,
while Chasing Ice begins with Balog’s desire to give people something
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  57
that “grabs them in the gut”—­that locus of affect—­he resorts to ratio-
nalism and didacticism near the film’s end, telling an audience, “It’s real.
The changes are happening. They’re very visible. They’re photograph-
able. They’re measurable. There’s no significant scientific dispute about
that.” Thus, these films inadvertently reveal gaps in the environmental-
ist’s understanding, not (just) that of the apathetic public or climate
deniers/skeptics. This makes it all the more ironic that these films focus
on what the latter groups need to understand.
And, of course, the lack of self-­consciousness inherent in corrective
irony makes one a ripe target for criticism. Consider, for example, the
political cartoon by Gary Varvel that first appeared in the Indianapolis
Star in 2007, a year after the release of An Inconvenient Truth. The car-
toon offers an aerial view of Al Gore, decked out in a tuxedo and clutch-
ing his Oscar statuette, walking from a private airplane to a waiting
limo. The dialogue bubble reads, “I’m here to talk about global warm-
ing and reducing energy usage” ( Joyner 2007). Interestingly, the car-
toon itself literally enacts the dynamics of corrective irony; its aerial
point of view recalls Szerszynski’s description of the corrective ironist as
the “outside observer of the irony, on the moral high ground looking
down” (2007, 347). The cartoonist employs corrective irony to shame
Gore, himself a corrective ironist, for his supposed hypocrisy.
In sum, then, while affective modes such as humor and irony may
look like refreshing alternatives for the historically serious genre of envi­
ronmental documentary, they can enact the same problematic dynamics
and perceptions that have long plagued mainstream environmentalist
movements. Indeed, they may prove just as off-­putting as preaching or
doomsaying—­or may in fact be used for those purposes. Corrective irony,
in particular, seems incapable of enacting the self-­awareness and humil-
ity that, I would argue, are crucial for grappling with the present moment
of environmental crisis, not to mention for representing it. But scholars
such as Szerszynski hold out hope for thoroughgoing irony as a self-­
reflexive, anti-­elitist mode; it does not merely direct itself outward, and
does not insist on imparting knowledge or stigmatizing ignorance. Here,
I am reminded of literary theorist Kenneth Burke’s understanding of
“true irony”—­which seems closely aligned with the thoroughgoing—
as “humble, not superior to the enemy, but based upon a fundamental
58  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
kinship with the enemy” (Fernandez and Huber 2001, 28). Considering
the surprising overlaps I have highlighted between conservatives and
their progressive enemies, and climate change denialists/skeptics and
their environmentalist enemies, might some environmental films be
capable of, or interested in, such ironies?

Environmental Ambivalence:
Flat Affect, Awkwardness, and Irony in Peak
Hannes Lang’s documentary Peak demonstrates a capability for and an
interest in irony. The film focuses on the effects of climate change in
Südtirol (South Tyrol), the primarily German-­speaking region of the
Italian Alps. In short, it snows less often than in previous generations,
and the ski tourism industry has responded by installing high-­tech snow-
making systems and constructing massive water reservoirs to supply
them. The Goethe Institut, which awarded Südtirol native Lang its Doc-
umentary Film Prize for 2011, declared that Peak “distinguishes itself by
its overwhelming picture language . . . in the CinemaScope format. . . .
The film achieves [its] impact by the images alone, without any judgmen-
tal comments, with the footage showing the encroachment of industry
into century-­old cultural landscapes” (2011, emphasis added). Encroach-
ment is not treated simply as a matter of gloom and doom, and it is in
fact met with marked ambivalence in the film, as I will show. More spe-
cifically, I demonstrate how the film trafficks in thoroughgoing irony
and “unnatural” feelings such as flat affect and awkwardness—­thus both
forestalling and allowing us to reflect on the typical affective modes of
environmental documentary.
Peak does not look, sound, or feel like an environmental documen-
tary, at least not compared to the dominant strain represented by An
Inconvenient Truth, or even compared to ostensible alternatives such as
Everything’s Cool. It features no scientific graphs, timelines, computer
models, or any of the other data visualization techniques so common to
climate change documentary. The only information we receive about
the region’s changes over time comes from people’s verbal descriptions,
and the phrase “climate change” is never actually uttered. Peak features
no voiceover whatsoever and relatively little dialogue, and does not
identify any of the handful of people who do speak in the film—­mainly
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  59
blue-­collar workers and hardscrabble locals who speak in German, Ital-
ian, French, and Ladin. It includes no diegetic music, save for a few sec-
onds of discordant strings near the end—­thus obviating the emotional
stirrings and swells we find in most environmental documentaries, as
with “Before My Time,” the elegiac, anthropomorphic piano-­and-­violin
ballad sung by Scarlett Johansson that closes Chasing Ice: “I don’t want to
die alone” (Ralph 2012). Peak contains no semblance of an overarching
narrative, as opposed to the straightforward structure dictated by the
time-­delimited experiments of Supersize Me, No Impact Man, and Just
Eat It, or the looser storylines of the investigations and feats undertaken
in the likes of Blue Vinyl, The Cove, and Chasing Ice. And whereas most
documentaries strive for at least the appearance of spontaneity, realism,
and authenticity, Peak frequently highlights the stagey, the performative.
To start with the latter: the film opens on an extreme long/wide
shot of two folk singers posed on an asphalt clearing, with a giant coil
of industrial tubing lying in the foreground and a snowy ski run and
mountain looming in the background. The man sits at an instrument
and the woman stands next to him. Both are dressed in traditional garb.
After ten seconds, the camera begins to zoom in very slowly. After a few
more seconds, we can finally hear the faint strains of music and recog-
nize that the pair is actively performing. The music grows louder as the
camera continues its slow zoom. It finally comes to rest at a medium
distance away from the pair, who complete their song with a modest
flourish and then pause, smiling directly at the camera until the film cuts
to black. The entire shot lasts two minutes and seven seconds, approxi-
mately twenty-­five times as long as the four-­to six-­second shot typically
found in mainstream narrative films.21 Several other subjects in the film
appear unnaturally posed, as with a man filmed from far away who stands
before a PowerPoint slide on “Die Technische Beschneiung” (Artificial
Snowmaking) and stiffly recites information for one minute and forty-­
eight seconds, as if by memory. Such scenes feel droll, absurdist. More
specifically, there is something of the deadpan, of flat affect, in them.
For example, while the folk singers are indisputably smiling, the pro-
tracted nature of their expressions suggests impassivity or insincerity,
as if these smiles were forced. Their faces give nothing away, and their
presence is inexplicable; while of course they represent local tradition,
Lang offers no title card, no identification for these individuals, not
60  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
even an ensuing image that would somehow contextualize or narrati-
vize their presence. Who are they and what are they doing here? More
importantly, what is Lang doing with them? Should we laugh at them?
Be moved by their performance? Lang does not make any clear affective
appeal. That is, not only does Peak ask us to feel differently, vis-­à-­vis the
typical environmental documentary; it sometimes does not ask us to feel
anything in particular at all.
And here we arrive at the issue of Peak’s affect, in several senses: the
(apparent) feelings or attitudes of the humans it represents, how it seeks
(or does not seek) to make us feel, and its own feelings or attitudes (if
a film could be said to have feelings and attitudes). While I have just
highlighted the flat affect sometimes found in the film, I also want to
consider the category of awkwardness, using a two-­shot sequence focused
on blue-­collar workers. The first of the meticulously composed shots
offers a medium-­distance look at an individual man in the right fore-
ground, the widescreen lens showing three industrial snow machines
arranged at midlevel in the background. After describing the changes in
climate that he has witnessed over the past several decades, he discloses,
“In the Ötztal Alps the glaciers melt at the fastest rate. . . . We have
to try hard and if we are successful . . . Opening up earlier in the fall
means profit, publicity! We only have tourism! There is nothing else in
this valley. If it wasn’t for tourism there wouldn’t be anything down in
the valley” (second set of ellipses in original in subtitles). Lang then cuts
to a long shot of seven workers, all standing in a neat row and clad in
blue overalls. The camera stays trained on them for twelve seconds.
Statistically speaking, the latter shot is long, but it also feels long due to
its content, or lack thereof: with the men standing nearly as still as the
camera, we see no action and hear no dialogue or sound outside the faint
whisper of wind. A couple of the men are smiling slightly, while others’
faces are utterly impassive; all maintain their facial expressions without
change, in the manner of the folk singers’ frozen smiles. This shot could
actually be mistaken for a still image, were it not for the slight sway-
ing of the man on the far left. My response to this second shot, and that
of most of the audience members to whom I have shown it, is to giggle
hesitantly—­not at the workers’ expense but at the awkwardnesss of
the whole shot. That is, we feel awkward because of how awkward they
appear, and appear to feel. The sequence itself also feels awkward, or at
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  61
least performs awkwardness, in the sense of seeming ambivalent or
unsure about itself: Should I cut here? Should I keep rolling? We should also
note that, while the first shot offers the firsthand and working-­class rep-
resentation so lacking in environmental documentaries such as An
Inconvenient Truth and Everything’s Cool, this notably deadpan shot that
follows undercuts any potential for sentimentalizing that perspective.
In such moments, I recognize the thoroughgoing irony of Peak—­
specifically, its self-­awareness and self-­reflexivity. First, I claim that
sequences such as the latter draw explicit, and suspicious, attention to
documentary conventions, namely the act of displaying human bodies to
convey specific knowledge, perspectives, or values. Lang displays bod­ies
but often fails to put them to work, so to speak. Second, such sequences
draw attention to the affective appeals that environmental documen-
tary typically makes, precisely by absenting those appeals. More broadly,
Lang asks us to reflect on the complex operations of environmental affect
by putting notably flat, inscrutable, and seemingly unnatural affect on
display. He thus asks questions such as: Do we always know how to feel
or react when it comes to environmental problems? What are the forces
that teach us how to feel or react? What happens when our feelings are
ambiguous, ambivalent, or contradictory? Do we always show how we
feel? What forces prevent us from doing so?
I want to further explore the concept of ambiguous and ambivalent
affect through another notably awkward sequence that appears later in
the film. Lang compiles eight medium shots of skiers, snowboarders,

Figure 2. Industrial workers pose awkwardly in Hannes Lang’s Peak. Image

courtesy of Unafilm.
62  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
and tourists in various still poses on a snowy mountain. Like the blue-­
collar workers, these people sway slightly and even blink but otherwise
do not move their bodies or change their expressions. None of the shots
is quite as long as the aforementioned shot of the workers, but they all
still feel long due to their relative stasis—­until, in the last shot, a few ski-
ers whizz past in the background. Every time I have shown this sequence
to audiences, they laugh out loud at this specific point. Perhaps, as their
feelings of awkwardness have shaded into anxiety—­What is the point
of this sequence? And how long will it go on?—­viewers find relief in the
break of action (a break that the subjects themselves are never afforded,
at least not onscreen) and their laughter reflects that relief. Again, we
clearly see Peak’s predilection for self-­aware staginess. At the same time,
what the Goethe Institut calls the film’s “lack of judgmental comments”
allows for a fair amount of ambiguity or ambivalence here, especially
regarding what the audience is to make of the skiers, snowboarders, and
tourists. Are we to find them ironic in and of themselves? To think,
“They’re culprits, yet they look so cheerful!”? But then again, these ski-
ers, snowboarders, and tourists love the mountains, love nature and the
outdoors, or else they would not be there. They exemplify Timothy
Morton’s notion of “dark ecology”: “the contingent and necessarily
queer idea that we want to stay with a dying world” (2009, 185)—­even
if it means propping that world up artificially in the meantime. Morton’s
term “queer,” to me, nicely captures the uncanny nature of Peak’s awk-
wardness and flat affect.
I should also note here that this sequence makes a self-­reflexive,
intermedial reference to tourist photography, a tradition that Lang cap-
tures near the film’s opening, with shots of skiers taking each others’
pictures.22 Simply put, the awkward shots in this sequence play almost
as if Lang had told people he was taking their photograph rather than
filming them; smiling straight at the camera, they seem to be anticipat-
ing the click or flash that would release them from their uncomfortably
held expressions and poses. We wonder, Do these subjects know that they
are in a film rather than a photo?—­yet another moment where Peak evokes
a lack of epistemological certainty. Not only the purpose, then, but the
very ontology of these images becomes ambiguous, thanks to the film’s
own hand. These formal and stylistic choices, like the choice not to in-
clude interviewees’ names or titles, thus work to undermine the viewer’s
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  63
own knowledge and certainty. This sequence also makes patently clear
the inherent absurdity of the tourist photo genre, which entails per-
forming “authentic” emotion. But the sequence cannot be described as
an exercise in ridicule, as engaging in outwardly directed mockery or
shaming. After all, Lang has hereby put himself in the firsthand posi-
tion of the tourist-­skiers we saw earlier in the film, taking other people’s
pictures. He thus implicates himself in the same practices that his film
potentially critiques.
Environmental sociologist Mark Stoddart’s work on the ski
industry—­which, as he explains, “is often defined as particularly at risk
from climate change” (2011, 19)—­may help us further explore the
ambiguities and ambivalences of the preceding sequence, as well as its
ironies. After undertaking qualitative analysis around the ski tourism
industry in British Columbia, Canada, Stoddart finds that

the ecological ironies inherent to skiing do not pass unnoticed by the

skiers I interviewed. When asked about the “sustainability” of skiing,
most participants were quick to highlight the tensions between their
own pro-­environmental values and the anti-­ecological impacts of ski-
ing as a mode of interaction with mountain environments. (26)

For example, a skier named Frank reports, “I car-­share. I don’t own a

vehicle. Like, I car share with another friend and [clears throat] we
hardly use it. It’s just to get out of town. But the ironic thing is, the one
time I am driving, it is to go skiing [laughs], right? In the winter. And it’s
an SUV” (Stoddart 2011, 25). Stoddart points to the “environmental
ambiguity” of Frank’s position, a term that we could apply to Peak as a
whole. While, as noted earlier, the corrective ironist takes that “Aha!
Gotcha!” approach to environmental offenders, such an approach would
prove pointless in this scenario. These interviewees are neither stupid
nor unaware; they are actively grappling with their own behavior. They
seem to engage in a self-­reflexive, thoroughgoing irony themselves, as
in Frank’s rueful “laugh”—­an irony that does not leave them debilitated
with shame. Moreover, Stoddart recognizes that the interviewees are
constrained by what economists and social scientists call “path depen-
dency” (26, quoting Urry 2003): the limitations in choice that, among
other things, make car-­driving the optimal choice for many of us. Path
dependency complicates the idea of free, individual agents who can be
64  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
swayed by outside knowledge to act environmentally—­an idea that so
many environmental documentaries seem to take for granted.
Perhaps for these reasons, Peak does not seek to impart knowledge,
and, as I have hinted, it sometimes resists didacticism to the point of
being enigmatic. In addition to the shots of the workers, skiers, snow-
boarders, and tourists, many shots and sequences feel random or in-
explicable, as with one of a woman tromping in the snow with bare legs
and shoulders; we never see her again and the shot does not contribute
to any particular narrative. Other shots take a markedly long time to
make sense. For example, a two-­shot, two-­minute-­long sequence fol-
lows an older man trudging around ski lodge grounds; we do not see
his face or hear him speak until about a minute in, and it is not until
several shots later that we gather he is a maintenance man who lives
on the property. Moreover, the film subverts the typical didactic appeals
of environmental documentary with those shots in which singers, work-
ers, skiers, and others awkwardly face the camera. Whereas the likes of
An Inconvenient Truth and Chasing Ice ask us to look at them, to look at
their evidence, there Lang’s film looks back at us—­and with a deadpan
expression, defying our desire to be told what to think.
At times, Lang resists didacticism and corrective irony to the point
that certain scenes start to look like missed opportunities. For example,
he includes a shot of a priest blessing the opening of the ski season, refer-
ring to “the beauty of nature and [God’s] Creation.” While of course we
can read this blessing ironically in light of the unnatural machinations
we have witnessed in the film so far, Lang does not particularly encour-
age us to do so—­by, say, placing this shot next to a shot of snowmaking,
or otherwise cutting it in such a way that would make the priest’s state-
ments clearly laughable (though they may nonetheless be laughable to
some viewers). Similarly, one of the hardworking local farmers com-
ments, “We are always dependent on the weather, you can’t control it.”
This comment could read as ironic in the larger scheme of the film,
but Lang’s in-­depth coverage of these residents and their difficult lives
marks this statement as genuine. In the complex world Peak shows us, it
is both true and not true that you cannot control the weather: a thor-
oughgoingly ironic idea indeed.
Through such features, Peak refuses the us-­versus-­them dynamic
found in documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth, Everything’s Cool,
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  65
and Chasing Ice. It does feature one apparent climate skeptic, who states
that “various climate researchers see it as their duty to work with extreme
data in order to attract public attention.” But unlike in the aforemen-
tioned films, this figure is neither mocked nor relegated to a secondary
text such as a news clip or PowerPoint slide. And he participates in the
same snowmaking activities as the others who observe significant changes
in climate. (In fact, this man seems to occupy a higher socioeconomic
class than those who seem to believe in climate change, in contrast to
what films such as Everything’s Cool show us; however, because Lang
does not include names or titles, this detail is not entirely clear.) Lang’s
approach thus aligns with the viewpoint of another of his subjects, a local
man who reflects on the decline of farming and the rise of the ski tour-
ism industry in the region: “That’s how it is and that’s how it’s going to
stay. . . . If [the resorts] weren’t here, I’d be without work. Many people
would have no work, if these cable cars [that bring tourists up the moun-
tain] didn’t exist. We are all in the same boat. The whole population is in
the same boat.” So perhaps the irony, and the awkwardness, of the shot
sequence described earlier is that we cannot clearly sort these figures into
“us” or “them” categories, even despite the excessive space Lang gives us
to contemplate them. Ultimately, this speaker suggests, they are both.
Peak concludes with a bookending shot that recalls its droll, ironic
beginning. A woman in folk garb stands before an Alpine hut. She stares
at the camera, blinking, before finally launching into song. Other voices
join her as the camera begins to zoom out and up, eventually revealing
two other women and a green valley and mountain beyond. After the
song ends, the camera lingers awkwardly, characteristically, for several
seconds before cutting to black. But it is the shot just preceding this,
featuring an old farmwoman from the area, that perhaps best captures
the fundamental characteristics of irony, per literary scholar Arnold
What is true of irony thematically, as an “attitude,” is true of irony
structurally, as a form, as well: ironic structures achieve their effects by
frustrating traditional expectations for climax and closure. . . . Rather
than the revelation and resignation of tragedy, the reconciliation and
reintegration of comedy, or the idealistic transcendence of romance,
the ironic ending suggests that things just happen as they happen, to
no special point, or at least to no clear one. (1988, 94–­95)
66  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
As the old woman states, “That’s how it goes. . . . It’s pointless to think
about the past, things have changed by now. Life has changed, for every-
one. . . . You just have to adapt.” Placed in the larger context of her
dialogue, these remarks refer specifically to the dwindling local villages,
many of which have “turned [back] into forest”—­reminding us, signifi-
cantly, that the ski tourism industry is not the only instance in which
humans have transformed this landscape. Significantly, as well, Lang’s
own unnatural machinations, such as his pointedly posed documentary
sequences, ensure that he does not position himself simply on the side
of nature, against the unnatural machinations of the ski tourism indus-
try. However, the woman’s statements seem to describe the film’s sen­
timent as a whole: its resistance to the melancholic obsession with the
past found in documentaries such as Chasing Ice, its ambivalent approach
to the present and the future, and its refusal of both classical narrative
forms (tragedy, comedy, romance) and their associated affective modes
(gloom and doom, optimism). Perhaps, then, these statements offer a
new sort of affective philosophy by which to live in an era of climate
change—­and its denial.

Idiocracy and Average-­Joe Knowledge

Mike Judge’s Idiocracy proposes a similar philosophy, as I will show,
though in a more overtly humorous manner than Peak. As noted at the
outset of this chapter, the film takes up the complex problems of envi-
ronmental/scientific knowledge, including expertise and its potential to
alienate, and communication and its failures. To return to the scene with
which I began: when Joe tells the assembled U.S. Cabinet, “I’m pretty
sure what’s killing the crops is this Brawndo stuff,” the Secretary of State
(David Herman) seems to parrot a commercial jingle: “But Brawndo’s
got what plants crave. It’s got electrolytes.” What ensues is an absurdist
Abbott and Costello–­esque routine.
“Why don’t we just try it, okay, and not worry about what plants
“Brawndo’s got what plants crave.”
“Yeah, it’s got electrolytes!”
“What are electrolytes, do you even know?”
“It’s what they use to make Brawndo.”
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  67
“Yeah, but why do they use them to make Brawndo?”
“Because Brawndo’s got electrolytes.”

The film’s voice-­over narrator reports that, “after several hours, Joe
finally gave up on logic and reason and simply told the Cabinet that he
could talk to plants, and that they wanted water. He made believers out
of everyone.”
While this scene is clearly played for laughs, it crucially suggests
that straight-­faced, rational argumentation might be ineffective at com-
municating environmental/scientific knowledge, and that all knowledge
is in fact shaped by “belie[fs].” These suggestions resonate with recent
findings such as a Dartmouth study that demonstrates “Why Facts
Don’t Win Arguments” (Big Think Editors n.d.),23 and with a report
from New Zealand’s chief science advisor that draws on research by
U.S. molecular biologist Nina Federoff to conclude that the
origins [of anti-­scientism] are complex: partially ideological, partially
the tension that knowledge can bring to belief systems, and perhaps
spurred by the patronizing attitude many public scientists have had.
But it also reflects the discomfort that comes with the speed of techno-
logical change and scientific discovery and the simple reality that sci-
ence alone cannot address many of the complex issues that we face.
(Gluckman 2012)

In short, this scene reminds us of recent assertions that climate change,

much more than a scientific issue, is an emotional, cultural, psychologi-
cal, religious/spiritual, philosophical, and political one (see Hulme 2009).
While gags such as the one described earlier could, theoretically,
position Idiocracy’s Joe as the knowledgable, enlightened hero in contrast
to the ignorant masses—­and, thus, as a kind of surrogate for the liberal
viewer—­Idiocracy takes pains to establish our hero’s fallibility. Immedi-
ately after the voice-­over narrator reports that “he made believers out of
everyone,” he tells us that “Joe didn’t know it, but the beloved electro-
lytes were salts that had been building up in the topsoil over the decades,
killing plants and leading to the dustbowl” (emphasis added). Indeed,
one of the most striking features of the film is how relentlessly it insists
on the inexpertise and gaps in knowledge of its hero, often through
irony of various kinds: dramatic (as above), verbal, situational, and visual
(as below). For example, as the narrator introduces Joe as “a simple
68  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
army librarian,” a tracking shot swoops across rows of library stacks to
reveal him sitting at his desk, looking intently down at his lap. While this
verbal and visual data sets us up to assume that Joe is reading, a cut reveals
a small TV set hidden beneath a stack of books, playing an episode of
the trashy reality TV program Cops. And even in 2505, wherein Joe is
found to be “the smartest man in the world,” we are reminded of his
relative ignorance. When President Camacho offers him the position of
Secretary of the Interior (an environmentally significant post, of course),
Joe protests, “But I don’t know how to be the secretary of anything. I’ve
never even voted!” Meanwhile, a long-­running joke involves Joe’s con-
tinued misperception that Rita, a prostitute plucked from the streets for
the government hibernation experiment, is actually a painter—­a misper-
ception that no one has the heart to correct. Like Peak, Idiocracy thereby
complicates the us-­versus-­them dynamics that ecocinema so often sets
up. As Joe confides to Rita, while planning to return home via a time
machine that his lawyer Frito Pendejo (Dax Shepherd) has informed
him of, “I can’t believe I’m even saying this, but even though these
people tried to kill me”—­in a monster truck–­style arena spectacle as
punishment for switching out the Brawndo, before his watering scheme
proved successful—­“I’m actually gonna kinda miss ’em.”
Unlike Peak, Idiocracy follows a clear narrative arc—­one that, I pro-
pose, can be understood as a kind of political bildungsroman. When we
first meet Joe in the army library in 2005, his apathy is clear. An officer
summons him for a new assignment that will turn out to be the hiber­
nation experiment, but he begs to stay, noting that if he continues as
librarian for eight years, he will receive his pension. “Why me?” Joe
gripes, after the officer insists. “Every time [Sargeant] Metsler says,
‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way,’ I get out of the way.” The exasper-
ated officer groans, “When he says that, you’re not supposed to choose
‘Get out of the way.’ It’s supposed to embarrass you into leading or at
least following.” “That doesn’t embarass me,” Joe mutters—­an interest-
ing, though perhaps inadvertent, rejoinder to the shaming mechanisms
so often associated with environmentalist and other political campaigns.
The phrase “lead, follow, or get out of the way” recurs in different forms
throughout the rest of the film, each indicating a shift in Joe’s motiva-
tion. After discovering Brawndo’s use in irrigation, the narrator intones,
“Joe took a bold step. He would not get out of the way. He would lead.”
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  69
And finally, when Joe threatens to return home via the time machine,
thus leaving other environmental and economic problems unsolved,
Presi­dent Camacho demands, “Whatever happened to all that ‘lead,
follow, or get outta the way’ shit, huh?” Through a shot/reverse shot
sequence, the film finds Joe surveying the faces of his inept, beseeching
Cabinet members and sidekick Rita, while (mock-­)stirring music plays.
“I guess I just can’t get outta the way anymore, can I?” Joe muses. “For-
get about the time machine!” The crowd cheers.
I find this narrative arc, while clearly silly, to be significant in light
of the problems of environmental/scientific knowledge outlined earlier.
First, the film creates in Joe a specifically average character; as the army
officer leading the hibernation experiment states, “Mr. Bauers was cho-
sen for how remarkably average he is. Extremely average in every cate-
gory. Remarkable, truly.” The film thus takes environmental issues out
of the province of the expert and the elite and gives us an environmen-
talist hero who is more relatable than the so-­called Goracle of An Incon-
venient Truth,24 or, to take a fictional example, the paleoclimatologist of
The Day after Tomorrow. Second, the film suggests that extensive knowl-
edge and education are not required for environmental action; after the
voice-­over narrator explains the history of how Brawndo came to replace
water, he tells us that “Joe didn’t know any of this, but he did see a problem
that he might actually be able to solve” (emphasis added). Rather than
tracking an individual’s education and subsequent transformation into a
knowledgeable expert/activist—­the outcome that so many environmen-
tal documentaries seem to imagine—­the film tracks an individual’s real-
ization that he already possesses what he needs to do environmentalist
work: a mixture of qualities such as common sense, intuition, empathy,
confidence, good humor, and patience. As the film closes, the narrator
concludes, “Maybe Joe didn’t save mankind. But he got the ball rolling,
and that’s pretty good for an average guy.” Idiocracy insists that the envi-
ronmentally conscious guy is the average guy, not his enemy, and cham-
pions an environmental inexpertise that is not reducible to populism or
And then there’s the matter of that time machine. After Joe promises
to “forget about [it],” the film stages an ironic reveal: “That ride sucks
anyway,” the teenaged Secretary of Energy (Brendan Hill) declares.
“Ride?” Joe asks. A quick cut finds Joe, Frito, and Rita on a carnival
70  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
attraction called “The Time Masheen,” which takes them through a
hilariously garbled version of global history: “[In] 1939 . . . Charlie
Chaplin and his evil Nazi regime enslaved Europe and tried to take over
the world.” Like Joe, many viewers may have been ignorant about the
true nature of the “time machine.” At least, I was. Here, the film encour-
ages us to laugh at ourselves, to see ourselves as at least somewhat
similar to those who would confuse Chaplin’s fictional character in The
Great Dictator (dir. Charlie Chaplin, 1940, U.S.) with the real-­life Adolf
Hitler. That is, in suspending our disbelief about the pseudoscience that
underpins the whole plot—­two people are cryogenically frozen and re-
awaken five hundred years later—­we may have also suspended our dis-
belief about the pseudoscience of time travel. At this point, the film also
upends the narrative we thought we had been following: a classical Aris-
totelian arc that would return Joe, and us as viewers, to the sane and
familiar world of the past, as in films such as The Wizard of Oz (dir. Vic-
tor Fleming, 1939, U.S.), Alice in Wonderland (dir. Clyde Geronimi et
al., 1951, U.S.), or, well, The Time Machine (dir. George Pal, 1960, U.S.).
In this sense, while clearly a comedy, Idiocracy does not offer comedy’s
typical “reconciliation and reintegration” (Krupat 1988, 95) but, rather,
more of a conciliation and integration.
Importantly, Joe agrees to stay in the garish, degraded world of 2505
before he learns that there is no deus ex time machina to save him. He
freely, and cheerfully, chooses to “stay with a dying world”—­to invoke
Morton again—­and with its idiotic people.25 Moreover, his decision to
reject the time machine entails a refusal to idealize the past—­a tendency
seen so often in mainstream environmental art, activism, and discourse—­
and a willingness to adapt to the future. Delivering his presidential in-
auguration speech near the film’s end, in front of a sponsorship sign for
“Uhmerican EXXXpress (Don’t Leave Home),” Joe adopts the politi-
cally incorrect language of the era even as he argues for enlightened
principles: “There was a time in this country . . . when reading wasn’t
just for fags, and neither was writing. . . . And I believe that time can
come again!” (The statement’s potential idealization of the past is under-
cut not only by the ridiculous wording but also by the fact that Joe
himself never actually read in the past, as the scene in the army library
so pointedly establishes.) He then extends both of his middle fingers to
the cheering crowd, a good-­natured embrace of 2505’s version of the
“I’m No Botanist, But . . .”  |  71
thumbs-­up. Idiocracy’s fictional ending thus embodies, in a goofy, utterly
unprofound way, the profound philosophy found at the end of the docu-
mentary Peak: “It’s pointless to think about the past, things have changed
by now. . . . You just have to adapt.”26

I began this chapter by introducing the problems of environmental/

scientific knowledge—­including elitist, alienating expertise and ineffec-
tive communication—­and their affective dimensions, including earnest-
ness, sanctimony, and seriousness. I have suggested, perhaps controver-
sially, that the recognition of these problems might prompt us to take
climate skepticism/denialism seriously—­or, as it were, unseriously. While
much ecocinema, particularly environmental documentary, seems to
exacerbate the aforementioned problems, I have offered two alternative
examples. Both Peak and Idiocracy embrace thoroughgoing irony as a
way to oppose the aforementioned brand of expertise, and to enact the
self-­awareness and self-­reflection so often lacking in environmental art.
Moreover, these films do not insist on a knowledgeable viewer or pro-
tagonist, thereby questioning the absolute necessity of knowledge for
environmental action. Both seem to accept the “limited and provisional
nature of human understanding” (Szerszynski 2007, 350), without assum-
ing that those circumstances should hold us back. As Idiocracy argues,
most of us already possess what we need in order to act.
In this way, both films seems to chime with recent civic develop-
ments in the United States and elsewhere, including the move toward
“citizen science”: what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology defines as “any-
thing from citizens observing natural events . . . to a genuine revolu-
tion in ‘science’ that democratizes the important social role of learning
about the world around us” (n.d.). Frederick Buell’s insight on crisis
discourse proves crucial here: such discourse “leads . . . to the belief that
only elite-­and expert-­led solutions are possible. . . . [Such discourse]
depoliticizes people, inducing them to accept their impotence as individ­
uals” (2003, 201, drawing on Barry 1999). Idiocracy in particular paints
the opposite scenario.
While Peak and Idiocracy thus make a generative pairing, their dif-
ferences must be acknowledged. One is a stylized work with relatively
limited circulation, while the other is an accessible piece of “low environ-
mental culture,” made in the dominant global lingua franca of English.
72  |  “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”
Moreover, while I at first playfully suggested that both be regarded as
documentaries—­especially considering how Idiocracy has captured with
stunning accuracy the specific problems of environmental/scientific
knowledge faced by the United States and many other nations—­Peak is
clearly the documentary, generically speaking, and Idiocracy a fictional
comedy. But, as I have described, Peak pushes the conventions of docu-
mentary to the fraying point—­perhaps making us wonder if this, and not
Idiocracy, is the whimsical addition to the category. In fact, I have pro-
posed that Peak be understood as an “unnatural documentary.” Here, I
would like to summarize the three different ways we might think of its
“unnaturalness,” and their larger implications. First, rather than striving
for documentary realism, the film frequently engages in clearly artifi-
cial, staged scenarios. It thereby speaks skeptically, again, to the role of
knowledge and truth in environmentalist contexts. Second, it seems to
resist Ed S. Tan’s (2011) notion of a “natural audience,” insofar as it does
not preach to the converted and insofar as it refuses to draw clear distinc­
tions between “us” (the audience) and “them” (our opponents). Finally,
the notion of a specifically environmental documentary as “unnatural”
captures both the film’s deeply ironic approach and the larger ironies of
climate change, as described in my introduction.
While I would hesitate to suggest that these films can help solve
the problems of environmental/scientific knowledge, it is clear that they
do many other things in the world. First, they give rare voice to the
unclear, unexpected, or “useless” feelings—­the ambiguity, the ambiva-
lence, the emotional stagnation—­that crises like climate change trigger.
And in fact, I would argue that Peak’s formal modeling of being unsure
of itself, even if a performative act, captures both the ambivalence and
the humility so often lacking in mainstream environmental art, activism,
and discourse. That is, in the frequent moments where the film seems
as if it does not know what it is doing, it allows us to reflect on our own
confusion about how to proceed. Finally, both films model an adapt-
ability that constrasts greatly with the sentimentality and nostalgia so
often found in ecocinema. We cannot go back, both films acknowledge,
so how do we live now? While they give us few answers, perhaps the
very question is more than enough for us to consider.

“so much to see,

so little to learn”
Perverting Nature/Wildlife Programming

Honestly, how long do you ever really rest on the nature

shows?—­one good chase and kill by the lion and, click, it’s off to
—­David Gessner, Sick of Nature

No way, [it’s] David Hasselhoff [from Baywatch]!

—­Wildboyz, season 4, “California” episode

After American entertainer Steve-­O left his job as a clown in a flea

market circus, he shot to fame with his role in the MTV reality stunt
series Jackass (2000–­2002), later developed into a successful, ongoing
film franchise. Steve-­O’s greatest Jackass hits include setting off fire-
crackers from between his buttocks and getting tattooed while hanging
from the back of an off-­roading truck. But recent times have seen him
engaged in much more politicized endeavors. Reportedly inspired by the
documentary Blackfish (dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013, U.S.), which
condemns amusement parks for keeping orcas in captivity, Steve-­O
scaled a San Diego freeway exit sign in 2014 and defaced it to read, “Sea
World Sucks.”
Steve-­O’s recent path is perhaps less surprising when we consider
his participation in the Jackass spinoff Wildboyz. Featuring fellow Jackass
alumnus Chris Pontius—­who, like Steve-­O, eschews meat eating1—­
Wildboyz ran on MTV and partner channel MTV2 for four seasons
between 2003 and 2006. The program marries the Jackass penchant for
shock tactics to an interest in animals and the environment, following
Steve-­O and Pontius as they travel to various global locales, interact

74  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
with nonhuman creatures, and participate in local cultural practices.2
Wildboyz also shares with Jackass the same creator in Jeff Tremaine, the
same episode format (“relatively autonomous scenes following upon
each other, each one showing a trick or stunt being performed” [Lind-
gren and Lélièvre 2009, 398]), and same general spirit: like Jackass,
Wildboyz “test[s] the borders of acceptable behavior . . . [as its partici-
pants] violate standards of good taste . . . but also engag[e] in bodily
transgressions that [are] intimate and often invasive” (Kosovski 2007, 1).
A representative Wildboyz bit, for example, features an otherwise-­naked
Pontius filling his thong with nuts and availing himself to a Great Curas-
sow bird, which pecks at his pecker, as it were, and then goes for his
nipple (“Belize” episode). “She thought my nipple was a nut. What kind
of a woman is she?!” Pontius deadpans.
Two years after Wildboyz ended, a kindred media phenomenon was
launched at the Sundance Film Festival: Green Porno (2008–­9, dir. Isa-
bella Rossellini and Jody Shapiro, U.S.), a multimedia project focused on
nonhuman sexuality, reproduction, and bodily functions. The brainchild
of Isabella Rossellini—­actor, writer, director, model, and, as of late, mas­
ter’s degree student in conservation and animal behavior (Chai 2013)—­
Green Porno encompasses eighteen very short films that aired in three
series on SundanceTV beginning in 2008 (now available on YouTube
and the SundanceTV website); a HarperCollins book of the same name
featuring still photos, text, and a companion DVD of all the films (Ros-
sellini 2009); a 2013 series of live performances titled Green Porno: Live
on Stage; and a 2015 documentary about the live performances, Green
Porno Live. (A spinoff series titled Seduce Me, about animal mating ritu-
als, and Mammas, about animal parenting, followed on SundanceTV.)
The project consists mainly of Rossellini performing in front of point-
edly artificial backdrops while wearing exaggerated and stylized animal
costumes—­all crafted out of materials such as paper, foil, and fabric. For
example, in one film Rossellini appears in a white mesh cone, making
the droll declaration, “If I were . . . a squid . . . I would squirt black ink
from my anus so that I can disappear.”
Wildboyz and Green Porno, as one might suspect by this point, defy
many classic nature/wildlife programming conventions.3 Cultural an-
thro­pologist Luis Vivanco summarizes those conventions as such:
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  75
a didactic stance involving the use of paternalistic and disembodied
male voiceover narration; the close association of the film’s knowledge
claims with scientific authority, although scientists are rarely visible;
situating the viewer as an observer, not interpreter; a narrative style
that . . . often focus[es] on an individual member of a species; and
decontextualized visions of sublime nature devoid of humans. (2013,

Wildboyz has human “stars” who are clearly not scientific experts or
experts of any kind, as so often indicated by their inept behavior; they
slip, fall, hurt themselves, and get unheroically hurt by others, especially
nonhumans, such as when Steve-­O gets “busted up” by a baby orangu­
tan’s stick-­throwing and has to address the camera with blood dripping
down his face. The program does occasionally feature locals and experts,
but these figures serve either as straight men or women or, more often,
join in on the madness—­such as when a Kenyan park ranger accompa-
nies the Boyz on a silly song about snakes. The show also employs the
so-­called MTV style of editing, meaning that we do not focus on any
one type of animal for any sustained period. And when Wildboyz does
follow certain conventions, it does so in a parodic manner. For instance,
Welsh actor Jonathan Rhys-­Davies’s exaggerated voice-­over mocks the
“paternalistic and disembodied” and, we should add, British, “male voice-­
over narration” that has long been a recognizable feature of wildlife
programming, thanks in no small part to Sir David Attenborough. Green
Porno is likewise unconventional, replacing that “paternalistic and dis-
embodied male voice-­over narration” with Rossellini’s internationally
accented voice, highly embodied performance, and a sensibility that
ranges from the humorously passionate to the humorously deadpan. But
perhaps its most striking feature is its artificial, handmade aesthetic,
which challenges viewer expectations for “visions of sublime nature
devoid of humans.”
While Wildboyz’s and Green Porno’s relationship to genre is crucial
to my discussions in this chapter, I move beyond formal questions to
highlight how they also defy the affective conventions that accompany
those formal conventions. As media scholar Cynthia Chris points out,
“Classic wildlife programming generally takes a serious tone, as it warns
gravely of the inevitable extinctions brought on by habitat destruction,
76  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
poaching, pesticides, and other perils. [Program hosts such as Steve]
Irwin, [ Jeff] Corwin, and the Kratts may use humor now and then, but
they are earnestly awed by their animal subjects” (2012, 166, emphasis
added). But to clarify the broader implications of this defiance, I must
first establish how Wildboyz and Green Porno could be construed as
undertaking environmentalist work in the first place—­a controversial
claim, to some ears. Namely, they impart (limited) information about
nonhuman animals and (occasionally) express concern for the human-­
made problems those animals face, such as habitat destruction, overfish-
ing, and light pollution. For example, in season 2’s “Florida” episode,
the Boyz prepare to stage a race with a group of baby loggerhead sea
turtles, all five species of which are currently endangered or threatened
due to lighting on beachfront housing developments—­which, as the
Boyz explain, disrupts reproductive patterns. Pontius tells the audience
in a hushed, mock-­reverent tone, “We have to film this with our special
night vision cameras, so as to not disorient the turtles. They get con-
fused very easily. Some would call them idiots.”
As Pontius’s addendum suggests, Wildboyz not only lacks typical en-
vironmentalist affects and sensibilities—­here, reverence for nonhuman
animals—­it gleefully flouts them, even as it undertakes what many would
consider environmentalist work. A Green Porno book segment (which has
a slightly different short film counterpart) titled “Bon Appétit! Shrimp”—­
stylized such that “tit!” appears on its own line—­does similar work.
After Rossellini-­as-­shrimp presents facts such as “When little I would
be male . . . But when fully grown I would change sex into a female,” the
segment introduces the issue of bycatch: “For every one shrimp caught
ten other lives are lost” (Rossellini 2009, n.p.). The following still photo
shows Rossellini-­as-­human holding a shrimp constructed of art paper,
below a thought bubble that reads, “I just lost my appetite” (n.p.). Her
bemused expression and the fake shrimp’s kitsch appearance temper the
seriousness of the factual evidence presented, while simultaneously
rerouting the functions of disgust. It is not, say, the hermaphroditism of
shrimp that the human figure finds repulsive but rather their exploitation.
This chapter focuses primarily on Wildboyz, with comparative dis-
cussions of the first two series of Green Porno and its book version. I
begin with a metacritical section, demonstrating how scholarship on
nature/wildlife programming tends to favor media texts with “proper”
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  77
affect and a strict moralist bent, and to itself be proper and moralist. I
also show that such scholarship is deeply troubled by the constructed
character of mainstream nature/wildlife programming. I suggest that
these tendencies explain the paucity of scholarly attention to texts such
as Wildboyz and Green Porno. I then discuss the texts themselves, through
the broad lens of “perversity”: I show how they pervert the affective,
aesthetic, and moralist conventions of nature/wildlife programming
through their self-­conscious constructedness; their irreverence toward
the nonhuman world; their delight in the obscene, queer, and repulsive
features of animals; and, finally, through their practices of non-­knowledge
and distraction. (In terms of self-­conscious constructedness and non-­
knowledge in particular, these texts have much in common with Idiocracy
and Peak, two films discussed in the previous chapter.) Wildboyz and
Green Porno thereby challenge what performance studies scholar Wallace
Heim calls the “conformity in how one is supposed to ‘do’ nature-­human
relations” (2012, 212)—­suggesting that modes such as irreverence and
ignorance do not necessarily oppose care for the nonhuman but might,
in fact, constitute a form thereof. I thus position these texts as test cases
for an interrelated set of questions: What would it look like to “do”
environmentalism or environmental scholarship without love, or at least
without lovingness? What would happen if we stopped looking at the
nonhuman natural world with wonder and awe? What if we liked ani-
mals and nature for their queerness or repulsiveness, not their nobility
or beauty? What if environmental activists and scholars stopped advo-
cating for education and explored, if only temporarily, ignorance?

Nature/Wildlife Programming and Moralist Criticism

The academic scholarship on both Wildboyz and Green Porno has been
virtually nonexistent heretofore, with the exception of a few essays
and some dismissive mentions in pieces on other media texts.5 When it
comes to Wildboyz, one could attribute this treatment to the program’s
youthful intended audience or its general lack of sophistication. But
those same features have not stopped ecocritics, ecocinema scholars, or
other academics from writing about children’s environmental program-
ming (Sturgeon 2009), environmentally themed animation (Whitley
2008, 2014; Murray and Heumann 2011; Starosielski 2011; Heise 2014),
78  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
or the environmental dimensions of lowbrow, popular films such as The
Fast and the Furious (Murray and Heumann 2009) and Texas Chain Saw
Massacre (Soles 2013). And if one considers Wildboyz and Green Porno
to be relatively obscure—­despite the fact that the former’s four-­season
run has enjoyed international distribution thanks to MTV affiliates and
the internet and the latter has “received four million hits, becoming a
viral Internet sensation” (Sinwell 2010, 120)—­the fact remains that
many ecocritics and ecocinema scholars are drawn to obscure texts, such
as the experimental, nature-­oriented films of Peter Greenaway and Peter
Hutton (Willoquet-­Maricondi 2003, 2005; MacDonald 2013, respec-
tively). Finally, while Wildboyz’s affiliation with the powerful MTV cor-
poration and Green Porno’s role in the Sundance Group’s bid to corner
the so-­called fourth-­screen market of cell phones and other mobile de-
vices (Sinwell 2010, 123) could in theory be a turnoff, the extent to which
megacorporate, blockbuster films such as, say, Disney/Pixar’s WALL-­E
(dir. Andrew Stanton, 2008, U.S.) (e.g., Murray and Heumann 2011;
Garrard 2012; Brereton 2014) or Avatar (dir. James Cameron, 2009,
U.S.) (chapters in B. Taylor 2013) have been discussed, and praised,
by many scholars suggests that production pedigree is not necessarily a
So what really accounts for the critical status of Wildboyz and Green
Porno? We can look to one of those dismissive mentions for answers.
In a recent essay on the documentaries Sweetgrass (2009, U.S.), directed
by Lucien Castaing-­Taylor, and Grizzly Man (2005, U.S.), in which
Werner Herzog curates the footage of amateur naturalist Timothy
Treadwell after Treadwell’s death by bear, ecocritic Jennifer K. Ladino
lauds those films’ ability to

decente[r] a speciesist perspective through . . . the following tactics:

allowing human and nonhuman animals to co-­inhabit the cinematic
space; showing nonhuman animals “watching back”; minimizing (or
destabilizing) human language; and including zoomorphic footage
and commentary that remind human viewers of our own animality.
(2013b, 131)

With the possible exception of minimizing human language, Wildboyz

also does all of the above. The human hosts regularly share frame space
with nonhumans; nonhuman animals are regularly shown to be watching
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  79
back and even striking back; and the program’s focus on both human
and nonhuman genitals and bodily functions reminds viewers of our
own animality, or at least that of Steve-­O and Pontius. And yet Ladino
writes the show off immediately after introducing it, stating, “Unlike . . .
programs like Wildboyz, where animals and humans also share cinematic
space, . . . Treadwell isn’t there to play; [he] consider[s] [himself] to be
doing important work on behalf of wild animals” (2013b, 138). But is
it not in acts such as play that humans appear most like animals, and in
fact are revealed to be animals themselves? And, thus, is the relentlessly
playful Wildboyz not in fact particularly relevant for a discussion of
human–nonhuman interaction, perhaps even more so than the likes of
Sweetgrass or Grizzly Man? And yet the latter have commanded much
critical appraisal and the former very little.
Ladino’s dismissal of Wildboyz is, most likely, simply an attempt to
limit the scope of her very thoughtful investigation. But we might take
it as an opportunity to think about larger, arguably problematic tenden-
cies within ecocriticism—­namely, a prevailing moralism accompanied
by rigid affective norms. This moralism leads scholars to assume that
“play” is incompatible with “doing important work,” or at least with
considering yourself to be doing important work. And it leads them to look
in the first place toward artworks that they assume are “doing important
work”—­usually meaning that these artworks are engaging in some kind
of education or advocacy around animals or the environment, in a man-
ner that is sincere or serious. This moralist strain presumes, further, that
such texts lead to effective environmental outcomes. I want to return
here to David Ingram’s description of ecocinema studies, quoted in my
introduction: “Some eco-­film critics have tended to take a moralist posi-
tion in their notion of ecocinema. . . . The drawback of this stance . . .
is a tendency to be overly prescriptive. . . . Eco-­aesthetics is largely con-
flated with environmental ethics, so that a good eco-­film tends to be
one that the ecocritic agrees with ethically” (2013, 57)—­and, I would
add, affectively. “Yet this prescriptive moralism could be challenged,”
Ingram continues. “Instead of risking an off-­putting worthiness and
political correctness, eco-­film in this mode could celebrate transgres-
siveness, provocation, and the Bakhtinian carnivalesque” (57). Wildboyz
and Green Porno, like most of the works in my archive, act out Ingram’s
hypothetical scenario.
80  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
Moralism seems to be particularly trenchant in discussions of nature/
wildlife programming. Consider, for example, media scholar Derek
Bousé’s declaration that

the use of formal artifice such as varying camera angles, continuity

editing, montage editing, slow-­motion, “impossible” close-­ups, voice-­
over narration, dramatic or ethnic music, and the like should by no
means be off limits to wildlife filmmakers, but by the same token we
should not avoid critical reflection on the overall image of nature and
wildlife that emerges, cumulatively, from the long-­term and systematic
use of such devices. . . . Repeated exposure to nature and wildlife through
a shroud of cinematic conventions may make us less, not more, sensitive to
it. (2000, 8, emphasis added)

Here, Bousé takes an instrumentalist approach to art—­implying its

obligation to make us more “sensitive.” More germane to my point, he
dips into moral-­ panic rhetoric, his grave language echoing public-­
service campaigns against drugs (“long-­term and systematic use”) or
risky sex (“repeated exposure”). (Many of us, sadly, have already been
systematic users of, and have been repeatedly exposed to, wildlife films,
perhaps to the point of no return.) As media scholar Claire Molloy
states, “[Bousé’s] are not isolated concerns” (2011, 68); they are echoed,
for example, by scholars such as Nigel Rothfels, who complains in his
introduction to Representing Animals that “the basic conceit of most
nature films [is that] no one (much less an extensive crew) stands behind
the camera and that what we see before the camera is an unmediated,
unedited experience of ‘Nature’” (2002, x). And, of course, we can see
similar concerns in environmental art as well, as with the Wendell Berry
poem discussed in my introduction. There, Berry laments a tourist who
makes “a moving picture of a moving river” (2012) and, therefore, has a
less authentic, less participatory experience.
Two major tendencies come into focus, as it were, with these dis­­
cussions. First is a disdain for “artifice” or the constructed, and a con-
verse privileging of a “pure,” authentic nature. Second is the lack of
credit given to viewers for their critical thinking abilities. These tenden-
cies arguably contribute to the wider public view of environmentalists as
condescending and elitist. After all, who among us does not know or at
least suspect that nature/wildlife programming is mediated and edited?
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  81
Since MTV essentially invented reality TV as we know it with the first
season of The Real World in 1992, has anyone watched any reality-­based
programming thinking it has gone unmediated and unedited? The
MTV-­produced, hyper-­self-­aware and hyper-­self-­reflexive Wildboyz—­
which, among other things, features both cast and crew talking openly
about how they stage shots—­is thus a particularly important text to
consider: it trades on the media savvy of a generation that understands
quite clearly that reality TV is not “pure” or “direct” cinema but an
artistic genre of its own, with a unique mix of scripting and spontane-
ity. (I discuss its constructedness in further detail in the next section.)
That is to say, more specifically, Wildboyz is a nature/wildlife program
premised on the awareness that nature/wildlife programming does not
represent “nature” as it “really” is—­or, perhaps better, that admits that
such a thing is impossible and perhaps even undesirable. Critics like
Bousé and Rothfels should then, in theory, be pleased by the program’s
self-­aware forthrightness, if not by its other elements. But the kind of
moralism I have been discussing here may, I suspect, keep them away
from it.
I want to take things one step further by arguing that moralism is
inextricably bound up with certain affective norms. Thus, I suspect that
Wildboyz is off-­putting to certain audiences because its “bad” affective
tendencies are understood to signal a kind of moral failing—­or, at least,
irrelevance to environmental or ecocritical issues. Ironically, then, it
may be the case that some environmentalists and ecocritics care more
about affect than content. The perceived affective/moral failures of the
program, of course, cannot be separated out from the question of genre.
Film scholar Bill Nichols has established that a “discours[e] of sobriety”
(1991, 3) has traditionally defined documentary media. Similarly, Susan
Murray has described attempts to divide vérité programming into “good”
(documentary) and “bad” (reality TV) categories.
There are programs that have been classified rather definitively by crit-
ics as documentaries that look—­in terms of their aesthetics and narra-
tive structure—­quite similar to . . . docusoaps. . . . In the United States,
the public television series An American Love Story . . . and A Farmer’s
Wife . . . for instance, followed the American Family model quite closely,
yet they were never considered to be reality TV. Therefore, there
must be characteristics beyond narrative form and aesthetic qualities
82  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
that help critics and viewers define such programs. Indeed, much of
our evaluative process is based on the belief that documentaries should
be educational or informative, authentic, ethical, socially engaged,
independently produced, and serve the public interest, while reality
TV programs are commercial, sensational, popular, entertaining, and
potentially exploitative and/or manipulative. (2004, 42–­43)

Here, I want to propose that those “characteristics beyond narrative

form and aesthetic qualities” include affect. Wildboyz’s “bad” affect allows
it to be easily written off as “bad” reality TV, even as it engages in docu-
mentary (and environmentalist) work.
In theory, animal studies scholars—­a group that overlaps, but is not
equivalent with, ecocritics and ecocinema/ecomedia scholars—­would
also find texts such as Wildboyz and Green Porno to be of interest, for
how they invite critical examinations of the human/nonhuman divide.
But when some animal studies scholars imagine the overcoming of that
divide, they seem to imagine something very different from these texts.
Marianne DeKoven, for example, declares that

anthropomorphism . . . is . . . steadily being supplanted by research

that shows many species of animals to have affect and . . . high intelli-
gence. . . . The strictures against sentimentality that forbid empathy for
other animals . . . are also more and more being replaced by an aware-
ness of the intricate and massive interdependence between humans
and other animals. (2009, 366)

Wildboyz and Green Porno certainly trouble the assumption that anti­
sentimentality forbids empathy for other animals, and, conversely, the
suggestion that sentimentality best enables empathizing—­if by empa-
thizing DeKoven means viscerally understanding the drives, needs, and
pain of another. Indeed, it is only when the Boyz throw off sentimen­
tality and reverence—­when they make jokes; horse around; expose their
tender flesh to beaks, claws, maws, and, in one particularly memorable
case, a fishhook—­that they can bear direct witness to those drives, needs,
and pain.
What I am trying to highlight here, then, is a recursive loop in
which scholarship replicates textual values, with scholars embracing
the same affective modes as those texts’ producers and assuming that
those are the only, or at least the ideal, modes. We might see this loop
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  83
at work in environmental historian Gregg Mitman’s autobiographical
musing that

by eliciting an emotional relationship with wildlife on screen (who

among us did not long for a pet dolphin just like Flipper?), film
strengthened my desire to make intimate contact with animals in the
wild. And by encouraging a sense of wonder and intrigue, natural his-
tory film instilled a passion for biology and the natural environment
that motivates me to this day. ([1999] 2009, 207)

Similarly, William Cronon observes in his foreword to Mitman’s book

that “persuading audiences to care about an animal . . . requires a film-
maker to discover something in that animal that renders it intriguing
or surprising or sympathetic, or some other quality that makes us want
to know it better and follow its story” (2009, xiv). Here, emotion is
implicitly defined as positive; Mitman and Cronon clearly have “good”
affective responses to nature such as awe, wonder, love, sensitivity, con-
cern, curiosity, and appreciation in mind, not, say, irreverence (and
much less anxiety, guilt, or fear—­which, as I noted in my introduction,
environmental art and discourse regularly, actually, elicit). Further, they
suggest that such affective responses are good specifically because they
prompt good action, such as learning more. But the evidence given for
this suggestion is purely anecdotal (“film strengthened my desire”), not
to mention largely underresearched elsewhere. Finally, though both
scholars demonstrate some critical reservations, here they maintain the
assumption that the job of nature/wildlife programming is to elicit such
good affective responses and, thus, (supposedly) prompt environmen­
talist action.6
Simply put, it seems as if scholars cannot conceive of a cultural
work with bad affective qualities or appeals having the potential to do
good work. But my goal here is not to excavate or recuperate that good
work—­to prove, say, that the Boyz or Rossellini do in fact consider
themselves to be “doing important work on behalf of animals” (to recall
Ladino), or that their texts have notable educational value, or that they
effectively “serve the public interest” (to recall Susan Murray). I am
more interested in tarrying with the clearly “bad” aspects of these texts,
and in considering what those aspects mean and what they have to offer.
I begin with their pointedly constructed qualities.
84  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
“The Next Skit’s Gonna Be Amazing”: Self-­Conscious
Construction as Perversion of Nature/Wildlife Programming
One of Wildboyz’s most notable perversions of the nature/wildlife pro-
gramming template is its ironic and self-­aware focus on staging. Media
scholar Richard Kilborn reminds us that, with the exception of certain
behind-­the-­scenes segments aimed, say, at showcasing a new filming
technique, “a discreet silence is usually maintained [in wildlife program-
ming], especially regarding how certain shots may have been obtained
and what criteria were employed in the assembling of particular
sequences” (2003, 145–­46). The overall aim is to give audiences the sense
of seeing “what would naturally happen in the wild” (146). In reality,
of course, producers may bait animals behind the scenes, film segments
in zoos and preserves, or otherwise manipulate audience perception
through editing, voice-over, and other techniques. Hence the infamous
1958 episode of Disney’s True-­Life Adventures documentary film series
(1948–­60, U.S.), in which producers spun lemmings off a disk to make
it look as if they were falling from a cliff. The episode gave rise to the
erroneous, yet still-­pervasive, belief that lemmings possess a literally
suicidal group loyalty, as encapsulated in the colloquial concept of fol-
lowing someone or something like a lemming. But only recently has
nature/wildlife programming become subject to the same kind of scru-
tiny as reality TV programs. For instance, “Bear” Grylls, adventurer
and star of Man vs. Wild, apologized to fans in 2008 after it came to light
that he spent the night in a hotel during episodes in which he was osten-
sibly stranded on an island. According to BBC News, the Discovery
Channel was forced to admit that, in the episodes in question, “‘isolated
elements’ were not ‘natural to the environment’” (“Grylls Apologises”
2008). This controversy speaks to the deep anxiety over maintaining
that distinction between documentary and reality TV.
But Wildboyz, even as it trades on its real-­life exploits—­Steve-­O is
clearly being chased by wolves in one episode; a black vulture really is
picking at his meat-­covered body, and so on—­explicitly draws attention
to its own constructed nature. The Boyz’s (performances of ) ignorance
and use of verbal irony often help in this regard. For example, in one seg-
ment, Steve-­O tells the camera, “Right now we’re looking for the small-
est and rarest dolphin in the world, the Hector dolphin. How the hell
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  85
are we supposed to find the smallest and rarest dolphin in the world?!”
After a quick cut, he updates us in a tone that could be described as false
wonder: “I can’t believe we found one; there’s one right there!!”7 The
program also employs formal techniques that demystify its own efforts.
For example, in one episode, Steve-­O tells the camera, “Don’t worry;
the next skit’s gonna be amazing”; he then pretends to grab the side of
the screen, which “wipes” to the next shot.
Wildboyz also regularly highlights behind-­the-­scenes action, further
complicating the ideals of pure, unmediated nature so often attached to
nature/wildlife programming. At times, for example, we can hear the
crew instructing the hosts, laughing at their expense, or asking one
another, “Did you catch that?” Similarly, our hosts frequently explain to
us what they are about to attempt and how well, or badly, as the case may
be, they think it will go. All this is in keeping with the Jackass style—­in
which, as Simon Lindgren and Maxime Lélièvre explain, “we [often] see
the recording team in discussion, particularly focusing on how to get the
‘best’ reactions on camera. . . . There is a strong emphasis on the intro-
ductory explanation of the goal of the performance, on the performance
itself and on the results” (2009, 401). This self-­aware focus on stunts
arguably allows Wildboyz to blur the lines between human and nonhu-
man animals. That is, the program treats humans as animals, as creatures
who perform “tricks” that are unpredictable and possibly unrepeatable;
the crew cheers in excitement at getting a certain shot, just as a nature/
wildlife program will tell its audience, though without cheering or self-­
consciousness, that they are seeing something rare, something never
before captured on film.8
Through these techniques and tendencies, Wildboyz declines to par-
ticipate in the depiction of animals and nature as “out there,” untouched
and unaffected by human beings. In this sense, Cynthia Chris’s argu-
ment that “if, as John Berger claims, most contact with ‘the wild’ has
been lost in modern daily experience, in Wildboyz it is . . . voraciously
consumed” (2012, 165) seems a bit unfair—­as if the program were the
first to package nature for a particular audience, rather than one in a
long list that could be traced all the way back to the invention of the
picture postcard or even of photography; and as if acknowledging one’s
role in the consumption of nature has no critical value—­indeed, as if the
program’s openness about its construction were somehow worse than
86  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
not acknowledging it, which nature/wildlife programming has failed to
do for nearly a century. But rather than wringing their hands over the
question that, as Mitman has shown, has plagued nature/wildlife pro-
gramming from its “very birth . . . right down to the present[:] How
much should a filmmaker trade authenticity for entertainment?” ([1999]
2009, xiii), the Boyz take perverse pleasure in showing how blurry the
line between “authenticity” and “entertainment” really is.
Green Porno is even more obviously constructed than Wildboyz. In
its first two series, the project does not film or otherwise seek to repre-
sent the real, outside world. And, as noted earlier, its aesthetic is aggres-
sively, humorously artificial. Underwater segments seem to be filmed
in front of blue or green bedsheets, for example, and Rossellini’s appear-
ances as animals are impressionistic at best, as with the paper hat that
signals her status as a limpet. Even in relatively realistic settings such as
a kitchen, where Rossellini has her “I lost my appetite” moment, every
detail is painstakingly rendered in antirealist fashion, from the pots and
pans hanging from the wall that appear to be fashioned from foil to the
sliced tomatoes made of construction paper. Wires, strings, and other
riggings are visible, highlighting rather than dissimulating the fakery. As
set and costume designer Andy Byers told Filmmaker magazine, “I think
it’s so much fun to see the wire that makes the whale penis move, rather
than doing it with a computer—­if we can’t do it on camera, we don’t
do it” (Van Couvering 2010, 63). This constructedness does similar
work to that of Wildboyz in terms of nature/wildlife programming. But I
would argue that it has its own unique implications. For one thing, the
project invokes aesthetics particularly associated with children: play,
craft, and amateurism. Indeed, especially in segments that employ ele-
ments such as a spotlight and shadowplay, Green Porno is reminiscent
of an elementary-­school pageant. The project’s focus on sex, reproduc-
tion, and anatomy thus plays as particularly perverse in juxtaposition
and, depending on your sensibility, particularly amusing.
Green Porno’s constructedness and related refusal to take us out-
side has even larger implications: these qualities resonate, albeit indi-
rectly, with recent challenges to the idealization of authentic, pristine
nature. For example, scientific studies have shown that simulations of
nature have strong health and cognitive benefits—­thereby complicating
common-­sense notions about humans’ need to get away from media and
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  87

Figure 3. A perversely childish aesthetic. Photograph by Jody Shapiro. From

the series Green Porno by Isabella Rossellini.

technology and into the great outdoors. (See, for example, Louv 2005.)
One study, conducted primarily by researchers from Vrije University
Medical Center in Amsterdam in 2016, suggests that “short durations
of viewing green pictures may help people to recover from stress”
(researcher Magdalena van den Berg, quoted in Reynolds 2016). Nota-
bly, these pictures captured mundane spaces such as empty pathways,
rather than majestic wilderness; the researchers stated that “finding an
effect with regard to such weak, even boring visual stimuli—­no spec-
tacular green views, no sound, no smells et cetera—­is surprising” (van
den Berg, quoted in Reynolds 2016). Another study, from the Univer-
sity of Melbourne in 2015, “found that interrupting a tedious, attention-­
demanding task with a 40-­second ‘microbreak’—­in which one simply
looks at a computerized image of a green roof—­improved focus as well
as subsequent performance on the task” (Mooney 2015). I propose that
cultural works such as Green Porno, which insist simultaneously on the
constructed, the kitsch, and the artificial on the one hand, and environ-
mentalist values on the other, prompt us to reconsider the role that
authentic experiences and representations of nature play in those values.
88  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
Discursive and Formal Irreverence in
Wildboyz and Green Porno
The Boyz and Rossellini display a general lack of reverence toward the
environment and animals. This lack challenges the dominant affective
modes of environmentalist and animal rights discourse, particularly as
they are distilled in nature/wildlife programming: not only reverence,
but also sentimentality, love, wonder, and a focus on the “awe-­inspiring
grandeur of the natural world” (Molloy 2011, 77). For one thing, whereas
nature/wildlife programming typically focuses on the unique capabili-
ties and prowess of animals—­their speed, their efficient hunting tech-
niques, their athleticism and beauty—­Wildboyz highlights their failures,
the ways in which they do not live up to expectations or legend, their
ugliness. For example, while in Thailand, the Boyz observe of one ani-
mal that, “for a big tiger, he doesn’t have that big of a dong.” And in the
“South Africa Part 1” episode, after watching a great white shark toss
a seal decoy up in the air without a direct attack—­during which the cast
and crew yell things like, “Jorge lives! Attaboy!”—­Steve-­O looks at the
camera and snarks, “Turns out the great white isn’t such an effective
predator after all.” The humor here turns on both the shark’s initial
failure to attack the seal and its sustained failure to recognize that the
seal is not a seal at all. In the rare moments that the Boyz do focus on
animals’ prowess, they refuse to take it as occasion for reverence. After
an encounter in which they throw a ham to a pack of hyenas—­not just
“skilled hunters notorious for feeding on prey when it’s still alive” but
also “nature’s garbage disposal,” as Rhys-­Davies tell us in voice-­over—­
they remark to the audience, “What did we learn from that? Hyenas are
pretty damn good at football.” This flippant attitude extends to land-
scape. At the beginning of the aforementioned episode, one of the Boyz
intones, “New Zealand. A mysterious land of mystery,” and the other
rejoins, “Are we going to be the ones to unlock the secrets of this mys-
terious place? Probably not. But we’re going to get rad!!!”
More than simply lacking it, the Boyz also parody the reverent com-
portment often found in nature/wildlife programming and, more broadly,
environmentalist contexts. For example, when witnessing salmon spawn-
ing, Pontius confides, “It makes me want to cry”—­before breaking out
into laughter. The Boyz’s embrace of bad affect is most explicit in such
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  89
moments; they acknowledge the proper response before perversely dis-
playing the improper one. Similarly, after the Boyz inform the audience
of the poaching risks facing giant river otters (“Brazil” episode), Pontius
breaks into a faux folk song about their plight until the enterprise falls
apart amid guffaws—­a clear jab at the earnest, folky performances that
so often accompany environmentalist projects.9 The Boyz also regularly
speak in sotto voce, mimicking the grave, hushed tones often adopted by
nature/wildlife programming hosts (not to mention expected in other
reverent contexts, from religious services to libraries). Relatedly, they
treat the proper names of flora and fauna—­normally a sober discourse,
to paraphrase Nichols (1991)—­as occasions for comedy. For instance,
Pontius tells us in season 3’s “India Part 2” episode that, “as cute as
macaque [pronounced like ‘my cock’] seems, it’s a filthy little thing that
spreads disease and causes nothing but trouble.” Another episode fea-
tures a “Black Mamba” attack, where the Mamba is really just a black
sock with googly eyes attached, accompanied by the caption “Black
Mamba: Dendroaspis Polylepis.” We watch while this “Mamba” caresses
Pontius’s face as he sleeps. At the same time that this parodic interlude
undercuts the real-­life animal, it also undercuts the exoticization thereof.
Of course, one could argue that such moments of irreverence are,
or could be construed as, antienvironment or anti-­animal, particularly
in a contemporary cultural context in which care for both seems alarm-
ingly absent. Here, we might think of journalist Jonah Weiner’s New
York Times commentary on comedy viewership; in profiling controver-
sial African American comedian Jerrod Carmichael, he muses:

If I, well-­intentioned liberal, laugh at [Carmichael’s] joke about a black

boy’s scarce self-­worth, what does that say about the sway that negative
black stereotypes have over me? Then there is the white fan who laughs
with no such unease. Dave Chappelle has invoked this figure in explain-
ing why he stepped away from his sketch series: in part, he worried
that some white viewers appreciated his anarchic treatment of black
stereotypes for misguided reasons—­that, in effect, his comedy risked
compounding rather than dismantling those stereotypes. (2016, 34)

Wildboyz and Green Porno no doubt flirt with the more shallow, “mis-
guided” type of reading over which Weiner and Chappelle worry. But
this flirtation is, at least for environmentalist viewers like me, part of the
90  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
perverse pleasure of these texts; we are not supposed to have these bad
feelings, so we feel a relief in accessing them. At any rate, again, my
interest in this chapter lies less in determining whether and to what
extent the Boyz or Rossellini are “truly” environmentalist, whatever
that might mean, than in thinking through the alternatives they offer to
typical environmentalist affects and aesthetics. We might also consider
here Timothy Morton’s claim that “putting something called Nature on
a pedestal and admiring it from afar does for the environment what
patriarchy does for the figure of Woman. It is a paradoxical act of sadis-
tic admiration” (2007, 5). Whether consciously or not, the Boyz and
Rossellini recognize the need to challenge the elevation and admiration
of animals and their natural habitats. In this case, they find “bad” affect
and, specifically, irreverence, one of the best ways of doing so.
In addition to discursive moments, Wildboyz’s and Green Porno’s
irreverence also takes on a formal manifestation. A characteristic epi-
sode of the former consists of multiple short segments, sometimes run-
ning just ten seconds or less, on different animals or landscape features.
The segments are also not arranged in any particular order. Moreover,
the episodes in later seasons begin to look repetitive, with the Boyz
performing the same kinds of stunts over and over; aside from minor
changes in format over the years, the program lacks any sense of pro-
gression. In fact, one could argue that there is never any story at all told
in Wildboyz, and that the only real information imparted is a sensory,
episodic, and visceral kind—­echoing the way that nonhuman animals
tend to experience external phenomena. Thus, the program obviates the
(non-­or anti-­ecological?) focus on a single species and the classical nar-
rative structure that drives mainstream nature/wildlife programming,
from Disney’s True-­Life Adventures to Animal Planet’s recent program
Meerkat Manor (2005–­8, UK/U.S.) to documentary film sensation March
of the Penguins (dir. Luc Jacquet, 2005, France). (I must acknowledge here
that scholars such as Bousé [2000] and Rothfels [2002] have also criti-
cized these features.) Using classical narrative structure, nature/wildlife
programming builds up to heteronormative triumphs like the return to
the nest, the reunion of families, a successful opposite-­sex coupling, and
the successful reproduction of the species.10 While, unlike Wildboyz, the
films of Green Porno do focus on particular animals—­“Squid,” “Snail,”
“Anglerfish,” and so on—­they likewise take an unsustained, nonnarrative
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  91
approach, usually clocking in under two minutes and employing jump
cuts and awkward or abrupt endings. One film, for example, leaves us
with the image of Rossellini as a bee, bleeding to death after having had
sex. “Fly” ends, unceremoniously, right after she declares, “Our babies
grow up in cadavers. They’re called . . . [dramatic pause] maggots!”
Wildboyz’s formal irreverence also includes a preference for what
I call the “interruption shot”: idyllic shots of animals or landscape that
are interrupted by the unceremonious arrival of the Boyz, often naked
or mugging. Injecting goofy humor into a stoic scenario, the program
thus disrupts any attempt on the part of the viewer to admire animals
and landscape from afar. In “South Africa Part 1,” for instance, one
scene starts with a striking shot of a group of ostriches, until Steve-­O
and Pontius emerge from the side of the frame with their thonged but-
tocks facing us. Similarly, our contemplation of a beautiful Alaskan
landscape is interrupted by the sight of Steve-­O entering the frame,
followed by a wolf intent on eating the raw chicken hanging above his
bare buttocks. These scenes echo the countless others in the program
that reveal the Boyz’s lack of prowess. For example, the “Russia” episode
features a shot of a line of ballerinas, before the camera widens out to
show Steve-­O tagging along, comically out of step and rhythm, not to
mention wearing a leotard and tutu. Hereby, the program draws another
connection between humans and nonhumans: just as animals in Wild-
boyz fail to perform admirably or with prowess, so do our hosts. More-
over, at such moments, we cannot help but reflect on the tendency of
nature/wildlife programming to absent humans from the frame—­a ten-
dency that Vivanco, Molloy, Chris, and other scholars have identified
as problematic. In watching Wildboyz, we are able to reflect on the
presence and impact of humans, and on our tendency to ideologically
elevate animals as nobler and more graceful, thus fetishizing them and
separating them from humans.

“Man Is the Only Animal Who Blushes”: Obscenity, Queerness,

and Repulsiveness in Wildboyz and Green Porno
Another, central element of Wildboyz’s and Green Porno’s affective dissent
is their perverse interest in the obscene, the queer, and the repulsive.
Until very recently, such elements have been absent from the typically
92  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
family-­friendly nature/wildlife genre, and certainly never associated with
its human figures.11 As Rossellini herself muses, perhaps naïvely, “I watch
nature documentaries constantly . . . but I’ve never seen whales mat-
ing. Maybe they censored it? Perhaps a lot of documentaries are made
for children and they do not want them to know about whale reproduc-
tion” (L. Hill 2009, 13). When distasteful images do appear in nature/
wildlife programming, they usually do so in the service of glorifying
some other behaviors; the ravaged carcass of an animal, for instance,
serves to convey a predator’s efficacy. In contrast, Wildboyz and Green
Porno linger delightedly on the obscene, queer, and repulsive aspects of
animals and humans. Often, this means bodily functions. When exam-
ining a dead giant squid, for example, the Boyz eagerly ask to see its
“pooper.” The expert on hand obliges, showing us both the “pooper”
and the “pooper shooter,” along with what appears to be a pocket of
waste. Similarly, in one Green Porno film, a costumed, contorted Rossel-
lini reports, “If I were a snail . . . my anus would end up on top of my
head”; as colorful excretion squirts from a puppet-­esque opening above
her, she winces and completes the thought with a croak: “unfortunately.”
Designer Byers further describes the scene as such: “There’s this soft
focus glow, which is actually super corny, but then she poops on her
face” (Van Couvering 2010, 62). Byers thus articulates the centrality of
unexpected juxtapositions to Green Porno. But while his comment seems
focused primarily on the formal—­on the play between lighting and mise-­
en-­scène—­it has much to say about affect. Through mechanisms like
that soft focus glow, Green Porno invokes the sentimentality, “corn[iness],”
and other typical affective appeals of nature/wildlife programming—­
and then, almost literally, shits on them.
And, of course, both texts take perverse pleasure in showcasing
genitals, both nonhuman and human. In a segment on female hyenas
in Wildboyz, we see the “giant clitoris” of the female on prominent dis-
play, and in learning about the “bare-­butt” baboon elsewhere, we see it
perching and casually masturbating. A Green Porno film titled “Why
Vagina?” finds Rossellini strolling through a forest of penises—­large-­
scale, stylized representations of various species’ members. These texts
thus counter what Mel Y. Chen calls the “odd yet pervasive omission in
cultural animal representations—­that of the missing morphology of the
genitalia” (2012, 15). Claiming that “animal-­ human boundaries are
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  93
articulated in terms of sex and gender,” Chen goes on to show that this
omission is not just a random issue of propriety but a crucial mechanism
in the “cultural production of animals” (15). Nonhuman genitalia seems
obscene because it raises the specter not (just) of difference but of same-
ness. That is, it is horrifying to realize that we are not dissimilar (a whale
has a penis just as some humans do) and also that our bodies do not
provide the standard template for all life (a whale penis does not look or
function just like a human penis). Indeed, a Green Porno book segment
titled “The Dangling Organ” succeeds in queering our definition of the
penis. The segment advises the reader matter-­of-­factly that “the penis
should be tucked inside the body and when needed enlarged into an
erection” (Rossellini 2009, n.p.). At the very least, the statement sounds
odd. At most, it could make human penis owners consider that their
equipment might not represent the highest evolutionary ideal. In thus
drawing lurid attention to animal genitalia alongside human genitalia—­
the Boyz strip down and employ their private parts in stunts as often as
possible, and Rossellini occasionally appears in stylized human nude
suits—­the two texts challenge the notions of propriety that subtend our
visions of the nonhuman natural world and throw a wrench in that pro-
cess of “producing animals.” In short, in their pointed mission of mak-
ing present all manner of genitalia, the Boyz and Rossellini trouble the
central cultural process by which nonhuman animals are produced as
different, and lower, than humans.
These texts, in their irreverent and flippant way, thus embrace
Chen’s belief that “it is imperative that we ask questions not only about
how animals matter, but how they matter sexually” (2012, 128). Animals
matter sexually in the context of Wildboyz and Green Porno because
“family-­friendly,” heteronormative, sanitized, and desexualized images
have historically dominated nature/wildlife programming; because, more
generally, of the “continued force of heteronormativity in the imagina-
tive construction of wilderness space” (Francis 2000, 134); and because,
as scholars such as Bruce Bagemihl (1999), Joan Roughgarden (2004),
and Anna M. Giannini (2012) have shown, “homophobia has influenced
scientific studies of animal sexuality” (Giannini 2012, 102). And they
matter sexually because genitality, sexuality, and even anality are founda­
tional to the imaginative divisions between humans and nonhumans, not
to mention between queers and non-­queers. As queerness is associated
94  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
with the obscene and with excessive genitality, sexuality, and anality,
so it ironically goes that nonhuman animals, who regularly engage in
sexual behaviors without apparent shame, must be positioned as at once
asexed/asexual and heterosexual/domestic/parental to win the hearts
of the public. Wildboyz and Green Porno decline to participate in this
Indeed, Wildboyz actively seeks to queer animals, including human
animals, thus flaunting what is normally repressed in nature/wildlife pro-
gramming and other encounters with the nonhuman. As performance
studies scholar Derek Lee Barton writes in his ethnographic work on
Montrose Harbor, a bird sanctuary that, to the chagrin of many birders,
also happens to be gay cruising grounds, “It is the failure to encounter
the promised spectacle of a ‘pure’ natural object, relative to which the
human visitor may construct its own subject position, that comprises the
catastrophic intrusion of the queer” (2012, 8). The Boyz regularly stage
the catastrophic intrusion of the queer, both through their own perfor-
mances (say, dressing in drag) and in their physical and discursive inter-
actions with nonhuman animals (say, pretending to flirt with animals).
For instance, in one episode, Pontius cavorts around a field of sheep
dressed as Little Bo Peep. In another, when observing a moose’s large
penis, Pontius remarks, “I would hate to be around this guy at mating
season; he would tear me apart.” This joke performs multiple levels of
transgression, collapsing the human/nonhuman division and defying
taboos against both bestiality and homosexuality. Pontius’s (performative)
ignorance of these divisions and taboos—­his failure to grasp even the
most “‘common sense’ notions of . . . sexuality” (Giannini 2012, 127)—­
is what makes such moments funny. Importantly, “common-­ sense”
notions of sexuality tend to be homophobic or at least heteronormative;
just consider, for example, the famous bumper sticker “God made Adam
and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Thus, to laugh at the Boyz is to experi-
ence relief from the regimes of sexuality that nature/wildlife program-
ming, like so many other public cultural outlets, subtly normalizes.12
In addition to queering animals, the Boyz regularly seek out aes-
thetically displeasing or unsympathetic creatures and showcase their
repulsive features. In one episode, Chris Pontius announces to the audi-
ence, “Here we are with the ugliest member of the shark family, the
Wobbegong. Even the name is ugly. It makes me sick!!”—­and then
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  95
laughs. In another, Steve-­O asks the show’s resident “expert” Manny, “Is
it dangerous to make out with a batfish?” Manny replies, “No, but it’s
got a face like a toad.” Steve-­O then tells the audience, “It may not be
dangerous to make out with a batfish, but it’s dangerously sexy!” before
kissing the fish and placing it back in the water. Wildboyz thus invites
us to reexamine the grounds of our connections to and understandings
of the nonhuman. First, environmentally minded humans rarely want to
admit that they sometimes find nonhuman animals and nature repul-
sive; meanwhile, humans who do admit this fact often take it as an occa-
sion for violence or neglect. The Boyz openly display their repulsion
and disgust, verbally as well as viscerally—­shrieking, laughing, retching,
and vomiting extravagantly—­but they do violence only to themselves.
They thus indicate that not revering or sanitizing nonhumans does not
equate to doing harm to them. In fact, not revering or sanitizing might
entail a kind of pragmatic validation of their existence.13
I turn here to the entomologist and writer Jeffrey Lockwood to
explore these claims further. As he observes,

Instead of judging organisms on our own terms, we’re supposed to

accept them for what they [purportedly] are. Rather than being per-
ceived as the ugly old women of the prairie, [for example,] lubbers are
to be seen as elegantly colored, finely sculpted, noble creatures. . . .
However, a conflict arises as I realize that these awesome creatures can
be absolutely awful. (2013, 275, emphasis added)

Lockwood thus shows how imperatives of good affect—­we should see

lubbers as noble—­can actually prevent us from understanding non­
human life. As he explains, lubber grasshoppers defecate and vomit exu-
berantly when potential predators, namely humans, try to touch them.14
It’s worth quoting Lockwood’s ruminations on disgust and morality at
length here.

Having been vomited on by nature, [my students] see the world in

starker terms. Rather than the soft lap of a mythic mother, they under-
stand that nature usually doesn’t give a shit about us, and when it does,
it is as likely to shit on us as to embrace us. Students who have a Dis-
neyfied view of the world might well be more compassionate and
gentle. A kind of insipid secondhand morality arises from Bambi and
the proselytizing of organizations that claim to “speak for those that
96  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
can’t.” . . . But unless a person’s reasons are their own, an individual is
no more moral than the Labrador retriever that fetched the drowning
kid from Colorado’s Roaring Fork River. . . . Through authentic ex-
periences with the natural world, my students will arrive at values of
their own making. For better or worse, their beliefs and actions will be
rooted in their own lives. Perhaps they will even come to view cultural
norms with a kind of disgust. (2013, 279)

I take issue here with Lockwood’s privileging of “authentic experiences”

of nature. After all, it’s only a certain privileged set of individuals that
has the option of such experiences. Moreover, his comment that “nature
usually doesn’t give a shit about us” elides the many, daily ways in which
we are interconnected and interdependent with the nonhuman. But I
am nonetheless struck by how closely his vision of a nonsentimental
ethics arising out of repulsive or disgusting experiences chimes with the
Boyz and Rossellini. The latter actively seek and act out such experi-
ences, showing nothing of what Lockwood, following Winfried Men-
ninghaus (2003), calls “faked non-­disgust,” or a kind of “biopolitical
correctness” (2013, 280). Interestingly, in this context, good affect—­
which would be “faked non-­disgust,” or responding to the lubber grass-
hopper with reverence, sentimentality, or admiration—­turns out not to
be affect at all, at least not by one prevalent definition: “[the] innate . . .
and instinctive biological response to a stimulus” (Hurley and Warner
2012, 103–­4). Here, good affect is that which is put on secondarily, or
Wildboyz and Green Porno thereby challenge a belief that has been
fundamental to contemporary Western environmentalism since at least
Rachel Carson. As journalist Eliza Griswold writes, “Carson believed
that people would protect only what they loved, so she worked to estab-
lish a ‘sense of wonder’ about nature” (2012, 38). The Boyz demonstrate
that humans are perfectly capable of protecting what they do not love
or find wondrous—­or, at least, that the trappings of love and wonder are
not requisite for commitment or action. They suggest that the obscene,
queer, and repulsive aspects of nonhumans are where many of us actu-
ally find points of investment. And they propose irreverence, not its
opposite, as the basis of an ethical response to the nonhuman. When
our sworn herbivores Steve-­O and Pontius wear banana suits to visit a
Rwandan gorilla preserve (“East Africa” episode), or when Pontius, in a
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  97
Thai animal hospital to help care for monkeys who have been hit by
cars (“Thailand 2” episode), sports a tight nurse’s dress, the Boyz enact
these ideas.
Most broadly, Wildboyz’s and Green Porno’s perverse interest in the
obscene, the queer, and the repulsive resonates with recent calls for
shifts in how we conceptually approach environmental problems; one
could even argue that these texts model such shifts. Consider, for exam-
ple, how Shonni Enelow’s 2011 play Carla and Lewis, developed as part
of the so-­called Ecocide Project with creative partner Una Chaudhuri,
dramatizes the sanitization and compartmentalization at work in much
environmental thought. In the play, a character named Elsa

illustrates the representational logic of humanist ecological think-

ing . . . : first locating the reality of climate change out there, far away,
with “them,” and then trying to bring the problem closer in a safe,
“creative” way, instead of starting from the awareness of our uncom-
fortable, nearness to—­sometimes genuinely revolting intimacy with—­
[environment, nonhuman animals, and other humans]. (Chaudhuri
and Enelow 2014, 32)

The play’s eponymous protagonists embrace an alternative, anarchic

approach. When they encounter an “authoritative” and “shrill[y] self-­
righteou[s]” climate research scientist, they deliver their manifesto:
“Lewis: We aren’t scared of acid rain. Carla: We ARE goddamn acid
rain! Lewis: It’s coming, we’re fucked, and we know it, we know it so well
we can taste it” (2014, 33–­34). Similarly, “sick of Elsa’s piousness and
total ineffectuality, [the protagonists] take her treasured image of [cli-
mate refugee] Amina the sentimentalized subaltern and turn it into an
explosive painting made from ‘mud and shit and milk’” (37). The Wild-
boyz are nothing if not revoltingly intimate with animals and landscape,
and they respond to the authoritative scientists and other experts by
reveling in “mud and shit and milk” and vomit and blood. (The main
difference is that the Boyz are a bit more cheerful than Carla and Lewis.)
The Boyz’s work, along with Rossellini’s, also chimes with Morton’s
claim that ecocriticism and environmentalism have historically been too
invested in ideologies and aesthetics of cleanliness. As Morton avers,
“Ecological politics is bound up with what to do with pollution, miasma,
slime: things that glisten, schlup, and decay. . . . Ecological art,” he insists,
98  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
“is duty bound to hold the slimy in view” (2007, 159). For the Boyz and
Rossellini, though, holding the slimy in view is not a “duty” but a dis-
tinct pleasure.

Slide Shows and Side Shows: Educational Imperatives

and Practices of Non-­Knowledge
In this last section, focused on Wildboyz, I want to consider the deeper
historical resonance of the Boyz’s perverse performances, particularly
what I will describe as their practices of non-­knowledge, ignorance, and
distraction. I will thus show how the program responds critically to the
premises and values that have historically undergirded nature/wildlife
programming, and the larger environmentalist tendencies to which such
programming has often been, and continues to be, attached. I begin
with the premise that nature/wildlife programming has been bound up
from the start with educational imperatives. Early films such as Martin
and Osa Johnson’s Trailing African Wild Animals (1923) were, according
to Molloy, “marketed commercially as having educational value and . . .
authenticity, with claims that [they were] widely endorsed by leading
scientists” (2012, 167). This trend only intensified in the postwar era,
with the highly influential True-­Life Adventures series, which was mar-
keted as “edutainment”: teachers received mass-­mailings about upcom-
ing releases, and attendees received educational pamphlets at screenings
(171). When nature/wildlife programming made a shift to the more pri-
vate, domestic format of television in that postwar era, the same ideology
held, with psychologists and other experts touting TV’s potential for edu-
cating children, and animal-­centered TV shows shooting to popularity
(Mitman [1999] 2009, 135).
This view of nature/wildlife programming chimed nicely with con-
servationists’ beliefs that public education was crucial to their efforts.
Thus, we must understand nature/wildlife programming, and Wildboyz
in particular, not merely as random flukes of entertainment cycles but as
artifacts that exist in relation to environmentalist efforts.15 As Molloy
In the post-­WW2 period, naturalists, scientists, governments and
NGOs agreed that cinema could play a major role in creating a
‘nature-­minded’ public. Collective backing for nature films as a form
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  99
of public education took shape in 1946 with the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) spon-
sorship of an agreement which would facilitate the international distri-
bution of educational films (Druick 2008: 86). Like UNESCO, the
International Union for the Protection of Nature (IUPN), established
in 1948, named public education as one of its key goals. (2012, 171)

From the very beginning, then, nature/wildlife programming was de-

signed to be didactic, or at least positioned as such, and was implicitly
conservationist/environmentalist. And in fact, even when it has been
clear that elements other than education are the draw, education has
been used as a justification. As Molloy observes, the popular “African
Hunt” film series of the 1910s “found the support of educators, scien-
tists and religious leaders, who praised their educational and scientific
value. While these endorsements were widely used in the films’ promo-
tion . . . reviews at the time suggest that it was the thrill and spectacle of
the hunting scenes that appealed to audiences” (2012, 167).
Wildboyz impishly refuses the imperative to educate or to justify its
actions under the proper mantle of education. For instance, one of the
program’s most prominent features is its insistence on practices and per-
formances of nonlearning. In season 1’s “Australia” episode, for exam-
ple, Steve-­O sums up a snorkeling expedition: “The Great Barrier Reef:
so much to see, so little to learn.” In the same episode, the Boyz report,
“What did we learn about Sarcophilus satanicus [the Tasmanian Devil]?
Absolutely nothing at all.” They regularly insist that they and, by exten-
sion, viewers will not or cannot learn anything. The fact that they do
seem to learn things, and that we as viewers do as well,16 only under-
scores the idea that the program is specifically intent on defying envi­
ronmentalist-­artistic didacticism and its attendant affects. Interestingly,
in his autobiography, Steve-­O reflects critically on his initial approach
to giving up meat, berating his own didacticism and sanctimony.
Not only did I become a vegetarian, I became the worst kind of vege-
tarian. I was a self-­righteous, holier-­than-­thou judgmental jerk about
it. . . . I’d tout my vegetarianism as a badge of honor and wield it as a
hammer to bludgeon others for not living up to my lofty moral stan-
dards. It was really pretty impressive: even when I was doing some-
thing that could reasonably be considered noble, I found a way to be a
dickhead about it. (Glover 2011, locs. 3785–­96 of 4706, Kindle)
100  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
Without putting too fine a point on it, perhaps then we can see Wildboyz
as an exercise in how to “do” environmental education and animal advo-
cacy without being a dickhead about it.
The program’s refusal of educational imperatives extends to its
formal design elements. For instance, the opening credits and commer-
cial break sequences for seasons 3 and 4 juxtapose footage of the Boyz’s
escapades with shots that mimic old-­fashioned scientific slides (depict-
ing cells under microscopes, mountains, planets, and volcanic eruptions),
all backed with contemporary punk rock music. This juxtaposition at
once gestures to the didactic history of wildlife/nature programming—­
specifically, to the slide-­show lecture that dominated much of that early
programming—­and signals to the viewer that the program will not actu­
ally engage in formal, stuffy, or old-­fashioned ways of learning and know-
ing. If anything, in fact, Wildboyz engages in affective learning, in the
physiological sense of affect: the Boyz use their bodies as scientific tools,
viscerally experiencing everything from the sting of a jellyfish to a ritual
drink made from cow’s blood. And we understand these experiences
through both the Boyz’s affective responses and our own—­for example,
laughing, gagging, wincing, shuddering, or turning away.17
More than not learning, or appearing to not learn, the Boyz also
position themselves as ignorant and distracted. When they learn to make
mescal in season 3 (“Mexico” episode), Steve-­O informs viewers that
“the water cools the vapors and causes them to condescend.” Here, we
might assume that this is a performance, and that Steve-­O really knows
the term is “condense,” not “condescend”—­but his deadpan delivery
makes it difficult to know for sure. Similarly, the boys boast a deadpan
orientation of distraction. In one episode, they begin an observation by
telling the audience, “We’ve been watching these gorillas for over ten
minutes now, and . . . ,” eventually trailing off. Such attitudes speak crit-
ically to the implicit exhortations of nature/wildlife programming (You
must, and you will, pay attention and learn!) and the fundamental assump-
tions behind such exhortations (Learn about X, save the world!). They also
gesture toward the expertise typically on display in such programs:
often, that of experts who have studied certain species for ten months or
even ten years.
The Boyz occasionally link education, knowledge, and expertise
to elitism or even classism—­though, of course, in a playful way. For
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  101
example, before they play elephant polo in their “India” episode, the
Boyz look at the camera and remark facetiously, “We haven’t played polo
since we met as undergrads at Yale.” Neither man has such a pedigree,
of course; Steve-­O has stated that he “knew he wasn’t going to make it
in college or ever be able to hold down a normal job” (Glover 2011,
locs. 749–­51 of 4706, Kindle), and his primary educational achievement
is a degree from Ringling Brothers’ Clown College. In another episode,
Pontius introduces the show as if it were a monster truck rally, exhort-
ing viewers to “come on down to the Wildboyz rage-­a-­rama! We’ve got
monster trucks, wet T-­shirt contests.”18 Such moments, I argue, invoke
the elitism and classism that informed the exhibition of early nature/
wildlife programming—­as I show just below—­and which informs much
environmentalist discourse today. Indeed, here Wildboyz contrasts with
the climate change documentary Everything’s Cool, discussed in chapter 1:
while the latter takes viewers to a county fair, holding up for ridicule the
“ignorant,” “white trash” people who do not believe in or care about
climate change, the Boyz invoke a “white trash” pastime similar to the
county fair—­but as part of, not in opposition to, their environmental
inquiries. The program thus gestures toward a melding of white trash
and environmentalist affect and aesthetics (a phenomenon I explore in
greater depth in chapter 5), while hinting at non-­elites’ alienation from
the environmentalist status quo.
As I have been suggesting, the education that nature/wildlife pro-
gramming has tended to offer is not (just) about the nonhuman world
but about human values—­including “family values,” or beliefs about
the naturalness of heterosexuality and monogamy and the importance
of biological parenting. Works like True-­Life Adventures took up this
mantle in the conservative postwar years and, more recently, the U.S.
Christian Right bestowed it on The March of the Penguins.19 But Mitman
shows that family-­values education has an even longer history in the
When a film on the life of the strickleback fish appeared in 1913, one
reviewer [W. Stephen Brush] praised the “singular lesson of special
importance [revealed] to the classes in natural history,” particularly
the “unselfishness and devotion to offspring . . . shared by the male
strickleback,” which resembled the “dove in his home-­building and
family-­raising characteristics.” ([1999] 2009, 9)
102  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
More specifically, such programming was used in the early twentieth
century to communicate values around middle-­class morality and pro-
ductivity. Scholars such as Mitman and Molloy have linked the embrace
of nature/wildlife films by American reformers of the era to concerns
about the lower and immigrant classes and their decadent pastimes,
including drinking and going to the nickelodeon—­the monster-­truck
rally or county fair of yesteryear. Thus, I am proposing that we histori-
cize and contextualize Wildboyz’s perverse disregard for heteronormative
educational imperatives and see it as, also, a refusal to “better” the lower
classes and stigmatize their entertainment choices. Wildboyz thereby
indicates the imbrication of class and sexual norms.
The Boyz’s (performances of ) ignorance may also remind us of Jack
Halberstam’s observation that “only a very special kind of unknowing
can confront the dangers of white hetero manhood . . . and all of its spe-
cialized knowledges, expertise, security plans, high alerts, and hawkish
propaganda” (2011, 68). Halberstam locates this kind of unknowing in
“stupid white guy” films such as the comedy Dude, Where’s My Car? (dir.
Danny Leiner, 2002, U.S.). Wildboyz, with its similarly sweet, dumb, and
game protagonists, is kindred to Dude. And, clearly, its mode of unknow-
ing confronts “specialized knowledges, expertise . . . and . . . propa-
ganda,” from masculine scientific expertise and its white, heterosexual
underpinnings to the heteronormativity of propagandistic nature/wild-
life programming. Halberstam adds that, in addition to “thematiz[ing]
the limits to masculinist forms of knowing,” films such as Dude “posi[t]
forgetting as a powerful obstacle to capitalist and patriarchal modes of
transmission” (2011, 80, emphasis added). An exemplary scene in the
“Brazil” episode of Wildboyz bears out this idea. The Boyz join hands
as they experience an electric eel shock, declaring, “If one of us gets
shocked we both do”; they subsequently forget (or “forget”?) to unclasp
hands until long after the stunt has been performed.20 In these and other
scenes, the Boyz forget, and thus critically highlight, the behaviors and
expectations associated with their social status as heterosexual, white,
adult males.
In staging what can be construed as pro-­environmental, pro-­animal
inquiry while appearing to renounce learning, knowledge, and attention,
Wildboyz asks us to reconsider the role that those entities are assumed
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  103
to play in nature/wildlife programming and other environmental move-
ments.21 While it is quite possible to learn from the program, as I have
noted, it glaringly lacks the kind of tone that would suggest education as
the primary path toward environmental care or action. Indeed, Wildboyz
proposes that nonlearning, ignorance, and distraction may exist along-
side or even constitute a kind of environmental ethos rather than oppos-
ing it. Much like Idiocracy (discussed in chapter 1), the program thus
corroborates sociologist Kari Norgaard’s finding from a Norwegian cli-
mate change case study, which she has used to critique the so-­called
knowledge-­deficit hypothesis: “Absence of information didn’t seem to
be the limiting factor in . . . reaction[s] to [environmental problems].
Indeed . . . individuals were concerned . . . despite their confusion or
missing information” (2011, 67). Again, Wildboyz shows us that care and
action can exist outside of knowledge, that the latter is not a prerequisite
for the former.
The Boyz’s alternative approach to education and knowledge
extends to their ethnographic encounters. In most episodes, they inter-
act with locals and Indigenous people, from participating in the “Eskimo
Olympics” in Alaska to learning to throw a boomerang at an Aboriginal
cultural center in Australia. The encounter with the human Other was a
tradition, a deeply problematic one, in nature/wildlife programming
from the very start, before giving way to visions of pristine nature void
of humans—­which, arguably, are as unrealistic as those early racist
encounters.22 That Wildboyz gestures at all to this tradition puts it on
undeniably dicey ground. However, in so doing, it responds not just to
contemporary nature/wildlife programming but to the entire history
thereof. In the remainder of this section, I will describe how the Boyz’s
unknowing and inexpertise suggest alternative approaches to this prob-
lematic tradition.
First, the Boyz fail in virtually all their interactions with locals and
“natives.” They lose contests, dance badly, prove to be unteachable,
have accidents. For instance, at the Aboriginal cultural center, a man
named Warren tries to explain to Steve-­O how to hold the boomerang;
Steve-­O is hopeless, and Warren finally gives up and comes over to
physically wrap Steve-­O’s hand around it. In such interactions, the locals
and “natives” are never degraded, never become the butt of jokes. But
104  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
nor are they relegated to the noble straight man position, reduced to
pure functionality in the Boyz’s stunts, or treated as exotic. For example,
we learn their names, they speak directly to the camera, they are featured
at length in various segments, and they frequently laugh at the Boyz’s
ineptness, (presumably) alongside us as the audience. Consider, for
instance, this exchange from “South Africa Part 1”: Steve-­O reports to
the camera, “Today we’re on our way to visit a witch doctor,” to which
Pontius replies, “He’s not a witch doctor, Steve-­O; I hear he’s a tradi-
tional healer.” Steve-­O then quips, “Well, I hear he has some traditional
drugs!” Here, it is not the healer himself but the reverent, sober proper-
ness of nature/wildlife programming and ethnography that is being
ridiculed. Later, we see the two men sitting with the “witch doctor,”
who speaks English. The comedy arises not from his practices but from
Steve-­O’s intoxication from his apparently effective remedies. More-
over, while Pontius’s correction (“I hear he’s a traditional healer”) sounds
disingenuous, the fact remains that the two demonstrate a clear aware-
ness of the more progressive terminology. In short, the Boyz seem to
possess an impulse to mock political correctness while actually acting
politically correct—­not unlike how, as I am arguing, the program dem-
onstrates environmentalist values but lacks typical environmentalist
affect. What we can identify in Wildboyz, then, is performers looking for
new articulations of white, straight, male masculinity—­not unlike the
bumbling protagonists of Dude, Where’s My Car?, who are so sweetly
stupid that, for example, they fail to act homophobic or transphobic at
the culturally expected times. I think we must then probe claims that
Wildboyz constitutes an “exhibition of power” dependent on “white,
masculine physical prowess and cultural mobility” (Chris 2012, 165).
Regardless of their real-­world positions (whatever those might be, and
however we might determine them), the Boyz, in their performances,
clearly lack physical prowess and cultural mobility.
The concept of performance—­which I take up in greater depth in
the next chapter—­is also crucial to thinking about Wildboyz’s ethno-
graphic encounters and to understanding how they potentially offer a
critical reflection on ethnography’s historical role in nature/wildlife pro-
gramming. Consider performance studies scholar E. Patrick Johnson’s
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  105
In his study of theater in Shaba, Zaire, Johannes Fabian urges a “per-
formative” anthropology. He contends that ethnographies are “ques-
tionable representations” unless they are critical and forthcoming
about their process. And he believes that approaching ethnography as
performance is one way to engage an exegesis of the ethnographic
process. “Performance . . . is not what they do and we observe,” he
explains, “we are both engaged in it.” (2003, 10)

Johnson concludes that “to construe ethnographic practice as, in gen-

eral, a ‘fiction’ and, more specifically, a practice that is ‘acted out’ or
performed, is to liberate it from the assumption that the informant is a
fixed object and therefore inferior to the ethnographer” (10). The Boyz
are clearly engaged in performance, and clearly produce the segments in
conjunction with local participants. Indeed, they seem to take part in a
practice of anthropological self-­assessment. As James Fernandez and
Mary Taylor Huber observe, anthropologists have recently “confront[ed]
the irony of privileged understanding—­the irony patent in the fact that
it proposes to know more objectively about a population subject to
inquiry than that subject population knows about itself” (2001, 13)—­
and have responded with “an ‘ironic ethnography,’ attuned . . . to . . .
[subjects’] recognition of the ambiguities of their past and present and
to the humor they derive from ‘the certainties of others’” (25, quoting
K. Brown 1999).23 The Boyz both employ a kind of ironic ethnography
and undercut the need for it in the first place by failing to display any
objective knowledge or certainty about peoples, lands, or animals.

Taking a longer view of the Boyz’s and Rossellini’s work, we find some
significant shifts. To begin with the latter: in its third and final series,
Green Porno returned to SundanceTV “with a more direct pro-­
environmental message” (Gibbons 2009, 4). As journalist Kent Gibbons
tells it, based on an interview with Rossellini,

In Series 1, the six films, about flies and snails and the like, “were
meant to be little jokes” that maybe taught the viewer something
about commonly seen creatures. Series 2, about sea denizens such as
whales, starfish and limpets, added more “wonderment” about the
subjects, which can be the first step toward motivating viewers to pro-
tect them. This time, marine biologist Claudio Campagna suggested,
106  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
“Why don’t you add a third reaction, which is an awareness of the
fragility of the ocean.” (Gibbons 2009, 4)

This third set of films—­“Shrimp,” “Squid,” “Anchovy,” and “Elephant

Seal”—­brings the expert Campagna in to explain about issues such as
overfishing and plastic pollution, and features real-­world footage for the
first time. “Elephant Seal” breaks with several additional Green Porno
signatures, showing Rossellini out of costume and out of character for
the first time and clocking in at six minutes and forty-­five seconds—­far
exceeding the usual length of one to two minutes. As film studies scholar
Sarah E. S. Sinwell summarizes, “This short seems much more like a
documentary you might find on the Discovery Channel or National
Geographic channels (in other words, it privileges the educational over
the artistic and avant-­garde)” (2010, 127).
This shift is, of course, surprising, considering the pains that Green
Porno has otherwise taken to subvert nature/wildlife programming con-
ventions. We may also be suspicious of the neat calculation outlined
above, in which humor + wonder + awareness = motivated, effective envi-
ronmental action. And considering Green Porno’s perversity, queerness,
and “irredeemable excess” (O’Driscoll 2013, 640), we may be troubled
by Rossellini’s normative view of this aforementioned shift; according
to Gibbons, she called it a “natural evolution” for the project (2009, 4).
However, we should keep several points in mind here. First, this so-­
called evolution demonstrates just how strong the pull of classic nature/
wildlife programming is, how difficult it is to break out and stay out
of its dominant trajectory. To be more generous, it may also demon-
strate that such programming still has something to offer contemporary
viewers. Second, and more broadly, Green Porno’s eventual recourse to
expertise and answers—­Campagna is introduced by Rossellini’s ques-
tion “What to do [about issues such as overfishing and plastic pollu-
tion]? Ask, ask, ask . . . biologist Claudio Campagna”—­suggests how
hard it is, emotionally and otherwise, to break with dominant environ-
mentalist assumptions: that there is something we, individually, can do
about environmental problems; or that knowledge will fix things; or that
someone out there has answers.
We might also decline to follow Rossellini’s invitation to think neatly
and teleologically in the first place. Instead, inspired by the perversity
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  107
and queerness found elsewhere in the project, we might watch Green
Porno from end to beginning, or out of order. After all, the series was
designed primarily for those “fourth-­screen” devices that encourage
nonsequential or one-­off viewing (see Sinwell 2010; O’Driscoll 2013).
When we read Green Porno in such ways, for example, we work against
ontological hierarchies, from the cute mammals of “Elephant Seals”
to the repulsive, unrelatable nuisances of “Bee,” “Fly,” and “Spider.”
As Michael O’Driscoll observes of Green Porno’s first series, “Rossel-
lini’s posthuman entopornography . . . challeng[es], overturn[s], and
ultimately destabiliz[es] the primacy of the human in anthropocentric
constructions of entomological sexualities. ‘If I were a bee . . .’ (or a ‘fly,’
or a ‘spider,’ etc.) begins each of the films—­imagining not insects as
humans, but humans as insects, and beyond that initial moment prac­
ticing before the cameras the incalculable space of that subjunctive
ontological proposition” (2013, 640, second set of ellipses in original).
We find ourselves, in short, encountering an otherness that cannot be
easily recuperated—­and that is not subjected to expert opinion or edu-
cational imperatives, nor to dominant affective modes such as reverence
or sentimentality.
One of Steve-­O’s post-­Wildboyz projects constitutes an even more
surprising departure. In 2012 he hosted and narrated an eleven-­minute
video titled “What Came Before: The Truth about Meat and Modern
Farms” for the nonprofit group Farm Sanctuary, which aims to high-
light the cruelty of industrial food production and promote a vegan life-
style. First, the video engages in the kind of sentimental family-­values
rhetoric that has often characterized both nature/wildlife programming
and environmental activism, and which Wildboyz and Green Porno so
gleefully pervert. For instance, Steve-­O introduces us to various farm
animal “survivors” by name, passing on informational tidbits such as
“scientists have found that chickens like Symphony can anticipate the
future and that they pass knowledge down to their children.” Second,
his appeals verge on sentimental anthropomorphizing, a tendency that,
as I have suggested, the irreverent Wildboyz pointedly avoids; one of
Farm Sanctuary’s slogans is “Someone, not Something,” and Steve-­O
upholds this slogan by telling us he wants to “introduce [us] to some-
one” each time the video moves to a new farm animal. Finally, the video
rests on a positivist understanding of the role of knowledge, buying back
108  |  “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”
into the knowledge-­deficit hypothesis that, as I have argued, Wildboyz
troubles with its performances of non-­knowledge, ignorance, and dis-
traction. Indeed, both Steve-­O’s introduction and the video as a whole
assume that if people only knew of the horrible conditions in which
Symphony the chicken lives, we would stop eating chicken. (Recall that
the video’s subtitle is “The Truth about Meat and Modern Farms.”) In
sum, the Farm Sanctuary video employs virtually all the affects, aesthet-
ics, and rhetorics that the earlier text actively flouts.
Importantly, Steve-­O’s performance of serious animal rights/envi-
ronmental activism is awkward and unconvincing. While the message of
“What Came Before” is clearly one dear to his heart, the affect, form,
and articulation are clearly not. While he tries to speak sincerely, for-
mally, and knowledgeably, he comes off as utterly out of his element.
His orientation toward the camera is painfully stiff, his cadence overly
monotonous—­perhaps in an attempt to overcome the “brospeak” that
clearly lurks behind—­and turns of phrases inadvertently laughable, such
as when he proclaims in a serious tone that his choice to go vegan was
“ridiculously easy.” Viewers familiar with Wildboyz, in fact, might watch
the video waiting for Steve-­O to break out of his sober activist persona
and giggle at the camera. But he never does. In thus failing to achieve
legitimate activist status, though, Steve-­O prompts us to ask what that
status normally looks, sounds, and feels like, and why. More to the point,
his evident discomfort reminds us of how he thrives in the affective and
aesthetic context of Wildboyz, in which his pro-­animal, pro-­environmental
ethos can coexist with, or even emerge from, modes like perversity,
playfulness, and irreverence. The “bad” environmental performances
of Wildboyz and Green Porno, together with this “good”-­but-­failed per-
formance of activism, suggest the need for artistic spaces that can foster
such an ethos.
Thus, while these didactic, sentimental, and expert turns may dis-
appoint those of us who appreciate the Boyz’s and Rossellini’s earlier
interventions, we can understand them on multiple levels. We might
think, finally, of Halberstam’s notion of “traditions of political action
that, while not necessarily successful in the sense of becoming domi-
nant, do offer models of contestation, rupture, and discontinuity for the
political present” (2011, 19). Wildboyz and the early Green Porno films
may be a mere blip between, say, one of the didactic early wildlife reels
“So Much to See, So Little to Learn”  |  109
intended to teach the masses and didactic Farm Sanctuary videos in-
tended to teach the masses, but we can return to them as examples of
contestation and possibility. They prove that nature/wildlife program-
ming and its attendant environmental concerns can take multiple shapes,
and they remind us of how alternative affective modes, as Ted Gournelos
and Viveca Greene tell us in their collection of essays on post-­9/11 com-
edy, irony, and satire, “open more questions than [they] clos[e], [and]
point out more areas of incongruity than areas of clarity or consensus”
(2011, xxxiii). The questions asked by Wildboyz and the first two series
of Green Porno linger on, troubling their creators’ neater, later work.
And if nothing else, Steve-­O’s career and the project of Green Porno,
taken as their respective wholes, demonstrate how remarkably diverse—­
affectively, aesthetically, and otherwise—­environmental art can be.
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climate change
is a drag and camping
can be campy
On Queer Environmental Performance

Theater can be a powerful site for the conceptual shifts that this
unprecedented [environmental] crisis calls for. As a site of
relentless materiality, lively objects, shifting environments, it is
the ideal place to perform the doubled human and represent a
“queer ecology,” attuned to the intimacies of human and non-­
human, the blurry boundaries between all bodies and the
biosystems they inhabit, transform, live and die in.
—­Una Chaudhuri and Shonni Enelow,
“Crisis Theater and Queer Ecology”

There is an anxious concern [within environmental movements]

to get things right, to be consistent and coherent. The idea of
theoretical or practical play hardly enters the picture. As the
crisis unfolds, the doomsday machine rushes toward the abyss;
there is no time for frivolity.
—­Douglas Torgerson, The Promise of Green Politics

The UK-­based neo-­cabaret duo Bourgeois & Maurice—­whose web-

site describes them as “darker and slicker than a BP [British Petroleum]
oil spill”—­released their third album in 2013, featuring a climate change–­
themed song titled “Apocalypso.” Just as the portmanteau title inflects
the downbeat “apocalypse” with the upbeat “calypso,” the jaunty, mid-
tempo song treats a grave issue with levity.1 Savoring every syllable,
Bourgeois sings,
The earth’s heating up and the sun is shining
Change is good, so stop with all your hippy whining . . .

112  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
Chill out and smoke some chronic shit
We may as well be off our tits [intoxicated] for the apocalypse

The music video for the song narrates a similar reality, following
Bourgeois & Maurice as they frolic on a beach and then attend a house
party featuring kiddie pools, blow-­up slides, and partygoers in drag.
The house in question erupts into a ball of flames at the video’s end, as
Maurice croons, “We’re all gonna die.”
“Apocalypso” is, of course, a joke, as anyone familiar with the
gender-­bending “Georgeois Bourgeois” (George Heyworth) and bio
queen2 “Maurice Maurice” (Liv Morris) can attest. In interviews, the duo
demonstrates a social consciousness pointedly absent from “Apocalypso.”
For example, in response to the interview question “And what most gets
on your sugartits [bothers you] these days?” the pair’s long list included
“Syria’s use of chemical weapons, lack of employment prospects, pub-
lic transport prices, rape deniers, pro-­life campaigners, apathy, sexting,
fracking. And”—­perhaps before they start to sound too serious—­“Miley
Cyrus” (Rainbow 2013). But if “Apocalypso” is a joke, is it a funny one?
The answer may vary individually but also regionally. Considering that
climate change denial and indifference to climate injustice are more
prominent in the United States than in the UK and much of the rest of
Europe, the song may be too accurate, too realistic, not exaggerated
enough to be funny to, say, a progressive American. When Bourgeois &
Maurice sing, “The winter’s gone hip hip hooray / And it’s gonna stay
that way,” they repeat a fundamental misconception about climate
change, one that has prompted most scientists to abandon the term
“global warming.” Likewise, when the white pair sings, “The sea is rising
so let’s sit / And watch it wash away / Those suspicious little islands /
The world is changing it’s exciting,” they replicate the racist sentiments
that inform climate injustice. For many of us, in sum, Bourgeois &
Maurice’s performance may fail to mark “the difference between ‘express-
ing’ the values that are the objects of critique and miming them . . . that
is, the difference between making representations that reflect hege-
monic ideology versus representing the hegemonic representations of
that ideology” (Auslander 1992, 26).
Part of the problem is that Bourgeois & Maurice employ a stereotypi­
cal persona to articulate this antienvironmental position: the shallow,
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  113
immature, bitchy, hedonistic queer. While “Apocalypso” thus does have
the interesting effect of aligning, say, Big Oil moguls with drag queens,
the simultaneous deployment of two sets of well-­worn images may leave
the performance feeling especially stale to some audiences. In fact, as I
have shown in previous work, queer thought has coincided with anti­
environmental thought at several junctures; my first book, Strange Natures
(2013), considers how “anti-­futurist” queer theorists such as Lee Edel-
man gleefully renounce any investment in the future just as the future
rapidly diminishes for vulnerable life forms the world over.3 Thus, we
might ask, what’s so new or interesting about queers saying “fuck the
future” (to paraphrase Edelman 2004, 30) if British Petroleum is say-
ing it, too? How can queers turn a blind eye toward, or even rejoice
in, environmental degradation just like those on the Right? And what
comic pleasures could really be derived from such a move?
But again, “Apocalypso” is a performance, and Heyworth and Mor-
ris are performers. One might thus argue that this parroting of anti­
environmental ignoramuses and shallow queers is intended as a critique
of both, as well as of their mutual implication; that the performance
jarringly illustrates the distasteful, if inadvertent, alliances that can
spring up between disparate groups when it comes to certain political
issues.4 In this sense, the disavowal in “Apocalypso” of environmental-
ism may ironically, indirectly express investment in that position even as
it reveals some of its failings. We might then see it as a smirking coun-
terpart to something like transgender musician Anohni’s dramatic song
“4 Degrees”—­“I wanna see this world / I wanna see it boil”—­which was
released in honor of the 2015 United Nations climate change summit in
Paris. As Anohni has explained her writing process, “If I could give a
voice to my behavior, what would that voice be? Taking planes, enjoying
first-­world fossil fuel, an addict of first-­world comfort. So [the song is]
not entirely ironic. There’s something desperate about it, too” (Pareles
2016). Both sets of artists admit, though in very different ways, to being
complicit in the environmental crisis. These musical performances thus
prompt the respective questions: Can we imagine a shallow, immature,
bitchy, hedonistic LGBTQ persona that articulates a proenvironmental
position? Can we imagine an LGBTQ, environmentally minded perfor-
mance that does not wallow in guilt or self-­flagellation, and which does
not sacrifice “enjoy[ment]” or pleasure?
114  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
This chapter responds affirmatively to those questions by consider-
ing three sites at which queer performance lends itself to environmental
projects. These sites include the U.S. performance art/musical group
the Eggplant Faerie Players (1995–­, U.S.) and their songs and state-
ments; the performances and publications of the Lesbian National Parks
and Services project (1997–­, Canada); and the “artivism” of activist
group Queers for the Climate (2014–­, U.S.), including memes and vid-
eos.5 These sites build on my previous chapters by further demonstrat-
ing the importance of what I call “low environmental culture”: art and
discourse that is accessible, nonhierarchical, and lowbrow. But I choose
these sites specifically because they are so elaborate—­spanning time
and media in a way that demonstrates the great flexibility and diversity
of queer environmental performances—­and because they are so com-
plex, including both embodied and linguistic performances. I begin my
discussion with the “queer/environmental/performance” triad, offering
what I believe is the first explicit, and extensive, historicization and the-
orization of this assemblage. Through my subsequent readings of those
three sites, I consider the functions of this assemblage as well as what it
sometimes fails to do.
Specifically, I focus on four possibilities opened up by queer environ­
mental performances. Perhaps most obviously, they create much-­needed
space for nonnormative expressions of gender and sexuality in environ-
mental art, activism, and discourse—­realms that, as queer ecology schol-
ars have shown, have historically not been open to such expressions (see,
e.g., Sturgeon 2009; Mortimer-­Sandilands and Erickson 2010; Azza-
rello 2012; Seymour 2013; Alaimo 2016). Second, they demonstrate how
queer modes such as camp—­an affective and aesthetic mode that entails
“a valuing [of] style over content, a love of exaggeration and artifice, and
a failed seriousness” (LeBel 2005, drawing on Sontag 1964)—­gaiety,
irony, and frivolity, all of which have been sorely lacking in environmen-
tal movements, could prove crucial to such movements. Queer environ-
mental performances also model for us what Wallace Heim calls “new
ecological identities.” As she elaborates, “The capacity of theater and
performance to experiment with new ecological identities, new modes
of behavior, and diverse values is imperative . . . to invigorate the task of
finding new ways to live” (2012, 213). Fourth, I argue that the “double-
ness” of the queer environmental performances I consider—­their puns
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  115
and double entendres; the two levels to their ironic utterances; the
double duties they perform—­serves as a kind of hermeneutic strategy
that reveals the forms of queerness and performativity already embed-
ded in mainstream environmentalism, despite its claims to or affiliation
with the authentic, the literal, the straightforward, and the self-­identical.
Simply put, these performances demonstrate how qualities we associate
with the queer are actually internal to the environmental(ist).
The aforementioned lack of queer modes in environmental move-
ments has instrumental political implications—­say, alienating certain
groups from those movements—­as well as philosophical and ethical im-
plications. For instance, as interdisciplinary scholar Mary Aswell Doll
With dreadful seriousness we have literalized our stance on earth mat-
ters. . . . This dreadful seriousness is deadly. It sees only a human face
in the waters of reflection, whereas the cosmos contains so many other
life forms in such wide variation. The problem with seriousness is its
literalism, unable to think, for instance, as the Buddha thinks when
he compares types of people to rocks, sand, or water. Those who are
like letters written in running water, he writes, are more evolved not
because they are firm in their beliefs or hold solid convictions or
believe in pyramid systems, but because they listen more and observe
what isn’t there in the come and go of natural patterns. (2003, 49)

Thus, while the performances I treat in this chapter happen to be “queer”

insofar as they involve or depict LGBTQ persons, they are also queer in
the broader sense of “improper affiliation” (Chen 2012, 105). That is,
these texts reanimate environmental conversations by affiliating with
nature, environment, and the nonhuman “improperly”: not through
“dreadful seriousness” or reverence but through modes such as gaiety
and frivolity.
Finally, I argue that queer environmental performances can inspire
vital self-­reflection on the part of environmental humanities scholars.
For one thing, they remind us of the ongoing importance of social con-
structionist approaches to the environment, at a time when the death of
social constructionism has been declared in certain humanities circles,
and when some New Materialist scholars in particular have taken to cri-
tiquing such approaches. Ecocritic Stacy Alaimo, for example, has pos-
ited “a troubling parallel between the immateriality of contemporary
116  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
social theory and a widespread, popular disregard for nonhuman nature”
(2010, 2). She draws on figures such as environmental philosopher
David W. Kidner (2000), who

argues that social constructionism “colludes with commercialism in

the long-­term industrialist project of replacing the natural by the arti-
factual, defining a form of human existence which claims indepen-
dence from natural processes and rhythms. Social constructionism
therefore provides a model of nature which fits seamlessly into the
industrialist view of the world.” (Alaimo 2010, 8)

Alaimo has produced other important work in queer ecology, as well as

work that resonates with this book’s investment in pleasure (see Alaimo
2016), but here she and Kidner dismiss social constructionism—­a para-
digm that just so happens to have played a major role in queer libera-
tion movements, and, particularly, in dismantling homophobic regimes
that situate heterosexuality as natural and homosexuality a poor imita-
tion thereof. Indeed, “replacing the natural by the artifactual” could
describe perfectly the conceptual strategies of contemporary queer the-
orists and activists looking to denaturalize heterosexuality and biologi-
cal reproduc­tion, or even the transgressively ironic strategies of older
queer figures such as Oscar Wilde, who, “against the then-­fashionable
approaches to literature and art that sought to replicate Nature and Life
faithfully, . . . argued that artifice was more beautiful and more ‘real’”
(Gough et al. 2003, 47). We should recall here Lawrence Buell’s obser-
vation that “ecocriticism has been behind the curve, partly no doubt
because of its resistance to nature as artifice” (2005, 56). Engaging with
queer environmental performance can challenge us to develop com-
plex critical and theoretical positions—­positions that can, for example,
account for the environmental importance of “artifice.”

Queer/Environmental/Performance: Theorizing the Assemblage

I begin with an overview of the connections between “queer” and “per-
formance,” before turning to those between “environment” and “perfor-
mance.” The former set of connections has been well covered in exist-
ing scholarship, so I summarize only briefly here. First, as performance
studies scholar Sara Warner writes, “sexual minorities can boast of a rich
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  117
performance history of entertaining audiences (both straight and gay) in
bars, comedy clubs, and drag shows, but historically we have been most
skilled in the art of carefully crafting personas that enable us to survive
the drama of compulsory heteronormativity” (2012, 6)—­whether, say,
employing drag to burlesque oppressive gender norms or “passing” as
straight for safety. “Performance” also resonates with “queer” in terms
of sexual practice, with performative identities such as butch and femme,
top and bottom, passive and dominant historically structuring relation-
ships and encounters in many queer communities. As performance stud-
ies scholar Sue-­Ellen Case observes, “At first [namely, in the 1970s and
1980s], feminists and lesbian feminists rejected [such] role-­playing as
a mere imitation of heteronormative gender roles. Later, these roles
became understood as part of a centuries-­long tradition of transgender
identification: one way to subvert the normative regime” (2009, 8).
Crucial to the shift that Case references were the insights of post-
structuralist feminist theorists, queer theorists, and affiliated activists; as
she summarizes, these groups “dramatized, often in a spectacularly the-
atrical fashion, the instabilities and incoherencies inherent in the pur-
portedly stable alignment of biological sex, gender, and sexual orienta-
tion” (2009, 1). Most famously, for Judith Butler, gender is the “repeated
stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regu-
latory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of sub-
stance, a natural sort of being” (1990, 33), while sexuality is likewise
performative—­hence, Butler’s declaration that “gay is to straight not as
copy is to original, but, rather, as copy is to copy” (41). Of course,
we must clarify here, as Butler herself has countless times, that the con-
cept of “performativity” is related to but not synonymous with “perfor-
mance”; the latter refers to less constrained, more spontaneous patterns
of behavior. I am primarily concerned with performance here—­though
performativity is also germane to my discussions. In sum, queer culture,
theory, and activism have all posited that our identities are continually
constructed through physical and linguistic performance—­a claim that
suffused academia and popular culture alike in what is now termed the
“performative turn,” one closely linked to the discursive and linguistic
turns in the humanities and beyond. The queer environmental perfor-
mances I consider in this chapter draw on all the aforementioned histo-
ries, as they push forward into new contexts.
118  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
Meanwhile, the connections between “environment” and “perfor-
mance” are both more recent and rockier than those between “queer”
and “performance.” Whereas the latter was veritably institutionalized
after its emergence in the 1990s, comparatively little scholarship has
been published in explicit regard to the former, and such work can still
occasion controversy.6 As performance studies scholars Wendy Arons
and Theresa J. May observe, “One of the key means of shaping and trans-
forming human attitudes and values is the arts, but the arts (in the West,
at least, where this book has its origins) have traditionally been conceived
as the activity that most divides humans from ‘nature’” (2012, 1). More
specifically, performance studies scholar Carl Lavery observes that, “on
the few occasions when theatre does appear in literary-­based models
of ecocriticism,” scholars “overlook the ‘liveness’ of performance . . .
and [therefore fail] to understand where the ecocritical purchase of the-
atre might reside: namely, in its immanent capacity for affecting bod-
ies, individually and collectively” (2016, 230). Additionally, the idea that
nature or the environment could perform, be performed, or be other-
wise constructed—­rather than being immanent, palpable, or manifest—­
may run antithetical to the values and agendas of many environmental
scholars and activists. Finally, the well-­established queer connotations
of “performance” may make it immediately distasteful to those main-
stream environmentalists whose agendas rely on heteronormative ideals
of wholesome, healthy nature and reproductive futurity. For perhaps all
these reasons, “ecology and environment are not only underrepresented
and underthematized on the Western stage, but also undertheorized in
theater and performance scholarship” (Arons and May 2012, 1).
Much of the scholarship that does exist takes up environment and
performance strictly in terms of formal theater and drama—­such as Una
Chaudhuri’s Staging Place: The Geography of Modern Drama (1995); Chau­
dhuri and Elinor Fuchs’s edited collection Land/Scape/Theater (2002);
Lynne Bruckner and Daniel Brayton’s edited collection Ecocritical Shake-
speare (2011); and Simon Estok’s Ecocriticism and Shakespeare: Reading
Ecophobia (2011). However, there exist a few scholarly texts on environ-
ment and performance that show “scant interest in institutional theatre
or dramatic representation” (Giannachi and Stewart 2005, 35)—consider­
ing, instead, less obvious sites such as environmental activism, ecological
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  119
field research, and zoo attendance. These texts include Bronislaw Szer­
szynski, Wallace Heim, and Claire Waterton’s edited collection Nature
Performed: Environment, Culture and Performance (2003); Gabriella Gian­
nachi and Nigel Stewart’s edited collection Performing Nature: Explora-
tions in Ecology and the Arts (2006); and Arons and May’s edited collection
Readings in Performance and Ecology (2012). I follow the tendencies of this
latter group; while I sometimes draw on research about “theater” or
“theatre,” I focus on noninstitutional and relatively informal perfor-
mances, ranging from music shows held in small underground clubs to
interactions captured on video and circulated on the internet.
While queer/environmental/performance has received very little
attention as a specific assemblage, a few of the latter scholars have ges-
tured toward it, mainly in terms of analogy. For instance, the editors
of Nature Performed observe that, “whereas in Judith Butler’s classic
application of the term (1990) it is gender that is shown to be performed,
in the current volume it is nature itself that is revealed to be performa-
tive in this sense” (Szerszynski, Heim, and Waterton 2003, 3); similarly,
sociologist Dave Horton’s chapter in the same collection switches out
Butler’s gender identity for environmentalist identity, arguing that “a
green identity is not an essence, and owes its appearance of solidity to
the regular, routine performance of green cultural practice” (2003, 75).
Meanwhile, writing specifically of queer animal performance, theater
studies scholar Anna M. Giannini claims that “animal acting resembles
a type of drag performance that excessively plays with common-­sense
notions of what is human and what is animal” (2012, 37, emphasis
added); she draws on postcolonial and animal studies scholar Sara Salih,
who theorizes that “humanity as such is produced in a field of vision in
much the same way that gender and race are performatively constituted”
(quoted in Giannini 2012, 2–­3, emphasis added).7 These scholars argue
that gender and sexual identity are like nature and the environment;
they parallel the queer/performance connection to the environmental/
performance connection. I consider, instead, how all these categories
actively interact and overlap.
I should note here that at least one prominent scholar of LGBTQ
performance/theater has expressed interest in turning to questions of
environment. In her collection Feminist and Queer Performance: Critical
120  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
Strategies (2009), Sue-­Ellen Case writes, “I must admit, I don’t know how
to write about ecological activism from a feminist or lesbian perspective.
But I think I must try. Sustaining life on this planet will be my next sub-
ject” (14). Interestingly enough, Case seems to eschew the queer sensi-
bility that she has written about extensively in the past, declaring at the
end of her collection’s introduction,

Humans have already caused the extinction of around 1,000 bird spe-
cies. Scientists predict 400 more species will disappear by 2050. Have
you looked at the sky lately? Listened for birds in the morning? This
is only one signpost. These facts are all around us, but they don’t even
make the front page of the paper. What can we do? (14)

Here, Case’s earnest, serious, and gloom-­and-­doomy tone reinscribes

dominant environmental affects and sensibilities without considering
how they can come off as “hippy whining,” to use Bourgeois & Mau-
rice’s turn of phrase. At the same time, she ignores the potential of queer
performative modes such as camp and irony to speak to environmental
crisis. Yet again, environmental questions seem to deflect queer answers.
Of course, it is not surprising that Case feels her lesbian/feminist per-
spective does not allow her to respond to environmental issues, or that
she feels perplexed about how to proceed, considering the mutual dis­
interest between queer and environmental cultures, movements, and
scholars—­a disinterest to which queer ecology scholarship has attended,
and which I sketch out later in this chapter. But I believe some answers
are already out there, refusing attempts at deflection. This chapter
attempts to delineate them.
Beyond those different trajectories for “queer/performance” and
“environmental/performance,” there exist major differences in the affects
and sensibilities associated with queer cultures, movements, and schol-
arship, and those associated with environmental cultures, movements,
and scholarship. To begin with the queer: while much important work
has been done on subdued queer affects such as melancholia,8 it is also
the case that flamboyant modes such as camp, gaiety, irony, and frivolity
have long been associated with modern LGBTQ culture and politics in
the West—­from the chorus line formed by drag queens and transwomen
at the Stonewall Riots in 1969 to satiric signs seen at same-­sex-­marriage
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  121
rallies in the first decade of the twenty-­first century such as “Jesus had
two dads” to the fierce vogue-­offs that took place in London in 2016 in
homage to the Orlando massacre victims. Indeed, Warner has outlined
what she calls the “twinned and mutually informing histories of gayness
as politics and gayness as bon vivance” (2012, 5); her work “affirm[s] the
role of pleasure, humor, fun, and frivolity in shaping the ways sexual
minorities come to understand ourselves and the roles in which we have
been cast” (xiii). (Returning to Bourgeois & Maurice, we could say that
“Apocalypso” entails a performance of gayness as bon vivance but lacks a
sense of gayness as politics—­including environmental politics.) The
pursuit of pleasure in particular, despite its potential for apoliticism or
even anti-­politicism, has long played a role in queer art and liberation
movements, in response to long histories of persecution ranging from
hate crimes to desexualized pop cultural representations of LGBTQ
folk. As performance studies scholar Jill Dolan sums it up, “Our plea-
sure is our resistance” (2001, 99).
The complete opposite sensibility seems to permeate countless
environmental movements, both mainstream and radical—­to such an ex-
tent that the humorless, killjoy environmentalist has become a familiar
punch line, as in Jesse Eisenberg’s turn as a stick-­in-­the-­mud tree hug-
ger in the hit television program Modern Family (“Under Pressure,” dir.
James Bagdonas, 2014).9 As Horton states, drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s
commentary on the intellectual class, “Environmental activists distin-
guish themselves by the ‘austerity of elective restriction,’ the ‘self-­
imposed constraint’ of ‘asceticism’” (2003, 67). Food studies scholars
echo this observation in their specific work on diet; Laura Wright’s The
Vegan Studies Project: Food, Animals, and Gender in the Age of Terror (2015)
describes the pervasive perception of veganism as “dependent upon re-
striction and privation” (32), while Carol J. Adams’s foreword to the book
observes that, “in the cultural dyads that adhere to [Western] food prac-
tices, [people assume] that veganism equals sacrifice (scarcity), omnivo-
rous equals entitlement (abundance)” (2015, xvi). Horton also observes
that “green cultural codes are most noticeable when broken” (2003,
68)—­meaning that a punitive system, not (just) a system of reward,
tends to structure public green identity. Hence, for example, the self-­
flagellation seen in Anohni’s commentary or the quiz featured on the
122  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
companion website for Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story (discussed in chap-
ter 1), which asks, rather accusatorily, “Are You a Waster?”
Thus, it seems that, for every trademark environmentalist affect or
sensibility, we can identify a trademark queer affect or sensibility that
counters it, and vice versa. We might schematize this scenario as such:
restraint vs. indulgence
austerity vs. excess
responsibility vs. frivolity
asceticism vs. pleasure
self-­denial vs. self-­celebration
guilt vs. pride
policing behavior vs. acting out
disapproval vs. validation
moralism vs. amoralism
anxiety vs. glee
seriousness vs. camp
awe vs. boredom
sincerity vs. irony

This schema may help explain, more broadly, why queer cultures, move-
ments, and scholarship on the one hand, and environmental(ist) cul-
tures, movements, and scholarship on the other, have historically been
opposed. In fact, by some views, the queer is incompatible with social
and political action more broadly: affect theorist Sara Ahmed confirms
that “queer politics are . . . about enjoyment” (2013, 162), but she also
cites a pervasive cultural “warning”: “Pleasures can distract you, and turn
you away from obligations, duties, and responsibilities” (163). But this
schema also speaks to why queer/environmental/performance is such
a striking, important combination—­especially considering that affect
is central to the concept and practice of performance (see Hurley and
Warner 2012). That is to say, affective differences have made it hard for
performers and scholars alike to conceive of queer/environmental/per-
formance as a meaningful combination. And, more specifically, queer
performances featuring pleasurable, frivolous, or artificial modes such
as camp or drag may not immediately appear to have any environmental
purchase—­if they are not deemed “bad” outright, per mainstream envi-
ronmentalist standards. After all, two of Susan Sontag’s most memora-
ble declarations about camp oppose it to the natural: “the essence of
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  123
Camp is its love of the unnatural” (1964, 274) and “nothing in nature
can be campy” (279). And yet environmental communication scholars
have recently found that a “focus on pleasure as an element of environ-
mental action . . . may prove compelling to some audiences who find
other forms [of environment address] unpersuasive at best, alienating at
worst” (Schneider and Miller 2011, 471).10 In such a context, a cultural
and critical insistence on every element of queer/environmental/perfor-
mance is crucial.
The works I look at in this chapter manage to meld that second set
of affects and sensibilities into environmental projects. In so doing, they
queer dominant definitions of nature and environmental art, including
expectations for the latter’s “usefulness.” In this sense, they chime with
Lavery’s vision: “Theatre allies itself with everything that Western moder-
nity distrusts—­the weak, the unfinished, the superfluous, the contingent.
Like ‘nature,’ there is always something in the medium of theatre that
refuses to serve a purpose” (2016, 233, emphasis added). These texts bring to
environmental inquiry a liveliness that has, sometimes quite literally, been
missing. But perhaps most importantly, they demonstrate that certain
queer affects and sensibilities—­which we could summarize, as Warner
does, under the banner of “gaiety”—­are not just compatible with politics
but inseparable from them. That is, if “pleasure is . . . resistance” (Dolan
2001, 99) for queers and queer performers in particular, then these works
propose gaiety and pleasure as themselves environmental strategies.

“Welcome Homo”: IDA and the Eggplant Faerie Players

In the middle of rural Tennessee sits an intentional community known
as IDA: “Idyll Dandy Arts,” or, sometimes, “Idyll Dandy Acres.” IDA
plays host to the “Idapalooza Fruit Jam,” an annual celebration of music,
crafts, and activism that draws attendees from around the United States
and the world (see IDA 2016). It is also home to the Eggplant Faerie
Players, an intermittently performing troupe founded by “MaxZine”
Weinstein and his life partner, “Spree,” and currently consisting of
MaxZine and creative partner “TomFoolery.”11 This section focuses on
the Eggplant Faerie Players and their relationship to IDA, as articulated
in songs and statements. I show how the Players’ campy, ironic perfor-
mances reshuffle dominant associations around rurality, queerness, and
124  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
health, in ways that have crucial implications for environmental discourse
and activism.
When first entering the IDA compound, as I did in 2008 while
in graduate school in nearby Nashville,12 the first thing one usually
notices is an aging barnlike structure with the words “Welcome Homo”
painted on its side. While a seemingly minor flourish, these words enact
a multi­faceted linguistic performance. The cheery, punny title both
interpel­lates—­“Welcome homo,” as in “Welcome, you homo[sexual
person]”—­and redefines, supplanting the traditional “home” that proves
so unwelcoming to many queers with the sign of a queer, hospitable
place. More to the point, this slogan speaks to the complexity of queer
relations to rural space. While the rural is often idealized, made to play
Nature to urbanity’s Culture, it is just as often painted as hostile to
queers in particular and minorities in general. Meanwhile, urban space
is often assumed to be the ideal provenance of the queer, as scholars
such as Lucas Crawford (2008) and Scott Herring (2010) have shown,
and critiqued. But as a fundraising website for IDA reads, “Those of us
who live at IDA love the South, the mountains, and the chance to create
(creating art, creating gardens, creating community). We hope to share
our space with queer and trans* people who may have historically felt
isolated from these experiences” (Work Hard Stay Hard n.d.)—­either
because they grew up in urban or suburban places or, on the other hand,
because they assumed urban places were their only possible refuge. IDA
thus models and encourages new ecological identities: the rural South-
ern queer or the queer who lives as part of a self-­sustaining community,
to mention just two possibilities.
Like “Welcome Homo,” IDA’s very name invokes a queered, para-
doxical relationship to nature—­suggesting simplicity, rusticity, and the
old-­fashioned (“idyll”), as well as extravagance, fashionability, and mod­
ernity (“dandy”). Inhabitants such as MaxZine delight in such para-
doxes, making playful comments in interviews such as “We live by a
creek that’s dry much of the year, but sometimes it floods and we can
even get locked in here and not get cars across the creek. Well, that’s
obviously gonna mess up your day, or your hairdo” (Weinstein 2010).
The humorous force of MaxZine’s comment emerges from its simulta-
neous juxtaposition and reconciliation of the serious (“flood”) with the
frivolous (“hairdo”), the environmental with the queer.
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  125
Such humor and frivolity suffuse the Eggplant Faerie Players’ per-
formances. Their long-­running show, “Welcome to Homo Hollow,”
offers a comic history of IDA’s founding, featuring songs, drag, acrobat-
ics, and juggling. As they sing in a mock childlike tone on one number,
clearly modeled on “Puff the Magic Dragon”: “Poof the Tragic Drag
Queen / Lived in a tree / And frolicked in a frilly frock / In a land called
IDA-­lee.” “Big Girl,” similarly focused on childhood, relays, “‘Well
what would you like to be / When you grow up, my son?’ / My daddy
said to me / When I was five years old / . . . I said . . . ‘I want to be an
astronaut / I want to fly around the world / But most of all, Dad, when
I grow up / I wanna be a big girl!’” A later line reports, “Now I’m a big
girl / In the woods in Tennessee!” Other songs in the Players’ reper-
toire, such as “Lord I Was Born a Tranny Man,” sung to the tune of the
Allman Brothers’ 1973 hit “Ramblin’ Man,” and a cover of the tradi-
tional acoustic bluegrass tune “Whiskey before Breakfast,” play tongue-­
in-­cheek homage to IDA’s rural Southern location. In 2011 I attended a
performance of “Welcome to Homo Hollow” at a now-­defunct dive
venue called the Rudyard Kipling in Louisville, Kentucky, and can attest
to the importance of its live character: not only did the show draw many
local punks and queer youth, thus creating a makeshift community for
the evening, but we watched with pleasurable anticipation as the Players
juggled and rode unicycles, clapping happily when they succeeded and
laughing when they occasionally failed. At this show, the Players also
offered ephemera to their audience, including badges and bumper stick-
ers; one bumper sticker featured MaxZine and TomFoolery in an Ameri­
can Gothic parody, posing in corsets, top hats, and pink sneakers outside
a rustic structure with the label “Faerie Gothic” over the troupe’s name.
Through such performances and materials, the Players commemorate,
even mythologize, IDA—­yet undercut the potential seriousness of such
a gesture with campy delivery and imagery.
In their more explicitly environmentalist moments, MaxZine and
TomFoolery walk a similar line, both articulating serious concern and
leavening it with campy visions. In a 2011 interview with Feast of Fun
podcast hosts Mark Felion and Fausto Fernós, for example, the former
observed, “You guys are living pretty green down there [at IDA]. You
have outhouses . . . you have a solar shower.” MaxZine replied, “We
certainly strive to live . . . environmentally friendly. It’s hard to do it in
126  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
late-­capitalist, falling-­apart industrial America. . . . But . . . we do garden
a lot and we heat our homes with firewood. . . . We think of ourselves as
drag queens with chainsaws.” Fernós piped in, confirming, “I’ve actually
seen people chopping their firewood in drag” (Weinstein and TomFool-
ery 2011). Both speakers thus echo the delightful paradoxes discussed
above. The Players’ song “Culture Thieves,” which was included in
“Welcome to Homo Hollow,” also tackles environmental issues. Per-
forming a series of clueless contemporary personae, they sing gaily:

I want to be a modern primitive

With tattoos, piercings, and a ritual scar
To prove I’m really one with the earth
I’ll hang a medicine wheel on my car . . .
I heard there’s gonna be a demonstration
To stop uranium mining on the reservation
Well of course I’d really like to go
But it’s my day to chant like the Navajo.

This critique of superficial, non-­Indigenous environmental engagement

is, of course, inseparable from a critique of the romantic, sentimental
trope of the “Ecological Indian.” (See chapter 5 for an in-­depth discus-
sion of this trope.) The Players make the same points that scholars have
made—­but through ironic, humorous performance, and a self-­reflexive
one at that. Indeed, one could argue that, in choosing to sing in first
person, the Players actually intend to indict themselves, or perhaps IDA’s
residents at large—­idealistic, hippy-­dippy, and predominantly (though
not exclusively) white individuals heading back to the land.
The Players’ other targets of critique include the mainstream gay
community or, more specifically, what scholars and activists have termed
“homonormativity”—­“a politics that does not contest dominant het­
eronormative assumptions and institutions but upholds and sustains
them while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency
and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and
consumption” (Duggan 2002, 179)—­ and “homoliberalism,” or “the
economic, political, and social enfranchisement of certain normative-­
leaning, straight-­acting homosexuals at the expense of other, inassimi-
lable sexual minorities” (Warner 2012, xi). As MaxZine opined to Felion
and Fernós,
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  127
I think a lot of the gay community in the larger world is sometimes
stuck in very limited battles about things like getting in the military or
gay marriage. . . . At the heart of what we’re interested in [is] creating
a culture and widening the sense of what it means to be queer. . . . And
that’s really hard to articulate in clear words because it’s not a piece of
legislation that’s being passed. . . . There’s no way to measure that.
(Weinstein and TomFoolery 2011)

The difference between the homonormativity and homoliberalism of

the mainstream gay community on the one hand, and the queers of IDA
on the other, becomes clear when it comes to issues of nature and envi-
ronment. As TomFoolery explained in the same interview, “We used to
get a lot of people coming in RVs because we were [listed] on [an] . . .
upscale gay vacation guide. And so they’d come in with their RVs think-
ing, ‘Wow, this is gonna be like a campground,’ you know, like, ‘Where
can we plug our RV in?’” (Weinstein and TomFoolery 2011). As Tom-
Foolery suggests, rurality in the mainstream gay imagination is a place
of leisure, a vacation, a temporary break—­not a place to get your hands
dirty and invest in “creating a culture.” Importantly, MaxZine’s comment
about the limitations of language speaks to the specific capacities of queer
environmental performance—­with its embodied affects, its nonverbal
artistic elements such as music and costume, and its physical feats such
as juggling and acrobatics, in addition to its linguistic components—­as
a means of “creating a culture” and “widening the sense of what it means
to be queer.”
It is crucial to add here that, according to scholars such as Sara
Warner, “homonormativity” and “homoliberalism” often require an
eschewal of affective modes such as gaiety and frivolity. As she contends,

Homoliberals see gaiety as antithetical to their quest for legitimization.

These are individuals whose pride consists in being “normal” and who
desire to assimilate into existing structures and institutions. . . . Since
acts of gaiety involve a flamboyant and flagrant flaunting [of] one’s
sexuality, those seeking accommodation within the system do just the
opposite; they practice and promote acts of conformity. (2012, xii).

Here, we might recall Heim’s notion of “conformity in how one is sup-

posed to ‘do’ nature-­human relations” (2012, 212). An example of such
an act of conformity is the widespread “sissyphobia” that finds gay men
128  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
pronouncing themselves as “straight-­acting” or demanding the same
of potential partners (see Herek 1987; Bergling 2001; and others). As
Warner concludes, “In our quest for legitimization, we homosexuals have
come to take ourselves too seriously” (2012, 30). Not coincidentally, I
argue, this conclusion echoes Doll’s (2003) comments about the “deadly
seriousness” with which we approach environmental issues. Thus, I sug-
gest that we see the gaiety of performers such as the Eggplant Faerie
Players not only as an attempt to bring alternative affects to environmen-
tal politics but as a concomitant refusal of antiqueer gay normativity.13
I want to close this section with a consideration of how IDA and the
Eggplant Faerie Players engage with questions of health, thus bringing
queer and environmental issues together yet again. First, many of IDA’s
inhabitants understand this rural location as a place of healing, though
perhaps not in the sense that one might expect. Both MaxZine and his
partner, Spree, have explained their interest in moving to IDA as a choice
made in the context of the 1980s and 1990s AIDS crisis, wherein they
lost many friends and colleagues. “IDA feels very nurturing. It’s where I
need to be,” Spree told POZ, a magazine for persons with HIV and
AIDS. “After I got my feet radiated [for Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions], I
would go there to put them in the cool water. I told MaxZine that after
I’m gone, if he sits there, I’ll come sit next to him” (“Spree de Corps”
1997). Spree establishes IDA’s environment as palliative rather than cura-
tive or restorative—­and thus counters a long tradition of Western, white,
and upper-­class understandings of the natural world as antidote to phys-
ical and social ills ranging from tuberculosis to urban male effeminacy.14
This notion of the palliative aligns with queer ecology scholar Sarah
Ensor’s recent proposal for an environmentalism inspired by both queer
theory and the AIDS crisis. As she argues, this approach

would seek less to save the planet from a single, cataclysmic end than
to embrace the ethical and practical demands posed by the multiple
endings that condition our experience of the everyday. Such an envi-
ronmentalism might prepare us not only to make friends with the ter-
minally ill, but also to acknowledge the extent to which each of us, in
fact, already has. (2016, 55)

As such, this environmentalism would be less dramatic, less gloom-­and-­

doomy than mainstream environmentalism, because its goals are not to
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  129
sound the alarm but rather to consider how to proceed once the alarm
has already been sounded. I should also note here that Spree has pun-
ningly described himself as a “person livid with AIDS” (“Spree de Corps”
1997)—­another linguistic performance that, like “Welcome Homo,” in-
vokes politicized affect and, more specifically, opposes the timid pathos
of “living with AIDS.”
IDA’s inhabitants also pointedly refuse to engage in what some
scholars have called “healthism”: situating health and well-­being as an
individual, private issue rather than a structural and cultural one, and
stigmatizing those who do not meet dominant expectations for health
or embodiment.15 For example, in conversation with Felion and Fernós,
MaxZine declared,

I’m excited to hear that there’s more and more queer fat pride groups
and people who are celebrating body sizes of all types. And that’s awe-
some. I think it’s horrible . . . how much the titans of the corporate
agribusiness push these high-­calorie empty foods on us. . . . [At IDA,]
we try and grow a lot of our own vegetables and food and make our
own healthy wines and fermented foods and stuff. But it’s very tricky.
I don’t want to fault anyone [for not doing the same]. (Weinstein and
TomFoolery 2011)

MaxZine thereby avoids the neoliberal, privatizing version of health in

which everyone is responsible for themselves, despite disparities in
resources. This stance has implications far beyond communities like
IDA. As scholars such as Sarah Jaquette Ray have shown, mainstream
environmentalism has long been “invest[ed] in abled bodies,” and it
often rests on a “correlation between the whole, healthy body and a
whole, healthy environment” (2013, 8)—­hence what she describes as
environmentalism’s negative reliance on the Othered figure of the dis-
abled body. This reliance also has homophobic and transphobic valences;
as queer ecology scholars have demonstrated, “healthy” landscapes are
defined as heterosexual, family friendly, and (re)productive. The Play-
ers’ and other inhabitants’ embrace of IDA as a place for both health and
queers, even including “diseased” ones, thus disarticulates mainstream
environmentalism’s typical ideological linkages and enacts new ones. As
I have shown, their affect and performativity—­their campiness, their
love of puns and wordplay—­are crucial to such projects.
130  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
The Lesbian National Parks and Services:
Putting the Camp in Camping
The Lesbian National Parks and Services (LNPS) is a multimedia proj-
ect developed by the Canadian performance art duo of Shawna Dempsey
and Lorri Millan. The LNPS sprang to life with a 1997 residency at the
Banff Centre for the Arts in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. In
character and in uniform as “Lesbian Rangers,” Dempsey and Millan
attempted to recruit park guests to their program, circulated infor­
mational pamphlets, and handed out infractions to “those deemed dan-
gerous to the local lesbian wildlife” (Domet 2003, 27). Dempsey and
Millan have made subsequent appearances in conjunction with the proj-
ect and have also produced various ephemera, including badges, T-­shirts
with the likes of “Eager Beaver” emblazoned on the front, a Handbook
of the Junior Lesbian Ranger (Lesbian National Parks and Services 2001),
a short video titled “Lesbian National Parks and Services: A Force of
Nature” ([2002] 2015), and the Lesbian National Parks and Services Field
Guide to North America: Flora, Fauna, and Survival Skills (Dempsey and
Millan 2003). The relatively limited scholarly attention that the LNPS
has received has tended to center on that N, “national.” For example,
gender studies scholar Margot Francis describes the LNPS as “queery-
ing that icon of Canadianness, the intrepid Park Ranger, [and] satiriz[ing]
the commodification of Banff” (2000, 131). Similarly, queer ecology
scholar Catriona Sandilands claims that the LNPS queers the competing
but coexisting nationalisms that national parks serve: “an iconic national
nature (coded as wild, empty, cold, white, except for a romanticized view
of Aboriginal peoples, and male-­homosocial) and a domestic national
nature (appearing civil, secure, warm . . . and feminine/family-­oriented)”
(2005, 145). With these insights in mind, this section specifically theo-
rizes the LNPS’s deployment of lesbian camp, considering its affective
and performative dimensions, its relationship to queer and environmen-
tal politics, and its doubling functions.
The LNPS’s unique intervention into queer and environmental
politics has to be understood, first, in terms of its affect. As Warner
observes in her work on 1970s and 1980s lesbian-­feminist performance,

The queer canon is almost devoid of representations of lesbian sexual-

ity, and it is sorely lacking in depictions of women laughing, joking, or
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  131
camping it up. This absence reinforces the stereotype that dykes are
dowdy and dogmatic, solemn and strident, and that lesbians were inca-
pable of thinking playfully or positively about sex and politics until the
1990s when queer men showed us how. (2012, xviii)

While the LNPS emerged in the 1990s, it makes its relationship to 1970s
and 1980s second wave feminist and lesbian movements, and its “sol-
emn and strident” reputation, explicitly clear. For example, one entry in
the Lesbian National Parks and Services Field Guide to North America
clearly plays on the lyrics of Helen Reddy’s 1970s feminist anthem, “I
Am Woman, Hear Me Roar”: “As independent as she is fierce, this hawk
prefers to be no man’s plaything: she is proud, she is invincible, she is
Red-­Tailed” (Dempsey and Millan 2003, 159). During their Banff resi-
dency, the Rangers “unveiled” an “Invisible Plaque Dedicated to our
Founding Foremothers” (Wray 2001, 168). And even simply in identi-
fying themselves as “lesbian”—­as opposed to “gay,” which has been a
more common identity tag for same-­sex-­oriented women starting in the
1990s16—­the Lesbian Rangers demonstrate knowledge of, and associate
themselves with, the earlier era of lesbian-­feminism, even as they poke
fun at it. The irony and humor found in the project can thus be under-
stood as self-­directed as much as outwardly directed.
Beyond simply showing that lesbians can laugh, and laugh at them-
selves, the LNPS demonstrates that camp can function as a strategy of
lesbian performance. We can understand just what is so notable about
this demonstration when we consider the mode’s gendered history.
Jack Halberstam describes camp as a “critical comic style deployed by
Euro-­American gay male and drag queen cultures” (2005, 129), explain-
ing that it “reads dominant culture at a slant and mimics dominant forms
of femininity to produce and ratify alternative drag femininities that revel
in irony, sarcasm, inversion, and insult” (130, emphasis added). How-
ever, in recent years, scholars including Halberstam, Sabine LeBel,
José Esteban Muñoz, and Pamela Robertson Wojcik have argued for the
existence of feminist, female, and “drag king” camp; as LeBel writes,
drawing on Robertson (1996), “Parodic, excessive camp performance
or aesthetic that works to undermine, reject, and resist the limitations
of gendered experience . . . is in line with the feminist project of critiqu-
ing gender and sex roles” (2005, 183). Hence, for example, we have
132  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
phenomena such as the rise of “bio queens” like Maurice Maurice—­
assigned-­female-­at-­birth, female-­identified performers who adopt exag-
gerated feminine styles.
But more than just feminist and female, LeBel argues that the
LNPS “represents a ‘dyke camp’ strategy because it employs humour
and parody to perform and subvert stereotypes of lesbians” (2005, 182,
emphasis added). Moreover, the LNPS necessarily takes a different ap-
proach to the exaggeration and excess that are so central to camp. That
is, while both gay male/drag queen and feminist/female camp exagger-
ate “dominant forms of femininity” through, say, outrageously big wigs,
impossibly long lashes, or obscene amounts of sequins, “dykes” are not
associated with excessive femininity in the first place and, actually, are
often associated with austerity: severe haircuts, practical clothing. Thus,
the Lesbian Park Rangers engage with camp and its excesses in their
own butch lesbian terms. As LeBel points out, Dempsey and Millan
“stayed in character . . . for their entire residency at Banff. This [fact,]
alongside [the production of ephemera such as] the badges, fieldbook,
T-­shirts, and registration forms can be understood as a deliberately
excessive performance” (2005, 183). And as Dempsey herself observed,
One thing about the project that we didn’t anticipate was that, OK, if
we’re going to be rangers, no one can see us out of uniform. . . . So
then it was like, “Ohhhh shit, I’ve gotta go to the bank. I’ve gotta go
to the bank as a Lesbian Ranger.” So you go to the teller and she
says—­perky bank teller voice—­“Oh, I’ve never seen that uniform
before. What force are you with?” “I’m with Lesbian National Parks
and Services.” As Lesbian Rangers we have to come out constantly, to
every single taxi driver, to every single grocery store clerk, to every
single little old lady who stops us on the street. (quoted in Domet
2003, 27–­28, emphasis added)

The Lesbian Park Rangers thus comically position themselves both in

and out of performance as excessively, embarrassingly, committed. At
the same time, Dempsey’s comments remind us of Butler’s thoughts on
the endless loop of “coming-­out,” though perhaps with a more humor-
ous inflection: “Being ‘out’ must produce the closet again and again in
order to maintain itself as ‘out.’ In this sense, outness can only produce
a new opacity; and the closet produces the promise of a disclosure that
can, by definition, never come” (Butler 1993). Dempsey and Millan’s
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  133
performances as park rangers thus invoke, more broadly, the performa-
tivity of gender and sexual identities.
While the LNPS’s campy performances thus make vital interven-
tions into queer and feminist discussions, the question remains: How
exactly do they engage with environmental concerns? In interviews,
Dempsey and Millan have gestured toward those concerns: “Almost all
of our work starts with something that bugs us, and an image,” Demp-
sey told journalist Stephanie Domet. “In the case of Banff, ‘there’s no
acknowledgement, in that setting, of anything other than heterosexual
families hell-­bent on recreation’” (Domet 2003, 27). Millan continued,
“In the process of working on the piece, we realized that it’s about the
heterosexual assumptions of our culture as that’s played out in our natu-
ral sciences—­constant references to a heterosexual norm, and they point
to nature and animals as examples of the natural way things should be
in the world” (27). But such critiques can be levied in many different
ways, including quite serious and academic ones—­as much queer ecol-
ogy scholarship demonstrates. Thus, we must ask, why employ the spe-
cific, and comparatively rare, mode of “dyke camp” to talk about nature,
animals, and the natural sciences? More broadly, what does it mean to
engage with nature, animals, the natural sciences, or “the environment”
in a campy, performative manner?
To begin to offer some answers, I want to return first to the stereo-
type of lesbians invoked by Warner: “dowdy and dogmatic, solemn and
strident” (2012, xviii). The same description can and has been applied
to environmentalists. And in fact, many classic stereotypes of lesbians
and lesbian-­feminists—­rugged, “crunchy,” granola and tofu eating, Bir­
kenstock wearing, and so on—­are indistinguishable from those of en-
vironmentalists.17 Thus, while environmentalism has largely stood in
opposition to queer affects, identities, and issues, certain lesbian “life-
styles” may be the exception. Consider, for example, a very different
project centered on national parks, lauded nature writer Terry Tempest
Williams’s 2016 book The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s
National Parks. Williams takes us on a tour of a dozen parks, offering such
ruminations as “Awe is the moment when ego surrenders to wonder.
This is our inheritance—­the beauty before us. We cry. We cry out” (197)
and declaring, “The time has come for acts of reverence and restraint on
behalf of the Earth” (358)—­apparently ignoring the fact that reverence
134  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
and restraint have dominated mainstream environmental art, activism,
and discourse since at least John Muir’s nineteenth-­century moment.
Williams’s dramatic syntax—­“We cry. We cry out”—­even echoes LNPS
lines like “she is proud, she is invincible, she is Red-­Tailed.” The LNPS’s
parodic embodiment of lesbian stereotypes, then, does a unique double
duty, reflecting at once on the affective and aesthetic norms of a par­
ticular queer community and on those of environmental art, activism,
discourse, and science.
I will return to those norms in a moment, but first I want to con-
sider another, more specific kind of doubling: the LNPS’s relentless
deployment of double entendres and puns.18 The Junior Lesbian Ranger
handbook, for instance, reports, “Everyone wants to be a Junior Lesbian
Ranger. Some want to wear the famous uniform. Some cannot wait for
adventures in the bush” (2001, 5), while a Field Guide entry informs us
that “the fun-­ loving and frolicsome Beaver revels in watersports”
(Dempsey and Millan 2003, 120). A diagram of a solar still in the Field
Guide, meanwhile, looks suspiciously vaginal. Here, the LNPS relies on
the slipperiness of language and visual imagery to help facilitate the
queering of nature and, thus, of what Millan calls the “heterosexual
assumptions of our culture as that’s played out in our natural sciences.”
While the larger context of the LNPS—­the word “lesbian,” at the very
least—­certainly gestures toward that queering, the earnest, innocent
voices of these performers and their publications ensure that, ultimately,
that work is up to us. That is, for example, there’s nothing in the Field
Guide entry that indicates that “Beaver” should be read as slang for
“vagina”—­only our own thought processes. (Guilty as charged!) The
LNPS thereby suggests the futility of dismissing social constructionism
in favor of some “real,” authentic nature outside the social and linguis-
tic. While flesh-­and-­blood beavers certainly exist, many of us will never
again be able to consider that poor mammal without being clouded by
impure thoughts.
In these aforementioned ways, the performances of the LNPS
differ from those of the Eggplant Faerie Players and Queers for the
Climate, discussed later in this chapter. Whereas the latter two give
performances of gaiety that oppose the seriousness of environmentalist
art, activism, and discourse, the LNPS gives mock-­serious performances
informed by gaiety. Consider, for example, the most widely circulated
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  135

Figure 4. A suspicious entry from the Lesbian National Parks and Services’
Field Guide to North America. Illustration by Daniel Barrow. Courtesy of Finger
in the Dyke Productions.

image of the Lesbian Rangers: Dempsey and Millan stand at attention,

their rigid physical stance invoking the rigid affective and behavioral
norms associated with both “dykes” and environmentalists. Here, they
remind us of Henri Bergson’s well-­known pronouncement that “rigidity
is the comic, and laughter is its corrective” (1911, 18). In fact, the LNPS
often provokes laughter merely by behaving seriously and formally, as in
its “Force of Nature” video ([2002] 2015). There, Millan speaks to the
camera, telling us in an earnest tone, “Our goals are threefold: they’re
education, research, and recruitment. But before we can do anything,
we have to identify the regions in which lesbianism, through no fault
of its own, has not taken root and multiplied.” Later, a stern British
male voice-­over—­that staple of nature programming gravitas for many
decades, as I noted in chapter 2—­reports, “Dempsey and Millan devel-
oped a rigorous training regime which focuses on the preservation of
lesbian life in all its forms.” Meanwhile, the camera pans across a squad
Figure 5. Lesbian Rangers on the job! Photograph by Don Lee, the Banff
Centre. Courtesy of Finger in the Dyke Productions.
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  137
of seven recruits standing at rigid, sober attention—­save for one cheeky
woman who winks at the camera.
At this point, we should consider how the specific mode of camp
matters in the environmental explorations of the LNPS. Returning to
Sontag’s definition, we remember that camp entails the “emphasi[s] of
style” over “content” (1964, 277), a “love of the unnatural: of artifice
and exaggeration” (275), and a “sensibility of failed seriousness” (287).
All these elements can be construed as antienvironmental, or at least
unenvironmentalist. First, environmentalism ostensibly rests on a com-
mitment to “content” (the issues, information) rather than a frivolous
interest in “style”—­or, at least, an interest in style only to the extent
that it effectively conveys content. Second, environmentalism is often
premised on a love of nature, or the real, material world, as opposed to
“artifice”—­on the “definition of Nature as anti-­artifice” (Price 1999,
140, emphasis added). Finally, environmentalism is marked by a serious
sensibility, one that matches the seriousness of contemporary environ-
mental crisis. The LNPS, of course, does not follow any of these rules.
But I am most interested here in what the Lesbian Rangers tell us about
seriousness—­both their own and others’. The LNPS’s seriousness fails,
due both to its own exaggeratedness and to occasional signals to the
audience, such as the aforementioned wink. But for most environmen-
tal art—­such as, for example, the dolphin-­slaughter documentary The
Cove, discussed in chapter 1, or Williams’s book—­to work, the serious-
ness in question cannot fail. In this sense, the engagement of the LNPS
with camp prompts us to recognize how significantly, and yet how tenu-
ously, mainstream environmentalist discourse hinges on affective appeals.
Indeed, as I have suggested, The Cove walks a shaky line, occasionally elic-
iting inadvertent laughs when it goes overboard with maudlin moments.
In fact, Sontag would likely identify The Cove or The Hour of Land as the
true camp artworks; what she calls “pure Camp” is “always naïve,” “un-
intentional,” and “dead serious.” It truly tries, and then fails—­as opposed
to a project like the LNPS, which, in trying to fail from the start, con-
stitutes “deliberate Camp” (Sontag 1964, 262).
But if both are ultimately camp, and if both depend on seriousness,
then the likes of The Cove and The Hour of Land and the likes of LNPS
have much more in common than one might initially think. I therefore
want to conclude this section by considering how queer environmental
138  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
performance, in all its apparent differences from mainstream environ-
mentalism, has the potential to highlight certain similarities: namely, that
environmentalism is a performance with well-­defined codes, just like
drag, or masculinity. That is, sites like the LNPS show us the performa-
tive nature not only of gender and sexual identities but of ecological
(and other political) identities. In fact, one could argue that the LNPS
reveals the performative nature of all social interactions. For example,
Dempsey recalls for Francis an interaction with a white, middle-­aged
Canadian male who approached them in Banff: “When he got up to us
he read the label of my shirt insignia out loud: L E S B I A N National
Parks and Services. Realizing that he didn’t know (or couldn’t acknowl-
edge) what he was dealing with, he suddenly had to improvise. His
conclusion—­‘Now that must be Federal, isn’t it!’” (quoted in Francis
2000, 134, emphasis added). Playful performance becomes, not just
for the ostensible performers but also for their audience members, a way
of managing uncomfortable situations. But perhaps most interestingly,
we see here what I have described as the open-­ended nature of “bad”
environmental artworks: their contingency and unpredictability, and
their unexpected or unquantifiable outcomes.
I have already suggested the ways in which environmental perfor-
mances depend on adherence to affective codes. The LNPS also dem-
onstrates how they depend on material and consumerist trappings; in
addition to uniforms, badges, and guidebooks, the “Force of Nature”
video shows Dempsey and Millan using compasses, canteens, maps,
binoculars, sunglasses, and watches. Their excessive gear thus demon-
strates the extent to which we are supposed to be properly outfitted,
in all senses of the word, to engage with the nonhuman world. Indeed,
the Lesbian Rangers’ general ability to look the part no doubt explains
tourists’ willingness to engage with them. This insight brings us to the
matter of race. Reminding us of “the links between national parks, im-
perial meaning-­making and wilderness landscape” (Francis 2000, 131),
as well as Indigenous erasure, Margot Francis argues “that the [LNPS]
project [inadvertently] stages, and provides an opportunity to observe,
the visible-­yet-­invisible effects of whiteness, in representations of being
Canadian” (131). Reflecting, more specifically, on the Rangers’ (surpris-
ingly?) warm reception by most audiences, Francis suggests that “the
artists[’] whiteness was crucial to their ability to pass. In other words,
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  139
whiteness was enabling, it was a currency which gave them the respect-
ability necessary to perform as queer” (133). Here, we see that while
queer environmental performances may be spontaneous, environmental
identities cannot necessarily be put on or taken off at will—­in the same
way that, as Butler has had to remind those of us who would misread
her, gender cannot, either.
I turn here, finally, to a real-­life illustration of my claims about envi-
ronmentalism as performance. Dave Horton has written on the phe-
nomenon of the so-­called Harvest Supper, which I recognize from my
own experience as a “Local Foods Dinner”—­a potluck event for which
participants bring dishes featuring at least one local ingredient. As he
describes his experience at one of these events,
Before the meal began, each person briefly introduced, and recounted
the history of, their contribution. The comfort of diners whose dishes
conformed closely to the relevant green codes was matched by the
awkwardness and apologising of diners who had less successfully
incorporated home-­grown or local organic food into their contribu-
tions. (Horton 2003, 71)

Here, we see yet again how affect is inseparable from performance when
it comes to environmentalism; successful participants demonstrate “com-
fort,” while unsuccessful participants feel “awkwar[d]” and guilty. From
personal experience, I would add that successful participants, including
myself, also felt some smug satisfaction about our successful dishes—­
thus invoking the sanctimony that has become a perceived hallmark of
environmentalism. The Harvest Supper or Local Foods Dinner is just
one environmental/ist practice among many; we could apply Horton’s
observations to cycling, or participating in a community garden, or
shopping at a farmers market, or xeriscaping. The LNPS encourages
us to admit that these practices can be just as ridiculous as their residen-
cies, guides, and videos—­and equally as performative. Put another way,
perhaps there is little that is natural about environmentalism.

Getting Wetter with Queers for the Climate

Compared to the Eggplant Faerie Players and the Lesbian National
Parks and Services, the New York–­based collective known as Queers
140  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
for the Climate more explicitly articulates an environmentalist agenda.
In this section, I examine three of the “artivist” performances associ-
ated with the collective: a viral campaign centered around the hashtag
“It Gets Wetter,” a short quasi-­documentary titled “Climate Change
Ground Zero: Fire Island Pines,” and a series of memes. I show how
these performances initiate queer self-­critique while exploring the sur-
prisingly queer dimensions of climate change.
“It Gets Wetter” attempts to draw attention to the issue of sea level
rise, one of the many effects of climate change, through drag iconogra-
phy. As the campaign web page reads, “It gets wetter. Seriously. Well
it gets drier too, depending on where you are. But mostly, especially on
the coasts, it gets wetter. . . . A brand new UN report on climate change
says sea levels could eventually rise over 20 feet if we don’t give our cli-
mate a chill pill.” Directions for the campaign include: “Record a short
video giving a reality check about climate change. Ideally do this in
drag, or scantily clad, or in a fabulous setting. The more outrageous the
better” (“Joseph” 2014). While the campaign’s title thus obviously speaks
to sea level rise, it can also be understood as an instance of linguistic
performance, much like IDA’s “Welcome Homo” or the LNPS’s ref­
erences to bush and beavers. Specifically, I read it as a pun on “It
Gets Better,” the U.S. multimedia campaign initiated in 2010 by gay
advice columnist and writer Dan Savage and his husband, aiming to
“Give Hope to LGBT Youth!”19 The campaign has spawned internet-­
disseminated essays and videos from LGBT adults, often celebrities,
who attest to their present happy lives despite a past spent in the closet,
being bullied, and so on. Queers for the Climate wants to suggest that,
in fact, it may get worse—­but in the most arch and camp of ways, and in
a broader sense than the social and romantic.
I want to dwell on this point, perhaps even doing a bit of overreading
of the campaign, to consider how it may model new affective relations to
a climate change era. First, I venture that the play of “It Gets Wetter” on
“It Gets Better” opens up a critique of the earnest, neoliberal, and par-
ticularly American narrative of progress implicit in the latter—­the narra­
tive in which success entails a good job, a marriage, a house, and children.
The subtitle of the book that the campaign produced—­Coming Out,
Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living (Savage and Miller
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  141
2011)—­even has a classic beginning-­middle-­end narrative structure. In
performing this critique, I argue, “It Get Wetter” asks, What does it
mean to reproduce that normative future in a world that looks increas-
ingly precarious? Or, perhaps more to the point, what does it mean
to insist to young people that such a normative future is both desirable
and available, in an era in which climate change–­associated disasters are
accompanied by, say, postindustrial collapse, downward mobility, mas-
sive unemployment, rampant police killings of unarmed youth of color,
and, at least in the United States, astronomically rising tuition costs?
Here, we are in a very different realm than either the antifuturist, live-­
in-­the-­now strain of queer theory represented by scholars such as Lee
Edelman, or the future-­oriented strain of homonormative, pro-­marriage
gay politics represented by Savage and critiqued by the Eggplant Faerie
Players: in the very grammar of “It Gets Wetter,” the future does indeed
stretch on, but not in idealized, normative ways.
At the same time that “It Gets Wetter” interrupts the progress nar-
rative found in the likes of “It Gets Better,” it provides a crucial coun-
terpoint to typical environmentalist affects and sensibilities, including
seriousness, sincerity, and sentimentality. First, it is obviously deeply
irreverent for a queer campaign to take an indirect potshot at a cam-
paign devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans youth; “devastatingly
sassy” is perhaps the better term. “It Gets Wetter” thus suggests a mode
attuned to environmental crisis that also sidesteps the accusations of
preaching, sanctimony, and doctrine so often lobbied at environmen­
talists: when one takes no sacred cows (and the specter of vulnerable-­
but-­potentially-­successful gay youth is, in liberal circles, one of the most
sacred), one can hardly be accused of religious-­like fervor. In other words,
I argue that “It Gets Wetter,” through its version of queer politics,
opens us up to a possibility of environmentalism in which “The Envi-
ronment,” like “Gay Youth,” does not become fetishized and mobilized
as a grand, yet pitifully threatened, object of worship. The campaign
opens up these possibilities even as it insists on the troubling material
realities of climate change. An interesting parallel with a moment from
An Inconvenient Truth, discussed in chapter 1, emerges here: as Al Gore
looks at a graph of CO2 levels in the atmosphere, he observes, “It just
keeps going up.” “It just keeps going up.” “It gets wetter.” But where Gore’s
142  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
tone is gloom and doom—­and that of the Savage campaign is earnest—­
Queers for the Climate models a complex affective position: a perverse
mixture of nihilism, glee, politicized drama, and canny self-­awareness.
Finally, the “It Gets Wetter” campaign, more than queering climate
change discourse, inspires us to see how climate change is itself already
queer. Consider what climatologist Mike Hulme tells us about the dif-
ference between weather (the day-­to-­day) and climate (the overarching
If “climate refers to a cultural relationship established progressively
between human beings and weather,” [then] the idea of climate should
be understood as performing important psychological and cultural
functions. Climate offers a way of navigating between the human
experience of a constantly changing atmosphere and its attendant
insecurities, and the need to live with a sense of stability and regularity. . . .
We look to our idea of climate to offer an ordered container—­a linguistic,
sensory or numerical repertoire—­through which to tame and inter-
pret the unsettling arbitrariness of the restless weather. . . . And it is
one of the reasons why the idea of climate changing is so unsettling: it
undermines this “trust” in climate as a cultural form of aggregated order
which eases human anxieties about the weather. (Hulme 2015, 177, quot-
ing Knebusch 2008, bolding and emphasis added)

We might notice, first, how Hulme employs the language of poststruc-

turalist paradigms, including queer theory: “[de]stabili[zing],” “unset-
tling,” “undermin[ing].” We might also, in the spirit of wordplay found
in queer environmental performances, consider the extent to which “cli-
mate” could be interchanged with another word—­such as, say, “gender.”
This is a whimsical proposition, to be sure. But then, something like
Hulme’s last line—­“a cultural form of aggregated order which eases
human anxieties”—­is uncannily similar to how a queer theorist or trans-
gender studies scholar would define gender. And in fact, such scholars
would also tell us that homophobia and transphobia emerge from a sce-
nario in which gender “changing is . . . unsettling,” for how it “under-
mines . . . trust in [gender] as a cultural form of aggregated order which
eases human anxieties.”
Again, at the risk of overreading, I surmise that Queers for the
Climate’s decision to employ drag for the “It Gets Wetter” campaign
evokes precisely that point. But lest I imply gender as a mere parallel to
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  143
climate, I would point out that the two are intricately intertwined. To
take just one example, scholars have recently found that climate change
denial emerges from a view of climate change and climate change accep-
tance as threats to a sense of traditional, stable masculinity (see, e.g.,
McCright and Dunlap 2011; Anshelm and Hultman 2014). In other
words, climate change denial tells us something about what actual cli-
mate change is poised to do, at least ideologically, which is to threaten
dominant forms of masculinity and their associated ways of life and ide-
als of order and control. This is not to say, of course, that climate change
is somehow “good,” in the way that many of us think of queer/trans
theory or cultural traditions as “good” or, at least, as doing good work.
In this sense, my claim that climate change is “queer” is a rather ambiv-
alent one. I merely want to suggest that the changeability or instability
of climate and something like the changeability or instability of gen-
der, or sexuality, or identity, could and perhaps should be considered
together—­as “It Gets Wetter” seems to invite us to do. After all, both
are phenomena that question our fundamental beliefs about how we
should organize society and what kind of future we should strive for.
Another Queers for the Climate project, a short video (Huff-­
Hannon 2014) produced as a prelude to the People’s Climate March
that took place in New York City in September 2014, does similar work.
The video has been referred to as a “documentary” (Merchant 2014),
but it functions mostly (or also) as collective self-­parody.20 It features
activist Joseph Huff-­Hannon as a gay environmental canvasser who
travels to Fire Island Pines, the famed gay vacation spot on New York
State’s Fire Island, attempting to talk to the public about climate change.
In what follows, I focus on both the political dynamics depicted in the
video and its “bad” performances: how the exaggerated, nonnaturalistic
acting on display opens up new possibilities for both queer and ecologi-
cal identities in a time of environmental crisis.
The video, though short, runs through a gamut of (failed) environ-
mentalist and ecomedia tactics, allowing us to reflect critically on each
one. From a rhetorical standpoint, we could say that Huff-­Hannon
moves from ethos to logos and, finally, pathos. At the outset, Huff-­
Hannon explains through a voice-­over that he is “deeply concerned
about climate change . . . so I decided to go to climate change ground
zero, a low-­lying sand bar in the Atlantic Ocean. If there’s any place
144  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
where I could rouse people to demand action from our leaders to tackle
the climate crisis [ethos], this was it.” The optimism and naïveté in his
voice sets us up for the next joke: we see him approach several sets of
men to ask if they have “a minute to talk about climate change”; they
dismiss him out of hand, clearly more interested in playing volleyball
and cruising—­including cruising Huff-­Hannon himself—­than in lis­
tening to bad news. Huff-­Hannon then switches tactics, barraging his
audience with fear-­inducing statistics (logos, with some pathos) and
thus invoking the stereotype of the gloom-­and-­doom environmentalist:
“There are going to be more resource wars, more desertification, more
famine, more dislocation, climate refugees, millions of people dying
awful deaths,” and “Climate change actually already kills 1,000 kids a
day.” One unmoved man responds to the latter statistic in a deadpan
voice: “So you think we should like, make more kids to make up for it?”
Our activist finally reaches an epiphany in voice-­over: “Why isn’t my
message getting through? People aren’t connecting the climate crisis
to their communities.” Huff-­Hannon’s final tactic, then, is the personal
appeal (pathos). He proceeds to tell vacationers, “This place will be
under water. Sea level rise will wipe [it] out.” The men respond stereo-
typically, with exaggerated shrieks, denials, and disavowals. “The day
was a huge success,” Huff-­Hannon concludes, again in an overly chip-
per voice-­over. “People were really psyched to see me! And they were
finally waking up to the dangers of climate change.” In proper comedic
fashion, the actual video footage undercuts that assertion: “It’s not fair
that you come, and fuck up our brunch,” the deadpan man complains.
The video then cuts to some brief informational text, which reads, “On
September 1st, NYC is getting the party started with the largest climate
march in history,” and then to the logo for the People’s Climate March,
all backed by hard-­pumping dance club music.
Huff-­Hannon has admitted that the interviews in question are
largely staged, though most viewers would know that just from watch-
ing on their own; the people serving as interviewees make very little
effort to seem authentic or believable (see Merchant 2014). So what we
have here is not just acting but pointedly bad acting. This “badness,” I
claim, matters on several levels. First, even as the video invokes familiar
stereotypes of shallow, bitchy, hedonistic queers who “live in the now,”
it parodies those stereotypes from within. That is, we are not watching
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  145
straight sketch comedians ridicule gay men; rather, we are watching gay
men who are, or who at least appear to be, engaging in negative behav-
ior reflect comically on that behavior. Like that of the Eggplant Faerie
Players and the Lesbian National Parks and Services, Queers for the
Climate’s work is self-­reflexive. The video indicts climate change apathy
within a particular community without engaging in finger-­pointing or
finger-­wagging, and while still raising crucial questions about how to
get the average person to care about environmental issues.
Importantly, the bad acting in this video is not limited to the inter-
viewees but extends to the figure of the environmentalist; Huff-­Hannon
is clearly acting too, though in this case playing the “straight man,” as
it were. Again, Queers for the Climate performs self-­parody and self-­
criticism, in contrast to the sanctimony and self-­righteousness found
in much environmental art, activism, and discourse. And indeed, Huff-­
Hannon’s persona reminds us of the strict codes of environmentalism
discussed earlier: one performs environmentalism, one has a script—­
sometimes quite literally, as we see with his clipboard. Here, Henri
Bergson’s idea of “rigidity [as] the comic, and laughter . . . its corrective”
(1911, 18) proves invaluable; the environmentalist’s rigid performance
is what prompts us to laugh at him. At the same time, the particulars
of Huff-­Hannon’s performance, specifically his naïveté and unflagging
optimism in the face of rejection, remind us of the plight of climate
scientists, evolutionary biologists tracking species extinction, environ-
mental activists, and others on the ground—­who, as recent research has
shown, often suffer from burnout and depression (Richardson 2015). To
carry on in the face of climate change denial and bleak chances for success
is both seemingly impossible and utterly necessary. It is also, as Queers
for the Climate suggests, inherently, darkly ridiculous. Those individu-
als might therefore do well to laugh at themselves through their tears.
And of course, as I have been hinting, performances of environ-
mentalism typically entail the affective manipulation of others—­often,
the invocation of guilt, anxiety, or fear in an audience. U.S. stand-­up
comic and actor Aziz Ansari has performed a bit about such manipula-
tion, and I refer to it here in depth because I believe it offers a useful
framework through which to view the Queers for the Climate video. In
his 2010 Comedy Central stand-­up special titled Intimate Moments for
a Sensual Evening, Ansari recounts a time when he was approached by a
146  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
street canvasser asking, similar to Huff-­Hannon, “Do you have a moment
for gay rights?” After telling him no, Ansari reports, with a midtempo
delivery that elicits laughs, “And that dude watched me walk into . . . [long
pause] a Jamba Juice.” Ansari then reports, improbably, that when the
canvasser complained, he told him, “Well, actually, man, there’s a guy
that works in that Jamba Juice that said some really hateful stuff about a
close gay friend of mine. And I’m going in there to stab him. . . . So sit
there with your little clipboard and judge me. I kill for gay people!”
Ansari hereby captures the agonistic affective dynamic of activist (can-
vasser) and average person (canvasee), in which the latter feels guilty,
whether the former intends that effect or not, and then feels angry at
being made to feel guilty. Hence the one-­upmanship of the exchange,
and the pleasure that Ansari displays in his reenactment of the encounter.
Importantly, any viewer familiar with the larger context of Ansari’s
comedy—­which is explicitly antihomophobic, antiracist, and feminist—­
knows that this bit does not actually amount to a dismissal of progres-
sive issues. Instead, he is laughing at, and therefore critiquing, both his
failure to act politically and the affective dimensions of politics as they
have been offered to him. To put it very simply, Ansari’s ridicule of
“a moment for gay rights” does not equal a dismissal of “gay rights.”
Perhaps this is all quite obvious, but my point is that his audience’s
awareness of that distinction serves to guide their processing of the joke.
The same thing, I argue, is happening in Queers for the Climate’s video.
And this is perhaps the piece missing from something like Bourgeois &
Maurice’s “Apocalypso”: a clear or at least intimated self-­reflexivity that
would allow viewers to understand it as a parody, and that would help
clarify what, exactly, it is parodying. In poking fun at the environmental-
ist codes that the group has itself internalized, Queers for the Climate
suggests that those codes can be relaxed and redrawn, thus making space
for the new kinds of affiliations that climate change both allows for and

The performances of the Eggplant Faerie Players, the Lesbian National

Parks and Services, and Queers for the Climate both critique environ-
mental politics as usual and offer new, self-­reflexive models of environ-
mental politics—­models that do not sacrifice campiness, gaiety, frivolity,
or other queer affective modes. However, like the two nature/wildlife
Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy  |  147
programs discussed in the previous chapter, the work of these groups is
not always consistent. For example, memes generated by Queers for the
Climate member Peterson Toscano seem decidedly un-­self-­reflexive
and, by some measures, “unqueer,” compared to its “It Gets Wetter”
campaign and Fire Island video. One meme depicts a white woman in a
wedding dress standing on a cliff under stormy skies, with the caption
“Great, I get the right to marry just at the beginning of the end of the
world”; another features a handsome white male couple and the text
“After the perfect wedding, Chad & Lance decided to save the world.
#Queers4Climate” (Toscano 2014). One might argue that, in such images,
private behaviors like middle-­class marriage are neatly cleaved from
public issues such as climate change—­despite what countless scholars
and activists have told us about the incredibly high environmental toll of
middle-­class and white domestic behaviors of consumption. We might
then say that the memes, problematically, offer no causality, no sense of
how we got to “the end of the world.” Their sweeping, overwhelming
concept of “the world” is also rather troubling, as is the way in which
they potentially erase an entire tradition of queer environmental work
by suggesting a version of history in which same-­sex marriage precedes
climate activism.
At the same time, like “It Gets Wetter” and the Fire Island video,
these memes disrupt the progress narrative attached to phenomena like
“It Gets Better” in particular, to homoliberalism more broadly, and to
contemporary Western life in general. They tell us that our current
ways of living on the planet are outdated and unsustainable, and that
“new,” “progressive” developments such as gay marriage will not change
that fact. In this way, they counter conservative responses to climate
change, such as the recent National Review op-­ed by Jonah Goldberg
(2013) that scoffed at environmentalists’ gloom-­and-­doom scenarios,
claiming that quality of life has steadily risen throughout human history.
While the article certainly did not cite same-­sex marriage as evidence
of positive progress, the point remains: these memes acknowledge that
we seem to be advancing in certain areas—­but then they ask, “So what?”
What do those supposed advances really add up to? And what have
those of us in the First World ignored while applauding them?
And what should we do in these absurd times, in which social
advancement for some coexists with decline and degradation for many?
148  |  Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy
I turn here to Ann Pellegrini’s update of Sontag’s work, in which she
declares that “camp is both ‘anticipatory,’ in its ability to imagine differ-
ent social worlds, and a form of historical memory. . . . Camp engages
in creative recycling of the past as a way to produce a different relation
to the present and the future” (2007, 184). If it gets worse and “wetter,”
if it “keeps going up,” rather than getting better, forces such as queer en-
vironmental performance—­along with queer climate activism and queer
ecological critique—­can help us understand how we might live, at least
in affective terms, in this shifting reality.

animatronic indians and

black folk who don’t
Rewriting Racialized Environmental Affect

When we talk of the “culturally constructed” status of nature, we

need to remain keenly aware of how the racial dimension of
“culture,” as lived individually, enters into the equation.
—­Ian Finseth, Shades of Green

When a people can laugh at themselves and others . . . then it

seems to me that people can survive.
—­Vine Deloria Jr., Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs’s poem “My First Black Nature Poem™,”

published in Black Renaissance Noire in 2011 and included in revised form
in her 2013 collection TwERK, regards nonhuman nature with what I
have been referring to as bad affect: modes such as irony and irrever-
ence, as well as anxiety and suspicion. The poem intersperses a present-­
tense account of the fretful speaker’s experience swimming in a Virginia
lake with fragments of historical fact, cultural memory, and internal
thought process. The poem is ironic on a formal level, juxtaposing
declaratives such as “black folk don’t swim. we splash and cool off” and
“only white people swim in lakes nowadays” (2011) with descriptions of
the black speaker, in fact, swimming in a lake. The poem also skips irrev-
erently across incongruous points of reference, from the momentous
and traumatic to the popular and trivial. For example, Diggs suggests
that the speaker’s ecophobia is informed equally by the transatlantic
slave trade (“we a ways forward from a splenda hint of Senegalese man-
liness divin’ from a ferry / miles off shore from Goree” [a pushing-­off
point for slave ships and present site of the House of Slaves memorial])

150  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
and schlocky horror films and local legend (“profound is this river of
B rated torture”, “swamp monsters. ([but] this ain’t a swamp)”) and even
the self-­induced paranoia of a marijuana-­smoking habit (“something
from my weed days / could live. down. here”). The poem also paints a
slightly absurd image of its fretful speaker with lines such as the latter,
and others: “deep are the shadow people I speculate through my rave
tangerine goggles.” What emerges from the poem then, is a complex
mapping of black American relationships to nature—­relationships that
cannot be reduced to the categories of either tragedy or triumph, and
the affective modes those categories dictate; these relationships are nei-
ther wholly individual nor wholly collective.
In addition to her speaker, Diggs also seems to poke fun at herself
through various moments of writerly self-­reflexivity. The poem’s second
line, for example, concludes with the lament “but my nerves. Lord these
pensive endings.” The latter can be read as a play on words, as in “nerve
endings”; as a metareference to the end of that particular line; or even
against the very end of the poem itself: “the darkness now confronts
me . . .” (ellipsis in original). That is, while the poem thereby seems
to leave us on a serious, ominous note, Diggs has already invited us to
roll our eyes at such “pensive endings.”1 In fact, “Lord these pensive
endings” might constitute a lament about lament—­one of the primary
generic and affective modes of contemporary environmental art, activ-
ism, and discourse. Not only the profundity of nonhuman nature itself
but also the profundity of the stories we tell about it seem ripe for
the undercutting here. And, indeed, the poem’s title, “My First Black
Nature Poem™,” performs its own complicated undercutting. On the
one hand, the trademark symbol raises the notion of nature poetry as
(ironically) commodified or, at least, formulaic. The title also humor-
ously invokes children’s toys such as Fisher-­Price’s “My First Dollhouse”
or “My First Farm,” linking literary writing to childish play.2 But per-
haps most significantly, the title implicates the poet in the aforemen-
tioned dynamics; nature writing may be commodified, formulaic, and
affectively homogenous—­not to mention racially exclusive—­but Diggs,
or her speaker, wants in on it.
While clearly a commentary on black environmental experience,
Diggs’s poem also invokes that of Native Americans, including fragments
such as “& where the natives are unenlightened” and “ancestors distraught
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  151
and vengeful (like Jason).” The latter phrase alludes to the idea of Native
Americans’ spectral presence on colonized lands—­think Stephen King’s
Pet Sematary or any other ancient-­Indian-­burial-­ground trope—­as well
as other pop cultural clichés: Jason, son of a lakeside camp cook turned
murderer, is the mononymic villain of the Friday the 13th horror film
franchise. The poem also references Anglo appropriations of Indigenous
practices, referring to “white people . . . paddl[ing] on boards across the
Hudson / taking on trends from Hawai’i. they tap into the yester days /
of Algonkian tongues. Wappinger. Mahican.” Diggs thus offers us a diz-
zying catalog of the many discourses and contexts that shape human en-
counters with the nonhuman, both honoring and burlesquing them. But
more importantly for my work in this chapter, Diggs’s decision to refer-
ence Indigenous people in a poem ostensibly about black experience
reminds us that these groups share a common subjection to racializing
and stereotyping and a common experience of environmental injustice
and alienation, among other things. That is, despite having very different
histories overall, and myriad histories within, both groups have particu-
larly fraught contemporary relationships to the category of “environ-
ment,” including ideas of nature, wilderness, rurality, animals, and the
In this chapter, I argue that those fraught relationships to “environ-
ment” are, centrally, issues of affect. I show how contemporary African
American and Native American cultural producers navigate and critique
what I call racialized environmental affect: the emotions and disposi-
tions expected of certain racial groups in terms of their relationships
to environment. I show how these cultural producers use bad affect both
for those purposes of navigation and critique and to forge new environ-
mental relationships. That is, while these cultural producers struggle
with environmental legacies, they do not reject the category of envi­
ronment as a consequence; bad affect becomes an alternative means of
relating to this category. In the following section, I delineate the para-
digm of racialized environmental affect, as articulated through two cul-
tural figures that will be familiar to many readers: the Ecological Indian
and the Urban African American. Here, I build on the extensive schol-
arship on these figures by bringing their affective dimensions to the fore.
I then offer readings of contemporary fiction, poetry, sketch comedy,
stand-­up comedy, and web documentary that, like Diggs’s “My First
152  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
Black Nature Poem™,” respond to these figures not through straight-
forward opposition but through oblique modes such as dark humor,
irony, and satire.

The Ecological Indian, the Urban African American, and Beyond

A pervasive cultural trope known as the Ecological Indian holds that
Native Americans are and have always been uniquely in tune with
nature, possessed of special ecological knowledge, and dedicated to
sustainability—­in short, inherently environmentalist. This trope, which
ecocinema scholar Salma Monani glosses as a “historically prominent
yet controversial symbol of environmental consciousness” (2014, 226),
has been the subject of many academic treatises, notably anthropologist
Shepard Krech’s book The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (1999), and
countless pop cultural representations, perhaps most memorably the
antilittering “Crying Indian” commercial (Keep America Beautiful
1971) that aired frequently in the United States starting on Earth Day.4
Monani and other scholars and activists have identified this trope as
an imperialist-­colonial construction that engages in harmful purity pol-
itics and puts Indigenous peoples in unfair performative binds. For
example, science studies scholar Kimberly TallBear (Sisseton Wahpeton
Oyate) sees it as a “stereotype that . . . helps perpetuate divisive identity
politics underway in Indian Country, and de-­legitimizes the efforts of
tribes to govern ourselves if we are not perceived as traditional accord-
ing to a narrow, generic, and romanticized view of what is traditional”
(2000, 2). Indeed, Native Americans and mainstream environmental-
ists have some­times been at odds over projects such as commercial
development—­which do not fit the agendas of the latter but offer eco-
nomic benefits and autonomy to the former (see Zehle 2002). Anthro-
pologist Darren Ranco (Penobscot) echoes TallBear, noting that “if you
stop acting like ‘real Indians,’” that is, upholding the stereotype of the
Ecological Indian, “your political authority (and your land) might just
disappear” (2007, 45). In a similar spirit, environmental studies scholar
Sarah Jaquette Ray declares,
Native communities do have a vested interest in addressing environ-
mental issues, but not because of an essential “closeness to the land”
that mainstream environmentalism ascribes them. Reserved tribal
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  153
lands contain the majority of US natural resources and have been pri-
mary sites of nuclear weapons testing and nuclear waste dumping. . . .
Despite these realities, mainstream environmentalism has often relied
on the symbol of the Indian as an emblem of healthy human-­nature
relations. Thus, the movement obscures Indigenous issues . . . even as
it uses the Indian as a symbol for its own agendas. (2013, 85)

The seemingly positive trope of the Ecological Indian therefore per-

forms rather insidious work, obscuring ongoing environmental injus-
tices in its sentimental, precolonial fantasy.5
The Ecological Indian is an issue of affect as much as anything
else, as Monani has suggested—­she calls it an “emotionally charged ren­
dition of Indigenous identity” (2014, 226, emphasis added). For one
thing, mainstream deployments of the Ecological Indian aim to invoke
emotional responses in non-­Indigenous viewers—­say, making them feel
guilty about environmental devastation or encouraging them to senti-
mentalize and fetishize Indigenous peoples. Meanwhile, both the trope
and its debunking have been highly emotional issues for Indigenous
peoples and their allies. Anthropologist Michael E. Harkin and historian
David Rich Lewis have called Krech’s book “remarkable” not just for the
large nonacademic audience it has drawn but also for the “strength of feel-
ing associated with both positive and negative readings of it” (2007, xix,
emphasis added). (The book ostensibly aimed to debunk the trope, but
in problematic ways, as Ranco has shown.) Ray has also articulated the
several ironies that surround the Ecological Indian, as hinted earlier.
First, she declares that “the white stereotype of the ecological Indian,
ironically, has little to do with nature” (2013, 84) and much more to do
with what cultural anthropologist Renato Rosaldo has called “imperial-
ist nostalgia” (quoted in Ray 2013, 90). She then explains that, while this
stereotype portrays Native Americans as “embodying a pre-­industrial
golden age of harmony between humans and nature,” “ironically . . . the
myth of the benign ecological Indian . . . could emerge only once Native
Americans had been conquered by Anglo-­European colonialists” (90).
Thus, the trope constitutes one of those major ironies and absurdities of
our contemporary ecological and political moment.
And then there is the matter of the Ecological Indian’s own affect.
This figure may cry, as with that infamous antilittering commercial, but
not effusively. In fact, in that commercial he cries a single tear—­a detail
154  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
notably re-­created in nearly every known parody thereof, and a detail
that thereby establishes him as nobly reserved and admirably able to
withstand pain. The Ecological Indian thus fits in with the scenario that
writer and activist Vine Deloria Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux) describes: “The
image of the granite-­faced grunting redskin has been perpetuated by
American mythology” (1988, 146). Though Deloria’s description is now
several decades old, this mythology is still pervasive, and sometimes
internalized by Indigenous peoples. As writer and activist Heather Purser
(Suquamish) more recently lamented, “Too often I gained acceptance
through silence. I believed that ‘real Natives’ are stoic types who suck it
up and don’t say what’s on their mind” (2009). These stereotypes of the
Indian as silent stoic—­and their sometime-­realities, implied by Purser—­
have obscured the affective breadth of Native American cultural produc-
tion.6 As Deloria states, “It has always been a great dis­appointment to
Indian people that the humorous side of Indian life has not been empha-
sized by professed experts. . . . Indians have found a humorous side to
nearly every problem. . . . The more desperate the problem, the more
humor is directed to describe it” (1988, 146–­47). Perhaps it is no sur-
prise, then, that the Native American comedy troupe the 1491s recently
saw fit to produce a video sketch titled “Stoic Off!!!” (2014), which con-
sists primarily of two men facing each other and grimacing—­though
quite animatedly, which is perhaps both the point and the punchline.7
When Indigenous humor is recognized by “experts,” that recog­
nition can have equally problematic implications, as scholars such as
Kristina Fagan (NunatuKavut) have shown. Fagan has reflected on the
enthusiastic academic interest, concentrated mainly in Canada in the
1990s, around the playful “trickster” figure found in Indigenous story-
telling and other forms; she observes how

Indigenous people were positioned as the political “good guys” who

stood for all that is non-­centred, non-­oppressive, spiritual, and benevo­
lent. In studies of the trickster, this limited depiction of Indigenous
people amalgamated with a similar idealization of humour. The critical
response to humour is most often more celebratory than critical. . . .
Humour is seen as expressing certain universal [rather than social,
political, or historical] forces—­such as mysticism, fertility, creativity,
and nature—­and arising out of the unconscious, of lower classes, of
past cultures, or of “primitive” cultures. (2010, 6)
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  155
Writer and actress Anne Marie Sewell (Cree) has subsequently observed
that “the public always wants something from Native people. Some-
times they want me to bleed for them and tell them about the ‘issues.’
And lately, I feel like everyone wants me to put on my trickster face,
my survivor face. I feel like I’m supposed to be funny. I’m Native, so I
must be funny” (quoted in Fagan 2010, 13). At the same time, as Fagan
reminds us, Indigenous artists and others may choose to play into such
paradigms, for a wide range of reasons.8
Meanwhile, African Americans have long been assumed to be alien-
ated from “the environment,” often conceived of as wilderness or rural
spaces. This trope, while similarly stereotypical in the mold of the Eco-
logical Indian, must be understood a bit differently. First, it is arguably
based in more easily quantifiable truth, such as the postslavery U.S.
Great Migrations that began from rural Southern areas to the North and
West in 1910 and, by 1970, saw 80 percent of African Americans living
in cities (Schomburg Center 2005). (Meanwhile, as ecocritic Jennifer
Ladino reports, “Despite the fact that more than two-­thirds of American
Indians live in urban areas, many readers and scholars of American Indian
literature continue to associate Indigenous peoples with natural envi-
ronments rather than urban ones” [2009b, 36].) But even if truthful, the
trope of the urban African American still has problematic implications.
For one thing, it reflects a material and cultural alienation from nature.
As literary scholar Michael Bennett points out in an influential critique
from Karla Armbruster and Kathleen R. Wallace’s vital collection, Beyond
Nature Writing: Expanding the Boundaries of Ecocriticism (2001),

The quintessential space of contemporary ecocriticism, the wilderness,

has . . . had an antithetical relationship with African American culture,
for the most part. . . . The apparent freedom of the wilderness—­valued
by and available to someone in Henry David Thoreau’s subject posi-
tion when he issued the famous ecological dictum that “in wildness is
the preservation of the world” . . .—­was not available to slaves or even
most free blacks, who tended, with reason, to flee the countryside for
life in the city. (2001, 196–­97)

Again, while based in (painful) realities, this trope has historically made
for inadequate attention to African American cultural production that
does engage with environmental questions and, more generally, for
156  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
narrow assumptions about how black life is lived. Scholar Darryl Dickson-­
Carr, for one, has recently highlighted black satirical critiques of a stale
literary scene in which “the only sites where African Americans reside
are hopelessly pathological and depressed urban jungles or rural south-
ern landscapes in which redemption comes solely through acceptance of
either a romantic Afrocentrism or quasi-­primitivist idyll” (2014, 278).
More specifically, literary and film scholar Michael K. Johnson has
recently observed a “paucity of critical literary and cultural studies work
on the black West” (2014, 5), pointing out that “a vision of western his-
tory that has opposed ‘chivalrous white men’ and ‘barbaric Indians’ has
had literally no place for African Americans: As neither conquerors nor
Indigenous inhabitants of the West, they fall outside the established cat-
egories” (7, quoting Whitaker 2005).
Just as the Ecological Indian is an issue of affect, so is the Urban
African American—­and in equally complicated ways. We might begin
with Sianne Ngai’s observations about racialized affect: “Whether marked
as Irish, Jewish, Italian, Mexican, or (most prominently in American
literature and visual culture), African-­American, the kind of exaggerated
emotional expressiveness I call animatedness seems to function as a
marker of racial or ethnic otherness in general” (2005, 94). But even
despite African Americans’ supposedly greater capacity for animation—­
consider, for instance, the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman—­
mainstream environmentalism characterizes this group as insufficiently
affective; as unmoved. The African American lifestyle blog Madame Noire,
for example, references the perception that “whites have more of a
greener sensibility than nonwhites” (Ball 2011, emphasis added), while
environmental sociologist Dorceta Taylor has recently identified “the
long-­running perception that people of color don’t care about the en-
vironment” as one of the forces behind the diversity gap in mainstream
environmental organizations (quoted in Mock 2014). In a more pointed
example, social ecologist Stephen Kellert observes, based on what he
admits is limited data,
It appears that a large proportion of African-­Americans do not place a
particularly high value on the positive experience of living diversity,
nor do they strongly support its protection. Wildlife remains for many
African-­Americans a peripheral issue. . . . Until all ethnic groups believe
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  157
that the chances for leading a richer and more rewarding life depend
on a healthy, diverse, and abundant biota, this country may not be able
to elicit the commitment necessary to halt the current mass destruc-
tion of life on earth. (1997, 61–­62)
Literary scholar Kimberly Ruffin (2010) rightly takes this statement as
an opportunity to critique how we frame and measure goods such as “liv-
ing diversity” in ways that that are racially exclusive, and how we fault
African American communities for environmental alienation that is ex-
ternally imposed (as with discriminatory laws in the post-­Emancipation
South). But, again, my main interest here lies in the affective implica-
tions of Kellert’s statement: black people, so the narrative goes, simply
do not care, or feel, for nature, wilderness, animals, or the outdoors—­or
do not care or feel enough.
Since at least the early twenty-­first century, ecocritics have taken
up or echoed Michael Bennett’s call to “expand and reconceptualize the
[racially exclusive] boundaries of the ecological” (2001, 195) and of spe-
cific genres such as nature writing.9 And in recent years, multiple writ-
ers, scholars, activists, and artists have produced work that counters or
complicates aspects of the Ecological Indian and Urban African Ameri-
can tropes—­including Harkin and Lewis’s collection of essays respond-
ing to Krech, Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the
Ecological Indian (2007); Kimberly K. Smith’s African American Environ-
mental Thought: Foundations (2007); bell hooks’s Belonging: A Culture of
Place (2009); Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the
Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors (2014); J. Drew
Lanham’s The Home Place: A Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature (2016);
Lauret Savoy’s Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape
(2016); Salma Monani and Joni Adamson’s edited collection Ecocriticism
and Indigenous Studies (2017); and the grassroots organization Outdoor
Afro, founded in 2009 with the motto “Where Black People and Nature
Meet.” Meanwhile, other scholars have worked to recover environmen-
tal writing by African Americans, Native Americans, and other racialized
groups—­as with Camille Dungy’s collection Black Nature: Four Centuries
of African American Nature Poetry (2009) and Alison Deming and Savoy’s
edited collection The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural
World (2011). All these examples owe a debt to singular, groundbreaking
158  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
texts such as Melvin Dixon’s Ride Out the Wilderness: Geography and Iden-
tity in Afro-­American Literature (1987).
And yet certain conceptions have remained narrow—­particularly, I
argue, when it comes to affect. I turn first to writer Catherine Buni’s
important article “Toward a Wider View of Nature Writing.” Here, she
introduces the crucial insight that, as poet Melissa Tuckey tells her, “for
Indigenous people and writers of color, [environmental] disasters and
disruptions are not new—­they are part of a wider history” (Buni 2016).
Buni agrees, noting that “disruptions and disasters are part of a wider
history, it’s true. Yet so, too, are serenity and discovery, wonder and awe,
gratitude and pleasure, the sublime—­in other words, the fullness of what
it means to be human on this earth.” Something quite interesting has
happened here. Buni’s rejoinder, even as it gestures toward “fullness,”
invokes the same narrow affective categories typically found in main-
stream environmental art, activism, and discourse, as I have shown in my
introduction: “serenity,” “wonder, awe,” reverence, and so on. Indeed,
countering “disruptions and disaster” with “serenity and . . . wonder”
sets up an experiential and affective binary similar to that of despair
versus hope—­which, as I argue in my introduction, are simply two sides
of the same coin. Such coins rarely include complicated, unexpected,
incongruous, or otherwise “bad” affective responses, and they sometimes
even demonize those responses. Consider, for example, the following
commentary on the Crying Indian trope and its parodies by white writer
Lisa Jones, known for her writing on Arapaho communities: “Sure, some-
where, an Indian is crying, and somewhere else, like in the non-­Indian,
first-­world mind, we are applying humor to further anesthetize the little
sleepy zone in our brain where serious and sustained thought about
native people might dwell” (2011). Humor is hereby made incompatible
with deep thought about Indigenous peoples, and even suggested to be
racist in and of itself—­or, at least, the exclusive province of whites.
Thus, the questions that drive this chapter are myriad: What place
could complicated, unexpected, or incongruous affective responses hold
for Native American and African American cultural producers when it
comes to their engagement with environmental issues? What happens
when Native Americans and African Americans care about, or feel for,
the environment, but do so “improperly”? What of ambiguous feelings?
What of ambivalence? What functions could “bad” affective modes and
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  159
sensibilities such as humor, irony, playfulness, parody, absurdism, per-
versity, or irreverence serve for such figures? What of cultural produc-
ers whose engagement with the environment does not clearly, or easily,
lend itself to projects of racial uplift? More specifically, could we imag-
ine Native American or African American cultural texts that lampoon,
say, the notion of “nature’s splendor” (Ruffin 2010, 16), or that critique
as binaristic what Ruffin calls the “beauty-­and-­burden paradox . . . that
feeds much of African American ecoliterary production” (17)? And
might the paradox itself call for modes that exceed the straightforwardly
positive or negative—­for, say, multilayered modes such as irony? My
discussion of Diggs’s poem has offered some preliminary answers. The
rest of this chapter offers additional answers, looking primarily at the
work of Native American writer Sherman Alexie (Coeur d’Alene) and
African American writer Percival Everett; I then conclude with a brief
look at four contemporary pop cultural works: a sketch comedy video
from the 1491s, the stand-­up comedy of African American comic Trixx,
the Funny or Die video “Black Hiker,” and African American writer-­
director-­producer Angela Tucker’s “irreverent Web series” (Ramsey
2013) Black Folk Don’t.
Of necessity, I consider only a fraction of Alexie and Everett’s re-
spective oeuvres here. I begin with Alexie’s largely autobiographical
body of work, focusing on the short story collection The Lone Ranger and
Tonto Fistfight in Heaven ([1993] 2013) and the poetry collections The
Summer of Black Widows (1996) and Face (2009). I then turn to selected
short stories from Everett’s collections Damned If I Do (2004) and Half
an Inch of Water (2015), his novel Watershed (1996), and his particularly
“underexamined” 2001 novella Grand Canyon, Inc. (Weixlmann 2013,
793). Whereas Alexie has been widely covered in ecocriticism/environ-
mental humanities scholarship specifically, and in literary scholarship
more broadly, Everett has enjoyed comparatively less coverage. Literary
scholar Joe Weixlmann calls him “one of America’s best, if also one of
its most underappreciated, writers” (2013, 792), while literary scholars
such as Margaret Russett and Anthony Stewart lament his critical and
commercial neglect.10 With few exceptions, then, Everett’s work is rarely
recognized by ecocritics or environmental humanities scholars—­such
that Ruffin, for one, has had to reframe him as an environmental writer.
Those few who have studied Everett acknowledge his ironic, playful
160  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
tendencies but tend to focus primarily on his engagements with envi-
ronmental justice (Weik von Mossner 2009; Alaimo 2010) or, problem-
atically, place him alongside classic nature writers such as Thoreau, in
ways that ignore the larger historical and cultural contexts discussed
earlier (Dumas 2013).11
While several other contemporary works offer interesting answers to
the aforementioned questions, I have chosen to focus on Alexie and Ever-
ett because of their significant similarities, even despite the very different
racial tropes I have sketched out.12 Most obviously, they are contempo-
raries with significant attachment to the same milieu, the American West,
and colleagues who regularly comment on each other’s work. Both are
astonishingly prolific and wide-­ranging writers, with output that spans
the forms and genres of poetry, short stories, novels, and, in Alexie’s
case, young adult fiction, memoir, and screenplays. They display both
political and emotional ambivalence, similar to Tyrolian director Hannes
Lang, discussed in chapter 1; as Alexie writes in an introduction to Ever-
ett’s 1996 novel Watershed,
The most difficult part about the book, the most dangerous idea it
contains, is about the ambivalent nature of political activism. . . . Per-
cival Everett understands that every individual human is morally
ambivalent, that every human action has negative and positive re-
actions. And of course, that threatens not only white folks, but Black
and Indian folks, as well. We brown-­skinned folks want our real and
fictional heroes to be clean and pure and unambiguous. We . . . want
our protagonists to redeem us. (2003, xi)
As Alexie’s last line suggests, both authors engage in significant self-­
reflection and self-­reflexivity—­characteristics also found in the other
“bad” environmental works I have surveyed thus far. Alexie is both
“mocking, [and] self-­mocking,” as writer Joyce Carol Oates observed in
a review of The Toughest Indian in the World (2000), whereas Everett’s
self-­reflexivity is arguably more extensive, as he creates fictional charac-
ters named, for instance, Percival Everett (A History of the African-­
American People [Proposed] by Strom Thurmond, as told to Percival Everett
and James Kincaid [2004]). As literary scholar Derek C. Maus observes,
Everett is part of a generation of satirists who do not merely critique
“external forces of discrimination and subjugation” (2014, xix) but turn
their gazes inward—­exhibiting “ludic and self-­critical tendencies” (xii).
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  161
In addition, both authors comment on the public institutions, including
publishing, the media, and academia, that at once sustain and commod-
ify them; they recognize, for example, how “the problem of readerly
assumption impinges specifically upon artists from minoritized groups”
(A. Stewart 2013, 176). I argue that we can see their work as responding
not only to those assumptions but also to their environmental dimen-
sions: how white readers come to Native American and African Ameri-
can writing expecting depictions of particular kinds of spaces, and to
have, or vicariously experience, particular affective responses to those
spaces. Finally, and most importantly, then, Alexie and Everett draw on
the same repertoire of “bad” affective modes and sensibilities—­irony,
irreverence, perversity, sardonicism, satire, absurdism—­to critique the
seemingly opposed tropes of the Ecological Indian and the Urban Afri-
can American, and racialized environmental affect more generally. Con-
trary to what Buni, Jones, and others seem to hope, these authors’
responses to environmental alienation and injustice do not entail cele-
brating nature’s splendor or demonstrating wonder and awe.

Sherman Alexie’s “Funny Way of Being Serious”

Sherman Alexie’s combative relationship with the Ecological Indian is
well known. As literary scholar Daniel Grassian observes, Alexie “criti-
cizes stereotypes of Indians as nature-­loving noble savages and impli-
cates what he calls ‘the corn-­pollen, four directions, eagle-­feathered
school of Native literature’” (2005, 7). For example, the author warns in
the introduction to the twentieth-­anniversary edition of The Lone Ranger
and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven that “there might be five or six pine trees
and a couple of rivers and streams [in this collection], one grizzly bear
and a lot of dogs, but that’s about all the flora and fauna you’re going to
get” ([1993] 2013, xxii). (He then adds, “It’s funny, too.”) Sarah Jaquette
Ray puts these moves in a larger political context, arguing that “one
response to the impossible demands of western environmentalism on
Native Americans is to reject a connection with nature entirely, as Alexie
does, in favor of a contemporary, multidimensional, fluid, often urban,
Native American identity. An alternative response is to critique these . . .
stereotypes as yet another form of cultural imperialism—­imperialist
nostalgia in green garb” (2013, 86). In this section, I argue that Alexie
162  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
does not “reject a connection with nature entirely” but instead mediates
it through bad affective modes. Indeed, Alexie’s oeuvre is filled with
much more flora and fauna, many more moments such as “My mother’s
eyes were as dark as the eyes of a salmon who has just returned to the
place where it was spawned” (2000, 79) than his aforementioned caveat
would suggest. Bad affect becomes not just a tool with which one takes
down stereotypes and expectations but the tool one needs to salvage an
environmental ethos out of such a fraught atmosphere.
One particular story from Lone Ranger, “Jesus Christ’s Half-­Brother
Is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation,” establishes what
is at stake in Alexie’s affective project. In this long, semirealist story, the
alcoholic narrator describes the ongoing inability of his (possibly autis-
tic or brain-­damaged) adopted son, James, to cry, speak, or even walk.
Alexie thus invokes the stereotypical image of the Native American as
tragic and pathos-­inducing, yet himself emotionally inexpressive. But
by the story’s end, James has commenced walking and talking (though
this may only be the narrator’s fantasy). Notably, the story’s last segment
is set at the 1974 Spokane World’s Fair, the first environmentally themed
event of its kind; the narrator describes how he and James come across
“a statue of an Indian who’s supposed to be some chief or another. I
press a little button and the statue talks and moves its arms over and over
in the same motion. The statue tells the crowd we have to take care of the
earth because it is our mother” ([1993] 2013, 129, emphasis added). The
statue represents what Ray, in her own reading of the story, calls “white
audience members’ preference for t[he] myth [of the Ecological Indian],
which is located in the past and therefore better represented by a ‘dead’
statue than a live Indian” (2013, 91). I want to build on this reading to
consider how the story speaks to what I am calling racialized environ-
mental affect.
I argue, first, that this scene can be read as a commentary on the
narrow and preset affective repertoires afforded racialized peoples in
general, and specifically in terms of their relationships to the environ-
ment. For Native Americans, as I have outlined, this repertoire consists
of stoicism and general emotional inexpressiveness, even as it includes
dedication to environmental concerns. (Native Americans thus occupy a
category similar to what Ngai calls the “American racial stereotype . . .
of the Asian as silent, inexpressive . . . in noticeable contrast to what we
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  163
might call the exaggeratedly emotional, hyperexpressive, and even ‘over-
scrutable’ image of most racially or ethnically marked subjects in Ameri­
can culture,” especially African Americans and ethnic immigrants [2005,
93].) The mechanized statue in Alexie’s story perfectly captures this
idea, with its automatic speech and its “move[ment] . . . over and over in
the same motion.” It reminds us of how dominant cultural representa-
tions of Native Americans—­say, the wooden cigar-­store Indian, formed
of a natural but immobile substance—­literalize that stereotype of “the
granite-­faced grunting redskin” (Deloria 1988, 146). Moreover, the fact
that the statue comes to life only when a button is pushed indicates the
extent to which the dominant culture only wants Native Americans to
speak at certain times, on certain issues, and to articulate only certain
Even as its repertoire is limited in these ways, the statue is, by defi-
nition, animated. As Ngai explains in a discussion of stop-­motion anima­
tion, “The affective state of being ‘animated’ seems to imply the most
basic or minimal of all affective conditions: that of being, in one way
or another, ‘moved.’” But, as she points out, “as we press harder on the
affective meanings of animatedness, we shall see how . . . ‘being moved’
becomes twisted into the image of the . . . racialized subject . . . as unusu-
ally receptive to external control” (2005, 91). A disturbing, ironic bind
emerges here: racialized peoples are at once constrained by affective
tropes and stereotypes—­ their “animation” is controlled by external
hands, as with the statue’s button—­and derided for being so constrained;
they are treated with suspicion for their apparent lack of agency. Impor-
tantly, then, while the moving, speaking statue contrasts James’s initial
state of inexpressiveness, the boy finally springs to life in this last sec-
tion. After the statue’s spiel ends, the narrator states, “I know that and
James says he knows more. He says the earth is our grandmother and
that technology has become our mother and that they both hate each
other. James tells the crowd that the river just a few yards from where
we stand is all we ever need to believe in” ([1993] 2013, 129). When an
older white woman tells the narrator that James is smart “for an Indian
boy,” the child “hears this and tells the white woman that she’s pretty
smart for an old white woman” (129). James not only speaks; he speaks
back to colonial and racist discourses, and in funny ways. But, notably,
the story is ambiguous as to whether the statement about the river is
164  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
sincere, or a bit of child-­preacher Ecological Indian nonsense designed
for white audiences to gobble up, thus effectively mocking them—­or
both. I argue that Alexie’s entire oeuvre is concerned with this question
of the animated racial subject: how animated, for whom, and by whom?
As I describe later in this chapter, bad affect serves for him as a means
of taking control out of the hands of (largely white) audiences, and of
engaging in his own process of animating the supposedly stoic Native
American subject.
Alexie’s early work, such as the 1996 poetry collection The Summer
of Black Widows, contains several poems that exemplify his use of bad
affective modes to critique external expectations. “Fire as Verb and
Noun” begins with an epigraph drawn, apparently, from a review of his
earlier writing: “Working from a carefully developed understanding of his
place in an oppressed culture, [Alexie] focuses on the need to tear down obstacles
before nature tears them down. Fire is therefore a central metaphor: a sister and
brother-­in-­law killed, a burnt hand, cars aflame.” This quotation, attrib-
uted to Publishers Weekly, is followed immediately by one attributed to
poet Donna Brook: “Sherman, I’m so sorry your sister was killed by a meta-
phor” (1996, 52). The poem goes on to be quite grim, drawing on the
horrific real-­life death of Alexie’s sister. It asks, for example, “What
color are the flames that rise / off a burning body?” (52) and ends with a
quietly devastating statement, “There is a grave on the Spokane Indian
Reservation / where my sister is buried. I can take you there” (55)—­a
much more serious corrective than the one with which the poem began.
Another poem in the collection, “How to Write the Great American
Indian Novel,” similarly engages in sardonicism, but at greater length,
providing a mock template for one such work.
When the Indian woman steps out of her dress, the white man gasps
at the endless beauty of her brown skin. She should be compared to
brown hills, mountains, fertile valleys, dewy grass, wind, and clear
water. (1996, 94)
Meanwhile, “Indian men, of course, are storms. They should destroy
the lives / of any white women who choose to love them” (94). Alexie’s
vacillation between the descriptive (“are”) and the prescriptive (“should”)
indicates the expectations under which Indigenous artists labor, while
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  165
modeling a sardonic approach to those expectations (“of course”). But
the poem concludes on a distinctly melancholy note, suggesting a kind
of inevitability that irony and sardonicism cannot fend off: “In the Great
American Indian novel, when it is finally written, / all of the white peo-
ple will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts” (95). While, in
both poems, Alexie’s dark humor seems to wane by the end, this sensi-
bility is nonetheless an indispensable component of each.
Alexie’s most recent collection, Face (2009), apparently inspired by
the death of his father, has been described by Jennifer Ladino as “able
to successfully combine low-­brow laughs and serious content” (2009a,
299). Here, the balance has shifted: the humor is woven throughout, if
not dominant in, most of the poems, and is often of a lighter grade.
“The Fight or Flight Response,” for example, tells of a woman who
adopts orphaned geese, raises them into adulthood, and then releases
them into a park
Where a dozen swans, elegant and white,
Tore the tame geese open and ate their hearts.
Of course, all of this was broadcast live
On the local news. . . . (2009, 62)

Through ironic structure and deft comic timing, the poem dashes
sentimentalized, reverent views of nonhuman animals, much as do the
nature/wildlife program parodies discussed in chapter 2. After this grue-
some affective comeuppance for the woman, the TV viewers, and, pos-
sibly, Alexie’s own readers, the speaker informs us, “My mother and I
shrugged, not at death, / But at those innocent folks who believe / That
birds don’t murder, rape, and steal” (62). While the poem may thus at
first seem to indicate comparatively greater Native American knowl-
edge of the nonhuman world—­a cornerstone of the Ecological Indian
trope—­the speaker pointedly limits this knowledge to two people only,
his mother and himself. The poem could thereby be read as a riff on the
anniversary introduction to Lone Ranger, in which Alexie recalls a dis­
cussion with his mother about why his poems don’t rhyme: “‘It’s free
verse,’ I said. ‘And some of them do rhyme. I’ve written sonnets, sesti-
nas, and villanelles. I’ve written in iambic pentameter.’ ‘What’s that?’
‘It’s the ba-­bump, ba-­bump sound of the heartbeat, of the deer running
166  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
through the green pine forest, of the eagle singing its way through the
sky.’ ‘Don’t pull that Indian shaman crap on me,’ my mother said” ([1993]
2013, xii)—­another comic beat that, like the rampage of the violent swans,
disrupts the sentimental lull in which some readers may have fallen.
We might note here that attempts to debunk the Ecological Indian
trope are, by definition, ironic: as Harkin and Lewis point out, “The
source of irony [with books such as Shepard Krech’s] is the disjuncture
between expectations outsiders hold of Native Americans, drawn from
a standard cultural repertoire that has remained remarkably stable over
the course of American history, and the reality . . . of change, and Indi-
ans as modern peoples with deep traditions navigating present realities
and needs” (2007, xxi). Importantly, though, Alexie does not always,
or simply, disavow this trope. The poem “Size Matters,” for example,
finds the speaker—­ apparently, some version of the author—­ having
lunch outdoors with a journalist. A sparrow alights on the former’s hand
and takes bites of his sandwich: “‘These damn birds do this to me all
the time,’ / I said and sighed, the unspoken bullshit being, of course, /
That animals love Indians more than they love white folks” (2009, 116).
Here, the speaker publicly, performatively embraces this trope. But he
does so not for noble reasons of, say, strategic essentialism. Rather, he
craves attention from the journalist and perhaps also wants to dupe her
and then have a reason to mock her later. While such motivations could
indicate an egotistical or even cruel speaker, he humorously undercuts
himself a few stanzas later: “Ten years later, we met / Again for another
interview. We sat together / For lunch one more time, and I said, ‘I will
never forget / . . . that friendly bird, / The one who ate from my hand.’
The journalist’s poker face / Gave her away. She didn’t remember. And,
damn, it hurt / To be a big man and yet be so easily erased” (116). The
journalist’s occupation is important here. As with the Publishers Weekly
reviewer, Alexie understands publishing and the media to be arbiters
of Native American identity, including relationships to nature: if one
does not act like an Ecological Indian, one might not land a book deal
or attract a mainstream audience. And if one does, that might mean be-
traying oneself and one’s community. But, again, something has shifted
from Lone Ranger and Black Widows to Face: the older Alexie no longer
sees publishing, the media, academia, or white audiences as (merely)
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  167
the enemy and himself as (merely) the hero. Instead, all are mutually
implicated. Whereas Lone Ranger elicited humor from the idea of white
audiences eager to watch the Ecological Indian perform, here Alexie
pokes fun at both his own willingness to perform and his ineffectiveness
as a performer. After all, the non-­Indigenous journalist does not fall for
his “bullshit.”
Animals, as many readers will have gathered by now, play central
roles in Face. By my count, nearly half of the collection’s forty-­eight
poems center on nonhuman creatures, thus allowing Alexie to develop
what Ladino calls an “interspecies ethic” (2013a, 29). As she argues,
these poems “blur species boundaries, foreground [human–nonhuman]
interdependence, depict animal practices as self-­determined, and en-
courage humans to empathize with commonplace but often-­overlooked
species”—­thus “reveal[ing] a growing awareness ‘not just that animals
suffer and that their suffering matters, but also that many [animals] are
aware of the world, themselves, other animals, and us’” (33, quoting
DeKoven 2009). While many of the poems express what Alexie calls
“funny grief” (2009, 30) over the death of his father, I want to explore how
he mobilizes that same affective mode around nonhumans. Consider, for
instance, “In the Matter of Human v. Bee.” The poem starts with the
quotation “If the bees die, man dies within four years,” followed by the note
“a quot[ation] attributed to Albert Einstein, but which was likely created
by an anonymous source for political reasons” (2009, 21)—­thus gently
ribbing serious environmentalist tactics such as gloom and doom and
alarmism. The poem unfolds in three sections, the first voicing a stupidly
optimistic, antiecological position; the second voicing an earnestly con-
cerned ecological position; and the third a pragmatic, humorous posi-
tion. For example, the first section includes the following declarations:
“1. For the prosecution: / The bees are gone. / Who gives a shit? . . . We will
survive / Because humans are / Adaptable. . . . If you believe / In a good
God, / As anyone should, Then you must know / That God will / Cre-
ate more bees” (21–­22). The second section warns: “2. For the defense: . . .
The bees are gone. . . . If they stay gone / All flora goes / Without pol-
len / And will perish, / Within four years. . . . The bees are gone. / I sing
this song / To bring them back, / Or say goodbye, / Or to worship / The
empty sky” (23–­24). The third section consists of just 4 lines:
168  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
3. For the beekeepers:
The bees are gone.
We need new bees
Or we are fucked. (24)

The poem thus asks us to recognize the crucial part these insects play on
the biotic continuum, and stokes our concern over their decline, while
also giving us the space to indulge in some skeptical, antisentimental
eye-­rolling. For Alexie, the first two activities actually seem to require
the third, as the poem’s sequential structure indicates.
In addition to bees, many of Face’s poems focus on small, unchar­
ismatic, invasive, obnoxious, or otherwise “unlovable” creatures, from
robins that dive-­bomb sliding glass doors to wasps that take up resi-
dence in the walls of houses. Here, we see again that Alexie’s work is
not in fact devoid of nature but of typical approaches to it—­such as the
preference for charismatic megafauna historically found in mainstream
environmentalist art, activism, and discourse. These poems feature a
wide range of tones and affective modes, from the soberly reflective to
the shamelessly silly and everywhere in between. In “Avian Nights,” for
instance, the speaker recounts hiring an exterminator to kill the starlings
nesting in his crawlspace—­ostensibly because they disturb his gravely ill
son. At the poem’s end, the speaker laments, “We killed their children.
We started this war. / Tell me: What is the difference between / Birds
and us, between their pain and our pain? / . . . They lay other eggs;
we conceive again. / Dumb birds, dumb starlings, dumb women, dumb
men” (2009, 13). Another poem describes how the speaker “killed and
killed and killed and killed [his] ant cousins” (94)—­an utterly grim-­
seeming poem, if we have missed the title: “Naked and Damp, with a
Towel around My Head, I Noticed Movement on the Basement Car-
pet.” In “A Comic Interlude,” the speaker persuades his son to let a
spider live by appealing to the child’s love of Spiderman. (“Comic,”
then, has a double meaning. And the term “interlude” seems egregious,
perhaps a joke in itself, considering the high ratio of humorous poems
in the collection.) But, later, the father kills a bigger spider and the
son, catching him, asks, “If you love Spiderman [too] then how come
you killed that spider?” The speaker answers, “Because Spiderman is a
comic book and that spider was real” (71)—­another humorous deflation
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  169
of the reverence for nature that some of Alexie’s own poems cultivate,
not to mention of the reverence typically attached to mainstream depic-
tions of parents and children. Humor becomes a means of grappling with
guilt and grief over nonhuman deaths, not to mention human deaths, as
well as a mechanism to undercut the reverence and sentimentality that
separate us from the nonhuman in the first place.
This is a particularly important point, considering that it is so
often bad affects and sensibilities, especially irony, that are characterized
as distancing or alienating. Bad affect, Alexie suggests, is indispensable
for ethical relations between humans, including and perhaps especially
racialized ones, and nonhumans. Consider, for example, Ladino’s ob-
servation regarding Face: “Animals and Indians make a unique pairing,
as historically vulnerable beings who are frequently viewed with ‘goofy
sentimentalism’ in popular cultural representations while, paradoxically,
deemed devoid of emotional capacity within humanist discourse” (2013a,
43). While I agree with the general thrust of Ladino’s argument, I would
point out that this pairing is not “unique” at all in light of the Ecological
Indian trope; recall how the speaker of “Size Matters” “bullshit[s]” that
“animals love Indians more than they love white folks.” Bad affect is
thus a crucial intervening factor, allowing Alexie to articulate affective
connections with animals as a Native American while remaining criti-
cally cognizant of the fraught historical links between the two.
If “funny grief” is the theme that runs throughout Face, the collec-
tion as a whole could be described as a defense of the recourse to modes
such as irony and humor. Again, public expectations are at the core of
this defense: after kvetching over a postconference keynote comment
card that stated, “All Alexie was, was funny,” Alexie’s speaker vows to
“still resist conventions; / Yes, I will disprove the professorial contention
/ That a serious man is not supposed to be funny” (2009, 28). Another
poem’s title argues that “Comedy Is Simply a Funny Way of Being Seri-
ous” (73)—­quoting the British actor Peter Ustinov (1982)—­while yet
another, “Thrash,” complains about readers who want him “to con-
form, comfort, and please,” and who “think that a funny poem / Is not
a serious poem” (149). What I find curious about these moments is how
they implicitly stake a claim for Alexie as ultimately serious: “a serious
man,” “a serious poem.” This claim is not actually upheld by works
such as “Thrash,” the extended meditation on penises that closes Face.
170  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
Moreover, this claim to seriousness threatens to further marginalize
bad affective modes. But perhaps it makes more sense when we consider
the potential pitfalls of opposing the “silent stoic” stereotype—­including
that one might go so far with this opposition as to turn into a buffoon,
one who performs for the primary pleasure of non-­Indigenous audiences.
We might also point out that some Indigenous figures have criti-
cized Alexie’s affective approach and presumed apoliticism, among other
things, perhaps stoking anxiety around the prospect of being seen as
ultimately unserious. For example, writer and activist Elizabeth Cook-­
Lynn (Crow Creek Sioux) has, as scholar Joshua B. Nelson (Cherokee)
puts it, “claimed that by not writing specifically to strengthen tribal
political sovereignty, [Alexie is] engaging in a distracting or irrelevant
artistic project” (2010). Indigenous politics, then, and not just main-
stream publishing, the media, and academia, circumscribe Alexie’s affec-
tive approach. Alexie’s retort to this particular accusation was vitriolic:
“Liz Cook-­Lynn is utterly incapable of irony, of understanding irony,
of even seeing the ironic nature of her own existence. So, [her stances]
are a kind of fundamentalism that actually drove me off my reservation.
I think it’s a kind of fundamentalism about Indian identity, and what
‘Indian’ can be and mean, that damages Indians” ( J. Nelson 2010).13 As
I have shown, racialized environmental affect is one of the major forces
that delineates “what ‘Indian’ can be and mean.” Modes such as irony
and humor, both dark and light, allow Alexie to model ethical relation-
ships with the more-­than-­human in the face of those forces, to work
through anxieties over authorship, and to reanimate the Native Ameri-
can subject—­so long, and still, a kind of animatronic puppet in the dom-
inant cultural imagination.

“A Damn Good Show”: Percival Everett’s Contingent

Irony and “Post-­soul Environmentalism”
Percival Everett, more so than Sherman Alexie, engages with post­
modern theory as both topic and aesthetic, and employs multiple styles
and traditions, sometimes within the same collection or even novel—­
including parody, metafiction, satire, farce, absurdism, the grotesque,
the tall tale, the fable, and even surrealism. Derek C. Maus places Ever-
ett in the context of a “consistent—­if also underappreciated—­flow of
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  171
satirical creativity by African American artists during the past three
decades” (2014, xii); these decades, as he explains, comprise the “post-­
soul” era.14 Writer and filmmaker Nelson George coined that concept
in the 1992 book Buppies, B-­Boys, Baps & Bohos: Notes on Post-­soul Black
Culture; as philosopher Paul C. Taylor explains, “Where soul culture
insisted on the seriousness of authenticity and positive images, post-­soul
culture revels in the contingency and diversity of blackness, and subjects
the canon of positive images to subversion and parody” (quoted in Maus
2014, xii, emphasis added).
Simply put, Everett’s work does not engage overtly in projects of
racial uplift. This tendency, I argue, is inseparable from his refusal to
idealize or romanticize natural spaces. Specifically, he “deconstructs”
and “debunks the mythic West” (Bonnemère 2007, 155, 157), the “‘Ur-­
region’ where so much of U.S. environmentalism and environmental
history was grounded” (Ruffin 2010, 123, quoting M. Stewart 2005,
139), and where, importantly, African Americans have been assumed not
to dwell (with the possible exception of Los Angeles).15 I have chosen to
focus here on works that undertake those pursuits of deconstructing and
debunking in some way. I begin with Everett’s short story collections
Damned If I Do and Half an Inch of Water before offering a brief reading
of his novel Watershed and then a more involved reading of his novella
Grand Canyon, Inc. In this section, I focus on how he employs both con-
tingent irony—­that is, one that looks quite unironic from certain van-
tage points—­and the elements of satire, in what I refer to as his project
of “post-­soul environmentalism.”
Despite the differences between the first two collections—­Half an
Inch of Water’s stories are loosely interconnected, while Damned If I
Do’s are not, and the latter is quirkier and more overtly humorous than
the former—­both focus on predominately male characters living in
rural areas of Southwestern states such as Utah and Colorado. These
men regularly interact with landscape and animals, from fishing trips
and ranching operations to horse training and veterinary care, and,
often to their chagrin, other humans. The mild misanthropy found in
these works is often the source of implicit humor, upending as it does
normative hierarchies of being. But what I am most interested in here
is Everett’s deployment of what at first appears to be a simplistic kind of
plot twist: in several of the stories in these collections, the rural male
172  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
characters “turn out” to be black. In what follows, I will investigate the
affective implications of this so-­called twist, as well as its literary and
political implications.
“Little Faith,” the first story in Half an Inch of Water, begins with a
serious meditation on family and land that would not look out of place
in mainstream (read: predominantly white) nature writing, fictional or

A spring-­fed creek ran through the ranch and so even in the harshest
summer weeks there was a narrow lane of willows and green grass. . . .
Sam Innis had grown up there with his mother. . . . He had the old
woman cremated and her ashes were mixed now into the dusty fur-
rows, mud, and deep tracks of life of that place. At dusk, when the owls
and bats were whispering about, Sam would sit by the creek and watch
the few trout rise to some hatch. (2015, 3)

The story’s action picks up as veterinarian Sam and his wife, Sophie,
are heading home from the funeral of a Native American acquaintance
named Old Dave Wednesday. Sam makes a series of routine calls, in-
cluding a stop at the ranch of a neighbor named Wes, to check on a
horse he hopes to breed. “You know, you’re okay,” Wes says when the
examination is done. “Sam looked at him. How’s that. You know, being
a black vet out here. I have to admit, I had my doubts” (10). Consider-
ing the racial histories sketched out earlier in this chapter, this delayed
revelation—­this man, living in the rural West and possessing exten-
sive knowledge about animals, is black—­constitutes a situational irony.
Indeed, one could argue that simply placing a black character in a “nat-
ural” setting is by definition ironic, for better or worse, just as debunk-
ing the Ecological Indian trope is by definition ironic.
“Afraid of the Dark” and “Alluvial Deposits” from Damned If I
Do similarly feature black male protagonists living in the West, with
deep connections to animals and land. And they also display what lit­
erary scholar Danielle Fuentes Morgan calls a “calculated reticence
around race” (2014, 163), revealing their protagonists’ racial statuses in
oblique ways. However, this process becomes more of a long-­running
joke in these stories, not (just) a source of implicit irony. “Afraid of the
Dark” relates the farcical, but understated, tale of rancher Austin and his
friend Dwight, who drive from New Mexico to Colorado to pick up a
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  173
neighbor’s horse and her alcoholic brother. They wind up in a bar fight
with the brother, who, at one point, pauses and “look[s] at Austin as if
for the first time. ‘Hey, you’re black’” (2004, 137), he observes. Later,
back in their truck, Dwight says, “‘You know, he’s right. You are black.’
‘Funny man,’” Austin replies (139). “Alluvial Deposits” is less rollick-
ing than “Afraid of the Dark,” with particularly dry humor developed
through understatement and terse, economical prose and dialogue. The
story follows first-­person narrator Robert Hawks, a hydrologist from
Colorado on a contract job for the Utah Department of Agriculture and
the Fish and Game Commission in a small town called Dotson. When
he stops at a local gas station early on, he has the following exchange
with a “skinny fellow with wild red hair” who works there: “‘You ain’t
from around here,’ he said. ‘Pretty good,’ I said. ‘Was it my Colorado
tags or the fact that you’ve never seen me before that tipped you off?’
I put the nozzle into my front tank” (2004, 41). Like Austin, Hawks’s
sardonicism serves as a defense mechanism. Everett continues to be as
reticent about Hawks’s race as is the man himself: “For reasons too
familiar and too tiresome to discuss, I was a great source of interest as I
idled at the town’s only traffic signal” (42). When he tries to obtain a
signature from an elderly white woman whose property he needs to
cross, she calls him a “nigger”; Hawks then reports to the local deputy
that “it seems she has a bit of a problem with my complexion,” and the
good-­natured deputy “observed my complexion. ‘Yeah, I can see. I think
you’ve got a pimple coming on’” (44). It is not until later that the mat-
ter is officially confirmed: “you’re black” (53), a man in the local diner
bluntly observes.
Such moments are not unique but in fact recur throughout Everett’s
fiction.16 We can link this tendency to what Morgan sees as the post-­soul
interest in “privileg[ing] nonwhiteness without intentionally fetishizing
it for mainstream consumption” (2014, 163). That is, Everett’s reticence
around race and, specifically, his “twists” or delayed reveals, might rep-
resent a reluctance to pigeonhole his characters or himself—­to become,
for example, the “black cowboy” or “black scientist” author. As with
Alexie, we could say that Everett is wary and self-­conscious when it
comes to readerly expectations. But when we take a broader view, some-
thing more complicated seems to be happening. First, our experience
of stories such as “Alluvial Deposits” may inform particular readings, or
174  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
even misreadings, of Everett’s other works—­but in ways that prompt
examination of those readerly expectations. For example, one might
read a story such as Half an Inch of Water’s “Stonefly” and wonder if
its reference to the protagonist’s “black hair” (2015, 40) is intended as a
racial marker. Indeed, Margaret Russett refers to a major character in
Grand Canyon, Inc., BB Trane, as “black” (2005, 360), though his race
is never actually specified.17 Second, Everett’s “twists” actually start to
look unironic when we consider the regularity with which they occur.
They may even start to take on the status of a cliché or shtick, or, at
least, the kind of smug, corrective irony that I have critiqued in chapter
1: You think all vets, or all scientists, or all cowboys, are white, but guess what?
They’re not! But perhaps this is the very point: Everett’s oeuvre as a
whole seeks to de-­exoticize the Western, rural African American. His
irony is thus contingent rather than stable: dependent on the reader’s
familiarity with his oeuvre and, perhaps, her own racial awareness.
Like Diggs’s “My First Black Nature Poem™,” much of Everett’s
Western work concerns both Native Americans and African Americans.
He depicts cross-­racial alliances, sometimes uneasy, and these alliances
are often major sources of irony and humor. In “Little Faith,” one such
alliance becomes an opportunity to grapple with the Ecological Indian
trope. After making his veterinary rounds, Sam is called in as a tracker
for a deaf Native American girl who has gone missing outdoors. He
finds her but suffers two snakebites, at which point he apparently begins
to hallucinate his now-­deceased Native American friend Dave: “You’re
thinking you’re having a vision, aren’t you? Dave said. Pretty much. As
offensive as that must be to you.” The terse, economical language here
creates an ironic juxtaposition with the (arguably) fantastic situation:
“You’re not a spiritual person,” Dave observes. “Yet here you are, hal-
lucinating stereotypes” (2015, 24). After showing Dave his bites, Sam
opens his eyes to find that “his chills were gone. . . . The bite marks were
there, but the swelling was not” (25). When he finally reunites with the
search party, a paramedic tells Sam that he has been incredibly lucky to
have experienced two “dry bites.” The story concludes with an exchange
between Sam and the girl’s father: “She’s special,” the latter remarks.
“Yes, she is,” Sam replies (26). Here, Everett leaves the level of realism
vague; “she’s special” could be taken many ways, as could Sam’s remark-
able recovery. Everett’s ambiguous approach allows him to lampoon
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  175
stereotypes around the Ecological Indian while still allowing for a con-
sideration of Native American spiritual healing and animal knowledge.
Everett’s 1996 novel Watershed, a loose sequel to “Alluvial Depos-
its,” gives alliances between Native Americans and African Americans
long-­form treatment. The novel follows the latter story’s black hydrolo-
gist, Robert Hawks, as he collaborates with a group of Native Ameri-
cans who suspect that the government is contaminating a reservation’s
water supply through the storage of chemical weapons on the land. The
novel employs irony on the level of form, punctuating the threads of
narrative action with excerpts from real and fictional U.S.–­Indian trea-
ties, among other expert discourses. That is, the action surrounding
these excerpts, and our own historical knowledge, ironizes sentiments
such as the following:

You may rest assured that I shall adhere to the just and humane policy
towards the Indians which I have commenced. In this spirit I have
recommended them to quit their possessions on this side of the Mis-
sissippi, and go to a country to the west where there is every probabil-
ity that they will always be free from the mercenary influence of white
men, and undisturbed by the local authority of the states. (1996, 59)

The closing statement is an uncredited quotation from U.S. president

and “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson. In this sense, Everett takes part in
what literary scholar David L. Moore calls, in reference to Sherman
Alexie, “the colonial poetics of irony”; as Moore argues, works such as
Alexie’s poem “The American Artificial Limb Company” allude “to
treaty-­writing and treaty-­breaking as ironic by definition, where irony is
saying one thing and meaning another. . . . He contrasts irony of politi-
cal deceit with irony of racial trust” (2005, 306). Alexie and Everett’s
deployments of irony, of course, seek to reveal and level inequalities
rather than enact or obscure them.
We find in Watershed that Robert, the outsider black hydrologist,
ironically knows more about the land than the Native Americans who
live there. After he joins the group in a standoff with the FBI, for exam-
ple, he announces his intention to sneak out with photographic evidence
of the conspiracy, declaring, “I know this mountain better than anybody.
They can’t keep up with me” (1996, 196). Here, Everett again troubles
the idea of a special Indigenous relationship to nature. As ecocritic Alexa
176  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
Weik von Mossner states, “Watershed . . . undermines the long-­accepted
dichotomy between black urbanism and Indian closeness to ‘nature,’
confronting us with a black protagonist who is familiar with both city
and country and with young American Indians who have no sense of
place on the land of their elders and who know very little about the
natural environment” (2009, 76). But rather than take this irony as an
occasion for dismissing Indigenous knowledge altogether, Everett makes
a case for racial solidarity. It is only when the Native Americans’ suspi-
cion of government malfeasance meets Robert’s expert knowledge of the
terrain that the revolutionaries can determine the location of the weap-
ons. In Everett’s work, then, African American solidarity with Native
Americans does not entail idolizing, idealizing, or essentializing the lat-
ter. Such depictions are important, considering that African Americans
have no historical claim to being native to the land—­while, at the same
time, they are one of the groups most adversely impacted by environ-
mental injustice. In fact, African American groups have recently built
solidarity with Native American groups on the basis not of being native
but of being “displaced,” as the Black Lives Matter statement of support
for the Standing Rock protestors puts it (2016).
While the works referenced above are, with some exceptional quirks,
largely realist, Everett’s Grand Canyon, Inc. represents a major stylistic
departure. It tells the absurdist, mock-­epic tale of one Winchell Nathan-
iel “Rhino” Tanner, contemporary folk (anti)hero, and his lifelong quest
to buy the Grand Canyon—­which he refers to as “but a scar of nature”
(2001b, 113)—­and turn it into an amusement park. Though not for-
mally divided as such, I suggest that the novella can be understood as
comprising three distinct parts. The first, including chapters 1–­12, is
a profile of Tanner written in a hilariously matter-­of-­fact manner—­
“hilarious” because of the distance between that manner and the gro-
tesque, outlandish actions recounted, such as “He worked hard at being
a remarkably good shot, but he was not the best shot in the world,
though he was however willing to shoot at anything that lived” (4) and
“He was greatly saddened by his lack of a good nickname and moped
for a couple of years until his houseboy, actually a Kenyan woman, but
Tanner never noticed, said, ‘Cheer up, Rhino Man, you’ll find a name
soon’” (5). The second part of the novella, including chapters 13–­15,
is more personal and reflective. Here, our apparently heterodiegetic
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  177
narrator reveals himself to be homodiegetic: to be Tanner’s sidekick BB
Trane, previously referred to in the third person. This reveal constitutes
an ironic twist comparable to the racial revelations of Everett’s short
fiction, but perhaps with less conclusive, or satisfying, results: “You ask
why did I remain [at Tanner’s side]. . . . My answer is, because it was a
good show. It’s as simple as that. A damn good show. Disgusting in many
respects, certainly. Degrading, yes, but only if one gives a damn about
anything at all and I have not an ounce of pride” (2001b, 83).18 The
third and final part of the novella, comprising chapters 16–­18, is primar-
ily action-­oriented. It narrates the mobilization of environmental activ-
ists, including Tanner’s own son, against him, and the spectacular but
ridiculous downfall of this protagonist and his amusement park.
Grand Canyon, Inc. has been described by the few scholars who have
considered it—­and by its own cover—­as satire. But if it is satire, what is
it satirizing? Its first, most obvious target is the commodification of the
West, as so neatly captured in its title. Tanner is able to fulfill his life-
long quest when, in the face of severe Department of Interior cutbacks
for military spending, he offers to “maintain the land known as the
Grand Canyon National Park for no compensation other than the con-
cession that I be allowed to place a gift and book shop on the site known
as Plateau Point.” In reply, “the Department of Interior said, ‘Okay’”
(2001b, 59). Everett details the Grand Canyon’s ensuing commodifica-
tion and, more generally, efforts to frame nature in idealized ways. For
example, a member of his architectural team proudly presents his plans
to Tanner, explaining, “You’ll see that the revolving restaurant doesn’t
really revolve, it rotates one-­hundred-­eighty degrees and then returns. I
figured who needs to see the canyon wall, am I right?” (91). The same
man then presents his plans for a monorail: “It will actually be elevated
over the service road, therefore minimizing guest observance of the
employees and their vehicles” (92).
Environmental activists have long critiqued such mindsets, but of
course in a much more serious manner than Everett. And in fact, as any
visitor to a U.S. National Park knows, the parks are heavily commodified,
with larger corporations acting as concessionaires for lodging, restau-
rants, merchandise, and other goods. The extent of this commodifica-
tion became clear in 2016, when Yosemite National Park awarded a
contract to a new concessionaire, Aramark, and the old one, Delaware
178  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
North, retaliated by taking with it the trademarked names of the park’s
major icons. The National Park Service has since been forced to rename
those icons; laughably, the Wawona Hotel is now Big Trees Lodge, and
the Ahwahnee Hotel the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. In a piece for the San
Francisco Chronicle, travel editor Spud Hilton pointed out that Delaware
North currently operates the Grand Canyon National Park concession:
“If [they] . . . ever lose that job, they’re probably taking the name with
them. Say goodbye to Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon Railway, [and the]
‘Grand Canyon Suite’” (2016). Hilton concluded, “We live in an age
where increasingly it’s accepted that the person or entity with enough
money can buy naming rights to almost anything.” In short, Tanner’s
fictional plan is not quite as outlandish as it initially appears. As Morgan
reminds us, “The reality inherent in the absurd . . . is always a character-
istic of satire. Satire is absurd, to be sure, but not wholly unbelievable”
(2014, 169). Here, then, we see that Everett’s project, like those of the
other cultural producers I discuss in this book, does not entail a dismissal
of environmental politics per se but rather an interrogation of the affec-
tive status quo of such politics—­not to mention their racial dimensions.
The other major target of Everett’s satire, I suggest, is what cul-
tural critics and activists have referred to as “toxic masculinity”: forms
of manhood characterized by dominance, violence, and exploitation.
Crucial to this definition is the idea that such iterations of masculinity
are toxic to the person in question, not just those around him. One epi-
sode, set in Tanner’s youth, features an exchange between him and his
equally odious father.
“You’d better go out there and get you some. You know what’ll happen
if you don’t.” “What?” young Tanner asked. “Why, the other boys will
call you queer and then you’ll feel awkward and strange and the next
thing you’ll know you will be queer.” “What’s queer[?]” “Not liking
girls.” “I don’t like girls.” “Shhhh.” “You said you hate women.” Daddy
Tanner shook his head. “I hate women, but I like them. You don’t have
to like them to like them, son.” “I don’t understand.” (2001b, 43–­44)

Some scholars have suggested that toxic masculinity is inextricable from

destructive attitudes toward nature. For example, as ecocritic Mark
Allister has observed, a “powerful social construction of [contemporary]
masculinity [holds] that the way to prove one’s manhood is not to test
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  179
oneself in nature”—­an older Western ideal, as both Allister and Everett
seem to suggest—­“but to destroy it” (2004, 3; see also MacGregor and
Seymour 2017). Importantly, Tanner’s half-­Asian son, Niko—­whom he
brought to gaze upon the Grand Canyon as a child, just as Tanner’s father
did for him—­is at the forefront of the activist movement against his own
father, suggesting a breaking of the cycle of toxic white masculinity.
But even Niko is held up for ridicule, along with the other envi­
ronmental activists who come to the Grand Canyon to protest Tanner’s
takeover. That is to say, even if Everett’s satire emerges from a place
of solidarity with such groups, he treats them in a startlingly critical and
irreverent manner: they are ineffectual, weak, inconsistent, even hypo-
critical, but always humorously so. For example, we learn that Niko
lives with his father despite the latter’s horrifying actions because “it
was a free ride” (2001b, 74). At the protest site at the Canyon, “college
kids painted signs . . . and formed loose picket lines in front of the work
site at the canyon and bought hot dogs and cans of soda from the ven-
dors serving the ever growing number of tourists” (104–­5)—­thus engag-
ing in the same behavior they supposedly decry. Meanwhile, describing
a Native American protestor’s bombing-­assassination plot, our narrator
tells us that “John Russell’s nephew’s van hit a pothole, bounced and
exploded, sending bits of the van and John Russell’s nephew raining down
all over the landscape. He was nowhere near his destination” (124). The
ignoble end of the Native American protestor in Grand Canyon, Inc. has
ironic ramifications: “Though no one felt the blast, it must have sent
one tiny tremor through the ground . . . [that] found the wall of Glen
Canyon Dam. A small crack formed at the base of the thick concrete,
then the weight of all that water, all that time, all those years pressed
against the monstrous construction. . . . The dam cracked, opened, gave
up” (125). The gigantic wave of water that ensues wipes out the amuse-
ment park at the novella’s very end. This scene thus echoes, perhaps
not coincidentally, the scenario that radical environmental activist group
Earth First! playfully invoked at the same dam in 1981, unfurling a three-­
hundred-­foot piece of plastic to create the illusion of a crack.19
The refusal to revere found in the novella’s depiction of environmen­
talists extends to its treatment of charismatic megafauna, those sacred
cows of mainstream environmentalist art, activism, and discourse. In
our early introduction to Tanner, the narrator tells us that “not a single
180  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
rhinoceros ever heard the report of a shot fired at him and the misses
kicked up little puffs of dust like a bunny might make. A ton and a half
rhino might think, ‘Aw, the little bunny be scared,’ but he wouldn’t be
frightened, then, kablowey!, there would be a gaping hole in his pachy-
dermis, the beast never seeing the flowing hair of his killer” (2001b, 4).
As in Alexie’s work, and other “bad” environmental works such as Wild-
boyz, the shock and humor of such moments come from treating regal,
powerful, or beautiful animals as stupid victims of dramatic irony. Such
moments, like the internet memes that have recently proliferated
around the high-­profile killings of Cecil the lion and Harambe the
gorilla, may provide readers with cathartic relief from stringent affective
expectations.20 Elsewhere, Everett defies norms not only for the treat-
ment of animals but also for that of children—­the other sacred cow of
environmental art, activism, and discourse, as I have observed. Further-
ing the bad taste quotient, Everett throws casual violence and racism
into the equation as well.

Just after shooting a peacefully browsing bull elephant, Tanner said to

Niko, “So, what do you think, son?” “That’s the first time you ever
called me ‘son.’” Niko was staring at the fallen elephant. “I guess
you’re right,” Tanner said. “Something, isn’t it? You, me, here, related
as we are. This dead beast at our feet, spilling its blood on the savan-
nah floor. It doesn’t get any better than this.” “I suppose you want me
to cut off his tusks.” “No, of course not. Let those black bastards take
care of that. That’s why I hire them.” (2001b, 74)21

This darkly funny scene echoes Tanner’s exchanges with his own father,
once more gesturing to the theme of cyclical toxic masculinity. And it
yet again echoes the work of Alexie, wherein the violence of and against
animals becomes a source of humor for how it upends affective and
racial expectations. Everett’s sense of comic timing is impeccable; while
the humor in previous sections depends on the narrator’s rambling style
and lack of pauses—­“[He] moped for a couple of years until his house-
boy, actually a Kenyan woman, but Tanner never noticed, said, ‘Cheer
up, Rhino Man’” (2001b, 5)—­here, it depends on careful syntax and
parsing of dialogue. The scene’s antepenultimate sentence seems to offer
temporary relief from Tanner’s nightmarish worldview (“No, of course
not”) only to plunge us back in (“Let those black bastards take care of
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  181
that”). And, of course, we see here how toxic masculinity, racism, and
environmental destruction are all bound up together.
Grand Canyon, Inc.’s dark, satirical drive lets up in rare moments
that deserve further scrutiny. In what I have identified as the last two
parts of the novella, our narrator engages in some ruminations that
smack of righteousness and smug moralism—­that is, of the kind of cor-
rective irony I critique in chapter 1: “Of course all the building would
get out of hand . . . on what had been one of the most beautiful spots
on the planet. . . . What a mess, what a mess. But with all things, mess
or no, it would meet with a fate designed for it especially. Niko would
figure prominently in the fate of his father, a fate which would have met
Tanner’s specifications had he had the imagination” (2001b, 100). And
the very last paragraph suggests the entire novella to be a kind of pasto-
ralist moral parable: “Everything [Tanner] had built was completely
defeated, washed away forever, no pieces ever to be found. The canyon
became what it once was. There was no damn, no lake, only river, the
mighty Colorado” (126). To understand this apparent shift, we can turn
to literary scholar Fritz Gysin. Ruminating on Everett’s 2001 novel Era-
sure, Gysin observes that “the devices of parody and satire . . . are them-
selves put ‘under erasure,’ [with] the melancholic strain . . . undermining
the satirical approach” (2007, 79). Similarly, the hilariously dark, satiri-
cal bent of the majority of Grand Canyon, Inc. has faded out by the very
end of the novel—­though optimism, more than melancholia, seems to
be the undermining force. As with Alexie, Everett thus proves to be
ambivalent not only about politics but also about bad affect, its applica-
bility and sustainability. But, of course, this ending does not and cannot
erase the rest of the novella. If nothing else, then, it encourages us to
consider the limitations of the very modes our author otherwise favors.

“You Wanna Go Forward!”: Pop Cultural Responses to

Racialized Environmental Affect
Parodies of the Ecological Indian are legion, perhaps even outnumber-
ing straightforward deployments of the trope. The website TV Tropes,
for example, has collected “no less than 30 instances of parodies of the
Crying Indian commercial” alone (Lisa Jones 2011). The comedy troupe
the 1491s, consisting of members Dallas Goldtooth (Mdewakanton
182  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
Dakota-­Diné), Sterlin Harjo (Seminole-­Muscogee), Migizi Pensoneau
(Ponca-­Ojibwe), Ryan Red Corn (Osage Nation), and Bobby Wilson
(Sisseton-­Wahpeton Dakota), has produced a notable Ecological Indian
parody in “Pipeline Protest” (2015). This video sketch also happens to
echo Percival Everett’s irreverent undercutting of environmental protes­
tors in Grand Canyon, Inc. The sketch begins with a text introduction that
tells us, “In 2014, a few brave souls dared to defy Big Oil and his encroach-
ment on the Lakota Nation. In their most traditional garb, these war-
riors led a legendary protest.” These statements are soon ironized by the
image of a young Native American man (Wilson), wearing only a flow-
ery vest, baseball cap, tinted sunglasses, and underwear, who announces,
“My name is Anton True Earth and I’ve come here to protest that white
man’s machine that’s having unconsensual sex with Mother Earth.”
After the word “machine,” the camera cuts from “Anton” and his fellow
underwear-­clad protestors to show a carnival ride in a parking lot, which
the protestors have apparently mistaken for an oil rig. The protest then
devolves into spastic dancing and ends with several arrests.
Most other pop cultural parodies of the Ecological Indian actu-
ally come from non-­Indigenous producers. But they arguably perform

Figure 6. Members of the 1491s comedy troupe. Photograph by Shane Brown.

Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  183
antiracist criticism in line with that of the 1491s and Indigenous schol-
ars such as Kristina Fagan. Consider, for instance, how the TV Tropes
entry on the Crying Indian refers back to the larger category of “Magi-
cal Native American,” itself a subcategory of “Ethnic Magician.” As the
“Magical Native American” entry reads, “Works often use this trope
to promote a ‘positive’ image of Native Americans rather than accu-
rately portraying their culture or developing them as characters. . . . This
trope . . . furthers stereotypes of Native Americans . . . and gives them a
mysterious ‘otherness’ quality that . . . prevents them from ever assimilat-
ing into the modern society of the other races” (TV Tropes n.d.). Parodies,
then, in theory work to counter these ideas, however indirectly. Impor-
tantly, the TV Tropes entry itself displays tongue-­in-­cheek humor. For
example, the caption under an image of a Magical Native American from
the Mortal Kombat video game reads, “Stereotypical face paint? Check.
Feather in hair? Check. The ability to manifest a bow and arrow made
of pure spirit energy? Check!” Thus, while the Ecological Indian (and
the related Crying, Trickster, and Magical iterations) strips Indigenous
peoples of affective responses that are complex, time or place specific, or
individualistic, it also inspires backlash from people of all backgrounds
in the key of parodic humor and other “bad” affective modes.
But compared to the Ecological Indian, the Urban African American
has not been parodied as extensively in popular culture, nor studied as
extensively, at least not from an environmental perspective. In the rest
of this last section, then, I survey three examples of pop cultural works
that probe this trope through bad affect and self-­reflexivity. While, as I
have described, humor emerges from the takedown of the Ecological
Indian trope, here humor often emerges from the upholding of the Urban
African American trope. As I will show, however, the examples I discuss
have the same ultimate effects of critiquing racialized environmental
affect and revealing environmental injustice.
I begin with the work of African American stand-­up comic Trixx,
who, in a 2012 Laugh Factory routine about camping, asks, “I know
comedians talk about this all the time, but why would we want to leave the
comfort of our own bed to sleep on the ground, in a bag [begins whisper-
ing] that’s made out of other bags?!?!” Mimicking a presumably white,
enthusiastic friend whom he humorously dubs “Cody,” Trixx continues,
“‘C’mon bro, you need to experience the wilderness!!!’ I’m like, [voice
184  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
drops] ‘I’m from Africa, I’ve experienced enough.’” Trixx’s comically indig-
nant incredulity, or “animation,” as Ngai (2005) would have it—­a com-
mon but controversial staple of African American stand-­up comedy—­
here contrasts with his lack of enthusiasm for the outdoors, in ways that
are both funny and troubling, considering how they play into the Urban
African American trope.
At the same time, Trixx is clearly performing. Recall his opening
line: “I know comedians talk about this all the time.” The line suggests
that he is self-­consciously following in a black comic tradition, one that
audiences, including or perhaps especially white people, enjoy watching.
In this sense, whether intentionally or not, he acknowledges the influence
of racialized environmental affect. While, as I have suggested, there is
something troubling about how Trixx plays into audience expectations—­
perhaps, like Alexie and Everett, he recognizes that he will never be able
to fully escape them—­there is also something transgressive happening
here. First, this line prepares us from the beginning to receive the rou-
tine as a commentary on stereotypes rather than (just) a recitation of said
stereotypes. It also reminds us that stand-­up comedy is a two-­way ex-
change between performer and audience members—­and asks us to reflect
on our role, as audience members, in bringing certain expectations and
demands to the table. At the very least, the line indicates how Trixx, as
an African American artist, is taking control of a discourse that has long
been externally imposed.
Other contemporary media texts derive their humor more explicitly
from the inequalities that undergird the Urban African American trope.
In 2009 the comedy web channel Funny Or Die released a three-­minute
video titled “Black Hiker” (dir. Brad Schulz), written by white comedian
Seth Morris and starring African American actor Blair Underwood.
Underwood acts the straight man here, navigating obnoxious interrup-
tions to his peaceful solo hike from ridiculous white people. These in-
terruptions range from fetishization (a male–female couple expresses
surprise over his environmental knowledge, much like in Everett’s “Lit-
tle Faith,” and then entreat, “Do you mind if we watch you hike?”) to
overt racism (a woman scrambles to get away from him in fear) to token-
ism (overly solicitous park rangers hound him to sign the trail guest
book, pleading, “We just want proof that you were here”). While the
premise undeniably banks on a stereotype—­“Black Hiker” humorously
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  185
connotes novelty in a way that “White Hiker” clearly would not—­the
video becomes a critique of white behaviors that contribute to, or at
least fail to ameliorate, the alienation that informs that stereotype in the
first place.
The video achieves this critique through the acting sequences de-
scribed here but also through less obvious means, such as the deployment
of music. After the hiker’s initial encounter with the fetishizing couple,
Harry Nilsson’s 1969 hit “Everybody’s Talkin’” (recorded in 1968) begins
playing over his attempts to proceed in peace. Described by music crit-
ics as an “anti-­urban plaint” (Kamp and Daly 2005, 476), the gentle
folk-­rock song contains such lyrics as “I’m going where the sun keeps
shining / . . . Going where the weather suits my clothes”—­wistful, idyl-
lic lines ironized by the obnoxious interruptions from those the hiker
meets on the trail. Here, the editing is also crucial: at one point during
the musical interlude, for instance, we see Underwood’s character stare
up; a match cut then ironically reveals that he is looking not, say, at a
grand mountain or a striking blue sky but at two white figures with bin-
oculars staring down at him from a hill and giving the thumbs-­up. The
song abruptly cuts short when the park rangers pop out from behind
a ridge to pester the hiker and resumes only in the video’s last few sec-
onds, as he poses begrudgingly for a photo with the assorted people
from the trail. Through this shrewd, funny use of music, we see the
restricted latitude granted a figure like the black hiker—­his inability to
move as freely in nature as the song’s protagonist expects to, or to enjoy
the emotional stirrings such movement often precipitates. That is, the
video shows how the African American subject is not given time, space,
or opportunity to form the kinds of individualized, sentimental, won-
drous, or otherwise normatively affective relationships that mainstream
environmentalism champions.
The Black Public Media documentary web series Black Folk Don’t
(2011–­16), created by Angela Tucker, takes a multifaceted approach to
the Urban African American trope, variously debunking and uphold-
ing it, and sketching out the inequalities behind it in ways that are
both humorous and serious. While each episode of the series is dedi-
cated to exploring a different stereotype—­from “Black Folk Don’t:
Go to Therapy” (2011) to “Black Folk Don’t: Listen to Classical
Music” (2016)—­interestingly, multiple episodes relate to environmental
186  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
questions, including “Black Folk Don’t: Go Green” (2013), “Black Folk
Don’t: Swim” (2012) (directly echoing a phrase from Diggs’s poem),
“Black Folk Don’t: Do Winter Sports” (2011) (resonating with nature
writer David Gessner’s quip that “there are currently more black players
in the NHL than in the Nature Writing League” [2005, 11]), and, of
course, “Black Folk Don’t: Go Camping” (2012). A typical episode
includes several segments in which black Americans of different ages,
genders, sexualities, lineages, and socioeconomic backgrounds offer
humorous explanations for these alleged preferences. In “Swim,” for
example, a young woman laughs and explains, “A lot of it has to do with
the hair. It’s like, girl, I don’t wanna get my hair wet, because, you know,
water is like black woman’s Kryptonite!,” while, in “Winter Sports,” a
middle-­aged man opines, “We don’t do extreme sports, we don’t do
none of that skiing off of cliffs and flipping over backwards. . . . The
reason why we don’t do that is cuz we ain’t crazy!” The first statement
engages in playful self-­reflection while the second makes a critical point,
albeit implicitly and also playfully: actively putting oneself at risk is
ridiculous, not heroic. Perhaps even more implicit there is the idea
that those who do so are privileged; risk is a choice for them, not a daily
condition of life.
Other moments are more explicit and straightforward. For exam-
ple, one man in “Swim” avers, “We do swim, but . . . there are cultural
and social factors that . . . mediate how much we swim,” while another in
“Winter Sports” points out that “winter sports are generally this capital-­
intensive endeavor. You have to buy a lot of equipment, you have to have
a facility nearby.” Here, we can see the importance of upholding the
Urban African American trope, if only in theory: not because of some-
thing essential in blackness but because of sociopolitical and environmen­
tal factors that shape U.S. blackness. In other words, wholly rejecting
the trope of the Urban African American might combat essentialism,
but it would also gloss over the trope’s roots in a deeply unequal reality.
A third type of segment combines the humor of the first two examples
with the explicit social criticism of the latter two. In “Black Folk Don’t:
Go Camping,” for example, a young man observes, “There’s something
primal and sort of time-­machiney about the . . . nostalgia or love of
camping. You want to [corny voice] ‘go back to a simpler time.’ You know,
for black Americans, to go back in time, anywhere in the previous four
Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t  |  187
hundred years, is gonna be hellish. You don’t wanna go back any further!
You wanna go forward!”

As we have seen, writers such as Sherman Alexie and Percival Everett

“go forward,” but they do not leave the category of environment behind
as they do so. As I have shown, “bad” affective modes such as humor,
irony, sardonicism, self-­reflexivity, satire, and irreverence allow them to
confront enduring legacies around Native American and African Amer-
ican relationships to the environment, especially racialized environmen-
tal affect, and to critique readerly and other public expectations. These
modes also allow them to build new, idiosyncratic relationships to envi-
ronment; humor, irony, and the rest become the means through which
to approach, understand, care for, and grieve landscapes and animals,
as well as people. If, as critical race studies scholar Lisa Guerrero has
argued, “contemporary black satire can be considered a particular ver-
sion of what Raymond Williams has called a ‘structure of feeling’ for
black Americans in a supposedly post-­racial age” (2016, 268), I hope
to have given a compelling account of the relationship between such
cultural modes and environmental feeling in particular—­and of how the
category of environment indexes the lie of that postracial age.
What I have not yet considered are the larger roles that such modes
may play in real-­life communities of color. To do so, I turn to one of
Face’s poems, “When Asked What I Think about Indian Reservations, I
Remember a Deer Story,” in which the speaker exhorts, “Children, you
must laugh at the sound of grief, / And at deer bleeding to death on the
road, / And at Heaven and fathers all drunk and broke, / Or you will
become that deer, torn in half, / Screaming and bleeding to death on
the road” (Alexie 2009, 130). The speaker’s claims chime with ecocritic
Joni Adamson’s first-­person observation that her Indigenous students
“enjoyed Alexie’s writing because it confronts reservation life with the
same biting humor that they employ in confronting the challenges they
face in their own lives” (2001, 24), and with sociological research that
identifies “the importance of humor and laughter as a critical part of
culture that have been significant in the continued survival of tribal
groups” (R. Dean 2003, 63, drawing on Maples et al. 2001). Similarly,
scholars such as Michael K. Johnson have considered the larger import
for black politics and communities of Percival Everett’s play with racial
188  |  Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t
tropes. As he observes, “If Everett employs a post-­soul aesthetic in his
interrogation of black identity, his characters also seem in search of a
post-­soul ethics to replace the no-­longer-­viable identity politics embraced
by an earlier generation” (2014, 210–­11). I propose that Everett’s use of
modes such as irony and satire be understood as an ethical and not just
aesthetic matter; in addition to countering the status quo of racialized
environmental affect, these modes allow him to navigate a cultural con-
text in which he, as a black, rural writer, is either treated as a fetishized
novelty or not believed to exist at all. Thus, bad affect becomes a literal
and literary survival strategy for both of these authors.
At this point, it goes without saying that bad affect works differ-
ently for some cultural producers than for others. For example, as I
have observed of Wildboyz elsewhere (Seymour 2015), white masculin-
ity offers the kind of latitude in terms of affect and behavior that, as I
have acknowledged above, Native Americans and African Americans are
rarely afforded (see Chris 2012). Moreover, seriousness plays an argu-
ably larger role in the works I discuss in this chapter than in something
like Wildboyz or Idiocracy—­often reflecting painful histories of aliena­
tion, dispossession, injustice, and discrimination. As in “My First Black
Nature Poem™,” for instance, the enormity of a historical burden such
as slavery cannot be disregarded. But Diggs lightens that burden by
introducing frivolous pop cultural touchstones and self-­reflexive humor
into the poem—­thus proliferating the historical, cultural, and affective
contexts through which her speaker relates to nature. But for all their
important differences, figures such as Diggs, Alexie, and Everett, just
like the makers of Wildboyz and Idiocracy, recognize the importance of
bad affective modes—­modes that can challenge not only the sentimen-
tality, straightforwardness, and self-­righteousness of mainstream envi-
ronmental art, activism, and discourse but also its glaring whiteness.

gas-­g uzzling, beer-­

chugging tree huggers
Toward Trashy Environmentalisms

As the People’s Climate March unfolded across the globe in early

2017, conservative pundits took to social media to shame participants
for their (supposed) hypocrisy. Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA—­an
organization whose “mission is to identify, educate, train, and organize
students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets,
and limited government” (“About Turning Point USA” n.d.)—­tweeted
images of an overflowing trash can and abandoned protest signs below
the comment “That awkward moment when #climatemarch protesters
litter and contribute to the very thing they are fighting against,” followed
by a laughing-­so-­hard-­I’m-­crying emoji (2017). “Rep. Steven Smith,” a
fake political persona created by conservative troublemaker Jeffrey Marty,
tweeted pictures of Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson with the
caption “Owns an island, an airline, and a spaceship—­participates, with
no sense of irony, in the #ClimateMarch” (2017). Meanwhile, at the
People’s Climate March in Los Angeles, I watched as featured speaker
Jane Fonda took a sip from a water bottle and went off script: “I’m sorry,
it’s plastic. We shouldn’t buy plastic. But we need to protect our water”
(Fonda 2017).
I juxtapose these incidents to draw attention, first, to the schema
briefly touched on in chapter 3, in which environmentalism is associated
with guilt, shame, and anxiety as opposed to pride and glee; restraint and
austerity as opposed to indulgence and excess. As writer David Gessner
puts it, “One of the reasons people steer clear of environmentalism is all
the guilt associated with it. The creepy feeling that by doing what every-
one else in one’s society is doing—­driving, washing the dishes, catching
a flight—­we are bringing about the end of the world” (2015, 165). As

190  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
Gessner does not map out the affective circuits involved, a few points are
in order. First, it seems that environmentalists both feel their own inter-
nal guilt and judgmentally foist guilt on others. But it also seems that
their enemies wield guilt: Kirk and “Smith” seek to trigger that “creepy
feeling” in protesters and, perhaps, thereby take implicit revenge on
those who would seek to trigger the same feeling in them. Thus, I read
their tweets as both deflections and reroutings of the affects of guilt,
shame, and anxiety.
An environmentalist, it would seem, would need to be utterly perfect
to escape such pundits’ hawkish scrutiny. And yet Fonda, for all her ini-
tial guilt and apparent acknowledgment of hypocrisy, quickly turned the
conversation back to the task at hand: calling for clean, healthy, and safe
environments for all. In fact, we could read her comment “we need to
protect our water” as an allusion to the Indigenous “Water Protectors”
who have steadfastly opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline, or to the crisis
in Flint, Michigan, where residents drink pallet after pallet of bottled
water because their public supply is still unsafe, years after its contamina-
tion was uncovered. Fonda thus rejected the constraints of perfection-
ism under which Kirk and “Smith” would have environmentalists labor.
The perfectionism/hypocrisy complex, we should note, did not start
in 2017 but has plagued environmental and animal activists of all stripes
and statuses for centuries. Tristam Stuart’s The Bloodless Revolution: A Cul-
tural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times (2007) recounts
the feud between Joseph Ritson, author of An Essay on Abstinence from
Animal Food, as a Moral Duty (1802), and British politician and writer
Henry Brougham. As Stuart reports,

Ritson was himself guilty, Brougham pointed out, of starving calves

by drinking milk, aborting chickens by eating eggs, and murdering
whole ecologies of microscopic organisms every time he washed his
armpits. Even while Ritson was in the act of writing his vegetarian
arguments, [Brougham declared,] he was using a quill from a plucked
goose, ink made from crushed insects, and even [a] whale-­tallow can-
dle. (2007, 368)

Brougham paved the way for Kirk and “Smith” and countless other con-
temporary media attacks on high-­profile environmentalists. Consider,
for example, Page Six’s unsubtle headline about Leonardo DiCaprio,
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  191
opulent environmentalist: “Hypocrite! Leo Takes Private Jet to Collect
Environmental Award” (Mohr and Smith 2016). While it may seem that
DiCaprio’s wealth is the problem here, I would argue that it is more the
flagrant vulgarity associated with a particular kind of wealth—­specific­
ally, the “new money” of the nouveau riche—­a point to which I will
return. The perfectionism/hypocrisy complex also seems to have seeped
into the notably less glamorous world of academia: in an article titled
“Must Every Animal Studies Scholar Be Vegan?,” Traci Warkentin
observes a phenomenon in which conference participants “feel the need
to confess whether they are a ‘vegan’ or a ‘carnivore,’ even if the theme
of the conference is focused on other issues” (2012, 501). This phenom-
enon of confession invokes, yet again, the feelings of shame and guilt
so often associated with environmentalism and animal rights activism,
as well as the perceived religious undertones of such activism.1
Warkentin nicely summarizes the insidious nature of the perfection­
ism/hypocrisy complex, reflecting, “I . . . want to be cautious . . . about
the emergence of a reversed dualism—­vegan versus carnivore—­arising
in animal studies that oversimplifies the choices people make as all-­or-­
nothing, and may force us to have to proclaim allegiance to one side or
the other, potentially generating a troubling mentality of you’re either
with us or against us” (2012, 501). Indeed, to call DiCaprio a hypocrite
for flying on a jet is to suggest that his many years and many millions of
dollars dedicated to environmental activism might as well have never
happened. Moreover, by this logic, an environmental activist who flies
on a plane, fails to recycle their protest sign, or occasionally eats cheese
is somehow worse than someone who actively seeks to destroy the envi-
ronment. Such logic is stultifying, especially for budding activists. We
can also assume that antienvironmental forces will always manage to
identify a weakness in environmental movements, thus making perfec-
tionism an ultimately impossible goal. Gessner, for one, proposes a differ­
ent mentality: “‘We are all hypocrites,’ my environmentalist friend . . . ,
Dan Driscoll, said. ‘But we need more hypocrites who fight’” (2015, 165).
This chapter identifies a set of contemporary works that operate
in the same spirit. These include the animated The Simpsons Movie (dir.
David Silverman, 2007, U.S.); Edward Abbey’s classic but fringe novel
The Monkey Wrench Gang ([1975] 2006, U.S.); the live-­action documen-
tary Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story (dir. Elizabeth
192  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
“Beth” Stephens with Annie Sprinkle, 2013, U.S.); and, to a lesser and
more complicated extent, as I will explain, the live-­action sitcom Kath &
Kim (2002–­, Australia) and the animated sitcom The Goode Family (2009,
U.S.). These works’ environmental projects are not hindered—­and in
some cases are perversely fueled—­by accusations of hypocrisy. They
flout the aforementioned expectations for restraint and perfectionism
and refuse the related affects of guilt and shame. And they do so, impor-
tantly, through lower-­class characters and perspectives: white popula-
tions known variously as “rednecks,” “bogans,” “white trash,” “trailer
trash,” “crackers,” and “hillbillies.” I therefore demonstrate that “low
environmental culture,” the paradigm that this book on the whole hopes
to sketch out, has a specifically classed dimension.
Some environmental humanities work exists on and from those pop-
ulations, as I demonstrate in the following section. But this work has
considered affect primarily in terms of shame—­including that incul-
cated by mainstream environmentalists and other supposedly progres-
sive groups—­rather than its gleeful refusal. Thus, I see my primary
examples as doing double or even quadruple duty: contesting environ-
mental destruction and classism, as well as the rejection from the envi-
ronmental mainstream, while also modeling alternative affective modes
and sensibilities. As with the African American and Indigenous figures
discussed in the previous chapter, the failure of these protagonists to fit
into the environmental mainstream leads not to antienvironmental atti-
tudes but to the development of new environmentalisms. More specifi-
cally, I argue that these texts develop a kind of “trashy environmen­talism.”
This term, of course, invokes lower-­class designations, including “white
trash” and “trailer trash,” as well as actual trash or garbage, the would-
­be source of shame in the aforementioned tweets. But it also points to a
lack of proper restraint or refinement. As I discuss, mainstream envi­
ronmentalism is associated primarily with the middle classes, neither
the nouveau riche nor the poor—­both of whom get shamed for their
lack of restraint, whether in the form of too many jets or too many kids.
Put another way, the performance of voluntary restraint and refined
consumerism, as opposed to vulgar excess, is what defines both the mid-
dle class and mainstream environmentalism. My primary texts, instead,
make vulgar excess—­material, aesthetic, as well as affective—­the very
basis of their environmentalism.
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  193
Affect and Low-­Class Environmentalisms
The antipathies between environmentalists and (white) lower-­ class
groups in the United States have been fairly well established by now. I
will summarize this work briefly here, with a specific eye toward affect,
to help contextualize the contributions of my primary texts. To begin
with, historian Richard White observed in a 1996 essay that “environ-
mentalists have come to associate work—­particularly heavy bodily labor,
blue-­collar work—­with environmental degradation. This is true whether
the work is in the woods, on the sea, in a refinery, in a chemical plant, in
a pulp mill, or in a farmer’s field or a rancher’s pasture. Environmentalists
usually imagine that when people who make things finish their day’s
work, nature is the poorer for it” (172). The antipathies run in the other
direction as well. Environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill, who herself
grew up poor and then became famous for her year-­and-­a-­half residence
atop a threatened Pacific Northwest redwood tree, recalls in her autobi-
ography The Legacy of Luna (2000): “That weekend the [timber] workers
held a rally. The signs carried slogans like: CDF [California Department
of Forestry] + Earth First! [radical environmental activist group] = Unemploy-
ment.” She remarks, “My heart went out to these people because they
had bought [logging company] Maxxam’s propaganda, which pitted tim­
ber workers against environmentalists and therefore victim against vic-
tim” (177). While Hill affectively crosses the political divide—­“My heart
went out”—­the pervasive perception remains that lower-­class status is
incompatible with environmental activism.
Hill’s own existence complicates this perception, as does that of
activist Eli Clare. In his memoir Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and
Liberation (1999; republished in 2009 and 2015), he describes leaving his
hardscrabble Pacific Northwest home for urban spaces that would seem
to cater to his queer, transgender identity: “Only later did I understand
what I lost by leaving. Loss of a daily sustaining connection to a land-
scape that I still carry with me as home. Loss of a rural, white, working-­
class culture that values neighbors rather than anonymity, that is both
tremendously bigoted—­particularly racist—­and accepting of local eccen­
tricity, that believes in self-­sufficiency and depends on family” (38). Clare
reports feeling embarrassed and exiled within those urban LGBTQ
communities for how they would perceive him or any one of his family
194  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
members or townspeople as a “redneck.” He explains the latter term’s
“usage by progressives, including many who are queer: ‘1. Any person
who is racist, violent, uneducated and stupid (as if they are the same
thing), woman-­hating, gay-­bashing, Christian fundamentalist, etc. 2.
Used as a synonym for every type of oppressive belief except classism”
(33). Clare’s incisive sardonicism captures the irony of progressive
Janisse Ray’s first memoir, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (1999; re-
published in 2015), outlines the links between lower-­class status, affect,
and environmentalism in even greater detail. Like “redneck,” “cracker”
is often pejorative, but it refers more specifically to descendants of the
poor Scotch-­Irish or English whites who came to work in the U.S. Deep
South; as Clare does with “redneck,” Ray reclaims “cracker.” In a chap-
ter titled “Shame,” she recounts growing up in a Georgia junkyard: “It
didn’t take many years to realize I was a Southerner, a slow, dumb, red-
neck hick, a hayseed, inbred and racist, come from poverty, condemned
to poverty” (30). While recycling and repurposing were the norm on
the junkyard, often to her great embarrassment, she reports that she did
not know the terms “environmentalism” and “environmentalist” existed
until she attended college (211, 263). Those categories, Ray implies, are
reserved for the middle classes or above; for those who recycle by choice
rather than necessity. But she eventually develops a sense of pride in
her background, not to mention a successful career as an environmen-
tal writer: “It has taken a decade to whip the shame, to mispronounce
words and shun grammar when mispronunciation and misspeaking are
part of my dialect, to own the bad blood. What I come from has made
me who I am” (33).
Such experiences, we must note, are not unique to white individu-
als. Ecocritic Priscilla Solis Ybarra’s book Writing the Goodlife: Mexican
American Literature and the Environment (2016) looks at literary works
that “are more apt to portray everyday labor contexts than ‘wild’ or
leisure-­oriented nature. . . . One might even wonder what makes these
writings environmental in the first place, as they do not fit the mold
of ‘nature writing’” (xii). Reflecting on her own modest upbringing
and social status as a Latina, Ybarra points out that “we never became
environmentalists in the first place”—­by which she means that “the
Mexican American and Chicana/o culture enacts values and practices
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  195
that include nature all along” (7). But we can take this comment in
an additional sense: like Ray, Ybarra’s non-elite background has pre-
vented her from being recognized, and from recognizing herself, as an
Thus, it seems that both environmentalism and lower-­class status
are bound up with shame, even as lower-­class individuals are, perhaps
ironically, barred from the category of environmentalism. Meanwhile,
antienvironmentalism is often associated with shamelessness. U.S. author
Karl Taro Greenfeld’s comedic “cli-­fi” novel The Subprimes (2015) cap-
tures this scenario, introducing us to an obscenely wealthy white tel-
evangelist named Pastor Roger: “God wants us all to be rich, he assured
his flock every Sunday. God wants us to have a big life, a gigantic life, a
ten-­thousand-­square-­foot-­mansion-­and-­a-­rib-­eye-­every-­night kind of
life. Do you know who is blocking that connection to God? And the
congregants would cry out: Big Government. The Regulators. The
Environmentalists. The Progressives. The Takers” (83). We soon watch
Pastor Roger lead a prayer meeting with a corrupt Wall Street trader
and two elderly white women who own a massive energy conglomerate:
“We pray for wisdom to guide others to abundance, and that the abun-
dance will surround us and be available for the taking, and that we may
be shameless and unapologetic upon its receipt, for we deserve abundance”
(86, emphasis added). Vulgar and excessive like Leo DiCaprio (at least,
as Page Six would have it), Pastor Roger is his political opposite. The
pastor also opposes the affective manipulation to which DiCaprio has
been subjected. The Subprimes thus implicitly raises the following ques-
tions: Can we imagine an environmentalism associated with shameless-
ness? Could environmental activists ever embrace excess or trashiness
(if not trash, materially speaking), or adopt such unapologetic vulgarity?
Moreover, considering how the writers surveyed here tend to dwell on
the topic of shame, and to favor either sentimentality (Hill) or relatively
restrained prose (Clare, Ray), we might also ask, Could there be a class-­
conscious environmentalism that breaks out of traditional affective and
aesthetic trappings?
This chapter argues, yes. The first section uses Kath & Kim and The
Goode Family to further establish the interrelated problems of environ-
mentalist shame and perfectionism/hypocrisy and to sketch out their
socioeconomic dimensions. While it would be a stretch to say that these
196  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
works themselves display environmental investments, they humorously
illustrate how those investments intertwine with class. Here, I propose
the concepts of “trashiness” and “aspirational environmentalism” as ways
of understanding that entwinement: characters in these works attempt
to transcend their socioeconomic trashiness, and they find opposing en-
vironmental trashiness—­by, say, recycling, or conserving water—­to be
the best way to do so. In these examples, then, mainstream environmen-
tal action serves as both barometer and theater for the classed designa-
tions of restraint, good taste, propriety, and decorum. These characters’
attempts often fail, however, indicating the impossibility of environmen­
talist perfection; the ultimate rigidity of socioeconomic class, despite its
imagined flexibility; and the need for environmentalisms engaged with
the commons rather than relegated to the individual consumer or tied
to the middle-­class principles of private property.
In the second, more extensive part of the chapter, I turn to The
Simpsons Movie, The Monkey Wrench Gang, and, in greatest depth, Good-
bye Gauley Mountain. While these works share with Kath & Kim and The
Goode Family a focus on lower-­class individuals, their protagonists reject
aspirational environmentalism. As they actively pursue environmental-
ist agendas, they eschew any attempt to be perfect, refined, tasteful, or
classy, and instead revel gleefully in hypocrisy, impropriety, indecorum,
vulgarity, excess, bawdiness, and the body itself, in all its mundane and
obscene capacities, from the erotic to the urinary. These works also sus-
pect that socioeconomic mobility, like environmentalist perfectionism, is
rare if not impossible. But this insight prompts a kind of anarchic absurd-
ism rather than despair. In short, these three works embrace “trashi-
ness” as a socioeconomic and ecological ethos, as well as a matter of
aesthetics and affect. “Trashiness,” they suggest, is not just a class desig-
nation or a material description but a sensibility, a political attitude.

“I Want to Be Effluent, Mum”: Kath & Kim,

The Goode Family, and Aspirational Environmentalism
Based on characters initially developed on Australian sketch comedy
shows, Kath & Kim follows the mundane doings of perky middle-­aged
mother Kath Day ( Jane Turner) and her slovenly adult daughter Kim
(Gina Riley) in a fictionalized Melbourne suburb—­nearly, exurb—­known
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  197
as Fountain Lakes. The program is shot on location in the now-­familiar
pseudo-­documentary style of Western sitcoms such as The Office and
Modern Family.2 Media scholar Sue Turnbull finds “an essential ambigu-
ity at the heart of [Kath & Kim’s] comedy: an ambiguity that is largely to
do with a matter of reception rather than content. . . . Is their comedy
read as a celebration or a critique of Australian suburbia?” (2008, 27).
This ambiguity has not proved to be a liability, however. The program
was an immediate success when it premiered on the Australian Broad-
casting Company in 2002 (later moving to the Seven Network). The
United Kingdom, United States, and other countries soon imported it,
leading to a gay cult following through the Sundance and Logo channels
in the latter country. Eventually, the program was remade with a U.S.
cast, though it lasted only for the 2008–­9 season.
Despite this massive international reach, the program has received
little analysis, scholarly or otherwise. One explanation might be a kind of
national shame. As Australian art critic Bernard Smith observed in 1976,
“Most Australians, including Australian artists, are born and reared in
the suburbs. The suburb is their environmental reality which few, if any,
have chosen to describe” (quoted in Turnbull 2008, 20). Indeed, with
70 percent of the respective populations of Melbourne and Sydney living
in suburbs as early as the late 1800s, this geographical–environmental
reality has been a major, but repressed, part of national consciousness.
Australian comedian Barry Humphries, in character as his wildly popu-
lar, controversial drag persona Dame Edna Everedge, personified this
dynamic when he snarked that Kath and Kim were “ordinary” and
“C-­O-­M-­M-­O-­N” (Doherty 2006).
But Kath & Kim puts this particular milieu, and its class dimensions,
front and center. One of Kim’s most famous lines—­characteristic of the
malapropism, hypercorrection, punning, mixed metaphors, and exagger­
ated pronunciations in which the show traffics—­is “I want to be effluent,
Mum, effluent!” A mispronunciation of “affluent,” “effluent” just so hap-
pens to have environmental resonance, denoting postirrigation sewage
flow (Oxford English Dictionary); Ironically, then, Kim is basically announc-
ing her desire to be trash. As Turnbull elaborates,
Conspicuously . . . Anglo and white but more importantly “aspira-
tional” . . . Kath and Kim are not middle class—­yet. Fountain Lakes
is an outer-­ suburbia composed of brick veneer town-­ houses and
198  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
McMansions built on former cow paddocks where, as crime writer
Peter Temple once wrote, you “can feel the pressure of the mortgage
on your skin.” . . . It’s a suburbia constructed around a man-­made lake
where the only place to go is the shopping mall. It is faddish, consum-
erist, self-­congratulatory and apolitical. (2008, 27)
Fittingly, nearly every episode features a trip to nearby shopping mega-
plex Fountain Gate, whose stores “sell middle-­class identity in the form
of overpriced homewares” (A. Lang 2010, 7). Kath and Kim have thus
become popular emblems of the uniquely Australian concept of the
“bogan”—­a rough cross between the Western concept of the nouveau
riche and the U.S. concept of “white trash,” connoting vulgar, excessive,
or otherwise “bad” taste in fashion, home décor, haircuts, cars, and even
children’s names.3
I offer this extensive cultural background to contextualize my read-
ing of one particular Kath & Kim episode, 2007’s “Environment” (dir.
Ted Emery). The “A plot” of the episode follows Kath’s attempts to
go green, which entail haranguing her husband, daughter, and neighbor
for various household offenses, from excessive water use in the kitchen
and bathroom to the consumption of food with excessive packaging. The
episode opens, for instance, on Kath’s husband, Kel, rinsing out sev-
eral plastic milk jugs at the kitchen sink and cheerily reporting, “Look,
Kath, I’m recycling the moos”—­only to have her chide, “Turn the water
off! . . . We’re on Stage 9 water restrictions!” The episode thus estab-
lishes both that there is a proper way to “do” environmentalism—­
literally, specific actions that must be performed perfectly—­and particu-
lar emotions attached to that doing. Indeed, the virtuous self-­satisfaction
Kath derives from such efforts is clear: “Being a bit environmental makes
me feel so damn good about myself!” she later chirps. But lest the epi-
sode frame her as utterly insufferable, her imperfections are soon re-
vealed, to great comedic effect. Arriving at a chain grocery store just
after the rinsing incident, she complains to herself, “Oh bum! I forgot
my green bags,” but quickly reasons, “I’ll just buy some more. Can never
have too many!”—­thus obviously failing to grasp the lesson of restraint
and reduction that reusable bags exemplify. But when placed in a social
context, such failures cannot be brushed away so easily. Frustrated by
the overflow from her household recycling bin, Kath dumps its contents
in the larger regular trash, only to be caught by her snooping neighbor.
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  199
“What, Mandy??” she snaps. “We’re putting in a gray water tank, actu-
ally, so we’re doing our part. Don’t worry!!”—­a defensive response
clearly aimed at warding off shame and accusations of hypocrisy.4
Another amusing social, and class, failure occurs when Kath takes
Kel to a climate change–­themed play. She arrives outside the theater
sporting her usual out-­of-­date blonde perm and dressed in her finest
garb: a silver bow necklace, a garish 1980s-­era purple ruffled dress, a
silver bow belt, and silver high heels—­only to realize that everyone else
is wearing casual but tasteful jeans and sensible shoes. The camera looks
the crowd up and down, but a visibly discomfited Kath refuses to con-
cede the point. “Think we should go in, Kel?” she blurts before rushing
him inside. If environmentalism typically connotes restraint and refine-
ment, not excess or vulgarity, then the joke here is not merely Kath’s
bad taste but her belief in her good taste. Her encounter with the other
theatergoers puts her miscalculation into harsh relief, and her anxious
response again indicates the major role that shame plays in mainstream
environmentalist dynamics. But Kath, for her part, proves irrepressible.
When they chat after the play, the affable Kel reports that he “really
enjoyed it” but “didn’t understand most of it.” “No, me either,” Kath
responds blithely. “But you know, that’s theatre for you!” However cruel
we might find this depiction of Kath’s simultaneous ignorance and
would-­be expertise, these two scenes together establish her desire to fit
in, to become cultured and middle class, specifically by virtue of environ-
mentalist performance.
And in fact, this episode strives to show both that the suburban
consumerist lifestyle commodifies environmentalism and that environ-
mentalism is a behavior ironically susceptible to commodification. The
commodity fetish of middle-­class taste, in other words, merges with en-
vironmental performance. A scene at a home improvement store makes
this plain. The camera follows Kath and Kel as they stroll side by side,
wearing nearly identical outfits, looks of ecstasy on their faces. “Oh,
look at that one. That’s beautiful,” Kel coos. The camera pointedly
does not cut to any line-­of-­sight shots for several seconds. Then, as
Kath exclaims, “Oh, and the little one, Kel, it’s so pretty!,” it finally
swings out to reveal that the pair is surveying water tanks, presumably
for their anticipated gray water system. Not coincidentally, this scene
echoes an earlier one in which Kim and her best friend, Sharon, stroll
200  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
past windows crammed full of merchandise at the Fountain Gate mall
and then head off to “get a tray of donuts.” In such a relentlessly con-
sumerist universe, it is no surprise that something as mundane as a water
tank could be fetishized. Importantly, then, the “A plot” of Kath’s envi-
ronmentalism is intertwined with the “B plot” of Kim researching pri-
vate schools for her infant daughter, Epponee—­including the Fountain
Lakes Ostentatious Girls Grammar School, or “FLOGGS,” where stu-
dents spend a year “learning how to shop independently.” Here, the
episode is explicit: “I really want her to go private, just for the status of
it,” Kim brags. Through the juxtaposition of such scenes, the program
identifies environmentalism as just one among a larger repertoire of
aspirational behaviors, behaviors that will ideally provide our protago-
nists passage into the middle or even upper classes. Of course, they fail
to gather that lower-­class status still shadows those who have acquired
money, as the term “cashed-­up bogan” so clearly illustrates (see Pini and
Previte 2013).
Aspirational environmentalism is central to the animated program
The Goode Family, co-­created by Idiocracy cowriter and director Mike
Judge. (See chapter 1 for a discussion of the film.) The Goode Family
debuted on the American Broadcasting Company in 2009 and ran for
thirteen episodes before being canceled due to low ratings.5 Whereas
Kath & Kim almost never alludes to politics, in keeping with the bland
apoliticism of its characters, The Goode Family explicitly brings them
into the equation, poking fun at politically correct, white liberal envi-
ronmentalists. The titular Goodes are Gerald ( Judge) and Helen (Nancy
Carell) and their children Bliss (Linda Cardellini) and Ubuntu (David
Herman), who live with their “vegan” dog Che in a modest suburban
home replete with solar panels and a raised-­bed lawn in Greenville,
USA. The latter two are the subjects of running jokes: Ubuntu was
adopted sight unseen from South Africa and, to his parents’ initial shock,
turned out to be white (an apparent satirization of the liberal politics of
cross-­racial adoption) while Che is so starved for meat that he surrepti-
tiously eats other neighborhood pets (a humorous critique of environ-
mentalist restraint, not to mention behavioral imperatives).
Before I discuss the affective and economic specifics of The Goode
Family, a few words about form are in order, especially as the program
is the first of two animated works covered in this chapter (and this book).
Figure 7. The Goode Family, aspirational environmentalists. Copyright
American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. Image courtesy of Disney.
202  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
First, animation has historically been marginalized as, in the words of
media scholar and maker Paul Wells, “a trivial and easily dismissed form”
(2013, 3). Thus, scholars in fields such as environmental communica-
tion and ecocriticism have been slow to embrace it. Ecomedia scholar
Nicole Starosielski cites critiques of “the simplifications [inherent in
animated] films’ overt environmental messages and their failure to map
paths for behavioral change” (2011, 147), while education and ecomedia
scholar David Whitley explains that animation usually finds itself on the
losing end when it comes to certain “strands of environmentally orien-
tated criticism” that judge artworks “according to rather inflexible crite-
ria of the degree to which they represent the reality of the natural world,
or . . . fit with an environmentally sensitive ideal” (2014, 145–­46). Thus,
whereas the filmic, performance, literary, and other works covered in
this book may be dismissed primarily because of their bad affect or sen-
sibility, in the case of animation it seems as if the very form is “bad.” To
put a finer point on it, animation itself is subject to the same judgments
of class and taste as the behaviors depicted in the animated examples
I discuss.
However, with the rise of ecomedia and ecocinema studies in recent
years, this status quo has begun to change. Some scholars have recog-
nized in animation the specific qualities that I find so compelling in the
other works in my archive. Ursula K. Heise, for one, invokes animated
film’s “self-­conscious aesthetic engagement with . . . questions about what
it means to be human, organic, or natural” (2014, 304–­5) as well as “the
pleasures that come . . . with the playfulness, sense of humor, and satiric
impulse that have characterized the genre from its beginning”—­arguing
that animation’s “effectiveness as a means of stimulating debate about
complex issues results precisely from this combination of serious engage-
ment with a playful style” (301; see also Murray and Heumann 2011;
Brereton 2014). Meanwhile, Starosielski recognizes the “accessibility and
translatability” (2011, 146) of animated works, and Wells observes the
“lack of obvious didacticism” (2013, 4) found in cartoons. These qualities
inform my interest in The Goode Family and, discussed later in this chap-
ter, The Simpsons Movie. But I would also add to that list less obviously
recuperable elements, including exaggeration, vulgarity, and crudeness.
After all, as opposed to environmentally themed work from animation
companies such as Pixar (U.S.) or Studio Ghibli ( Japan), the animated
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  203
works and protagonists I discuss here are not refined, sophisticated, or
classically beautiful. As I have been suggesting, those apparent short-
comings could actually constitute an environmental ethos.
Like Kath & Kim, The Goode Family satirizes the shaming and judg-
ment, both internally and externally imposed, that are central to environ-
mentalism. To offer a few examples: when Ubuntu apologizes for wasting
gas by cruising around town in the family car, Gerald tells him, “It’s
okay, Ubuntu. What’s important is that you feel guilty about it” (“Pilot,”
dir. Wes Archer). In a later episode, Gerald observes, ruefully, that “fun
produces a lot of waste” (“Freeganomics,” dir. John Rice). And when
Helen runs into a group of white supremacists, she exclaims in horror,
“Gerald, they’re Nazis!,” to which he responds, “You say that about
everyone” (“Gerald’s Way or the Highway,” dir. Seth Kearsley). And
also like Kath & Kim, class concerns lie at the heart of the family’s depic-
tion. Curiously, conservative media outlet the National Review—­which
has effusively praised the program—­refers to the family as “upper-­class”
(“The Week” 2009, 14) and “yuppie-­ish” (Verbruggen 2009), whereas
outlets such as Wikipedia refer to them as “working-­class” (“The Goode
Family” n.d.). The truth is probably somewhere in the middle: Gerald
is a community-­college administrator, Helen is a stay-­at-­home mom,
and they frequently allude to their limited income. But these startlingly
inconsistent interpretations speak to two important points. First, envi-
ronmentalism is perceived as the province of an elite class, even in the
face of evidence to the contrary. Food studies scholar Laura Wright’s
observation proves pertinent here: “Veganism signifies for much of the
population as an identity category that is marked by whiteness and elitist
social privilege, by profound utopian naïveté, and by judgmental funda-
mentalist zealotry” (2015, 31). Antienvironmental rhetoric has effec-
tively exploited such perceptions in recent years, while mainstream envi-
ronmentalism and other forces have inadvertently and ironically fueled
it, as seen in Eli Clare’s earlier indictment of progressive snobbery. Sec-
ond, the ambiguity around the Goodes’ class may speak to their status
as, like Kath and Kim, aspirational—­longing to raise their class position
in the face of stymying social forces, and seeking to do so specifically
through performances of environmentalism.
The program depicts aspirational environmentalism primarily
through Helen’s obsession with One Earth, a clear stand-­in for the
204  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
international organic supermarket chain Whole Foods, and through her
struggles with her wealthy nemesis Margo Jensen ( Julia Sweeney). The
pilot episode establishes the store’s affective appeals. It introduces us,
for example, to the digital “big board,” which displays ticking tallies for
“Acres of Rainforest Lost Per Minute” and “Area of Ice Cap Melting
Per Minute,” admonishments such as “Have You Changed Your Bulbs[?]”
and “Save the Earth[;] Drive a Hybrid,” and lists of entities grouped
under columns headed “Good” and “Bad.” A clever sequence cuts back
and forth between close-­ups of Helen’s anxious face and rapidly moving
eyes, and the board’s rapidly changing and chiming displays; in one shot,
“farm raised catfish” appears under the “Bad” column, but then switches
to “Good,” then back to “Bad,” then back to “Good,” then back to
“Bad.” The program thus indicates the difficulty of environmentalist
perfection, as well as how, in the face of an ever-­shrinking commons, the
corporation steps in as both community center and moral compass.
Helen’s trip to One Earth becomes more fraught, and more clearly
class-­coded, when Margo appears. “Helen, it’s such a nice surprise to see
you shopping here,” the latter snarks, then tells her accompanying friend
in a stage whisper, “She’s poor!” A process of one-­upmanship ensues.6
Helen regains the upper hand when she loudly announces her high bill
total, telling the checker who has rung up her (mostly packaged) goods,
“here’s one hundred and fifty dollars.” But she soon loses it. When
the checker asks if she has reusable bags, she panics: “Yes, of course, just
not with me, now”—­thus echoing both Kath & Kim’s “Environment,” as
well as a 2012 Portlandia sketch in which a customer’s failure to bring
his bags nearly causes the checker to have a mental breakdown (“Cool
Wedding,” dir. Jonathan Krisel). With Helen now cashless (and, appar-
ently, credit card–­less) and thus unable to buy a new reusable bag, the
checker asks, dramatically, “paper [long pause] or plastic?” At the mention
of the latter word, a baby in the store starts wailing and the camera scans
across a row of shoppers, their faces displaying shock, anger, and dis-
gust. But reverse-­shaming saves the day. “Nothing,” Helen confidently
tells the checker and the assembled crowd, collecting her purchases in
her arms. “I know a lot of people are comfortable shopping with reus-
able bags, but I’m not. They’re made in sweatshops!” The shoppers turn
shame-­faced and chagrined, and Helen makes her triumphant exit. Her
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  205
performance of middle-­class environmentalist perfectionism, with all its
affective maneuvers, has ultimately succeeded—­this time.
A later episode, “Trouble in Store” (dir. Seth Kearsley), serves as a
companion piece for the pilot episode. After Helen is banned from One
Earth for allegedly stealing (she took a wheatgrass shot that she mistak-
enly thought was a sample), Gerald tells her, “You know what we have
to do and where we have to do it.” We then cut to a low-­angle view
of the Walmart-­esque superstore $av Big! It looms above ominously,
with the bright sun beating down, in pointed contrast to the program’s
depiction of One Earth, which is always shown from a straightforward
vantage point. As Helen stands in the doorway of $av Big!, looking
longingly at One Earth across the parking lot, we see the latter’s logo
reflected in the sliding glass doors as they close in her face—­symbolically
sealing off her access to the store but, more importantly, to a higher
socioeconomic stratum. Inside $av Big!, we encounter a montage of
“trashy” images that make Helen recoil in disgust. People rummage
through a half-­off jeans bin; a chef dumps rotisserie chicken into a giant
display box, after which several large people clamber in; two large people
on scooters honk at Helen to get out of the way, and a booth offers “cut-­
rate [hair]cuts and eye exams.” While arguably classist like Kath & Kim,
these images are clearly filtered through Helen’s viewpoint. The pro-
gram thus establishes the ways in which her affiliation with the (suppos-
edly) environmentally friendly One Earth doubles as protection from
the lower classes to which she is, in fact, perilously close.
$av Big! has a “big board” too, but its message is more direct: “Buy
buy buy buy buy buy.” Helen has again entered a specific milieu with its
own specific set of norms. And she struggles to properly and perfectly
enact them, just as she did at One Earth. When the checker tries to ring
up her reusable One Earth bags, Helen has to explain what they are.
When she receives a disaffected, silent stare, she tries, “For conserva-
tion?” The bag boy proceeds to place plastic $av Big! bags inside her
One Earth bags, which he then puts into a larger paper $av Big!
bag. Back home, crushed by the experience, Helen becomes further
distressed when she realizes that the family has run out of her favorite
One Earth–­brand “ylang-­ylang” hand soap. Gerald tries to comfort her,
but “this is who we are now,” she admits with a sigh, pulling a comically
206  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
large dispenser of hand soap out from under the counter. She then
bursts into tears and asks, “Where’s that barrel of tissues we bought??”
Ironically, since these bulk products use comparatively less packaging,
they are probably more environmentally friendly than an item like
“ylang-­ylang” soap. But they do not offer the same fetishistic pleasures
and, thus, do not confer the same class status. Here, we see that middle-­
class environmentalist restraint actually entails rampant consumerism—­
but, importantly, only the subtle, tasteful kind.
One could argue that cultural works such as Kath & Kim and The
Goode Family have it exactly wrong in suggesting in the first place that
what its characters do is environmentalism, as opposed to consumerism.
Both programs train their critiques on individual and domestic behav-
iors, reflecting the pervasive perception that environmentalism is “linked
to moral imperatives and implicit demands to change one’s lifestyle or
practice personal relinquishments, particularly with regard to consump-
tion and comfort” (Küchler 2011, 122). They thereby ignore entirely
the existence of environmentalisms that entail communal acts such as
protesting, boycotting, or coalition building, and environmentalisms
that are a matter of necessity, not choice—­such as, say, environmental
justice campaigns against contaminated drinking water. Here, consider
the distinction between the “ecology of affluence” (or, as Kim would
have it, “effluence”) (Guha 1999) and the “environmentalism of the
poor” (Guha and Martínez Alier 1997). In reality, of course, the latter
environmentalisms strive for a fuller life, not a diminished one: a life of
plentiful, healthful resources. But perhaps this is the very point: Kath &
Kim and The Goode Family show us how environmentalism and consum-
erism have become deeply entangled in the Western mainstream. Thus,
while it is easy—­but not entirely wrong—­to dismiss these two works as
classist, cruel, or conservative, I believe that they usefully point to some
of the deep socioeconomic and affective problems with mainstream
environmentalism, including the ways in which lower-­class populations
may both attempt to latch onto it and get shamed out of it. The works
that I discuss next circumvent mainstream environmentalism entirely,
preferring communal, radical, and environmental-­justice activism. And
they do so with a pointed lack of shame and perfectionism and a gener-
ous heaping of hypocrisy.
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  207
Modeling “Trashy Environmentalism”: The Simpsons Movie,
The Monkey Wrench Gang, and Goodbye Gauley Mountain
Like The Goode Family, the long-­running animated program The Simp-
sons regularly addresses environmental issues, usually from its signature
satirical perspective. The Simpsons Movie, the hit 2007 film based on the
program, is no different: as environmental education scholar Uwe
Küchler remarks, “With its main features being gross exaggeration and
parody, the movie offers a satire of the ecological discourse that has
been going on over the past years. . . . Certain environmental messages
are simplified and, yet, constitute a deconstructive critique of certain
flaws and peculiarities of the environmental debate” (2011, 118). For
example, the Simpson family’s resident vegetarian and progressive activ-
ist Lisa presents a public lecture titled “An Irritating Truth,” complete
with a parody of the scaffold featured in the Al Gore documentary An
Inconvenient Truth. And the opening scene features a cameo performance
from the punk band Green Day, in which singer Billie Joe Armstrong
tells an assembled crowd, “We’ve been playing for three and a half
hours, and now we’d just like a minute of your time to say something
about the environment”; this statement is met at first with complete
silence, then boos, epithets (including “Preachers!”), and projectiles.
The film thus has it both ways, deriving humor at the expense of envi-
ronmentalists and those who hate them.
But I am primarily interested in the film for how it sketches out a
version of “trashy environmentalism.” I begin with what, for some read-
ers, may be well-­known basics. As media scholar Diane F. Alters sum-
marizes in “‘We Hardly Watch That Rude, Crude Show’: Class and
Taste in The Simpsons,”

The Simpsons bear many markers of working-­class stereotypes: Hom-

er’s beer belly, his low-­level security job at the nuclear power plant, his
marriage to Marge while they were still at high school. Even their diet
is mock working class . . . : pork chops, mashed potatoes. . . . The writ-
ers sometimes flirt with the Simpsons’ class status, occasionally mak-
ing them so crude as to be “white trash.” (2003, 168)

The film’s plot is actually set into motion through Homer’s trashy
behavior—­specifically, his bad dietary habits: he dumps waste into Lake
208  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
Springfield because he hears about a free donut giveaway and no longer
wants to wait in line at the hazardous waste treatment center. A brief
summary of the rest of the plot is in order: The waste creates an envi-
ronmental crisis and the Simpson family then flees to Alaska to avoid
public censure. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) drops a dome on the city of Springfield to contain the toxicity.
When politicians realize that contaminated citizens can escape the dome,
they decide to blow it up and create a “New Grand Canyon”—­thus cap­
italizing on the disaster. Back in Alaska, Homer has a surrealistic vision
featuring an Inuit woman—­a parody of the Ecological Indian trope dis-
cussed in chapter 4—­in which he reaches an epiphany: “In order to save
myself, I have to save Springfield.” Or, as he puts it later, “I’m risking
my life to save people I hate for reasons I don’t understand.” The family
returns and Homer manages to eject the bomb from the dome thanks
to his ability to ride a motorcycle upside down, a skill gained earlier at
the particularly low-­class site of a county fair. His trashiness, initially his
downfall, proves to be his salvation.
The film thus makes the working-­class, ignorant, and overweight
Homer—­and not his environmentalist and animal rights activist daugh-
ter Lisa, whom he frequently embarrasses with his déclassé behavior—­
the hero of this environmental fable. The Simpsons Movie thereby echoes
the average-­Joe-­hero story of Idiocracy, released just one year prior. But
there are important differences. First, Homer is actually much more
like the dumbed-­down inhabitants of that film’s future milieu than its
modern-­day protagonist. Moreover, his heroism is not solitary. In fact,
The Simpsons Movie goes even “lower” than Homer: the hillbilly charac-
ter Cletus Spuckler, also known as “Cletus the Slack-­Jawed Yokel,” helps
save Springfield by distracting EPA head Russ Cargill as the rest of the
town plots. The former performs a magic trick to make his thumb “dis-
appear,” asking Cargill, “You want to know how I do it?” “Four gen­
erations of inbreeding?” Cargill snaps sarcastically. Again, The Simpsons
Movie has it both ways here, savoring the frisson of a baldly classist
remark even as it indicts the classism of mainstream or professional
environmentalists. But in making the hillbilly character as much of an
activist as anyone else, it conveys an important reality: that “trashy”
individuals are engaged in the fight against environmental injustice, not
just ignorant victims thereof. At the basic level of plot, we see in the film
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  209
something of a grassroots environmentalist community, as opposed to
the consumerist, individualist environmentalism on offer in Kath & Kim
and The Goode Family.
The Simpsons Movie’s formal status as a work of animation, as well
its roots in the medium of television, also contributes to its “trashiness.”
In her interviews with middle-­class parents, Alters finds that the pro-
gram invokes mixed feelings, such as simultaneous criticism of its “rude”
and “crude” elements and appreciation for its social commentary. She
argues that “this ambivalence and anxiety . . . have a great deal to do
with class and taste distinctions, as parents sought to distance them-
selves from a show they defined as lower class, and from television itself,
also seen as lower class” (2003, 165). That is, its viewers, and not just its
protagonists, could be said to have “bad taste.” But, of course, this is a
quite widespread taste. The Simpsons is a global phenomenon, having
been dubbed in languages ranging from Arabic to Czech to Luxem-
bourgish. And it shows no signs of slowing down, nearly thirty years
after it debuted on television. Moreover, and more to the point, I find
it noteworthy how easily this corpus’s bad taste lends itself to a plot
centered on environmental justice. Again, we see how “trashiness”
might form an ecological ethos rather than being antiecological by
Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang ([1975] 2006) further
sketches out this possibility, with particular emphasis on corporeality
and hypocrisy. This zany picaresque came on the heels of successful
works such as the nonfictional Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilder-
ness (1968), written during Abbey’s stint as a park ranger at what is now
Arches National Park in Utah. These books “activated more than a gen-
eration’s worth of activists toward a radical new brand of direct action
in defense of wilderness” (Cahalan 2001, 274) and still provide fuel for
movements such as that against the Colorado River’s Glen Canyon Dam.
The Monkey Wrench Gang is thus one of the best-­loved works in my
archive, as well as the oldest. But it has also occasioned controversy, hav-
ing been accused, along with Abbey himself, of racism and sexism.7 As
a scholar invested in antiracist, feminist, and queer scholarship and
activism, I find these accusations quite troubling. But I wish to focus
on Abbey and his engagement with “bad affect” nonetheless, for several
reasons. First, like The Simpsons Movie, his work provides a notable
210  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
model for the kind of “trashy” environmentalism that would refuse to
be held back by perfectionism or accusations of hypocrisy. Second, I
believe that Abbey must be understood as a major influence on many if
not all of the works I discuss in this book. For example, African Ameri-
can author Percival Everett’s mock epic Grand Canyon, Inc., discussed
in chapter 4, distinctly echoes the “mock-­heroic” (Abbey, quoted in
Baker 1975, 6) aspects of The Monkey Wrench Gang. Likewise, I propose
that we cannot have something like Stephens and Sprinkle’s ecosexual-
ity, discussed later in this chapter, without the sexual vulgarity of The
Monkey Wrench Gang. At the very least, we must recognize that Abbey
preceded those other works in bringing the bawdy and the body into
environmental activism (see Gessner 2015, 194).8
The critical reception of The Monkey Wrench Gang, and of Abbey
himself, illustrates the ways in which affective norms shape our under-
standing of environmentalism, and vice versa. Abbey complained that
critics categorized the novel simply as an environmentalist tract, ignor-
ing “the comedy, the word-­play, the wit, humor and brilliance!” (quoted
in Cahalan 2001, 162). Meanwhile, poet and activist Wendell Berry
mused that, “in classifying Mr. Abbey as an environmentalist, [critics] . . .
implicitly requir[e] him to be sober, informed, and logical. . . . That, I
think, is Mr. Abbey’s problem [vis-­à-­vis] many of his detractors. He is
advertised as an environmentalist . . . . And who shows up but this char-
acter . . . who some of the time, and even in the midst of serious discus-
sion, makes jokes” (1985, 12). Berry categorizes Abbey as a biographer
rather than an environmentalist, generically speaking, and this view is
crucial for understanding the latter as self-­reflexive and self-­critical, like
the majority of works discussed in this book.9 That is, the human ego is
as much Abbey’s target as, say, rapacious developers. Hence, The Monkey
Wrench Gang features much sly self-­ridicule, from the appearance of a
“tall, slim, able, not too bright” park ranger named “Edwin P. Abbott”
([1975] 2006, 205–­6) to a reference to Bonnie’s “personally autographed
extremely valuable first-­edition copy” of a book titled Desert Solipsism
(213), an obvious play on Desert Solitaire.
Though Abbey does not discuss class in great detail, he wrote “in
defense of the redneck” (Cahalan 2001, 275)—­which, for him, seems to
entail a specific kind of affect or sensibility. Consider David Gessner’s
assessment of Abbey in Desert Solitaire (1968) as:
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  211
a Thoreau with a more outrageous sense of humor and a fuck-­it spirit,
a Thoreau with a gun and pickup truck, a Thoreau with a beer in hand
and a trailer instead of a cabin. . . . And what [Thoreau biographer
Joseph Wood] Krutch says of Thoreau is true of Abbey: he makes “no
sense of distinction between the serious and the comic, the temporal
and the eternal.” Puns and meditations, ontology and fart jokes, it all
gets thrown in. (2015, 102)

Many of the markers Gessner invokes—­“gun,” “pickup truck,” “beer,”

“trailer”—­are, of course, specifically associated with the white lower
classes. The protagonist of The Monkey Wrench Gang, George Wash­
ington Hayduke, seems to fit that paradigm well. He is a smelly, “hairy,
bawdy, independent loner” (Barber 1996, 133) and disillusioned ex–­
Green Beret who acts as crass as the third-­person narrator who often
focalizes through him: “Time to tap a kidney, release that beverage.
Hayduke unzips and sends a four-­hundred-­foot arc of filtered Schlitz
pouring down through space to the master stream below” ([1975] 2006,
29). The rest of the “Gang” consists of a middle-­aged Armenian doctor
named Doc Sarvis; his sexy younger girlfriend, a Jewish feminist named
Bonnie Abbzug; and a liquor-­drinking lapsed Mormon named Seldom
Seen Smith—­who cheerfully labels all the group members, including
himself, “stupid” (335). Together, the group roams the Utah–­Arizona
desert, committing acts of ecosabotage ranging from destroying the
billboards that dot the landscape to damaging industrial equipment used
for mining and logging.
Importantly, these characters are driven much less (if at all) by
“appropriate” environmentalist affects such as love or wonder than by
a “healthy hatred” (Abbey [1975] 2006, 32) for the government, corpo-
rate capitalism, and the tourism industry. And the specific manner in
which they carry out their monkeywrenching activities is motivated by
a juvenile glee in “the blatant, the outrageous” (74)—­specifically, in wit-
nessing spectacular material destruction. As Bonnie shouts, riling up
the Gang as they plot, “What in the fucking name of sweet motherfuck-
ing Christ is the use of blowing up a railroad bridge and a coal train if
we’re not going to be there to watch it happen?” (178). On a more per-
sonal level, these characters are all motivated by their animal lusts, as all
three men vie for Bonnie’s attention. The narrator himself, problemati-
cally, sexualizes Bonnie. But we must also admit that the same happens
212  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
to everyone and everything in the novel—­from the narrator’s reference
to a canyon’s “vagina” (154) to his description of a beer can’s mouth as a
“bunghole” (340) to the depiction of the group “improv[ing]” a Smokey
Bear sign by “touch[ing] up his eyeballs with a hangover hue of red” and
“paint[ing] onto his crotch a limp pet-­cock with hairy but shriveled
balls” (226–­27).10 This sexual and scatological humor contrasts with the
sensibility of the despised tourists who crop up across the desert land-
scape. In one scene, Ranger Abbott’s pursuit of the Gang is interrupted
by a couple who pull up in a “tourist car”: “‘Would you tell us, please’—­
the woman smiles in faint embarrassment—­‘where the nearest comfort
stations are?’” (396). Abbey’s point is subtle, but vital: though self-­
controlled, observant of social niceties, and even ashamed of their bod-
ies, such figures participate in what he sees as an obscene altering of the
landscape for human purposes. His version of environmentalism thus
opposes these figures through its unapologetic corporeality.
Abbey regularly notes the Gang’s imperfections and (supposed)
hypocrisies, but he does so affectionately. Similarly, these characters
themselves recognize their own flaws but refuse to get bogged down in
self-­doubt or otherwise relent in their radical activism. For example,
when we first meet Bonnie and Doc, they are destroying roadside bill-
boards with a chainsaw. As if standing in for a nagging conscience, the
narrator muses on the ramifications until Doc verbally brushes them
off: “It did raise the ecological question . . . of noise and air pollution. . . .
‘No,’ the doctor said. ‘Forget all that. Our duty is to destroy billboards’”
([1975] 2006, 44). (Such odd narratological quirks perhaps speak, again,
to the autobiographical quality of Abbey’s fiction.) Further, all Gang
members are deeply intertwined with the “petromodernity” (LeMenager
2012, 60) they work against; Hayduke has a “favorite gas station” ([1975]
2006, 25) and Bonnie pays for a hotel hideout with her father’s Gulf
Oil credit card (273). And despite their anticapitalist, survivalist mental-
ity, they still fetishize material objects. One amusing scene finds Doc
and Bonnie, having embarked on a basic supply run, buying “other
things they discovered they just had to have,” including “presents for
Hayduke and Smith: an insulated beer can holder and a Hohner chro-
matic harmonica” (141–­42). Here, I would argue that the difference
between Doc and Bonnie, on the one hand, and Kath and the Goodes,
on the other, is not (just) that the former pursue direct environmental
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  213
action but that they are at once conscious and carefree about their
But Hayduke is the most flagrant and gleeful of the novel’s good-­
natured hypocrites. At one point, the narrator focalizes through his con-
sciousness as he drives, intoning,

Gotta remove that bridge. Soon. Them bridges. Soon. All of them.
Soon. They’re driving their tin cars into the holy land. . . . There’s a
law against it. A higher law. Well you’re doing it too, he reminded
himself. Yeah, but I’m on important business. Besides, I’m an elitist.
Anyway, the road’s here now, might as well use it. (27)

When Doc goes on a rant against “the strip mines. And the pipelines. . . .
And the coal-­burning power plants. . . . And the people who throw beer
cans along the highways” (68), Hayduke interjects, “I throw beer cans
along the fucking highways. . . . Why the fuck shouldn’t I throw fucking
beer cans along the fucking highways?” Seldom joins in, declaring, “I
do it too. Any road I wasn’t consulted about that I don’t like, I litter.
It’s my religion.” Doc softens. “Well . . . why not?” (68, ellipsis in origi-
nal). Hayduke, as the Gang’s de facto id, inspires the rest to adopt his
sensibility. And it seems that beer is not only his projectile of choice but
also the agent to numb the superego, in the form of pesky questions
about hypocrisy or even the long game of the Gang’s actions: “Did he
believe in the cyclical theory of history? Or the linear theory? You’d find
it hard to pin him down in these matters; he wavered and wobbled and
waffled from one position to another, from time to time; what the fuck
who gives a shit he would say if pressed, and grab the tab snap the cap
from another can of Bud, buddy, pop the top, Pappy, from another can
of Schlitz” (108). The inconsistent punctuation in this passage seems
to capture Hayduke’s inability to dwell on anything that would distract
him from his mission—­a model, perhaps, for an environmentalism not
mired in purity politics.11
The Monkey Wrench Gang has received at least a measure of disap-
proval from even the most ardent of Abbey supporters. In his recent non-
fiction book on Abbey and Wallace Stegner, Gessner feels compelled to
acknowledge that, while “The Monkey Wrench Gang is an important
book and a book with historic interest[,] it is also a very silly and dated
book. Not just silly-­funny, either, but silly-­sloppy. . . . At times the book
214  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
shares a sensibility with recent movie comedies of the Dumb & Dumber
school” (2015, 276–­77). Here, Gessner seems to betray a hint of the
embarrassment so foreign to The Monkey Wrench Gang’s protagonists—­
not unlike how I have hesitated to embrace Abbey’s controversial oeuvre.
Meanwhile, historian Katrine Barber critiques the “comic-­book quali-
ties” (1996, 136) of Abbey’s novel. Both of these are fair criticisms. After
all, a special tenth-­anniversary edition of the novel featured illustrations
from R. Crumb, a figurehead of the underground comics world. But I
nonetheless see value in the “silly,” the “sloppy,” and the “dumb,” as
well as the hypocritical and the low-­brow—­particularly in a Western
sociopolitical climate in which the Left and the Right frame environ-
mentalism as a middle-­to upper-­class pursuit, or a mechanism of upward
mobility, and hold environmental activists to strict standards of com-
portment. Moreover, while “comic-­book qualities” seems formulated as
an insult, connoting juvenile and lower-­class pursuits not unlike watch-
ing cartoons, I have suggested earlier in this chapter that animation may
be a means of bringing large and diverse audiences, and greater flexibil-
ity, to environmentalist discourse. Recalling Sianne Ngai’s point that
“being ‘animated’” is itself an affective state, perhaps even the very defi-
nition thereof (2005, 91), I propose that animation binds together the
otherwise formally and generically disparate works discussed in this sec-
ond part of my chapter: these works’ protagonists flagrantly refuse the
self-­restraint and staid comportment expected of environmental activ-
ists. Next, and finally, we will see what such animation looks like from
an explicitly queer perspective.
Like the other works discussed in this chapter, Goodbye Gauley Moun-
tain puts socioeconomic class at the center of environmental discussions.
And, like The Simpsons Movie and The Monkey Wrench Gang, it models
the ethos of “trashy environmentalism.” The film focuses on the extreme
coal mining process known as mountaintop removal (MTR), tracing
the environmental injustices it has inflicted on lower-­class Appalachian
communities and showcasing creative responses to it from partners
and so-­called ecosexuals Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle. In one of
the few scholarly commentaries on the film to date, queer ecologist
Lauran Whitworth takes it as an example of what she calls “eco-­camp”
(forthcoming), a convergence of environmental concerns and queer
aesthetics.12 I differ from Whitworth’s excellent work on the point of
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  215
instrumentalism; she observes that “while  .  .  . queer divergences from  .  .  .
conventional environmentalism are clearly unique, the question remains
if they can also be politically effective” (forthcoming). But rather than
assessing the political effectiveness, per se, of my works, I am primarily
interested in how the likes of Goodbye Gauley Mountain model a class-­
conscious response to environmental disaster, and how that response
entails affective and aesthetic modes including shamelessness and vul-
garity. As I have outlined earlier in this chapter, not only are such modes
typically associated with the uneducated, the lower classes, and the nou-
veau riche, but they are distinctly opposed to mainstream environmen-
talism. The appearance of those modes in Goodbye Gauley Mountain thus
constitutes a critical reclamation thereof.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Goodbye Gauley Mountain is
how it brings to the fore the perspectives of coal country natives often
derided as “white trash” or “hillbillies”—­including West Virginia–­born
Stephens—­and in a way that specifically combats shame. The film show-
cases figures who have gone through similar processes to Eli Clare and
Janisse Ray, discussed earlier, in terms of shedding economic and re-
gional shame. One such figure is Larry Gibson, a longtime anti-­MTR
activist who has weathered violent retaliations such as drive-­by shoot-
ings targeting his home. Gibson, whom Stephens calls a “hillbilly saint,”
discloses that “all my life . . . I was known as Mr. Gibson’s retarded son.”
But becoming an activist gave him confidence: “I used to go around
apologizing to different people about my level of education. Or lack of
one. And this friend of mine, he said, ‘Larry, you should never apolo-
gize . . .’cause there’s people here at the capitol in Charleston, West Vir-
ginia, that got degrees up the kazoo and they ain’t usin’ ’em.’ And since
then I have never apologized.” Gauley also features environmental activ-
ist, photographer, and self-­identified “hillbilly” Paul Corbit Brown, who
has documented MTR in West Virginia and also suffered retaliation,
including the destruction of his photography equipment by mining
company representatives. In one segment, Brown reframes the concept
of poverty, declaring, “Appalachians are not poor, because we’re wealthy
in something that no amount of money can buy. We have a lot of love
in our hearts. We love our lands, we love our families, we love our way
of life. And we walk our talk.” Brown thereby espouses economic and
regional pride, rather than shame, and also provides a point of contrast
216  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
to the protagonists of Kath & Kim and The Goode Family, who seem to
believe that one needs to have, and spend, money to be an environmen-
talist. But perhaps the most colorful of these “shameless” environmen-
talists is Stephens’s childhood best friend Cindy, a curvy, smart-­mouthed
MTR opponent shown in one segment sprawled out in a plastic lawn
chair in front of her mobile home, smoking a cigarette—­the very pic-
ture of so-­called white trash. But again, unlike Kath and the members of
the Goode Family, Gauley’s featured residents are not ashamed of their
class, their education level, their regional background, their personal
habits, or their bodies. And unlike documentaries such as Everything’s
Cool, discussed in chapter 1, the film itself refuses to shame them.
Even when class is not an explicit part of the conversation, Gauley
revels in shamelessness, indecorum, and vulgarity. In one section of the
film, Sprinkle cheerfully breaks with the conversation at hand to
announce, “Oh look—­Bob’s [the couple’s dog] pooping again. Get that
shot!” The cameraperson complies. And while paying a visit to two
MTR activists protesting at the Department of Environmental Pro­
tection in West Virginia, Stephens gleefully misbehaves. Police officers
stand around grimly, while she clowns about and nettles them: “Do
you all know the West Virginia state anthem? I forgot the second line.”
She then begins to sing a version, off-­key: “Oh the West Virginia hills!
How majestic and how grand, / With their hillsides bathed in glory, like
the Prince of Immanuel’s land.”13 The film cuts to a montage of her
singing the anthem with various other groups—­including a dog who
contributes by wailing14—­then cuts back to the protest scene: “You guys
don’t know this song? Am I crazy? Well, you don’t have to answer that
question!” In addition to the lack of “class” and decorum that Stephens
displays in the face of authority, this sequence enacts an important
reversal of the Bergsonian dynamic seen in The Goode Family, in which
the environmentalist is rigid, inflexible, and, therefore, the butt of the
joke. The environmentalists in Goodbye Gauley Mountain, as in The Mon-
key Wrench Gang, are not the butt of the joke—­but neither are they the
straight man.
Pun intended there: modes such as shamelessness have an impor-
tant relationship to nonstraight sexuality, as I observed in chapter 3.
Goodbye Gauley Mountain takes up this relationship in specifically class-­
and region-­conscious ways. As Stephens reports in an early voice-­over,
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  217
for example, “Growing up queer in the heart of coal country, I knew
that I would likely never be able to get a job there, or want to marry a
man who could. Instead of King Coal, I wanted a Queen.” As she deliv-
ers that playful last line, we see a shot of her kissing Sprinkle on a hilltop
in San Francisco. A former sex worker and current sex educator, Sprin-
kle has long combatted sexual shame. But the film does not offer the
simple, familiar narrative in which rural Southern life stifles queerness.
The very premise of the film is Stephens’s return to West Virginia,
with Sprinkle in tow, where they interact with local communities that
include LGBTQ people. Moreover, as Stephens reports during a tour
of Marathon Coal Bit Company in Smithers, West Virginia, previously
owned by her family, “When you grow up in a place that is poor, you
learn how to make do. Knowing how to make do was extremely em-
powering and helped me move forward in my life. Especially as a young
queer woman.” Though it has disadvantaged her in other ways, Ste-
phens’s regional background offers her distinct advantages in this sense.
Stephens and Sprinkle’s failures of socioeconomic and environmental
propriety also frequently entail failures of sexual propriety. Take, for
example, an early sequence that includes a voice-­over from Stephens
informing us that “annually, 10 billion tons of coal is burned world-
wide.” During this voice-­over, we see a series of close shots showing
lights being turned open, a refrigerator being opened, a blender being
operated—­and then, a vibrator being turned on, as it were, in front of
a gaudy leopard-­print blanket. This inclusion both playfully implicates
queers in energy consumption and interrupts the serious, “straight”
flow of the film’s own didactic sequence.
Stephens’s presence in the film is crucial not just for how it links
class, environment, and sexuality but also for how it helps counter the
pervasive belief that environmentalists are elite outsiders. This belief is
neatly captured by a sign we see at a pro-­coal rally, reading, “WV [West
Virginia] Miners Say Go Home Tree Huggers.” Stephens, once exiled
of necessity, has instead come home. But the film does not resort to sim-
ple ridicule of pro-­coal perspectives. It spends significant time with its
ostensible opponents, as with footage of a rally speech by Don Blank­
enship, head of Massey Coal, as he blares, “[The U.S. government is]
intending to put you out of work and out of your homes. They believe . . .
that you simply need to be relocated and retrained. But they don’t know
218  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
that we sort of like it here, and we intend to stay here.” At the end of
the speech, the film renders Blankenship’s image into a still, with super-
imposed text that reads, “In 2010, an explosion at Massey Energy’s
Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners.” Horrific indeed. But the film
allows Blankenship to articulate the same love of place articulated by
Gauley’s other featured figures, including anti-­MTR activists. While of
course we could say that he and others like him cynically exploit that
love, the fact remains that many of those rally attendees and many coal
workers, as discussed later in this section, feel that love quite sincerely.
Moreover, while Blankenship is surely no LGBTQ ally, his stated con-
cerns over cultural and regional exile—­“they believe . . . that you simply
need to be relocated”—­resonate with Stephens’s personal experience.
What they both want—­or, at least, what Blankenship claims to want—­is
a livable Appalachia, whether that livability entails financial solvency or
social justice.
As the coal rally segment suggests, Gauley regularly dips into seri-
ousness, unlike most of the other works I have discussed in this book. As
Whitworth puts it, Gauley possesses an “inconsistent, even contradic-
tory tonality” (forthcoming, 19). For example, in addition to its gleeful
shamelessness, indecorum, vulgarity, and bawdiness, it regularly imparts
sobering statistics, such as that “communities near MTR sites have a 50
percent increased risk of cancer.” And even as many white individuals
in the film identify as lower class, somber sequences draw attention to
their racial privilege. For example, Stephens interviews Patricia Span-
gler, author of a 2008 book about the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster of
1931, in which black miners died horrendous deaths from silica inha­
lation. Referring to the site of the disaster—­turned into a golf course
where both women once played as children, and where the interview is
currently taking place—­Spangler observes, “And that’s what is so pain-
ful, thinking of all the days, those idyllic summer days spent here, totally
unaware of the pain and suffering that had literally occurred under our
feet.” As she speaks, a black-­and-­white still image of black miners very
slowly dissolves into color vintage footage of white children playing
ring-­around-­the-­rosie. Stephens’s choice to eschew talking-­head inter-
views in anonymous spaces thus becomes particularly important. Still,
the film refuses to follow any rigid sort of tonal logic—­for example, that
environmental injustice must be discussed soberly, while queer sexuality
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  219
may be discussed playfully. In fact, the entire film, which encompasses
the sober to the playful, is spurred by the recognition of coal mining as
environmentally unjust, both racist and classist.
Beyond this tonal inconsistency, the film also depicts situational
contradictions that would, in many other circumstances, be labeled hyp­
ocrisy. But, similar to The Monkey Wrench Gang, Goodbye Gauley Moun-
tain simply allows these contradictions to exist. For example, we meet a
man named Leroy who works at the exhibition mine in Buckley, West
Virginia, that, as Stephens observes, romanticizes the coal industry. But
(or should we say “and”?) Leroy is harshly critical of the coal compa-
nies. He reports how they have cut off his access to hunting grounds on
threat of arrest and destroyed ginseng pockets that locals once har-
vested. “The little man, he can’t do it, but the big man can,” he observes.
“They step on you in every direction.” But perhaps most striking in
terms of contradiction is Roger, the husband of Stephens’s friend Cindy.
Drinking a Coca-­Cola outside his trailer as his wife smokes next to him,
Roger says, “I support MTR. I support it completely, highly, and that
is a minority position across the United States, but even in West Virginia”
(emphasis added). When Stephens asks him, “Did you ever feel that
you were an environmentalist?,” Roger responds, “I feel that I still am.”
When she asks for an explanation, he says,

[Being an environmentalist means] to be a steward of this Earth. To

take care of it. . . . In the Bible, God gave us [dominion] over this Earth
and over the animals that populate this Earth, and we can be a good
steward and still be able to derive the energy that we need, the food
that we need. It’s people who aren’t in the mining industry and people who
think that electricity comes out of the light switches that they flick on
when they turn on the lights [that oppose MTR]. Over 50 percent of
power in the United States comes from coal.

While the common response to people like Roger is to see them as

ignorant fools working against their own interests, he hereby positions
outsiders as ignorant—­of the fact that the lights they turn on in New
York City or Los Angeles may be powered by the blood, sweat, and tears
of West Virginia (though increasingly less so, of course). One can imag-
ine that sacrificing one’s own community and health for the benefit of
other Americans who look down on you would be reason enough to
220  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
hate anybody from outside the local region, not just environmental-
ists. Here, Janisse Ray proves instructive again, from a chapter titled
Crackers, although fiercely rooted in the land and willing to defend
it to death, hadn’t had the means, the education, or the ease to care
particularly about its natural communities. Our relationship with the
land wasn’t one of give and return. The land itself has been the victim
of . . . racial injustice, lack of education, and dire poverty. . . . Most
people worried about getting by, and when getting by meant using the
land, we used it. ([1999] 2015, 165)
Further, Roger shrugs off any potential accusation of hypocrisy by in-
sisting, however unconvincing it may seem, that he can be both an envi-
ronmentalist and a coal supporter. And he responds in the affirmative
to Sprinkle’s question of whether the land can feel what people do to
it, echoing Larry Gibson’s claim that “I do think the land reacts to what
the people does to it.” Though the two men could not be further apart
when it comes to MTR, they share the same beliefs around nonhuman
sentience and agency.
Roger and Cindy’s own relationship is one of contradiction, as the
film humorously shows. At one point, Roger recounts bringing applica-
tions for the group Friends of Coal to Cindy’s workplace, whereupon she
reportedly shouted loud enough for the whole building to hear, “Coal
may feed my family but that doesn’t mean I have to like it!” As he
explains, “[But] [y]ou love each other! You work through these things.”
The film does capture a notable irony at the end of this sequence, telling
us through onscreen text that Cindy and Roger separated soon after
the interview. But the point that the filmmakers have made through this
sequence is much larger. Sprinkle thanks Roger for sharing his perspec-
tive, noting, “We may disagree on stuff. But we all love the mountains.”
“Yes,” he replies. Here, the “we” goes far beyond the few people on-
screen. As with Blankenship’s testimony, Goodbye Gauley Mountain appeals
to shared cultural values rooted in place—­but, crucially, suggests that
that place will be uninhabitable if environmental injustices continue.
Sprinkle even invites Roger to the “wedding”: the big anti-­MTR
performance that caps the film, in which she and Stephens performa-
tively marry the West Virginia mountains. This is just one in a series of
weddings that the pair have conducted in eight different countries,
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  221
including to the snow in Ottawa, Canada, and the sea in Venice, Italy. As
they explain these previous ones, “We asked for no material gifts but
invited people to help create the weddings. Everyone took vows with
us to love, honor, and cherish the Earth”—­a critique of the consumer-
ist and insular nature of the wedding and marriage, respectively.15 Even
more specifically, I would argue that Stephens and Sprinkle critique
same-­sex marriage politics. At one point, for example, Stephens declares
that “you can survive without being married, but if you don’t have drink-
ing water, you’re dead. And it doesn’t matter if you’re queer, straight,
bi, eco[sexual].” This statement subtly indicts the economic privilege at
the heart of both the wedding-­industrial complex and mainstream gay
culture. Similarly, at a small LGBTQ and ally gathering in Huntington,
West Virginia, the couple drums up participants for the wedding not by
appealing to homonormative discourse around same-­sex marriage—­in
which marriage will save queers from promiscuity and other forms of
sexual deviance—­but by pointedly flouting that discourse. As Stephens
tells the gathered folks, “You know they say that if they let gay people
marry that they’ll start marrying everything—­they’ll marry their dogs,
they’re gonna marry trees?” Sprinkle then jumps in, gleefully: “And
we’re out to prove them right!” They thereby echo the queer resistance
to homonormativity and neoliberalism discussed in chapter 3, while also
contrasting the kind of flustered defensiveness on display in Kath & Kim.
That is, Goodbye Gauley Mountain preemptively embraces, rather than
reactively disavowing, the designations of (queer) indecorum, vulgarity,
and bawdiness.
While, as I have been suggesting, we can see Stephens and Sprin-
kle’s environmental activism as a reaction against individualist, consum-
erist, and perfectionist movements, they also contextualize this activism
within other extant traditions. For example, as the pair prepares wed-
ding invitations with Stephens’s sister and Cindy, Sprinkle remarks, “You
know, women used to get together and make a quilt, right? Well, today
we’re making wedding invitations.” The film thus frames their antics as
continuations of cultural traditions—­even as they otherwise break with
tradition. This move is important, again, for how environmentalists are
regularly glossed as cultural outsiders. Similarly, the film includes a car-
toon sequence that shows how Appalachian residents and others have
protested against MTR through actions such as tree-­sits and marches;
222  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
Stephens then tells us, “Annie and I employ ecosexuality”—­their pro-
fessed erotic orientation toward nonhuman nature—­“sex ecology, and
public weddings to nature entities as our activist tactics.” They thereby
position their response as not the only, and not as prescriptive, but as
just one among many possible options.
But unlike a tree-­sit or march, Stephens and Sprinkle’s ecosexuality is
affectively ambiguous, maybe even incoherent.16 Is it a joke? Is it serious?
Is it authentic? Is it a performance? Related sequences in the film allow us
to explore these questions further. Writhing naked in a creek or covering
themselves with mud, their ample, imperfect, middle-­aged bodies on full
display, Stephens and Sprinkle certainly demonstrate the shamelessness I
have been discussing. And as ecocritic Stacy Alaimo writes of the pair’s
public performances elsewhere, they thereby “depart from the somber
vulnerability in many naked protests” (2016, 86). But these moments are
not exactly comic, either. To some, their attempts at sensuality may come
off as naïvely corny, veering close to New Age nonsense.17 Returning to
Whitworth’s notion of “eco-­camp,” it’s unclear where these moments
fall within Susan Sontag’s famous schema of “naïve camp” versus “delib-
erate camp” (1964, 262). When we consider Stephens and Sprinkle’s
related materials outside the film, things are equally ambiguous. The
“Ecosex Manifesto” contains both straightforward, sincere statements
such as “In order to create a more mutual and sustainable relationship
with the Earth, we collaborate with nature. We treat the Earth with
kindness, respect and affection” and those that seem queerer and more
ironic, such as “We celebrate our E-­spots”—­a pun on the concept of
“G-­spots,” or the mythical erogenous zone of the vagina—­and “We are
very dirty” (2011). Other ephemera produced by and for the artists seem
unintentionally ridiculous, as with stickers and posters that resemble the
garish, pseudo-­psychedelic style of 1980s commercial artist Lisa Frank.
But perhaps another line of the manifesto says it all: “We work and play
tirelessly for Earth justice and global peace” (emphasis added). Simply
put, Stephens and Sprinkle see the two modes as utterly inseparable.

Goodbye Gauley Mountain offers us a wedding, as promised, approximately

two minutes before the final credits roll. It thereby gestures to classical
comedy’s most favored means of conclusion—­but, of course, with many
twists. The event is (in)appropriately raucous and flamboyant, featuring
performances from acrobats and other circus artists, and with everyone
Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers  |  223

Figure 8. “Ecosexuals” Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle. “Eco-­Primavera”

image design and photomontage by Daniel Wasko. Photograph by Julian Cash.

dressed in purple. Stephens’s cousin performatively objects to the union

and is met with performative boos. And the officiant asks Stephens and
Sprinkle, “Do you promise to help nurture more love for the earth and
entice”—­he lingers on the word’s sibilance in fey delight—­“others to join
the environmental movement by making it a little more sexy, fun, mul-
ticultural, and diverse?” “We do!” they exclaim.
I want to dwell for a moment on that term, “entice[ment],” and its
close companion, “seduction,” which appears in the “Ecosex Manifesto”
(“We will save the mountains, waters and skies by any means neces-
sary, especially through love, joy and our powers of seduction” [Ste-
phens and Sprinkle 2011]). First, the sexual connotations of terms such
224  |  Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers
as “enticement” and “seduction” are not incidental. While LGBTQ
individuals, like environmentalists and lower-­class individuals, have his-
torically been shamed and ashamed, the former have specifically endured
sexual shame. Stephens and Sprinkle’s queer, cross-­species hillbilly wed-
ding thus constitutes a joyous celebration of multiple prides and plea-
sures. Second, “enticement” and “seduction” are quite different concepts
from “obligation” or “conscription”—­the latter two being the frames
through which, as I have shown in my introduction, the general pub-
lic and many academics conceive of environmental art, activism, and
discourse. Stephens and Sprinkle, along with The Simpsons Movie and
The Monkey Wrench Gang, insist that we shift those frames. Relatedly,
and finally, “enticement” and “seduction” imply indulgence, a term that
means “humoring” as well as “favouring . . . relaxation of restraint” (Oxford
English Dictionary). If we humor the humorous Stephens and Sprinkle,
we see that environmental activism need not entail restraint or austerity
but might actually be a matter of excess. And we can indulge in this
excess, Stephens and Sprinkle promise, without the hangover of shame
and regret that the likes of the Goode family suffer.
While the aforementioned wedding at first appears to be the con-
cluding point of Goodbye Gauley Mountain, the film actually contains one
last segment before the final credits. “West Virginia, My Home” (1980)
by Hazel Dickens—­the feminist, pro-­union bluegrass singer from a
West Virginia coal-­mining family—­begins to play over a montage that
includes views of local scenery; a memorial image of Larry Gibson, who
passed away a year before the film’s release; and a shot of Sprinkle flash-
ing her bare breasts to the camera. Dickens’s twangy, plaintive voice—­
an acquired taste to some—­captures the exile faced by Eli Clare, Beth
Stephens, and so many others from economically depressed, environ-
mentally ravaged regions. Imagining home, she “can almost smell the
honeysuckle vine.” A ball bounces gaily over the lyrics at the bottom of
the screen—­enticing us, as it were, to join in with yet another commu-
nal act, perhaps off-­key. To do so would be to reprise Stephens’s playful
act of civil disobedience, her imperfect attempt to engage the police in
a rendition of the state anthem. And it might enact what I see as the
most important accomplishment of my three primary texts from this
section: holding the vicissitudes of class, taste, cultural propriety, and
environmentalism in a kind of dynamic tension, rather than smoothing
them all out into a harmonious whole.

Stand-­up comic and actor Simon Amstell—­a gay, British, Jewish,

perpetually single, and teetotal vegan—­has made a career out of abjec-
tion. His live performances are marked by awkwardness, neuroticism,
and self-­deprecation, often focusing on his anxiety, depression, and lone-
liness. In his 2010 special, Do Nothing: Live, he describes his overinvest-
ment in an upcoming date, convincing himself as much as the audience:
“Sex can just be fun. It can just be fun. It can just be fun. No one ever
says, ‘Oh, you’re playing all that tennis; where’s it leading?’” And in his
2012 special, Numb: Simon Amstell Live at the BBC, he confesses, “I live
alone. . . . If you live alone, and you don’t make plans, here is what hap-
pens: you wake up, and it just gets darker.”
Amstell is far from the first stand-­up comic to engage with abjection.
Indeed, literary and humor studies scholar John Limon finds it funda-
mental to the form: “What is stood up in stand-­up comedy is abjection.
Stand-­up makes vertical (or ventral) what should be horizontal (or dor-
sal)” (2000, 4). Beyond his own personal flaws, Amstell “stands up” the
often-­repressed realities of animal product consumption and its asso­
ciated environmental impacts.1 More specifically, he engages in what we
might call a kind of speculative comedy, inviting us to imagine different
realities in regard to animals and environment. This invitation is extended
intermittently in Numb and more extensively in Carnage: Swallowing the
Past, his 2017 “vegan sci-­fi comedy” (D. Howe 2017)—­or, more properly,
mockumentary—­that aired on the BBC in early 2017. Carnage is unique
among the other works I discuss in Bad Environmentalism, insofar as it
begins in the future, relying on tactics like defamiliarization and estrange-
ment in addition to absurdity, self-­reflexivity, and antisentimentalism.

226  |  Conclusion
In what follows, I take Amstell’s speculative comedy as an opportunity
to review both the rewards and risks of bad environmentalisms—­and,
therefore, of this book itself—­and to speculate on its possible futures.
Numb features an extended bit centered on imagining a vegan real-
ity. Amstell observes, “People talk about the past, history, like that was
all ridiculous; how could any of that have happened? I would like to be
in the future . . . so I can look back at this time and say . . . Do you remem-
ber when people drank milk from other species? Did they see cows feeding their
young and think . . . ‘Yeah, that’s probably for me!’?” He continues in this
simultaneously contemplative and acerbic persona:
Remember when we had prisons? When we separated people off into cages,
rather than giving them the love they needed that would have stopped all the
crime? [Here, he interrupts himself with an aside: “You’ll have to just
trust me on that one.”] Do you remember when people got upset when their
pets died, but then when other animals died, they ate them? Do you remem-
ber when food became so processed and unnatural that certain foods became
labeled “organic,” like it was a kooky luxury to not consume poison? And
what about when religious people failed to remember that God is nature—­
there is nothing more all-­encompassing or wise than Mother Nature—­and
atheists forgot that science is the study of nature? And then they both remem-
bered and had amazing sex by a tree.

While ostensibly an animal rights and environmentalist argument, this

bit also invokes social injustice and political partisanship—­hinting that
a vegan future is somehow easier to imagine than a future without the
carceral state (“just trust me on that one”), and fantasizing cheekily
about the union of the religious and the nonreligious.
Carnage, I propose, can be understood as an extended riff on the
aforementioned bit. Amstell wrote, directed, and provided the voice-­
over narration for the film, which consists of archival and manufactured
news footage, interviews, and TV show clips. It opens in the year 2067,
a generation after nonvegan diets have become outlawed and outdated
in the UK and, it seems, elsewhere. More so than the Numb bit, the
film makes affect central to this imagined future. The opening scene
presents us with an attractive group of androgynous, multiracial youth
frolicking in the outdoors, over which Amstell reports, “Britain is now
raising the most peaceful and happy humans ever. Violence has been
defeated with compassion, depression cured with intimacy. But,” his
Conclusion  |  227
voice-­over continues, “history has been replaced with silence [and] for
my [older] generation there remain painful memories.” We are then
introduced to a psychotherapist named Dr. Yasmine Vondenburgen
(Linda Bassett), author of a book titled The Guilt of Eating Your Brother,
who holds weekly support groups to deal with this “new psychological
sickness.” In one group session, she throws a beanbag around a circle of
elderly participants who, upon catching it, must say the name of a cheese
they once ate.
From 2067, Carnage moves back and forth in time to answer the
questions “Who were we? How could we [consume animal products]?
Why did we?” Television studies scholar Brett Mills, perhaps the first
academic to analyze Carnage, argues that the film “comes out of a tradi-
tion of ‘future documentaries’ (Mills 2011:83) that use the frame of a
fictional future in order to encourage audiences to engage with debates
about the real present” (2017, 180)—­but departs from that tradition
by virtue of its comic tone. And indeed, the film’s recounting of history
is both realistic and hilariously skewed. It takes us, for instance, to the
1970s, when U.S. fast-­food chains began targeting children. As Amstell
recalls, “Parents were charmed by characters like the Burger King, pre-
ferring to think of him as a magical king rather than someone dressed
like that to detract from the genocide. And Ronald McDonald’s hair
was red [apparently] because he was a clown, not because he couldn’t
stop swimming in blood.” Later, we move to the first decade of the
twenty-­first century, when reality TV shows such as the UK’s Fat Fami-
lies (comparable to the U.S.’s The Biggest Loser) thrived. As Amstell
observes, “This era of shaming would last until the end of the decade,
until it was concluded that embarrassing [people] on TV didn’t make
them healthier.” Meanwhile, celebrity chefs rose to fame; as we watch
Nigella Lawson press down on a chicken carcass, Amstell observes,
“What looks to us now like a documentary about a lunatic was in fact a
hit show about cooking.” From its speculated future position, the film
thus defamil­iarizes and invites us to recognize the absurdities of meat
and dairy consumption—­and of the dominant affective tactics associ-
ated with leftist food politics.
Eventually, Carnage shows us that veganism gradually took hold
thanks to a combination of structural, legal, cultural, environmental, and,
again, affective causes. These include ramped-­up climate change and an
228  |  Conclusion
increased awareness of its connection to meat consumption, a super
swine flu and ensuing factory farming ban, a subsequent dramatic in-
crease in the price of meat, the emergence of the first vegan celebrity
chef, Freddy (Mawaan Rizwan)—­who carries on a same-­sex relation-
ship with black vegan activist Troye King Jones ( John Macmillan) until
the latter is murdered by a white member of the “British Meat League,”
in a faint allusion to resurgent white nationalism—­and the passage of
the 2035 Bill of Animal Rights by the UK government. But the final
turning point is the invention of a machine that can read the thoughts
and feelings of nonhuman animals. As Amstell sums up, “Empathy, cli-
mate change, and the improvements in [vegan] nut cheese could no lon-
ger be ignored.”
What is so fascinating about Carnage as a work of art and activism,
then, is that it insists that “good” affects—­empathy, love, compassion,
and happiness—­are crucial to a vegan future, but it engages in “bad”
affective modes to present that argument. Moreover, it frames affects like
shame, guilt, and horror (both individually felt and imposed on others) as
part of the problem, not the solution. To wit: one of the film’s conclud-
ing scenes finds the elderly members of the support group chanting, with
relief, “No shame, no shame.” This is a particularly notable vision, con-
sidering how vegan discourse—­in addition to health discourse, as noted
earlier in this chapter, and mainstream environmental discourse more
broadly, as noted in the previous chapter—­regularly engages in shaming
and judgment. To offer one well-­known example, Carol J. Adams’s clas-
sic ecofeminist manifesto, The Pornography of Meat (2004), begins with
the following epigraph from feminist philosopher Melinda Vadas: “Meat
is like pornography: before it was someone’s fun, it was someone’s life”
(9). The book thereby draws a specious association between pornogra-
phy and death, not to mention pornography and antienvironmentalism—­
and, in the process, stigmatizes deviant sexuality. It also deploys inflated
rhetoric and melodramatic anecdotes, often unattributed, such as “In
France, maison’s d’abattage (‘houses of slaughter’) involve the prostitu-
tion of young women—­six or seven girls each serving 80 to 120 cus­
tomers a night” (11). Such moments leave no room for nuance, to say
the least.2 Amstell makes fun of such approaches, even as he ostensibly
works toward their same goals—­a point to which I will return in the
following section.
Conclusion  |  229
Rewards and Risks of Bad Environmentalism
Amstell’s work is representative of what I have been calling “bad environ­
mentalism.” First, like nearly all the works discussed in this book, Carnage
engages in self-­reflexivity and self-­criticism. In a segment showcasing
vegan performance art, for instance, Amstell reflects that “these fringe
artworks only confirmed vegans as attention-­seeking loons.” In another
segment, Troye King Jones describes his filmmaking efforts in an inter-
view but concedes, “Who wants to sit and watch an entire film about
veganism?” And a white conservative TV personality named Graham
Watkins ( James Smith), hell-­bent on bringing back meat, offers inci-
sive, and hilarious, criticism of veganism. Invading a vegan restaurant,
he demands of the customers, “Do you eat this food because you think
your face doesn’t look smug enough?” and “Wouldn’t you prefer a life
containing joy?” In addition to such self-­aware moments, I would argue,
Amstell’s abject position—­well established through his stand-­up before
the release of Carnage—­wards against sanctimony; his persona entails
nebbishy neuroticism rather than sanctimonious self-­righteousness. Even
when the works in my archive do issue correctives or exposés, then, they
position themselves so as not to seem imperious.
Carnage is also relentlessly antisentimental, like the other works I
have discussed. In one segment, a mother informs her young child that
cows were once turned into food; we watch as his little face crumples into
tears. In the opening sequence featuring the multiracial group of youths,
a twee young person (Alex Lawther) faces the camera and, reflecting on
one particular facet of the history of meat eating, whimpers bewil-
deredly, “Why would anyone eat a baby? It’s just a little baby. A little
baby lamb.” This group of youths consents, for the sake of the docu-
mentary that Carnage ostensibly constitutes, to go back in time through
virtual reality to attempt to understand this history. But after a brief visit
to a fast-­food chicken restaurant in the year 2017, they are reduced to
sobbing, vomiting messes. Carnage thus mocks the poster-­child appeals
of children and other innocents found in so much mainstream environ-
mental art, activism, and discourse, and pro-­vegan discourse in particu-
lar, while also burlesquing the affective reactions of vegans themselves.
Beyond self-­reflexivity and antisentimentality—­and, of course, an
overarching interest in bad affect—­Amstell’s film and stand-­up are char-
acteristic of my archive in multiple ways. They reframe environmental
230  |  Conclusion
activism to associate it with abundance or even excess (in Carnage’s case,
of love, compassion, happiness, and empathy) as opposed to austerity, at
a time when such activism often connotes the latter. They display awk-
wardness and uncertainty—­showing that perfection and expertise are
not required for political commitment. They provide alternatives to cri-
sis discourse in an era of crisis fatigue. They are accessible—­entertaining,
popular, widely distributed—­at a time when mainstream environmental
campaigns do not resonate with much of the public. And they actively
anticipate, and attempt to change, the “killjoy” reputation of environmen­
talists, at a time when public sentiment toward activists runs vitriolic.
These works are particularly suited to the present moment in other
ways. Generations raised on so-­called reality TV and sponsored Insta-
gram posts may be both inclined toward and able to parse work like
Amstell’s, with its mixture of truth and fiction. And, at the risk of con-
doning postfactualism, I would argue that being able to parse that mix-
ture is ultimately beside the point, considering how environmental and
political stances are more a matter of emotion than rational knowledge.
Moreover, in poking fun at environmental/animal rights activists, work
like Amstell’s blurs another line: that between environmentalism and
antienvironmentalism. Again, rather than thinking of this blurring as
problematic, one could think of it as promising, especially at a time when
those categories seem so calcified as to be impassible. Returning to Ken-
neth Burke’s concept of “true irony”—­“not superior to the enemy, but
based on a fundamental kinship with the enemy” (Fernandez and Huber
2001, 28)—­one can imagine how ironic and otherwise “bad” environ-
mental artworks could bridge the debilitating partisan rift that exists in
the United States and elsewhere. Or, at least, they might inspire more
bipartisan “sex by . . . tree[s].”
By many standards, these works may not necessarily succeed. For
example, one might not go vegan after watching Numb or Carnage. (I
have not.) And in fact, one could argue that the future Amstell imagines
is amusing precisely because it is so unbelievable—­even though that lack
of believability allows us to critically reflect on the present. After all,
it is our continued skepticism that Amstell has in mind in Numb when
he quips, “You’ll have to just trust me.” Moreover, one might not find
Amstell’s work amusing in the first place, regardless of dietary habits.
But it would be nearly impossible not to respond to the affective appeals
Conclusion  |  231
of some of my other works, as with the violent and disgusting encoun-
ters of Wildboyz, which make us wince or look away.3 Again, I claim that
these appeals are worthy of attention, regardless of their ultimate effects:
they tell us much about mainstream environmentalism and its pitfalls,
and much about our political moment more broadly.
Similarly, not everyone will “get” these works. But they often resist
straightforward meaning in the first place. Take, for instance, U.S. con-
servative blogger Henry Makow’s screed against the Lesbian National
Parks and Services’ (discussed in depth in chapter 3) residency at the
University of Winnipeg in 2005, which he described as “the start of an
official government policy to foist lesbianism, a developmental disorder,
on unsuspecting youth” (2015). It would be too easy to say that Makow
does not understand the multiple layers of the LNPS’s work. And it
would also be unfair. For instance, he fully acknowledges its double
entendres. But he reads the project in a particular direction, conclud-
ing with disgust that it is “propaganda disguised as parody.” I read it,
conversely, and with pleasure, as parody disguised as propaganda. But
who is to say which one of us is right? Maybe we both are, and perhaps
the LNPS should be read in both directions at once. In short, the texts
I discuss in Bad Environmentalism generate multiple, shifting meanings
and then implicate their audiences, for better or worse, in the process of
sorting those meanings out.
Which brings us to the point that all my examples in some way lack
straightness: either straightforwardness, or heternormativity, or both.
The works in my archive take “unnatural” approaches to natural (and
other) landscapes and issues, circumventing dominant affects and aes-
thetics. This is crucial work, I have observed, in a time when environmen­
tal crisis is widely normalized, at least in the relatively shielded Western
world. With Amstell’s work, lack of straightness is obviously a matter of
content, as with the references to queer desire and androgynous charac-
ters. We could also consider it a matter of form, when we take into
account Limon’s observation that stand-­up depends on “mini-­climaxes—­
the series of punch lines—­that are not readily convertible into straight
lines for a metaclimax or punch line of the whole” (2000, 9). And we
could even see one of Amstell’s queer moments as a kind of manifesto for
bad environmentalism on the whole: recall his reminder that “sex can just
be fun. . . . No one ever says, ‘Oh you’re playing all that tennis; where’s
232  |  Conclusion
it leading?’” This is the risk of bad environmentalism: that, like casual
sex, it might not lead anywhere—­or, at least, not anywhere quantifiable.
But, for all the reasons I have described, its pleasures cannot be dismissed.
And here, there is a fundamental difference between mainstream
environmentalism and what I have termed “bad environmentalism.”
While, broadly speaking, both advocate for environment and animals,
I must conclude that they ultimately do not share the same goals. That
is, their affective and attitudinal differences are matters not merely of
approach but of fundamental philosophical and political divergence.
The works of Bad Environmentalism are premised on a refusal of purity
politics—­and, subsequently, on an embrace of contradiction, imperfec-
tion, and ambiguity—­as well as an opposition to antiprogressive modes
such as racism and homophobia, modes that often go hand in hand
with mainstream environmental campaigns. These works find nothing
sacred—­and, in fact, find sacredness to be part of the problem when it
comes to environment and animals. They offer a different way to do
politics, one that is both messy and pragmatic. And they thereby point
to a deep and abiding ambivalence at the heart of our contemporary
relationship to environment, one that many of us have been too ashamed,
or too driven, or too beleaguered, to acknowledge.

Speculating on the Futures of Bad Environmentalism

The larger goal of this book has been to identify bad environmentalisms
as important alternatives to the status quo—­not as a singular, exclusive
prescription. Most simply put, the works in my archive demonstrate
that engagement with serious issues need not entail serious affect or
sensibility. I have shown the wide diversity of contexts in which one
might put such affects and sensibilities to work, from media traditions
such as nature/wildlife programming to cultural and historical phenom-
ena such as racialized environmental affect. No doubt these contexts
are legion, and proliferating, and future movements around them might
draw on the broadened repertoire of affects and sensibilities that my
works have modeled. In fact, this scenario seems to be coming to pass as
I write, with the U.S. National Park Service and other entities launch-
ing sassy “rogue” Twitter accounts, and with the distinct trend toward
clever and punning signs at the worldwide March for Science.4
Conclusion  |  233
My works might therefore be said to be “useful,” or at least influ­
ential, though I have declined to measure or quantify that usefulness.
Put another way, I have looked beyond the standard ecocritical question
of whether a work educates its audience or spurs successful environ­
mentalist action. My aim in doing so has not been to denigrate art that
asserts a clear purpose but to insist that we be open to the unexpected,
unpredictable, and less obvious functions of environmental art. I hope
that future work in the environmental humanities will continue in this
spirit of openness. I have also tried to be playful in my own scholarship,
making whimsical connections and proposing certain practices of “over-
reading.” But, of course, I have also been practical, developing new
concepts and paradigms that I hope will prove valuable in the future,
from unnatural documentary (chapter 1) to ignorance as environmen-
tal ethos (chapter 2) to queer environmental performance (chapter 3) to
racialized environ­mental affect and post-­soul environmentalism (chap-
ter 4) to aspirational environmentalism (chapter 5) to, of course, bad
environmentalism. I have focused on affect and sensibility but have also
presented new observations about aesthetics and form, from the school-­
pageant visual style of Green Porno to Wildboyz’s refusal to narrativize
and thus sentimentalize animal life. All these contributions, I hope, will
provide others with inspiration—­ or, at least, fodder for productive
While I see bad environmentalism as a largely contemporary phe­
nomenon—­one that we can trace back to the postwar U.S. and UK
tradi­tion of liberal satire,5 and, of course, to the present ironies and
absurdities around environmental crisis—­we need not limit its purview
in that sense. Thus, future work might bring to the fore other traditions
of bad environmentalism from different locales and times, or identify
earlier precedents. I have no doubt that some of this work has already
begun, though perhaps through different frameworks. Consider, for ex-
ample, the comments of Josh Siegel, a curator who organized a screen-
ing of the most recent film installment of Jackass, Wildboyz’s predecessor
and kindred spirit, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art: “[The film is]
merely the climax—­or the lowest depths, if you prefer—­of a tradition
that dates back to 1895, when the Lumière brothers drenched a poor
sap with a garden hose and filmed it” (Lim 2010). Future work might
draw out such lineages.
234  |  Conclusion
There is another, larger question worth exploring: Which specific
forces could constrain expressions of bad environmentalism, or even lead
to its (temporary?) subsidence? In Revel with a Cause: Liberal Satire in
Postwar America (2006), the historian Stephen E. Kercher traces the 1950s
rise of stand-­up comedy, spoof magazines, and other related modes; he
shows that, by the mid-­1960s, many audiences and comics alike found
that “the escalating tensions of the time [around the Vietnam War and
the civil rights movement] called for engagement, not the ironic dis-
tance afforded by satire” (440). Thus, African American stand-­up comic
(and vegetarian activist) Dick Gregory, who “had once validated humor
as a weapon against oppression,” came to “dimis[s] it as a ‘narcotic’”
(443), while Langston Hughes retired his beloved “Simple” humor
column. Obviously, though, satire, humor, stand-­up comedy, and other
modes did not die at this point. But they did subside, if briefly and
unevenly. And they were ceremoniously put to rest again more recently,
after 9/11, when “The Onion did not appear for two weeks, and The New
Yorker magazine appeared with a black cover and without its famous
cartoons” (Kuipers 2005, 24) and when “lambasting what he regarded as
a thirty-­year reign of ironists who in ‘seeing through everything, made
it difficult for anyone to see anything,’ [Time magazine editor Roger]
Rosenblatt bitterly asked his readers, ‘Are you looking for something to
take seriously? Begin with evil’” (Gournelos and Greene 2011, xi). But
evil is actually not so straightforward, as the ensuing and disastrous
PATRIOT Act, among other things, proved. And thus, while those who
would still practice comedy after 9/11 were essentially lumped in with
terrorists, other commentators have since praised them for opposing
“simplified notions of good and evil and of amplified state power” (xi).
Clearly, the works in my archive have not allowed the horrors of cli-
mate change, environmental racism, or factory farming to dampen their
irony, their playfulness, their irreverence. And, in fact, as I have argued
throughout this book, those modes are particularly suited to addressing
such horrors. Moreover, one could argue that the various complicities of
environmental crisis make the identification of a common enemy harder
than in occasions like 9/11—­thus protecting bad environmentalism from
backlash of the same kind. But these works run the same risks of offense,
or even irrelevance. Perhaps, then, the most important question is the
following: As these modes become more widespread, or as environmen-
tal crisis worsens, how will bad environmentalisms evolve and adapt?

I started writing this book in earnest—­but not earnestly, mind you—­

during the fiftieth anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, having,
serendipitously, been awarded a year-­long fellowship at the Rachel Car-
son Center for Environment and Society in Munich, Germany. I am
incredibly grateful to directors Christof Mauch and Helmuth Trischler
for seeing merit in such an offbeat project. I am also thankful for the wis-
dom and company of my fellow fellows and visiting scholars, especially
Eunice Blavascunas, Fiona Cameron, Laurence Culver, Maurits Ertsen,
Elin Kelsey, Sherilyn MacGregor, Anna Mazanik, Heather McCrea,
Cameron Muir, Satoshi Murayama, Daisy Onyige, Seth Peabody, Maya
Peterson, Jenny Price (whose forthcoming book Stop Saving the Planet!
is a kindred spirit to this one), and Louis Warren. The administrators
and staff at the RCC made life easier and more fun; thank you to Robert
Emmett, Arielle Helmick, Katie Ritson, Rachel Shindelar, Martin Spen­
ger, and the many student assistants who picked up library books for me,
photocopied for me, and answered my annoying questions.
Thank you also to the other lovely friends I made in Germany,
including Eliza Encheva, Stephanie Hood, Christine Howard, Annka
Liepold, Felix Mauch, Ursula Münster, Anna Sastaad Rühl, Susanne
Schmitt, Kathy-­Ann Tan, and Ella von der Haide. (And Liza Cramer—­
Umarmungen! ) I might also mention that I had the absurdly appropriate
pleasure of drafting chapter 1 during several days of hospitalization for
appendicitis at Klinikum Schwabing, where I ranted deliriously to the
doctors about the horrors of the U.S. healthcare system and roomed
with a kindly narcoleptic opera singer named Ursula. Thank you to all
who cared for me there.

236  |  Acknowledgments
As book projects often do, this one spanned multiple residences. In
its later stages, Bad Environmentalism benefited from a Humanities and
Social Sciences Summer Research and Writing Stipend from California
State University, Fullerton, and from the support of my colleagues in
the Department of English, especially April Brannon, Ellen Caldwell,
Lana Dalley, Stephen Mexal, Brian Michael Norton, and Irena Praitis.
Students in my spring 2017 Literature and the Environment course
buoyed my enthusiasm to finish working on these texts, while Mark
Bilby of Cal State Fullerton’s Pollack Library provided assistance with
digital images. Cal State Fullerton students Chenglin Lee and Samuel
Ortiz saved me with eleventh-­hour bibliographic assistance. Several aca-
demic friends, includ­ing Darin DeWitt, Sarah Ensor, Josh Epstein,
Katherine Fusco, Lily House-­Peters, Salma Monani, Gabriela Nuñez,
Anelise Hanson Shrout, Sarah Wald, Jane Wanninger, and Robert Wat-
son offered crucial support of various kinds during the home stretch.
Tracey Wiltse and the ladies of Long Beach’s Funrobics offered enthu-
siastic cheerleading (figurative, but also somewhat literal) during this
period. Teddy Breceda, Matt Riccio, and Shane Yamamoto welcomed
me (back) to Long Beach and celebrated various stages of this book’s
development. Thank you also to my brother, my parents, and my other
dear friends, especially Virginia Allison-­Reinhardt and Sarah Waters.
Speaking engagements at institutions such as Ludwig-­Maximilians
Universität, San Diego State University, the University of California at
Davis, the University of California at Santa Barbara, Universität Kassel,
the University of Manchester, and the University of Nevada at Reno
helped sharpen many of the ideas in these pages. Thank you to those
who invited and hosted me and those who attended and offered feed-
back, especially Margaret Ronda of UC Davis. I would also like to thank
the many thinkers who have provided me with inspiration, in person or
in print—­including, but certainly not limited to, Hannes Bergthaller,
Greta Gaard, Greg Garrard, David Gessner, Ursula Heise, Heather
Houser, David Ingram, Shiloh Krupar, Stephanie LeMenager, Gregg
Mitman, Sianne Ngai, Sarah Jaquette Ray, Cate Sandilands, Alexa Weik
von Mossner (danke für alles!), Lauran Whitworth, and Derek Woods.
More broadly, this book would not exist without the intellectual cama-
raderie and support that the Association for the Study of Literature and
Environment (ASLE) fosters so well.
Acknowledgments  |  237
I wish to thank Anne Carter and Danielle Kasprzak of the Univer-
sity of Minnesota Press and the two readers—­one anonymous and the
other Jennifer Ladino—­who offered enthusiastic and helpful comments
on the initial manuscript. Finally, I acknowledge the editors of two spe-
cial journal issues wherein I developed some of the major ideas of this
book: Andrew McMurry and William Major, who included my article
“Toward an Irreverent Ecocriticism” in the 2012 “Function of Ecocriti-
cism” issue of the Journal of Ecocriticism, and Eva Hayward and Jami
Weinstein, who included my article “Alligator Earrings and the Fish-
hook in the Face: Tragicomedy, Transcorporeality, and Animal Drag” in
the 2015 “Tranimalities” issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly.
No doubt I have inadvertently overlooked some individuals or
institutions here or elsewhere in this book, and for that I apologize.
Drinks on me next time!
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Chapter epigraph: Wilde’s letter is quoted in Ellmann 1988, 422.
1. Environmental justice activists and scholars have long highlighted the
interrelationship of environmental risk and social inequality. See, for instance,
Squires and Hartman 2006.
2. See the IPCC’s report regarding climate change as anthropogenic, espe-
cially Section 9.7, “Combining Evidence of Anthropogenic Climate Change,”
3. Of course, the penalty is often much worse than verbal skewering, as the
killings of environmental activists from Karen Silkwood (U.S.) to Berta Cáceres
(Honduras) suggest.
4. Concern over climate change is comparatively low in the United States
but by no means nonexistent. See Pew Research Center 2015. Moreover, it is
quite possible—­and Bashir et al. (2013) in fact seem to confirm this idea—­that
one could be concerned about environmental issues but still hate environmen-
talists as such.
5. In recent years, the field of environmental communication has looked
skeptically at “gloom and doom” and many of the other dominant environmen-
tal affects I discuss in this book. As Schneider and Miller report, “The forms of
rhetorical address that typify many environmental appeals, particularly those
having to do with global environmental crises such as climate change,” include
the jeremiad, melodrama, and various tropes of apocalypse and disaster. Further,
they find that “although these appeals could be said to be effective for some
audiences, the overall impact of sermonizing or emphasizing ‘gloom and doom’
may be limited” (2011, 471–­72). See also Shellenberger and Nordhaus 2004,
which calls out gloom and doom in particular.
6. The concept of “resilience” has been circulating with increasing fre-
quency in popular and academic circles. In 2013, for example, editors Stephanie

240  |  Notes to Introduction
Foote and Stephanie LeMenager launched the environmental humanities jour-
nal Resilience; their “Manifestos” section, in which various individuals contribute
their own visions of the concept, is particularly interesting.
7. While this introduction, and in fact this entire book, points in various
ways to these qualities, we can consider a succinct example here: in an article
on Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno series (discussed in chapter 2), Michael
O’Driscoll states, “I began this article by suggesting that while Rossellini’s film
project is in no way didactic, the shorts nonetheless rightly take their place in an
ecologically minded or environmentally aware media campaign” (2013, 640).
The fact that O’Driscoll feels compelled to provide this explanation indicates
just how tightly environmentalism is tied to qualities such as didacticism. Noël
Sturgeon’s Environmentalism in Popular Culture (2009); Sarah Jaquette Ray’s The
Ecological Other (2013); Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces (2014), and
many other academic works have discussed the exclusionary character of main-
stream environmentalism.
8. Sarah Ensor’s astute comments on an earlier draft of my work helped
me articulate these aspects of my argument.
9. The difficulties of defining irony also played a prominent role in the
1994 “Gen X” film Reality Bites (dir. Ben Stiller, U.S.), in which a hard-­nosed
television executive (Anne Meara) challenges the main character, Lelaina (Win-
ona Ryder), to define irony during a job interview. As the young woman strug-
gles to spit out anything meaningful—­“It’s when something is ironic. It’s, uh . . .
[trails off]”—­the executive steps onto an elevator and the doors close in Lelaina’s
10. See also Linda Hutcheon’s analysis of the “affective dimension of iro-
ny’s edge”: irony “provoke[s] emotional responses in those who ‘get’ it and those
who don’t, as well as in its targets and in what some people call its ‘victims’”
(1994, 2).
11. Versions of the idea of environmental crisis as ironic can be found at
least as far back as the 1950s, when Rachel Carson wrote in a new preface to The
Sea around Us, “It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose,
should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life” (1951, xiii).
Other scholars have documented the ironies of environmental crisis. See, for
example, Clark 2010; Stoddart 2011; Wallace 2016. Molly Wallace draws on the
work of Ulrich Beck, who has suggested that “the dominant trope of risk society
is irony” (quoted in Wallace 2016, 23).
12. For an overview of these criticisms, see Suckling 2014. For a critique of
the white and male character of the concept, see Raworth 2014. For commen-
tary on the “dread” (or, in other words, gloom and doom) inherent in the
Anthropocene concept, see Whyte 2017b, especially p. 213.
Notes to Introduction  |  241
13. Frederick Buell comes to a similar conclusion, noting that “crisis dis-
course” “calls up a fierce and effective opposition with its predictions . . . [and]
exposes environmentalists to being called grim doomsters” (2003, 185).
14. See also Timothy Morton’s ideas in these regards: “Irony involves dis-
tancing and displacement, a moving from place to place, or even from homey
place into lonely space. Early ecological science developed terms resonant with
the idea of home” (2007, 98).
15. An Esquire report was titled “Two Male Lions Were Spotted Making
Sweet, Sweet Love in Botswana” (Wade 2016); while some might find the title
slightly mocking and thus homophobic, I see in it the kind of glee to which I am
referring—­a glee in finding that certain animals depart from our ideals of them.
16. However, as Weik von Mossner observes, “there is a growing interest
within [affect studies] in theorizing our affective engagements with environ-
mental narratives” (2017, 11). See Clough and Halley 2007; Ladino 2012 and
forthcoming; Houser 2014; Weik von Mossner 2014, 2017; Bladow and Ladino
17. However, recent developments such as the 2015 “Queer In/human-
isms” issue of GLQ suggest some potential for overlap.
18. I should say here that Halberstam finds this repertoire to be limited,
directing our attention instead to affects such as “rage, rudeness, anger, spite,
impatience, intensity, mania, sincerity, earnestness, over-­investment, incivility,
brutal honesty, and disappointment” (2011, 110). As I have suggested, many of
those affects actually constitute the status quo in environmentalist art, activism,
and discourse. Thus, within the political context I am discussing, they are much
less interesting. See note 20 below.
19. The post paraphrased Ben Lerner’s (2017) more subjective statement:
“All of [ John] Berger’s work—­which includes poems, novels, drawings, paint-
ings, and screenwriting—­is to me a beautiful and bracing argument that politi-
cal commitment requires maintaining a position of wonder.”
20. I must point out here that scholars of “negative” or “bad” feelings often
fail to fully contextualize that designation or acknowledge its relativity—­
prompting readers to ask, Negative to whom? Bad in what setting? (See, for
example, Ngai 2005, 1.) I aim to avoid this pitfall. Indeed, my designation of
certain affects as “bad” within the context of mainstream environmentalism is cru-
cial; while, for example, scholars such as Love seek to reclaim “bad” feelings
such as shame, regret, and nostalgia from a queer standpoint, such feelings are
actually de rigueur, and considered politically “good,” in many environmentalist
contexts. Relatedly, it should be acknowledged that scholars such as Morton and
LeMenager have launched conversations around environment and negative
affect with their respective ideas of “dark ecology” and “petro-­melancholia.” In
242  |  Notes to Introduction
this book, however, I am not interested in those kinds of serious feelings. After
all, as complaints about “gloom and doom” suggest, plenty of mainstream envi-
ronmentalist discourse is already dark and melancholic. Thus, I use “bad” to
mean not “dark” or “negative” but “inappropriate” or “improper.”
21. Some environmental artists, and not just critics, conceive of their work
instrumentally. Literary scholar Derek Woods has studied the way that authors
of “cli-­fi,” or climate change fiction, see it as a “purpose-­built genre” (2016, 2).
He quotes writer Sarah Holding’s (2015) recent declaration that, “as a cli-­fi
author, I can do more than I ever could as an architect to change our circum-
stances” (2). Similarly, Ellen Briana Szabo, author of the guide Saving the World
One Word at a Time: Writing Cli-­Fi, declares, “Cli-­fi is fiction with a mission”
(2015, 1).
22. To take one example, the Mexican performance art/activist group
Supercívicos “confront[s] the absurd situations that arise from the absence of
rule of law with irony and sarcasm,” as group member Arturo Hernández told
the New York Times. Hernández describes the group’s work—­which includes
calling out polluters, illegal parkers, and other municipal nuisances through
humorous stunts—­as unique to their cultural context: “What we are trying to
do is confront people with our own Mexican nature, our corrupt ‘gene,’ and we
do it with comedy.” See A. Ahmed and Villegas 2016.
One can also find irony and humor in the situation described by environ-
mental science and policy scholar Noémi Gonda (2017), in which Nicaraguan
cattle farmers patiently indulge NGO workers training them to convert to the
more sustainable (but less lucrative and masculine) role of cocoa producer—­and
then quickly return to cattle as soon as they can.
23. For coverage of this controversy, see Bassist 2012.
24. For example, Peak, Queers for the Climate, and The Goode Family have
received no formal scholarly attention to date, as far as I can tell. Idiocracy, Wild-
boyz, Green Porno, the Eggplant Faerie Players, the Lesbian National Parks
and Services, Goodbye Gauley Mountain, Kath & Kim, The Simpsons Movie, and
Carnage have been mentioned in a very small handful of scholarly works (Idioc-
racy in one, Green Porno in two, etc.) The work of Edward Abbey, Sherman
Alexie, and Percival Everett has received considerably more scholarly attention,
though not necessarily in the same context as I treat them here. Meanwhile,
entire genres of environmental art, such as stand-­up comedy, have been largely
25. Meeker and other scholars such as Frederick Buell (2003), Jacob Dar-
win Hamblin (2013), and Douglas Torgerson (1999) believe—­and I agree—­that
“the tragic outlook [is] the problem, not the solution” (Torgerson 1999, 86)
when it comes to the environment. Meeker also finds that humor can help break
Notes to Chapter 1  |  243
down human arrogance, so often the cause of environmental destruction. Most
interestingly, perhaps, he contends that “both ecological succession and natural
selection are aimless processes that work . . . in opportunistic and inventive ways
to create new forms [suited] to the conditions of life in a given time and place.
They are like play in their purposelessness and spontaneity” (Meeker [1974]
1997, 107). Likewise, I am interested in texts and affects that do not necessarily
seem “useful.”
For discussion of the humor/comedy and environment connection, see
recent work by scholars such as Parham, Michael P. Branch (especially his 2014
academic essay, “Are You Serious? A Modest Proposal for Environmental
Humor,” and his 2017 nonacademic essay collection, Rants from the Hill), Kath-
erine R. Chandler (2014), Marilyn DeLaure (2011), and David Farrier (2014).
26. Margaret Ronda’s thoughtful reading of my work pushed me toward
this conclusion in particular.
27. Conversations with Barry Muchnick, Jennifer Price, and Aaron Sachs
inspired my discussion of this video.
28. Since this book went into production, several women have accused
Sherman Alexie (discussed at length in chapter 4) of sexual misconduct. A few
other male artists and academics whom I discuss in passing, including Aziz
Ansari and Morgan Spurlock, have been met with similar accusations.
29. Ingram is actually referring to sentimental fare—­the opposite of what I
look at. That is to say, his question is really, What if a text is good in environ-
mentalist terms but bad in aesthetic terms—­baldly didactic rather than elegantly
artistic?, whereas my driving question is, What if a text is good in environmen-
talist terms but bad in affective terms? Thus, I repurpose his question for my
30. Here, I am thinking of the likes of Aldo Leopold’s declaration in A Sand
County Almanac that “it is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to the land
can exist without love, respect, and admiration” ([1949] 1986, 223). This book
suggests that it is well past time to rethink the role of such affective modes in
environmental relations.

1. “I’m No Botanist, But . . .”

1. The group was launched in 2012, long before Trump’s candidacy.
However, the description on the group’s Facebook page evinces anticonserva-
tive sympathies, stating, “we feel [Idiocracy’s status] should be changed to ‘docu-
mentary’ as it holds more truth than most docs such as ‘2016: Obama’s
America’”—­a reference to the “character assassination” film produced by con-
servative pundit Dinesh D’Souza.
244  |  Notes to Chapter 1
2. After a controversial limited release by Twentieth Century Fox, Idiocracy
earned a total domestic theatrical gross of $444,093—­a definite bomb by feature-­
length fiction film standards, though quite healthy for the low-­and mid-­budget
environmental documentaries I discuss elsewhere in this chapter. (As a point of
comparison, The 11th Hour [dir. Nadia Conners, 2007, U.S.], with the starpower
of narrator Leonardo DiCaprio, earned a domestic total gross of $707,343, while
Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? earned $244,995.) Idiocracy has
since gone on to earn $9 million on DVD, more than twenty times its initial
theatrical gross. Interestingly, Judge’s previous film, Office Space (1999), has fol-
lowed a similar trajectory. For full coverage of the film’s history, see Garcia 2006.
3. Licensed and produced in limited quantities by Omni Consumer Prod-
ucts, unopened cans of Brawndo can still occasionally be had on eBay. See Rob
Walker’s (2008) account of the bizarre Brawndo tie-­in.
4. Trump infamously launched the “birther” movement, which cast doubt
on President Obama’s U.S. citizenship. For a list of the many conspiracy theo-
ries to which he has given voice or support, see Tashman 2016.
5. Some have suggested that the notion of a postfactual era is overstated.
See, for example, Mantzarlis 2016.
6. For instance, a section of the Guide’s “Global Warming” chapter, titled
“Peddling Fear,” reports, “Stanford climatologist Stephen Schneider, winner of
a MacArthur Fellow ‘Genius’ award in 1992, was quoted as saying: ‘We have to
offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little
mention of any doubts we might have’” (Bethell 2005, 2). Bethell uses this quo-
tation as evidence of the flawed nature of climate science—­rather than the need
to communicate that science to skeptical audiences such as himself.
7. I proceed here in the spirit of scholars who have recently suggested that
we take climate denialism/skepticism seriously—­or, at least, try to understand it.
See, for example, Garrard, Goodbody, Handley, and Posthumus, forthcoming.
8. See, for instance, Mantey 2017.
9. For instance, Noël Sturgeon has argued that a “relentlessly critical
examination of claims to the natural is the best way to learn to respect natural
beings and processes (including our own natural status as animal-­humans or
humanimals)” (2009, 23). Of course, one could say that there has been a recent
move away from poststructuralism and critical suspicion in our so-­called post-
theory era. See, for example, New Materialist critiques of poststructuralism or
Rita Felski’s work in “After Suspicion” (2009) and The Limits of Critique (2015).
It would certainly be ironic indeed if the baton of skepticism has been passed
from progressives and academics to conservatives and anti-­intellectuals.
10. Speaking of alternative facts, I misspelled Guggenheim’s first name as
“David” in my first book. Sorry!
Notes to Chapter 1  |  245
11. As far as I can tell, the only academic work that treats Idiocracy in depth
is my own “Irony and Contemporary Ecocinema” (Seymour 2014b), on which
this chapter builds. The film receives a brief mention in Sean Brayton’s article
“The Racial Politics of Disaster and Dystopia in I Am Legend” (2011), in which
he refers to Idiocracy as a “dystopian farce” and includes it in a list of sci-­fi films
featuring black presidents.
12. Tan’s definition of a “natural audience” or “natural viewers” is “all those
persons who consider it conceivable that, if the opportunity presented itself,
they would choose to see [the] film [in question]” (2011, 10). Applying Tan’s
findings more pointedly, Ingram observes that “if the audience for eco-­films is
self-­selecting in this way, such films may only be preaching to the converted”
(2013, 48). See my discussion of the “preaching” trope that so often surrounds
ecomedia, later in this chapter.
13. Many queer ecologists and trans-studies scholars have cautioned against
the demonization of the “abnormal” or the “synthetic” in environmental cam-
paigns, considering how that language has been used against LGBTQ folks.
See, for example, Azzarello 2016.
14. See, for example, Alex Preiss’s (2009) review.
15. The book version of Beavan’s project is titled No Impact Man: The
Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries
He Makes about Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process (2009). This title is
strikingly similar to Watson’s book, Crap at the Environment: A Year in the Life of
One Man Trying to Save the Planet (2008).
16. The same lack of diversity can be found in many other environmental
documentaries. Just Eat It, for example, includes only one nonwhite interviewee;
the only other person of color featured in the latter film is a woman at a food
bank who receives free potatoes.
17. To offer another example, when Vishner points out that Beavan’s wife’s
job at Business Week props up the corporate capitalism that creates environmen-
tal problems in the first place, Beavan sputters and stammers, admitting that
there’s “definitely an irony . . . involved in that.” But the issue is never addressed
18. Some cultural commentators have recently theorized the dearth of
conservative comedians (see Morrison 2015). More specifically, film and humor
studies scholar Maggie Hennefeld states, bluntly, “Trump has . . . revealed a
remarkable lack of facility with the language play necessary for wit and humor”
19. We see these complaints, for example, all over The Politically Incorrect
Guide to Science (Bethell 2005) and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warm-
ing and Environmentalism (Horner 2007).
246  |  Notes to Chapter 1
20. As anthropologist Elliott Oring states, “The range of depth of the cul-
tural knowledge that may be required for understanding humor can be consid-
erable” (1992, 8).
21. See David Bordwell’s schema at http://www.cinemetrics.lv/bordwell
.php. As a point of reference, An Inconvenient Truth largely maintains that typical
average shot length of four to six seconds.
22. As one German colleague said to me after watching the shots of the
skiers and snowboarders, “These are people having their picture taken, a time-­
honored tradition when visiting the Alps.” I should acknowledge here that Peak
speaks not just to tourist media such as postcards and photographs, or to docu-
mentary film traditions, but also to more specific regional, cultural, and national
film genres—­including the Bergfilm (“mountain film”) and Heimatfilm (“home-
land film”). First, its German title, Über Allen Gipfeln (“Above All Summits” or
“Above All Peaks”), is taken from a lyric by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, later
set to music by Franz Schubert. Indeed, as the Goethe Institut (2011) stated in
their award announcement for the film, “The systematic destruction of alpine
nature and the loss of one’s native country set a radical end to the genre expecta-
tion of the traditional ‘Heimatfilm,’ a kind of sentimental film with a regional
background and happy end.” See also Eric Rentschler’s classic article “Moun-
tains and Modernity: Relocating the Bergfilm” (1990).
23. The original Dartmouth study was titled “When Corrections Fail: The
Persistence of Political Misperceptions” (Nyhan and Reifler 2010).
24. Media pieces such as William Booth’s “‘The Goracle’ Goes Glitz: His
Indie Film Made Him Global Celebrity” (2007), employ this nickname.
25. For these and other reasons, I disagree with recent critiques of the film,
such as Matt Novak’s finger-­wagging thinkpiece, “Idiocracy Is a Cruel Movie and
You Should Be Ashamed for Liking It” (2014).
26. Of course, adaptation is easier for some populations than for others.
See, for example, Whyte 2017a for a discussion of how “settler colonialism seeks
to erase Indigenous peoples’ adaptive capacity and self-­determination” (92).
Through my discussion of the traditional inhabitants of Südtirol in particular, I
hope to have shown that adaptation is not necessarily something to celebrate,
but it is a reality nonetheless. Peak and Idiocracy might therefore be best described
as absurdist, not just absurd: capturing how life carries on, somehow, without a
guarantee of success.

2. “So Much to See, So Little to Learn”

1. See interviews such as Carle 2005 and Greene 2015 for more on Pon-
tius’s and Steve-­O’s respective vegetarianism and veganism.
Notes to Chapter 2  |  247
2. The long-­running NBC program Wild Kingdom—­which premiered in
1963, ended in 1988, and was revived by Animal Planet in 2002—­could be con-
sidered a precursor to Wildboyz. Like the latter, Wild Kingdom took viewers to
far-­flung locales across the globe. And it had a distinct class element (see the
“Slide Shows and Side Shows” section of this chapter for a discussion of Wild-
boyz and class): as Gregg Mitman describes, “When [host] Marlin Perkins asked
[animal handler Willie] Renner about his special talents . . . Renner described
himself as a ‘hillbilly’ who grew up on a farm in southern Illinois. Perkins also
identified himself as a ‘hillbilly.’ . . . The explicit rural, anti-­intellectual connota-
tions of ‘hillbilly’ foregrounded experiential knowledge over scientific training”
([1999] 2009, 139). Wild Kingdom was also a spinoff, emerging from Zoo Parade.
But the similarities with Wildboyz seem to end there.
3. Some scholars use terms like “natural history” or “wildlife” film or tele-
vision, but I prefer the more inclusive “nature/wildlife programming.” More-
over, I consider film and television alongside each other for several reasons.
First, many of the same works have been presented through both media. For
example, Disney pilfered its True-­Life Adventures documentary film series for its
TV hour (Molloy 2012, 165). Green Porno actually spans all of the so-­called four
screens; it can be seen at film festivals, on television, on computer (as both DVD
and web series), and on mobile devices—­thus “expand[ing] notions of distribu-
tion and exhibition” (Sinwell 2010, 124). Second, nature/wildlife programming
often employs the same conventions across multiple media.
4. Claire Molloy claims that the “anthropomorphic Disney True-­Life
Adventures . . . establish[ed] and formalize[d] the conventions of the [nature/
wildlife] genre in the late 1940s” (2012, 166). Wildboyz and Green Porno certainly
respond to those conventions, as I discuss throughout this chapter. However, as
I suggest, they also respond to imperatives and conventions that have sur-
rounded the genre since its turn-­of-­the-­century inception.
5. See media scholar Cynthia Chris’s (2006, 2012) discussions of Wildboyz.
In Seymour 2012 I offer a brief discussion of the program and in Seymour 2015
I take an in-­depth look at its use of drag. (This chapter takes a different approach
to the program, focusing on its relationship to the generic and affective con­
ventions of nature/wildlife programming and environmentalism.) As for Green
Porno, it receives a brief discussion in O’Driscoll 2013 and a more sustained look
in Sinwell 2010. To the best of my knowledge, these six pieces constitute the
academic body of work on these texts.
6. These reservations are evident when, for example, Cronon reflects
that, “more often than not, this [mandate to make audiences care about an ani-
mal] tempts filmmakers to project onto nonhuman creatures attributes that we
typically associate with human beings” (1996, xiv).
248  |  Notes to Chapter 2
7. Steve-­O is similarly forthcoming in his autobiography Professional Idiot
(Glover 2011), admitting that footage from the “South Africa” episode, in which
he and Pontius dress up like zebras and get chased by two lions, was actually
filmed on an animal preserve in California.
8. We can link these features back to the skateboarding culture from which
Jackass and Wildboyz emerged. Skateboarding, even as it trades on the unpre-
dictability and danger of real-­life, in-­time performances, has an equally impor-
tant existence as filmed art: skaters regularly film themselves doing tricks so as to
later prove to others that they could, at least once, accomplish those tricks. As
Steve-­O explains in his autobiography, “Skateboarders have always had a special
relationship with video cameras. . . . In just about any other sport, if you want to
get noticed, you do it by winning competitions. In skateboarding, if you wanted
to get sponsored, you made videos of yourself to show to skate shop owners or
to send to skateboard and apparel companies. As video cameras became com-
mon household items, skateboarders were already ahead of the curve and
uniquely positioned to take television production into their own hands, a fact
that would eventually prove significant in the birth [of Jackass]” (Glover 2011,
locs. 482–­87 of 4706, Kindle). Jackass was co-­created in 2000 by Spike Jonze, the
art-­house auteur who started his career making skating videos; Jeff Tremaine,
who was running the skateboarding magazine Big Brother; and Johnny Knox-
ville, whose stunts were first featured in Big Brother’s spinoff videos. In addition
to Knoxville, Steve-­O and Pontius are also amateur skaters, and Pontius was a
former employee of Big Brother.
9. See, for example, the soundtrack for the colony collapse disorder docu-
mentary Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? (Siegel 2010), discussed
in chapter 1.
10. Recall here how narrative theorists have established the masculinist and
heteronormative underpinnings of classical narrative form. See Winnett 1990.
11. A handful of nature/wildlife TV shows and films have focused on sexual
elements in recent years, such as the documentary When Animals Attract (Fox,
2004, U.S.) and the short-­lived TV series Wild Sex (National Geographic, 2005,
UK), but the sexuality in question is never that of the hosts.
12. Importantly, neither does Wildboyz make a homonormative, anthropo-
morphic attempt to legitimate same-­sex desire by locating it in nature—­as so
many other artists, activists, and scholars have. That is to say, whenever the
Boyz locate or enact queerness in relation to the nonhuman, the ridiculousness
of these scenarios bars against sentimental advocacy. As Anna M. Giannini
observes, referring to stage plays inspired by the so-­called gay penguin couple of
Central Park Zoo, “The theriomorphic imposition of animal characteristics, in
this case penguin, onto gay men works in gay men’s favor, reminding us that the
Notes to Chapter 2  |  249
type of animal matters. . . . Penguins are cute. . . . [They] are endearing creatures
that possess a certain level of nobility in the way that they collaboratively hatch
eggs and rear chicks” (2012, 128). In contrast, the Boyz queer animals that are
not cute or noble to begin with (the batfish, the baboon) or treat noble animals
(the elephant, the moose) in ignoble ways precisely by queering them. Similarly,
while Rossellini seems to engage in queer work by resignifying the purpose of
body parts and demonstrating the diversity of ways to copulate and reproduce—­
“we limpets are sequential hermaphrodites,” Rossellini announces in one book
segment; “to reproduce I don’t need a penis or a vagina,” she tells us in another—­
she stops short of exploiting these facts to normalize human behaviors such as
transgenderism or adoption.
13. We might consider, further, how the Boyz’s interest in aesthetically dis-
pleasing animals may represent a latent environmental ethos. As Randy Mal-
amud asks, “Are we prone to fetishize the rarer animals, the eagles and pandas,
precisely because they are endangered and thus serve as evidence of our superior
skills of survival over them, indicating our greater power, while we seem power-
less to control prairie dogs and rats?” (2013, ix). By this logic, the Boyz’s interest
in the likes of the latter (not to mention their ignorance and ineptitude) under-
cuts human superiority.
14. As Lockwood continues, “disgust—­ the negative form of the sub-
lime—­is hidden away by nature guides and park officials who frame and inter-
pret experiences for the public. The Grand Canyon may be a more powerful
encounter of the sublime than is Brachystola magna [the lubber grasshopper
who defecates and vomits], but what if we had not only lookout points for folks
to contemplate the abyss but gross-­out points with a decomposing deer seething
with maggots, a pile of coyote scat, or a hawked-­up owl pellet?” (2013, 282).
Wildboyz and Green Porno seem to offer us such “gross-­out points.”
15. This idea is crucial to my argument, insofar as ecocritics and others
have critiqued nature/wildlife programming from an environmentalist stand-
point. I mean to show that, despite this history of critique, Wildboyz and Green
Porno can be understood as responses to both environmentalism and nature/
wildlife programming.
16. To give a few random examples: before watching the program, I did not
know about the Florida sea turtle’s plight; the existence of wildlife preserves in
Kenya and Rwanda; the popularity of street skateboarding in Brazil; or the exis-
tence of several specific species, such as the “lace monitor” lizard.
17. See Seymour 2015 for a fuller discussion of the use of the body in
18. Though perhaps less obvious, Green Porno also seems to invoke, and
parody, elite or pretentious forms such as poetry readings, performance art, and
250  |  Notes to Chapter 2
avant-­garde theater. For example, the book segment on shrimp features the
text, “My armor-­like skin is too tight / I would have to undress / I would have to
molt,” paired with a picture of Rossellini theatrically breaking free from her
stylized shell, her face in the spotlight.
19. Several scholars and journalists, including Jonathan Miller (2005), Jack
Halberstam (2008), Noël Sturgeon (2009), and Anna Giannini (2012), have
discussed the use of penguins for both homophobic/heteronormative and
homonorative/gay rights ends. Sturgeon, in fact, refers to the politicization of
the animals as “penguin family values” in her essay of the same name.
20. Cynthia Chris (2012) reads this scene quite differently. In Seymour
2015, I describe my reasons for disagreeing with such readings.
21. As Mitman observes, “For a long time, broadcasters and filmmakers
alike assumed that ‘if people know about it, they’ll care for it, and do some-
thing’” ([1999] 2009, 217). He quotes Bill McKibben from his 1992 book The
Age of Missing Information—­ “Virtually everyone in the industrialized world
has . . . seen many hours of gorgeous nature films. . . . And yet we’re still not
willing to do anything very drastic to save that world”—­concluding, “awareness
is not enough” (217).
22. Chris sees the “expedition film” as a precursor to wildlife filmmaking,
reporting that “white American or European adventurers, usually in East Africa
or the South Pacific, [would be] assisted by indigenous bearers and guides as
they gathered footage of lands, animals, and peoples approached as little-­known,
exotic spoils of the colonial legacy” (2012, 155).
23. Here, I am reminded of Horace Miner’s infamous satirical piece, “Body
Ritual among the Nacirema,” published in the journal American Anthropologist in
1956. “Nacirema,” as some readers deduced, is “American” spelled backward.

3. Climate Change Is a Drag and Camping Can Be Campy

1. Calypso music—­an Afro-­Caribbean style that often employs instru-
ments such as bongo drums and maracas—­has long functioned as a form of
political communication. Musicologists trace its development back to West
African people enslaved by the French in Trinidad.
2. A bio queen is a female-­identified, assigned-­female-­at-­birth performer
who adopts exaggerated feminine styles, often in the service of critiquing or
parodying female gender norms. Synonyms include “faux queen,” “female
female impersonator” and “female impersonator impersonator.”
3. For this reason, I disagree with Robert Azzarello’s idea that “a logic of
reproductive heteronormativity may ironically be to blame” for environmen-
tal degradation. As he states, “We take so many environmental risks precisely
Notes to Chapter 3  |  251
because we believe so fully in the reproductive capacity of human beings and
‘nature’ in general to fix the damage done” (2012, 138). I think this belief is
actually a disingenuous one, and that capitalist projects of exploitation usually
proceed with full knowledge of their destructive consequences. What is truly
ironic is that the same people who talk so sentimentally about the future, who so
vigorously defend “nature” and “the natural,” do not care about it in practice.
See Seymour 2013 for a fuller discussion of this point.
4. See T. Dean 2006 on the parallels between queer-­theoretical positions
and conservative political positions.
5. “Artivism” is a portmanteau of “art” and “activism.” An early academic
usage appears in Sandoval and Latorre 2008.
6. While a fair amount has been published on “environmental theater,”
that phrase refers to a different phenomenon than I have in mind here: theater
produced at a specific site other than a formal theater. See, for example, Schech-
ner 1973.
7. Like Giannini, theater scholar Una Chaudhuri has published on queer
animal performance, though this work does not always explicitly engage with
environmental issues. See, for example, Chaudhuri and Hughes 2014. However,
as my epigraph indicates, Chaudhuri’s work with Shonni Enelow provides us
with a conceptual model for theorizing queer/environmental/performance.
8. For a background summary, see Seymour 2018.
9. The feminist killjoy or lesbian-­feminist killjoy—­recently reclaimed by
scholars such as Sara Ahmed (2017)—­is an analogous figure. Chapter 5 discusses
the figure of the killjoy environmentalist in greater depth.
10. Here, Schneider and Miller discuss philosopher Kate Soper’s (2008)
concept of “alternative hedonism,” which attempts to move away from the guilt
and self-­flagellation associated with mainstream environmentalism and toward
pleasure—­say, the pleasure one can derive from walking instead of driving, or
from consuming farmers market produce rather than processed foods. While
Soper’s idea of hedonism is much more chaste than my own, I nonetheless
appreciate her attempt to connect pleasure with environmentalism. However, I
worry that alternative hedonism can very easily slip into those affective modes
and sensibilities that mainstream environmentalism already demonstrates in
spades, such as self-­righteousness and sanctimony. Moreover, as Schneider and
Miller admit, the concept “is primarily applicable to an affluent, privileged class”
(2011, 472).
11. Many other individuals have performed with the Players over the last
several years. The Players’ name echoes the Radical Faeries, a mostly gay male
separatist group with intentional living communities in Tennessee, North Caro-
lina, and elsewhere. Herring 2010 offers a useful background on the Faeries.
252  |  Notes to Chapter 3
With the exception of a 2013 master’s thesis and a 2015 chapter by Ezra Berke-
ley Nepon, nothing academic has been written specifically on IDA or the Egg-
plant Faerie Players (nor on Queers for the Climate), to my knowledge.
12. In 2008 I was finishing my PhD and had become interested in queer
ecology. I contacted MaxZine and he invited me to visit; we weeded side by side
and chatted about IDA and the Eggplant Faerie Players. Two years later, having
moved a few hours north to Kentucky, I had the chance to see a live Players
13. At the risk of overcomplicating things, it must also be said that while
queer theory has been historically engaged with modes such as “gaiety,” it has
also taken a recent turn toward “mourning and melancholia” (Warner 2012, xii),
with books such as Heather Love’s Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer
History (2007). In this sense, queer theory has slid closer toward the categories
of affect that, as I have suggested throughout this book, animate environmental
politics in a problematic way. (See Seymour 2018, in which I distinguish between
“bad” as in negative affects and “bad” as in inappropriate affects.) The queer
environmental performances I look at here, instead, insist on “gaiety” as both a
queer and an environmental ethos, even as they face devastating issues such as
climate change.
14. See, for example, Gillespie 2007, especially p. 43.
15. Political economist Robert Crawford first used the term “healthism” in
the 1980s. It has since been taken up by various figures within and outside the
medical profession. Humanities scholars such as Sarah Jaquette Ray (2013)
engage with the general concept of healthism, though they do not necessarily
use the term.
16. For example, in 1997, the same year as the emergence of the LNPS, U.S.
comedian Ellen DeGeneres came out with a Time magazine cover that announced,
“Yep, I’m Gay.” The trend has continued with, for example, Canadian actress
Ellen Page announcing at a 2014 Human Rights Campaign gala, “I’m gay.”
17. A recent episode of the Amazon program Transparent (“Man on the
Land,” dir. Jill Soloway, 2015) set at a queer “womyn’s” music festival parodied
many of these stereotypes: “I don’t really know what I’m eating,” transgender
matriarch Maura says to her daughters. “It’s nut loaf,” one daughter replies.
“Well, that doesn’t really help me. Is it meat? Is it nuts?” Maura queries. “It’s
cardboard covered with gravy,” the other daughter replies—­then announces,
“Alright, I’m going to go see the, um, Crying Ass Shaman Bear.”
18. Interestingly, those who write about the LNPS, myself included, seem
compelled to include puns in their work—­“Homos on the Range” (Domet
2003), “Camping Out with the Lesbian National Parks and Services” (LeBel
2005), and so on.
Notes to Chapter 4  |  253
19. This message, the internet tag for the campaign, can be found in vari-
ous iterations throughout its website and related materials. See https://itgets
better.org/. The campaign has inspired at least two other take-­offs, both from
the South Asian transgender performance art duo Dark Matter ( Janani Balasu-
bramanian and Alok Vaid-­Menon). The duo recently embarked on their “It
Gets Bitter” tour and have performed a poem that directly calls out Savage,
titled “It Gets Bougie” (as in, more bourgeois).
20. Merchant 2014 refers to the video as a “tongue-­in-­cheek documentary.”

4. Animatronic Indians and Black Folk Who Don’t

1. The revised poem in TwERK does away with this ending altogether,
substituting a version of an earlier, less conclusive, and less dramatic line: “a
fallen branch is mistaken for an eel” (2013, 37).
2. One of Diggs’s footnotes, about an unrelated line, furthers this reading:
“taken from the First United Church of the Fisher Price® Record Player Web
3. Of course, countless other histories of racialized environmental alien-
ation exist, from Mexican dispossession of what are currently Southwestern
U.S. lands to Japanese Americans’ loss of family farms during World War II–­era
internment. Wald 2016 and Ybarra 2016 describe those histories and various
responses to them. However, environmental stereotypes about, say, Latinx or
Asian American communities are not as prominent as those about Native Amer-
icans and African Americans. Indeed, one could argue that the lack of stereo-
types around the former groups indicates an even more severe erasure of their
environmental histories.
4. It was later revealed that the “Crying Indian” was portrayed by an Ital-
ian American actor, Espera Oscar de Corti. See Dunaway 2017 for a recent
5. For these reasons, Ray has described Native Americans as “ecological
others,” despite the Ecological Indian stereotype. Interestingly, Kimberly Ruf-
fin (2010) uses the same phrase to describe African Americans. In short, like
Native Americans, African Americans are systematically alienated from nature
and then blamed for that alienation. In addition, even despite the Ecological
Indian stereotype, nature writing or environmental literature anthologies rarely
include Native American fiction and poetry; as scholars such as Joni Adamson
have explained, such anthologies seem to conceive of nature as something sepa-
rate from and elevated over, daily human life (2001, 17).
6. This stereotype seems to stretch back rather far. Literary scholar Dan-
iel F. Littlefield Jr. has uncovered related comments from George Riley Hall, a
254  |  Notes to Chapter 4
white friend of Creek poet, journalist, and humorist Alex Posey, from the late
1800s: “Some folks think the Indian has no sense of humor, but that is far from
true. . . . Indian humor is keen—­at times simply devastating” (1997, 72). Scholar
of cross-­ cultural medicine Ruth A. Dean refers to writer Louise Erdrich’s
(Anishinaabe) belief that “creation and enjoyment of ironic survival humor may
be one of the few universal characteristics shared across tribes” (2003, 63, draw-
ing on Nilsen and Nilsen 2000). See also Hymes 1979, especially p. ix, for a
discussion of unrecognized traditions of Native American humor. Finally, see
Poupart (Lac Du Flambeau Ojibwe) 2003 for a discussion of Native Americans’
supposed incapacity for feeling and, more specifically, for mourning and grieving.
7. Thanks to Salma Monani for alerting me to this group. For an Indig-
enous feminist critique of the 1491s, see Mailhot (Seabird Island Band) 2017.
For academic coverage of the 1491s, see Tahmahkera (Comanche) 2014; Ber-
glund 2016. The members of the 1491s are known for their art and activism
beyond the troupe; Dallas Goldtooth, for instance, is an organizer for the Indig-
enous Environmental Network.
8. For example, Fagan (2010) speculates that LGBTQ Indigenous artists
such as the playwright Tomson Highway (Cree) may be attracted to the gender
bending found in some iterations of the trickster. See also Monani 2014 on stra-
tegic essentialism and the Ecological Indian. Jennifer Ladino has commented
on the apparent contradiction that emerges here: “Consistent with the self-­
contradictory noble savage stereotype, Indians can be, on one hand, romanticized
as uber-­emotional . . . and, on the other hand, deprived of the affectively marked
agency traditionally invoked to demarcate the limits of ‘the human’” (2013a, 43).
9. Among many others, see Armbruster and Wallace 2001; Hicks 2006;
Outka 2008; Claborn 2014; Anderson 2016.
10. In addition to Adamson, Ladino, David L. Moore, and Ray—­all cited
in this chapter—­ecocritics such as Robin L. Murray and Joseph Heumann
(2009) have written on Alexie. I should also clarify that I am certainly not the
first scholar to notice Alexie’s deployment of modes such as humor and irony.
However, scholars rarely frame this deployment in terms of affect studies, and
none, to my knowledge, have linked it to either African American traditions or
other pop cultural instances of what I call “bad environmentalism.”
Meanwhile, Russett claims that the “diversity” of Everett’s work—­
generic­ally, formally, tonally, and so on—­makes him “exceptionally difficult to
categorize (a market consideration) or to evaluate (a more properly critical
one)” (2005, 363). One exception to this neglect is Everett’s best-­known novel,
Erasure (2001a), in which a black professor writes a parody of a “ghetto” novel,
only to find it become a best seller; while still relatively marginal, Erasure has
been treated by many literary critics.
Notes to Chapter 4  |  255
11. Alaimo provides an interesting meditation on Everett’s modus ope-
randi. As she writes of Watershed, “Perhaps the disjunction between the post-
modern narrative form and the business-­as-­usual model of objective scientific
practice that the protagonist espouses suggests that playful postmodernism may
inhabit its own discursive universe, segregated from material practices, such as
hydrology. The novel doubles back on itself, as it becomes skeptical about post-
modern skepticism, articulating a politically engaged quest for (scientific) truth”
(2010, 67). Frédéric Dumas claims that, “just as Huckleberry Finn ‘got to light
out for the Territory’ . . . , most of Everett’s characters find refuge in the wil­
derness. In true Thoreauvian fashion, Everett’s West . . . expresses the soul of
America as well as the soul of the individual” (2013, 226). Dumas thus oversim-
plifies the journeys of Everett’s characters and, strangely, does not acknowledge
the larger historical context of black alienation from nature.
12. Indeed, by one view, the pairing of Native American and African Amer-
ican writing is ironic in and of itself. As I hope to show, however, the environ-
mental and other injustices experienced by both groups ultimately position
them as more similar than not. I do not mean to suggest that Alexie and Everett,
or the four pop cultural works I examine, are the last word in this sense. We can
find answers in several other works, including novels such as Ishmael Reed’s Yel-
low Back Radio Broke-­Down (1969), Erdrich’s Love Medicine (1984), Thomas
King’s (Cherokee) Medicine River (1989), and Blake Hausman’s (Cherokee) Rid-
ing the Trail of Tears (2011); poetry such as Tim Seibles’s collection Buffalo Head
Solos (2004); and nonliterary/visual media, such as Wendy Red Star’s (Crow)
Four Seasons series (2006).
13. The poem “Tuxedo with Eagle Feathers” (in Alexie 2009) also offers an
incisive response to Cook-­Lynn.
14. See also M. Johnson 2014 for a discussion of Everett as a “post-­soul”
15. See also Handley 2005, especially pp. 305–­6.
16. See, for example, “A Good Home for Hachita” and “Esteban” in Ever-
ett’s 1987 collection The Weather and the Women Treat Me Fair.
17. Later, Russett states that Everett “ask[s] readers to examine their
assumptions about the default nature of whiteness” (2005, 361). But it seems
that Everett has actually encouraged at least this one critic toward something
like the “default nature of blackness.”
18. BB Trane could be considered in light of the (supposedly) ironic twists
discussed above: as he tells us deep into the story, “I, your narrator, am in fact
BB Trane and not some disembodied entity, but instead rather heavily bodied
and pigeon-­toed” (2001b, 81). We could also link this figure to the character of
Bubba, the black sidekick of protagonist and narrator Curt Marder in Everett’s
256  |  Notes to Chapter 4
1994 novel God’s Country—­which, like Grand Canyon, Inc., is an outlandish farce.
As Michael K. Johnson observes of that work, “As we often have to look to the
margins of historical accounts of the West to see the real presence of African
Americans, so do we have to look to the margins of the story Marder tells to find
out about Bubba” (2014, 9).
19. This stunt has inspired many others—­most recently, the painting of a
dotted line and a pair of scissors on a dam in Ojai, California. Everett is not the
first writer to dream of the demise of the Glen Canyon Dam. Writer, anti-­dam
activist, and Earth First! supporter Edward Abbey featured radical anti-­dam
activists in his 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang (discussed in chapter 5).
And writer Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo) imagined the dam’s collapse
in her 1991 novel Almanac of the Dead. Considering these multiple iterations,
historian Katrine Barber calls the dam collapse scenario “one of the most pow-
erful myths of the contemporary environmental movement” (1996, 127)—­or,
“because it actively subverts older, more mainstream myths of progress and
Manifest Destiny, [it] might be better termed a counter-­myth” (130).
20. These memes, I would argue, both reflect and ridicule the sacredness of
charismatic megafauna.
21. The novella contains several other similar scenes, such as when a local
turkey shoot contest resorts to “targets shaped and painted like turkeys instead
of actual turkeys because finally the sight of the large birds being blown to
smithereens was seen to upset the children. ‘These kids have gone soft,’ the old
timers said. ‘Why, we used to relish the sight of a good killing’” (2001b, 41).

5. Gas-­Guzzling, Beer-­Chugging Tree Huggers

1. See the introduction and chapter 3 for more discussion of these
2. As Turnbull puts it, “Using hand-­held cameras, natural light, a voice-­
over-­style narration and minus a laugh track, it is arguable that initially Kath &
Kim was as much a send-­up of reality TV as it was a send-­up of suburbia and the
suburban characters it portrayed” (2008, 24).
3. Lists of the “most bogan” baby names abound on the internet, while a
recent “listicle,” titled “21 Ways You Know You’re a Bogan,” included “Your car
has [several] of these features”: “custom exhaust,” “fully sick sound system,” and
“17+ chrome rims” (Crerar 2013). Once considered a thoroughly classist epi-
thet, “bogan” has in some instances been reclaimed—­indicating an ideological
instability not unlike Kath & Kim’s own ambiguity.
4. While this segment is clearly silly, we might remember, for example, a
British woman’s 2006 prosecution for failing to properly recycle—­a case seized
Notes to Chapter 5  |  257
upon, not surprisingly, by The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and
Environmentalism (Horner 2007, 34). The woman was eventually cleared. See
McCarthy 2006. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environ-
mentalism is a companion to The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (Bethell
2005), cited in chapter 1. The former points out, apparently in earnest, that
Earth Day just so happens to coincide with Lenin’s birthday (2007, 171).
5. The show also received mixed reviews from critics, though some are
quite telling. In the New York Times, Ginia Bellafante declared that “the show
feels aggressively off-­kilter with the current mood, as if it had been incubated
in the early to mid-­’90s, when it was possible to find global-­warming skeptics
among even the reasonable and informed. Who really thinks of wind power . . .
as mindless, left-­wing nonsense anymore?” (2009). At a time in which the cur-
rent U.S. president is seeking to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, I
would argue that The Goode Family is actually more relevant than ever. I should
also note here that The Goode Family bears a striking resemblance to the popular
1970s British sitcom The Good Life, in which a suburban couple tries to become
sustainable and self-­sufficient, to the horror of their conservative neighbors.
The female “frenemies” in both shows even share the same name, Margo. Thank
you to Matthew Paterson for pointing out this resemblance.
6. In her book The Vegan Studies Project: Food, Animals, and Gender in the
Age of Terror, Wright seems to speak to this phenomenon, though not its class
dimensions, using a 2000 episode of The Simpsons as an example. In “Lisa the
Tree Hugger,” our vegetarian heroine falls in love with an environmentalist
named Jesse Grass, who tells her, “I’m a level five vegan. I won’t eat anything
that casts a shadow” (Wright 2015, 5); as she observes, “Grass’s dismissal of
Lisa’s vegetarianism elevates his veganism as more pure and more aligned with
an environmental ethic; in this light, veganism is an arrogant confrontation and
a one-­upping of a presumed less rigorous (and therefore less serious) vegetarian
ideology” (6, emphasis added).
7. For more on Abbey’s activist roots and influence, see B. Taylor 2008;
L. Smith 2016. Smith’s article, curiously, makes almost no mention of The Mon-
key Wrench Gang’s bad affects, focusing instead on the elegiac and wondrous
nature of Abbey’s commentary elsewhere. For more on Abbey as a controversial
figure, see Barber 1996, especially p. 129; or Rozelle 2006, especially p. 91.
Scholars and fans have responded to this controversy with a varying mix of apo-
logia, defense, reentrenchment, and explanation; a common retort is that these
positions emerged from various writerly personae he crafted, including “Cactus
Ed” and even “Edward Abbey.”
8. I am far from the first to recognize what ecocritic Rebecca Raglon calls
The Monkey Wrench Gang’s “flamboyant . . . style” (1998, 172) and use of “a full
258  |  Notes to Chapter 5
array of comic devices,” including “exaggeration, parody, irony, ridicule, and
satire” (181). However, I add new facets to the study of this work by focusing on
issues like socioeconomic class and perfectionism/hypocrisy.
9. “Mr. Abbey’s most endearing virtue,” Wendell Berry argues, “is his
ability to . . . recount his most outrageous and self-­ embarrassing goof-­ ups,
with a bemused and gleeful curiosity. . . . How richly just and healthful is self-­
ridicule!” (1985, 15–­16).
10. This flaccid Smokey contrasts not only with his original family-­friendly
incarnation but also with recent revivals that figure him as a powerful or even
studly outlaw, in the wake of U.S. President Trump’s threats to the National
Park Service and ensuing backlash. See, for example, the T-­shirt design at
https://www.spreadshirt.com that depicts Smokey with his head down and a
flaming fist up, in the style of the Black Power salute; the fist forms the “I” in the
word “RESIST.”
11. My thinking here is, again, aligned with David Gessner, who states that
“part of Abbey’s appeal is that, even as he lectures us about our failings, he
simultaneously washes away some of the guilt. He is a big fat hypocrite and
he admits it, and there is something cleansing about this. . . . [His] behavior . . .
does not get me, or anyone else, off the hook. On the hook we belong and on
the hook we will stay. But it does offer the hope that one does not have to be pure
to fight” (2015, 165).
12. At the 2015 conference of the Association for the Study of Literature
and Environment in Moscow, Idaho, queer ecology scholar Cynthia Belmont
presented a paper on the film, while queer ecology/ecofeminist scholar Greta
Gaard hosted a public screening of it at the local art theater. Lauran Whit-
worth’s essay, which I quote in this chapter, is forthcoming in the journal Femi-
nist Theory. Otherwise, though, no work on the film has been published to date.
13. “The West Virginia Hills” is actually one of four official state songs of
West Virginia. The words were written by Ellen Ruddell King in 1883 and set
to music by Henry Everett Engle in 1886; Engle published the song in 1913.
See H. Young 2017.
14. Dogs play a crucial role in the film, developing a kind of “interspecies
ethic” (a phrase I borrow from Ladino 2013a). That is, the film regularly shows
how animals are affected by environmental injustice, and it allows them to
“speak” as much as possible. In one scene, for example, Stephens goes to visit
photographer Vivian Stockman, who, when her dog barks, jokes, “He’s upset
about mountaintop removal.” Or is it a joke? Stockman explains that she res-
cued the dog after he was dumped at an MTR site. Stephens then observes,
ironically, “First they kill the animals that lived there [by destroying habitat],
and then they dump other animals.” Both women then laugh ruefully. During
Notes to Conclusion  |  259
Stephens’s interview with Stockman, the camera captures an image of Stephens’s
bare foot resting on a dog’s hind paw—­a small image of cross-­species intercon-
nectivity. Gauley’s credits also include a list of dogs that appear in the film.
15. As Whitworth sees it, Stephens and Sprinkle’s communal performances
parody both “evangelical religion and the ‘wedding-­industrial complex’ . . . [in
order] to draw attention to serious environmental issues” (forthcoming, quoting
Ingraham 2008).
16. Stephens and Sprinkle’s “Ecosex Manifesto” (2011) declares that “the
Earth is our lover,” but it is not always clear from the film what the pair mean
by that. For example, they observe that “a lot of people masturbate with water”
but do not clarify if that constitutes a sexual attraction to water itself. Moreover,
neither the film nor the Manifesto explain how ecosexuality differs from his-
toric, problematic sexualizations of nature—­ as with the colonial American
notion of tilling “virgin land.” (See Kolodnoy 1984 for a classic critique of this
notion.) See also the following note.
17. Other ecosexual works, to my ears, fall clearly in the New Age non-
sense category—­and employ well-­worn affective modes such as sentimentality.
For example, SerenaGaia Anderlini-­D’Onofrio and Lindsay Hagamen’s Ecosex-
uality: When Nature Inspires the Arts of Love (2015) tells us that “when we connect
and share resources of love with one another, we develop a self-­sustaining reso-
nance, a positive feedback loop that can motivate and energize us to care for this
Earth—­our only home” (quoted in T. Howe 2016, 180).

1. Stand-­up comedy is understudied, with historians and other humani-
ties scholars preferring to look at literary-­based humor and satire (Kercher
2006, 7). And stand-­up comedy’s relationship to environmentalism is even more
understudied. But at least one scholar, John Parham, has taken up the task,
focusing on British comics Bill Bailey and Marcus Brigstocke, who exemplify
the idea of “comedy . . . as a communicative strategy towards the development
of both (constitutive) environmental awareness and (pragmatic) environmental
advocacy” (2016, 125). I hereby add Amstell to this very short list of stand-­up
comics engaged with environmental issues. More work remains to be done,
however, on the affective specificities of a form like stand-­up—­in which the
body of the performer is present to the (primary) audience in real time and
space, and in which laughter often proves infectious.
2. For a slightly different angle on this issue, see Korean writer Han Kang’s
novel The Vegetarian (2007; published in English in 2015). When the wife of a
businessman announces her vegetarianism at a company dinner, she provokes
260  |  Notes to Conclusion
scoffing (and hilariously un-­self-­aware) reactions, such as “Imagine you were
snatching up a wriggly baby octopus with your chopsticks and chomping it to
death—­and the woman across from you glared like you were some kind of ani-
mal. That must be how it feels to sit down and eat with a vegetarian!” (32).
While Kang hereby satirizes patriarchy and corporate culture—­thus making
the carnivores, not the vegetarian, the butt of the joke—­the scene nonetheless
captures the affective implications of vegetarianism, how others perceive it as a
judgment on themselves. Both Adams’s comment and Kang’s novel seem to con-
stitute the flipside of a recent scene from comedian Aziz Ansari’s TV series Mas-
ter of None, in which a younger version of the Muslim-­raised main character
rapturously eats his first serving of forbidden bacon, while Tupac Shakur’s rap
manifesto “Only God Can Judge Me Now” plays in the background. Though he
reviles meat eating, Amstell seems to share the same sense of humor as Ansari.
3. See Seymour 2015 for more on what I call “affective interconnectivity”
in Jackass and Wildboyz.
4. Regarding the rogue Twitter accounts, see Davis 2017. For a represen-
tative article/slideshow after the March for Science, see Politico Staff 2017.
5. See Kercher 2006 for more on this tradition.

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Page numbers in italics refer to illustrations.

Abbey, Edward, 37, 191, 209–14 “Afraid of the Dark” (Everett),

abortion, 15 172–73
Abrams, M. H., 11, 13, 32 African Americans, urban stereotype
activism: artivism, 114, 140; burnout of. See Urban African American,
from, 145; within cultural traditions, stereotype of
221; and knowledge, 10; memes, Ahmed, Sara, 20, 122
147; negative stereotypes of, 2 Alaimo, Stacy, 115–16, 222, 255n11
Adams, Carol J., 121, 228 alarmism. See gloom and doom
Adamson, Joni, 187 environmentalism
affect: appeal of, 20–21; approaches Albrecht, Glenn, 3
to, 20–21; bad, 31, 36, 149, 151, Alexie, Sherman, 36, 159, 160, 161–
158–59, 187–88, 209; binaries of, 70, 187; critique of, 170; self-
5–6; defined, 19–20; in environ- reflection/-reflexivity of, 160; on
mental campaigns, 5; in commer- stereotypes of Indians, 161–64; use
cials, 15–16; in environmentalism, of bad affect, 161, 164, 169, 188;
3, 4–5, 7, 14, 22, 27, 44, 139; in use of sardonicism, 164–65. See also
environmental performance, 7, 36, specific works
138, 145–46; and environmental/ Alice in Wonderland (Geronimi film),
scientific knowledge, 44, 45–46; 70
inappropriate, 37; and low-class Allister, Mark, 178–79
environmentalism, 193–96; nega- “Alluvial Deposits” (Everett), 172, 173
tive, 3; in queer theory, 7–8, 19–30; alternative facts, 40
and relatability of environmental- Alters, Diane F., 207
ism, 17, 18; representation of, 20; ambivalence, 36, 58, 62, 160, 232
theory, 19–22; use of term, 2–3, “American Artificial Limb Company,
19–20 The” (Alexie), 175

294  |  Index
American Broadcasting Company, bee colonies, decline in, 49. See also
200 Queen of the Sun
American Enterprise Institute, 42 Bellafante, Ginia, 257n5
Amstell, Simon, 37, 225–32. See also Bennett, Michael, 155, 157
specific works Berger, John, 85, 241n19
Angry Black Woman stereotype, 156 Bergson, Henri, 14, 135, 145
Animal Planet, 90 Berry, Evan, 16
animation, 200–203, 214 Berry, Wendell, 14–15, 80, 210
Anker, Elizabeth S., 10 Bethell, Tom, 41, 48
Anohni, 113, 121–22 Beyond Coal (Sierra Club project), 5
Ansari, Aziz, 145–46, 260n2 “Beyond Doom and Gloom”
Anthropocene, concept of, 9 (Kelsey), 3
anti-mercury pollution ad campaign, Big Oil, 182
5, 6, 14 Bikini Atoll, 3
“Apocalypso” (Bourgeois & Maurice bio queens, 112, 131–32
song), 111–13, 121 Blackfish (Cowperthwaite documen-
Armbruster, Karla, 155 tary), 73
Armstrong, Billie Joe, 207 Black Folk Don’t (documentary series),
Arons, Wendy, 118, 119 36–37, 159, 185–87
artivism, 114, 140 “Black Hiker” (Funny or Die video),
Attenborough, David, 75 159, 184–85
Australian Broadcasting Company, Black Public Media, 185–87
197 Black Renaissance Noire (journal), 149
Avatar (Cameron film), 53–54, 78 black West, study of, 156
“Avian Nights” (Alexie), 168 Blankenship, Don, 217–18
Azzarello, Robert, 25 Blue Vinyl (Gold/Helfand documen-
tary), 47, 49–50
bad environmentalism: affect in, 3, Blühdorn, Ingolfur, 43–44
4–5, 22, 31; and bad ecocriticism, Bodkin, Alison, 45
26; futures of, 226, 232–34; vs. bogan, use of term, 192, 198, 200
mainstream environmentalism, bon vivance, 121
232; rewards and risks of, 226, Bourdieu, Pierre, 121
229–32; use of term, 6–7 Bourgeois, Georgeois. See Heyworth,
Bagemihl, Bruce, 93 George
Baldwin, Grant, 47, 51 Bourgeois & Maurice (duo), 111–13,
Balog, James, 48, 50–51, 56–57 146
Banff Centre for the Arts, 130 Bousé, Derek, 80
Barber, Katrine, 214 Branson, Richard, 189
Barton, Derek Lee, 94 Brickleberry (animated series), 31, 32
Beavan, Colin, 43, 51 Brook, Donna, 164
Index  |  295
Brooks, James L., 37 10–11, 67; as ironic, 8–9; memes,
Brougham, Henry, 190 147; performance of, 111–13;
Brown, Adrienne Maree, 17 queer theory language on, 142
Brown, Paul Corbit, 215 “Climate Change Ground Zero”
Buell, Frederick, 8–9, 10 (Queers for the Climate video),
Buell, Lawrence, 25, 26, 116 140, 143–47
Buni, Catherine, 158 coal industry. See mountaintop
Burke, Kenneth, 57–58, 230 removal
Butler, Judith, 117, 119, 139 Cohen, Etan, 39
Byers, Andy, 86, 92 Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, 25–26
colony collapse disorder, 49. See also
Cameron, James, 53–54, 78 Queen of the Sun
camp (style), 7–8, 114, 120, 122–23, Comedy Central, 31
130–33, 137, 148, 222 “Comedy Is Simply a Funny Way of
Campagna, Claudio, 105–6 Being Serious” (Alexie), 169
Carla and Lewis (Enelow), 97 Comedy of Survival, The (Meeker),
Carnage (Amstell mockumentary), 37, 32–33
225, 226–28 conformity, 127–28
Carson, Rachel, 10, 96, 240n11 conspiracy theories, 40, 244n4
Carter, Majora, 51 Cook, Thomas, 22
Case, Sue-Ellen, 117, 119–20 Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth, 170
Castaing-Taylor, Lucien, 78 Cove, The (Psihoyos documentary),
Cecil the lion, 180 47, 50–51, 137
Chaplin, Charlie, 70 Cowperthwaite, Gabriela, 73
Chappelle, Dave, 89 cracker, use of term, 192, 194, 220
Chasing Ice (Orlowski documentary), Crap at the Environment (Watson), 43,
47, 48, 50–51, 56–57 51
Chaudhuri, Una, 97, 111, 251n7 Crawford, Lucas, 124
Chen, Mel Y., 20, 24, 92–93 Crichton, Michael, 41, 48
Chernobyl Power Plant, wolf popula- crisis as everyday, 8–9
tion, 3–4 Cronon, William, 29, 82–83
Chris, Cynthia, 75–76, 85 Crumb, R., 214
Clare, Eli, 193, 203, 224 “Crying Indian” commercial, 15–16,
classism: elitist, 56, 101, 203; in 152–54, 158, 183
mainstream environmentalism, Cultural Politics of Emotion, The
192, 193–96, 206 (Ahmed), 20
climate change: apathy toward, 45; “Culture of Nature, The” (Monbiot),
denial/skepticism of, 9–10, 40, 18
42–43, 54–55, 143; education on, “Culture Thieves” (Eggplant Faerie
1–2; emotional experiences of, Players song), 126
296  |  Index
Dakota Access Pipeline, 190 instrumentalist approach in, 27–
Damned If I Do (Everett), 159, 171, 28; lack of self-awareness in, 26,
172–74 32; lack of self-reflexivity in, 26,
dark ecology, use of term, 62 32; moralism in, 79; on nature as
Dark Matter (duo), 253n19 artifice, 116; purpose of, 26–27, 44;
Day after Tomorrow, The (Emmerich on scientific inquiry, 29; sensibility
film), 54 in, 28
DeKoven, Marianne, 82 Ecological Indian, myth of, 36, 151,
Delahaye, Gabe, 52–53 152–55, 157, 162, 166, 181–83
Deloria, Vine, Jr., 149, 154 ecology, etymology of, 11
Dempsey, Shawna, 130–39 Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (Ray),
Desert Solitaire (Abbey), 209, 210–11 194
DiCaprio, Leonardo, 190–91 Ecology without Nature (Morton), 26
Dickens, Hazel, 224 eco-normativity, 5
Dickson-Carr, Darryl, 156 “Ecosex Manifesto” (Stephens/
Diggs, LaTasha N. Nevada, 36, Sprinkle), 222–24, 259n16
149–51 ecosexuality, 210, 214, 221–24
Disneynature films, 35 Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S.
“Disturbing Fast Food Truth Not Fiction (Houser), 22, 27
Exactly a Game-Changer for Edelman, Lee, 23, 113, 141
Impoverished Single Mom of 3” Egan, Patrick J., 10
(Onion article), 53 Eggplant Faerie Players, 36, 114,
Dolan, Jill, 121 123–29, 134
Doll, Mary Aswell, 115 Einstein, Albert, 167
Domet, Stephanie, 133 Eisenberg, Jesse, 121
Do Nothing (Amstell special), 37, 225 Emmerich, Roland, 54
Dude, Where’s My Car? (Leiner film), Enelow, Shonni, 97, 111
102 Ensor, Sarah, 11, 128
environmental art, 6, 14, 18; affect
eco-camp, use of term, 214, 222 of, 7, 22, 150, 158; archive of, 7;
Ecocide Project, 97 bad, 38, 138, 230; children in, 180,
ecocinema, 35, 47–48, 53–54, 68, 229; critique of, 26–27; diversity
71–72, 77–83, 202. See also envi- of, 109; gender/sexuality in, 114;
ronmental documentaries idealization of past in, 70; instru-
ecocriticism: and affect theory, 19, mentalist approach to, 26, 80,
22; on alienation from nature, 242n21; irony in, 46; knowledge in,
155; on animation, 202; bad, 26; 34, 46; lack of self-awareness in,
dominant affects of, 7–8; environ- 71, 72; lack of self-reflection in, 71;
mental ethics in, 47; on ideolo- queer theory in, 23, 123, 134; rev-
gies, 97; immediacy in, 11–12; erence and restraint in, 133–34; as
Index  |  297
self-righteous, 145, 188; serious- commodification of, 199; depen-
ness in, 115, 137; whiteness of, dencies of, 138; doubleness in,
188. See also environmental 114–15; queer, 36, 114–23, 127,
documentaries; environmental 138–39, 142, 148, 251n7, 252n13
performance Everedge, Dame Edna (persona of
environmental documentaries, 46– Barry Humphries), 197
58; affect in, 46–47; irony in, Everett, Percival, 36, 159–60, 170–81,
54–55; preaching in, 53–54, 141; 187–88; self-reflection/-reflexivity
self-awareness in, 46–47; serious- of, 160; on toxic masculinity, 178–
ness in, 46, 137–38. See also specific 81; use of bad affect, 161, 188; use
documentaries of irony, 175–76, 188; use of sar-
environmental ethics, 47, 79 donicism, 173; use of satire, 177–
Environmental Imagination, The 78, 181, 188. See also specific works
(Buell), 26 “Everybody’s Talkin’” (Nilsson song),
environmentalism, 14–19; affect in, 3, 185
4–5, 7, 14, 22, 27, 44, 139; African Everything’s Cool (Gold/Helfand doc-
American, stereotype of, 150–51, umentary), 35, 47, 55–56
156–58; alternative, 7; animosity Exile and Pride (Clare), 193–94
toward, 2, 16–19, 49; aspirational,
203–4; codes of, 7, 14, 36, 145, Fabian, Johannes, 105
146; commodification of, 199; as Face (Alexie), 159, 167–70, 187
culturally exclusive, 17, 18; distress fact-checking, 40–41, 67
from, 3; gloom and doom in, 3, 4, Fagan, Kristina, 154–55, 183
120, 128–29, 141–42, 144, 147, Farm Sanctuary, 107–8
167, 239n5, 241n20; heternor­ Feast of Fun (podcast), 125
mative values in, 4–5, 12, 118; Federoff, Nina, 67
knowledge problems, 41–46; lack feelings, 20
of self-awareness in, 13–14, 18, 32, Felion, Mark, 125, 129
57; lack of self-reflexivity in, 13–14, Felski, Rita, 10, 33
32; Native American, myth of, feminism: animosity toward, 2;
150–51, 152–55, 162; as palliative, killjoy, 251n9; and use of camp,
128–29; religious influences on, 131–32
16–17; seriousness in, 115; trashy, Feminist and Queer Performance
37, 192, 196, 207–10, 214; truth in, (Case), 119–20
44; whiteness of, 4–5, 36–37, 172, Fernandez, James W., 11, 12–13,
203. See also bad environmentalism; 105
mainstream environmentalism Fernós, Fausto, 125, 129
environmental performance, 104–5; fetal citizenship, 5
affective codes in, 7, 36, 138, “Fight or Flight Response, The”
145–46; bad, 108; and class, 203; (Alexie), 165–66
298  |  Index
Filmmaker (magazine), 86 gloom and doom environmentalism,
Finseth, Ian, 149 3, 4, 120, 128–29, 141–42, 144,
“Fire as Verb and Noun” (Alexie), 147, 167, 239n5, 241n20
164 Gold, Daniel B., 47, 55–56
Fire Island. See “Climate Change Goldberg, Jonah, 1, 147
Ground Zero” Goldtooth, Dallas, 181–82
Flint, Michigan water crisis, 190 Goodbye Gauley Mountain (Stephens/
Flipper (dolphin), 50–51 Sprinkle documentary), 31, 37,
Fonda, Jane, 189 191–92, 196, 214–24, 223
Forbes (magazine), 42 Goode Family, The (animated series),
“Force of Nature” (Lesbian 15, 192, 201, 202–6
National Parks and Services video), Gore, Al, 1–2, 14, 37, 47–48, 54, 57,
135–36 141–42. See also Inconvenient Truth,
“Fossil of the Day” awards, 32 An
“4 Degrees” (Anohni song), 113 Gournelos, Ted, 109
1491s (comedy troupe), 36–37, 154, Grand Canyon, Inc. (Everett), 159,
159, 181–83, 182 176–81
Francis, Margot, 130, 138–39 Grand Canyon National Park,
Friends of Coal, 220 177–78
Funny or Die (web channel), 159, Grassian, Daniel, 161
184 Great Dictator, The (Chaplin film), 70
Greatest Movie Ever Sold, The
Gaard, Greta, 23 (Spurlock documentary), 52
Gabbert, Laura, 47 Great Migrations, postslavery U.S.,
gaiety, concept of, 24, 36, 115, 123, 155
134–35 Greenaway, Peter, 78
gay marriage, 120–21, 147, 221 Green Day (band), 207
gender: as changing, 142; vs. Greene, Viveca, 109
sexuality, 117. See also LGBTQ Greenfeld, Karl Taro, 195
communities Green Media and Popular Culture
George, Nelson, 171 (Parham), 27
Georgia Right to Life, 15, 16 Green Porno (Rossellini/Shapiro film
Gessner, David, 18, 73, 186, 189–90, series), 29–30, 35, 74–77, 82, 87,
210–11, 213–14, 258n11 240n7, 249n18; constructedness
Giannachi, Gabriella, 119 in, 86–87; irreverence in, 88–91;
Giannini, Anna M., 93, 119 obscenity, queerness, repulsiveness
Gibbons, Kent, 105–6 in, 91–98; shift in message of,
Gibson, Larry, 215, 220 105–7; Sundance Group affiliation,
glaciers, decline of, 48, 50–51, 60. 78
See also Chasing Ice; Peak Green 2.0, 17
Index  |  299
greenwashing, 15–16 Hilton, Spud, 178
Gregory, Dick, 234 HIV/AIDS, 128–29
Griswold, Eliza, 96 homoliberalism, use of term,
Grizzly Man (Herzog documentary), 126–27
78 homonormativity, 126–27, 141, 221,
Groening, Matt, 37 248n12
Grylls, “Bear,” 84 Horton, Dave, 119, 121, 139
Guerrero, Lisa, 187 Hour of Land, The (Williams), 133–34,
Guggenheim, Davis, 47 137
Houser, Heather, 22, 27
Halberstam, Jack, 23–24, 102, 108, 131 “How to Write the Great American
Half an Inch of Water (Everett), 159, Indian Novel” (Alexie), 164–65
171–72, 174–75 Huber, Mary Taylor, 11, 12–13, 105
Hamblin, Jacob Darwin, 9, 10 Huff-Hannon, Joseph, 143–46
Hennefeld, Maggie, 45 Hughes, Langston, 234
Harambe the gorilla, 180 Hulme, Mike, 142
Harjo, Sterlin, 181–82 humor: and abjection, 225; African
Harkin, Michael E., 153 American, 183–88; in animated
HarperCollins, 74 films, 202; as bad affect, 158–59; as
Harpham, Geoffrey Galt, 11, 13, 32 classist elitism, 56; in environmen-
Harrington, Henry, 28 tal documentaries, 46–47, 54, 76,
Harvest Supper, 139 88; in environmentalism, 32–33,
Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster, 218 121, 207, 224; Indigenous, 154,
healthism, use of term, 129 158, 167, 170, 182–83; in misan-
hedonism, alternative, 251n10 thropy, 171; in poetry, 165; pur-
Heim, Wallace, 77, 114, 119, 127 pose of, 169; in queer performance,
Heise, Ursula K., 29, 202 121, 125, 131; and violence, 180; as
Helfand, Judith, 1–2, 47, 55–56 weapon against oppression, 234
Hernández, Arturo, 242n22 Humphries, Barry, 197
Herring, Scott, 124 Hurley, Erin, 19
Herzog, Werner, 78 Hutcheon, Linda, 12
heteronormativity: in environmental- Hutton, Peter, 78
ism, 4–5, 12, 49; in gender roles, Hyperobjects (Morton), 25–26
117; and homonormativity, 126; in
nature, 35, 36, 90, 93, 102, 118; in Idapalooza Fruit Jam, 123
sexuality, 94 Idiocracy (Judge film), 10, 35, 39–41,
Heyworth, George, 111–13 47, 66–72, 103; as comedy, 70, 72;
Hill, Julia Butterfly, 193 as documentary, 39, 41, 72; narra-
hillbillies, use of term, 192, 208, 215, tive arc of, 68–69; time machine in,
247n2 69–70
300  |  Index
Idyll Dandy Arts/Acres (IDA), 123– Johnson, Michael K., 156, 187–88
29 Johnson, Osa, 98
Inconvenient Truth, An (Guggenheim Jones, Lisa, 158
documentary), 35, 47–48, 54–55, Jones, Lucy, 53–54
141–42 Judge, Mike, 10, 35, 37, 39
Indianapolis Star (newspaper), 57 Just Eat It (Baldwin documentary),
information overload, 1–2 47, 51, 121–22
Ingram, David, 47, 79
instrumentalism, 26, 27–28, 80, 214– Kang, Han, 259n2
15, 242n21 Kariel, Harry, 11
International Union for the Protec- Kath & Kim (TV sitcom), 17–18, 37,
tion of Nature (IUPN), 99 192, 195, 196–200
“In the Matter of Human vs. Bee” Kellert, Stephen, 156–57
(Alexie), 167–68 Kelsey, Elin, 3
IPCC. See United Nations Intergov- Kercher, Stephen E., 234
ernmental Panel on Climate Kerridge, Richard, 26–27
Change Kidner, David W., 116
“Ironic Impact of Activists, The” Kilborn, Richard, 84
(Bashir et al.), 2 killjoy environmentalists, 19, 121,
irony: as bad affect, 149, 158–59; as 230
classist elitism, 56; corrective, 33, Kirk, Charlie, 189
44, 46, 55, 57, 63, 64, 174, 181; Konstantinou, Lee, 12
critical edge of, 12–13, 36; defined, Krech, Shepard, 152
8; as distancing, 11–12; as queer Krupar, Shiloh R., 7, 30
rhetorical device, 23; thorough­ Krupat, Arnold, 65
going, 45–46, 58, 62; true, 32,
57–58, 230; use of, 5, 8–14, 44, 54, LaBel, Sabine, 131
114, 120, 242n22 Ladino, Jennifer K., 78, 165, 167, 169
irreverence, 88–91, 149, 234 Lang, Hannes, 4, 35, 41, 58–66, 160
“It Gets Better” (Savage/Miller cam- Last Child in the Woods (Louv), 15–16
paign), 140–42 Latour, Bruno, 10
“It Gets Wetter” (Queers for the Cli- Laugh Factory, 183
mate campaign), 140–43, 147 Lavery, Carl, 118, 123
Lear, Linda, 10, 29
Jackass (TV series and film franchise), Legacy of Luna, The (Hill), 193
73–74, 85, 233 Leiner, Danny, 102
Jackson, Andrew, 175 Lélièvre, Maxime, 85
Jacquet, Luc, 90 Lesbian National Parks and Services
Johnson, E. Patrick, 104–5 (LNPS), 5, 36, 114, 130–39, 135,
Johnson, Martin, 98 136; affect in, 130–31; camp, use
Index  |  301
of, 130–33; criticism of, 231; devel- touch, 17, 49, 230; on people of
opment of, 130; ephemera pro- color, 156–57; performance codes
duced by, 130, 132, 138; whiteness of, 36, 118; queerness in, 114–15;
of members, 138–39 religious influences on, 16–17;
Lesbian Rangers, 130–32, 135, 136, socioeconomic class associated
137, 138 with, 192, 193–96, 206; tactics of,
Lewis, David Rich, 153 5, 7, 28
LGBTQ communities: activism, 140; Makow, Henry, 231
affiliations, 24, 115; classism in, Man vs. Wild (TV series), 84
193–94; culture, 120–21; Indige- Marathon Coal Bit Company, 217
nous artists, 254n8; lesbian stereo- March for Science, 42
types, 130–35; and personae, 112– March of the Penguins (Jacquet docu-
13; shame in, 224 mentary), 90, 202
Limon, John, 225, 231 Marty, Jeffrey, 189
Lindgren, Simon, 85 Massey Energy, 217–18
“Little Faith” (Everett), 172, 174–75 Maurice, Maurice. See Morris, Liv
Lockwood, Jeffrey, 95–96 Maus, Derek C., 170–71
logging industry, 193 May, Theresa J., 118, 119
Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Meeker, Joseph, 32–33
Heaven, The (Alexie), 159, 161–64, Meerkat Manor (TV series), 90
166–67 melancholia, 120
Lord, Jeffrey, 40–41 Menninghaus, Winfried, 96
Louv, Richard, 14–15 Meyer, John M., 17
Love, Heather, 27–28 Meyers, Seth, 45
low environmental culture, use of Millan, Lorri, 130–39
term, 41, 114 Mills, Brett, 227
Minster, Mark, 48
Madame Noire (blog), 167 Mitman, Gregg, 82–83, 86, 101
mainstream environmentalism: vs. Modern Family (TV series), 121
bad environmentalism, 232; Molloy, Claire, 80, 98–99
challenges to, 4; on commercial Monani, Salma, 152, 153
development, 152; conventional Monbiot, George, 18
issues of, 14; critical response to, Monkey Wrench Gang, The (Abbey),
6–7, 31–32, 34–35; on healthy 37, 191, 196, 209–14
landscapes, 129, 153; heteronorma- Moore, David L., 175
tive values in, 4–5, 12, 118, 129, moralism, 79–81
232; ideals of citizenship in, 15; Morgan, Danielle Fuentes, 172
lack of self-awareness in, 13–14, Morissette, Alanis, 8
18, 32, 57; and nature/wildlife pro- Morris, Liv, 111–13, 131–32
gramming, 35, 77, 90; as out of Morris, Seth, 184
302  |  Index
Mortimer-Sandilands, Catriona, 23, Numb (Amstell special), 37, 225, 226,
130 230
Morton, Timothy, 19–20, 25–26, 90
mountaintop removal (MTR), 214–21 Oates, Joyce Carol, 160
Mullin, Megan, 10 O’Barry, Ric, 50–51
Muñoz, José Esteban, 5, 131 Ocean Optimism, 3
Murray, Susan, 81–82 O’Driscoll, Michael, 107, 240n7
Museum of Modern Art (New York), Omiza River (band), 49
233 Onion, The (magazine/website), 53, 234
“My First Black Nature Poem™” Oppermann, Serpil, 26, 28
(Diggs), 149–52, 188 optimism, 3–4, 52, 144, 145, 181
Oring, Elliott, 246n20
national parks, U.S.: commodifica- Orlowski, Jeff, 47
tion of, 177–78; Williams on, 133
National Park Service, 177–78 Page Six (website), 190–91
National Review (magazine), 147, 203 palliative, notion of, 129
Native Americans, ecological myth Parham, John, 27, 49
of. See Ecological Indian, myth of parody, use of, 7–8, 249n18
nature-deficit disorder, 14–15 path dependency, use of term, 63–64
Nature Performed (Heim/Waterton), PATRIOT Act, 234
119 Peak (Lang documentary), 4, 31, 35,
Nature Rx, 33 41, 47, 58–66, 61; ambiguity/
“Natures of Nature Writing, The” ambivalence in, 62–64; flat affect in,
(White), 30 60, 62; opening sequence of, 59–61;
nature/wildlife programming, 35, thoroughgoing irony in, 58, 62, 63;
74–76, 90; educational imperatives as unnatural documentary, 41, 72
of, 98; and moralist criticism, Peiser, Benny, 42
77–83; self-conscious construction Pellegrini, Ann, 148
in, 84–87. See also specific works Pensoneau, Migizi, 181–82
Nelson, Joshua B., 170 People’s Climate March, 189
New Criticism, 13, 14 PepsiCo, 16
New Yorker (magazine), 234 perfectionism/hypocrisy complex,
New York Times (newspaper), 10, 12, 89 190–91, 195
Ngai, Sianne, 8, 20, 21–22, 28, 156, performance. See environmental
162–63, 184, 214 performance
Nichols, Bill, 81, 89 performance art, 7–8, 35, 36, 130,
Nilsson, Harry, 185 229, 242n22, 253n19
No Impact Man (Gabbert/Schein doc- performative turn, use of term, 117
umentary), 43, 47, 51–52 Performing Nature (Giannachi/
Norgaard, Kari, 1–2, 10, 45, 103 Stewart), 119
Index  |  303
Perkins, Dennis, 31–32 Queers for the Climate, 4, 114, 134,
Philip Morris, 16 139–47; “Climate Change Ground
“Pipeline Protest” (1491s video), Zero” video, 140, 143–47; sea level
181–82 rise campaign, 140–43, 147
Pixar, 202–3 queer theory: affect in, 7–8, 19–30,
Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, 252n13; and environmentalism,
The (Bethell), 41 22–23, 128; on improper affilia-
Pontius, Chris, 73–74, 78–79, 89, 91, tion, 24, 115; language of, 142;
96–97 strains of, 141; trademark sensibili-
popular culture, 27, 29, 181–88 ties of, 23, 122
Pornography of Meat, The (Adams),
228 Rachel Carson Center Perspectives
Portlandia (TV series), 204 (journal), 3
postirony, use of term, 12 racial tropes. See Ecological Indian,
postmodern theory, 170 myth of; Urban African American,
post-soul era, use of term, 171 stereotype of
POZ (magazine), 128 racism, 12, 42, 50, 103, 112, 158, 180,
Price, Jennifer, 16 181, 184, 193, 209, 219, 232, 234.
Prismatic Ecology (Cohen), 25–26 See also stereotypes
public education, 98–99 Radiance Foundation, 15
Publishers Weekly (magazine), 164 Ranco, Darren, 152
purity politics, 29, 49, 152, 213, Ray, Janisse, 194, 220
232 Ray, Sarah Jaquette, 14, 129, 152–53,
Purser, Heather, 154 161, 162
Readings in Performance and Ecology
Quan, Elyne, 32 (Arons/May), 119
Queen of the Sun (Siegel documen- Reality Bites (Stiller film), 240n9
tary), 47, 49 reality television, 81–82, 84
Queer Art of Failure, The (Halberstam), Real World, The (TV series), 81
24 Red Corn, Ryan, 181–82
queer ecology: development of, 23, redneck, use of term, 192, 193–94, 210
29; on environmental performance, Red Star, Wendy, 32
114, 120; on healthy landscapes, resilience, environmental, 3
129; and theater, 111 Return of the Osprey (Gessner), 18
queerness: and affect, 7–8, 19–30; in Revel with a Cause (Kercher), 234
animals, 77, 93–95; in environmen- Rhys-Davies, Jonathan, 75
tal performance, 36, 114–23, 127, Richards, Jay, 42
130–39, 142, 148, 251n7, 252n13; Riley, Gina, 197–98
and obscenity, 93–94; in rural Ritson, Joseph, 190
space, 123–24 Rogers, Heather, 16
304  |  Index
Rosaldo, Renato, 153 32; in leftist critiques, 53; in pop
Rosenblatt, Roger, 234 culture works, 183; in queer envi-
Rossellini, Isabella, 29–30, 74, 86, 87, ronmental performance, 115, 145,
90, 91, 92, 97–98, 106. See also 146; thoroughgoing irony as, 57; in
Green Porno writing, 150, 160, 188
Rothfels, Nigel, 80 Sewell, Anne Marie, 155
Roughgarden, Joan, 93 sexuality vs. gender, 117
Royte, Elizabeth, 16 shame, 27–28, 37, 44, 189–92, 194–
Rudolph, Maya, 39 95, 197, 199, 203, 228
Ruffin, Kimberly, 157, 159 shamelessness, 195, 215–18, 222
Russett, Margaret, 159, 174 Shapiro, Jody, 74, 87
Shouse, Eric, 20
Salih, Sara, 119 Sick of Nature (Gessner), 18
Sammells, Neil, 26–27 Siegel, Josh, 233
Sandilands, Catriona, 130. See also Siegel, Taggart, 47
Mortimer-Sandilands, Catriona Sierra Club ad campaign, 5, 6, 14
San Francisco Chronicle (newspaper), Silverman, David, 191
178 Simpsons Movie, The (Brooks/
sardonicism, 164–65, 173, 187, 194 Groening animated film), 37, 191,
satire, 30, 36, 53, 171, 177–79, 181, 196, 207–9
187, 207, 233–34 Sinwell, Sarah E. S., 106
Savage, Dan, 140 sissyphobia, use of term, 127–28
Schein, Justin, 47 “Size Matters” (Alexie), 166
Schulz, Brad, 184 slavery, 188
scientific knowledge, 41–46 Smith, Bernard, 197
scientific racism, 42 Smokey Bear, 212
sea level rise, 140–43 social constructionism, 115–16
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, 20, 33–34 solastalgia, use of term, 3
self-awareness: and corrective irony, Sontag, Susan, 122–23, 137, 222
57; in ecocinema, 49, 51; in eco- South Park (animated series), 31
criticism, 26, 32; in environmental Spangler, Patricia, 218
art, 71, 72; in environmental cam- Spree, 123, 128–29
paigns, 142; in environmental doc- Sprinkle, Annie, 37, 191–92, 214–24,
umentaries, 46–47, 51, 54, 61, 71; 223
in environmentalism, 13–14, 18, 57 Spurlock, Morgan, 47, 51, 52
self-reflexivity, 7; lack of in eco­ stand-up comedy, 184, 225, 231, 234,
criticism, 26, 32; lack of in envi- 259n1. See also specific comics
ronmental art, 71; lack of in Starosielski, Nicole, 202
environmental documentaries, 54; Stegner, Wallace, 213
lack of in environmentalism, 13–14, Stephens, Beth, 191–92, 214–24, 223
Index  |  305
stereotypes: of the Angry Black Telegraph (newspaper), 53–54
Woman, 156; of the Ecological “Thrash” (Alexie), 169–70
Indian, 36, 151, 152–55, 157, 162, Time Machine, The (Pal film), 70
181–83; of lesbians, 130–35; of the TomFoolery, 123, 125–26
Urban African American, 36, 151, tone, use of term, 20
156–58, 183–87 Torgerson, Douglas, 8, 11, 16, 111
Steve-O, 73, 75, 78–79, 84–85, 88, Toscano, Peterson, 147
91, 96–97, 99, 107–8. See also Tosh, Daniel, 32
Wildboyz Touching Feeling (Sedgwick), 20
Stewart, Anthony, 159 Toughest Indian in the World, The
Stewart, Kathleen, 20 (Alexie), 160
Stewart, Nigel, 119 “Toward a Wider View of Nature
Stoddart, Mark, 63 Writing” (Buni), 158
“Stoic Off!!!” (1491s video), 154 trailer trash, use of term, 192
“Stonefly” (Everett), 174 Trailing African Animals (Johnson/
Stonewall Riots (1969), 120–21 Johnson film), 98
Strange Natures (Seymour), 23 trashy environmentalism, 37, 192,
Stuart, Tristram, 190 196, 207–10, 214
Studio Ghibli, 202–3 Treadwell, Timothy, 78
Sturgeon, Noël, 16, 244n9 Tremaine, Jeff, 74
Subprimes, The (Greenfeld), 195 trickster figure, 154–55
Summer of Black Widows, The (Alexie), Trixx, 159, 183–84
159, 164–66 True-Life Adventures (Disney docu-
Sundance Film Festival, 74 mentary series), 84, 90, 98, 101
Supercívios (group), 242n22 Trump, Donald, 5, 39, 45
Super Size Me (Spurlock documen- Tucci, Joe, 3
tary), 47, 51 Tucker, Angela, 159, 185
Sustainable South Bronx, 51 Tuckey, Melissa, 158
Sweetgrass (Castaing-Taylor docu- Turnbull, Sue, 197–98
mentary), 78 Turner, Jane, 197–98
“Sweet Nectar” (Omiza River song), TV Tropes (website), 181–83
49 Twentieth Century Fox Studios, 39
Szerszynski, Bronislaw, 14, 39, 43–45 TwERK (Diggs), 149

TallBear, Kimberly, 152 Ugly Feelings (Ngai), 20

Tallmadge, John, 28 Uncommon Ground (Cronon), 29
Tan, Ed S., 48, 72 Underwood, Blair, 184
Taylor, Dorceta, 156 United Nations Educational, Scien-
Taylor, James, 42 tific and Cultural Organization
Taylor, Paul C., 171 (UNESCO), 98–99
306  |  Index
United Nations Intergovernmental White, Richard, 30, 193
Panel on Climate Change White, Tom, 25–26
(IPCC), 9 whiteness, 4–5, 36–37, 138–39, 172,
Urban African American, stereotype 188, 203, 255n17
of, 36, 151, 156–58, 183–87 white trash, use of term, 37, 101, 192,
urban environmental humanities, 29 198, 207, 215, 216
U.S.–Mexico border wall, proposed, 5 Whitley, David, 202
Ustinov, Peter, 169 Whitworth, Lauran, 46, 214–15, 218
Whole Foods, 15
“Vacation, The” (Berry), 14–15 Whyte, Kyle Powys, 9
Vadas, Melinda, 228 Wildboyz (TV series), 4, 20, 35,
Varvel, Gary, 57 73–77; bad affective tendencies in,
veganism, 37, 96–97, 107, 108, 121, 81–82; ethnographic encounters
191, 203, 225–29, 257n6. See also in, 103–4; humans/animals in, 78–
Carnage 79; irreverence in, 88–91; MTV
Vegan Studies Project, The (Wright), 122 affiliation, 78, 81; non-knowledge
vinyl siding, dangers of, 48–50. See practices in, 98–109; obscenity,
also Blue Vinyl queerness, repulsiveness in, 91–98;
Vishner, Mayer, 51 shift in message of, 107–9; staging
Vivanco, Luis, 74–75 in, 84–86
Wilde, Oscar, 1, 116
Wallace, Kathleen R., 155 Wild Kingdom (TV series), 247n2
WALL-E (Stanton film), 78 Williams, Raymond, 187
Wampole, Christy, 12 Williams, Terry Tempest, 16, 133–34
Warkentin, Traci, 191 Wilson, Bobby, 181–82
Warner, Sara, 19, 24, 116–17, 121, Wizard of Oz, The (Fleming film), 70
127–28, 130–31 Wojcik, Pamela Robertson, 131
Watershed (Everett), 159, 175–76 Wright, Laura, 121, 203
Waterton, Claire, 119 Writing the Environment (Kerridge/
Watson, Mark, 43, 51 Sammells), 26–27
Weik von Mossner, Alexa, 175–76, Writing the Goodlife (Ybarra), 194–95
Weiner, Jonah, 89 Ybarra, Priscilla Solis, 194–95
Weinstein, MaxZine, 123–29 Yes Men (duo), 32
Weixlmann, Joe, 159 Yosemite National Park, 177–78
“Welcome to Homo Hollow” (IDA Young, Al, 42–43
show), 125, 126
Wells, Paul, 202 Zoo Parade (TV series), 35
“West Virginia, My Home” (Dickens
song), 224
Nicole Seymour is associate professor of English at California State
University, Fullerton. She is author of Strange Natures: Futurity, Empa-
thy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination and coauthor of Kelly Reichardt:
Emergency and the Everyday.