Panel 9: Energy Politics



Panel 9: Energy Politics

“Green Hearts, Gray Hands: Rethinking Hydrocarbons in Contemporary Film and Ecocriticism”

Bart Welling (Associate Professor of English, University of North Florida)

Dynasty and #NoDAPL: The Messy Environmental Politics of 2010s Oil Soaps”

Michaela Rife (Ph.D. candidate in Art History, University of Toronto)

“Petromodernity and Petro-temporality in Werner Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness

Kyle Sittig (Ph.D. candidate in English and Film, Michigan State University)

Q & A

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9 replies
  1. Sofia says:

    Thanks, Bart, for a fascinating talk. I’m just wanting to clarify something that I think I’m getting from your presentation. I’m thinking like this: Air is the medium for sound to be transmitted. Similarly, the ocean transmits waves/energy. They are media in a ubiquitous sense. I wonder if there is room to say the following: is the web very much like air and water as a medium activated/agitated by energy rather than thinking specific films or websites. In other words, the medium cannot be thought independently of the energy required to light it up so in a sense energy IS that medium. Am I on the right track here?

    • Bart Welling, University of North Florida says:

      Hi Sofia. Thanks for your comment. Yes, you’re right. I have a piece coming out on hydrocarbons AS and IN media in the online journal Media Tropes; in addition to the things I say in this essay, it talks about pollution and global warming as media through which we perceive basically everything (e.g., the range of visibility in U.S. national parks has dropped dramatically over the last few decades), and I also play with the idea of petroculture as a growth medium rather like what is provided in a Petri dish for bacteria in a laboratory, since we’re just as dependent on hydrocarbons for our survival as the bacteria are on their growth culture. Essentially everything we do in a petroculture is mediated by hydrocarbons, which not only keep us alive but shape our vision and values in ways that we’re often unwilling to acknowledge.

  2. Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

    Thanks for all three presentations. Robin and I have been looking at oil films for fifteen years and find your presentations really informative and productive. We really liked getting up to speed on tv depictions of oil and oil love. Thanks, Michaela.

    • Michaela Rife, University of Toronto says:

      Thanks for watching Joseph! Your and Robin’s book has been very influential in my thinking on how oil has been visualized and portrayed over a long time span.

  3. Michaela Rife, University of Toronto says:

    Hi everyone, I’m excited to be on this panel! My dissertation focuses on public art engagements with extractive land use in the American West from the late-nineteenth century through the New Deal, so in some ways this paper is a bit of a departure for me! However I worked on it alongside my oil chapter and it proved very useful in thinking about the ways oil wealth’s meaning has changed, and the ways that oil’s linkages to places like Texas has not.

    Bart, your wonderful paper got me thinking about the obfuscation of oil wealth when you mentioned how Peabody has shifted from “Coal” to “Energy.” Dynasty’s company is titled “Carrington Atlantic” which is part of why I suspected that the show might elide its oil foundation. But I was also thinking about the place and depiction of oil workers in all three of our papers, and what that can mean for any (to put it simply) environmental or political message? Oil field workers are visible in the three tv shows I discuss, but only just and as pawns in the machinations of the oil wealthy. I haven’t seen Deepwater Horizon but I seem to remember from press at the time that it was considered of a piece with Berg’s other films valorizing the American worker. Is that your impression and how does that fit in a developing petromedia? Particularly as companies like Peabody try to tie extraction to jobs and local economic health.

    Looking forward to discussion and any questions!

    • Bart Welling, University of North Florida says:

      Hi Michaela. Thanks for your great paper and for the question. Yes, Berg’s movie really foregrounds the workers. He said in an interview–I’m pretty sure it was in the *L.A. Times*–that he wanted to remind viewers that the Deepwater Horizon tragedy wasn’t just a tragedy because of the oil spill. (The movie proper doesn’t even show the oil spill, although it’s mentioned in the epilogue.) The extra features on the DVD strongly promote a campaign called “Work Like an American,” dedicated to workplace safety and green energy, and the rig workers are represented as everyday American blue-collar heroes in predictable ways, although I think the film may change how future filmmakers depict oil workers. However, the fact that the film flopped is surely important. I wonder if U.S. audiences weren’t ready to confront the dark side of oil extraction, just as they weren’t interested (for a long time) in film and TV representations of the war in Iraq. At least people at my public library keep checking all the copies out. I think it will help break through a lot of the jobs rhetoric on the right by giving people a little taste of what these jobs are actually like.

    • Bart Welling, University of North Florida says:

      Also, I’m really interested in the potential for promoting alternative energy transitions by reinhabiting the discourses used by hydrocarbon workers. Here’s a great example of what I mean from a nonprofit that installs solar panels and trains solar technicians in West Virginia. (For those who aren’t familiar with Appalachian English, “holler,” usually spelled “hollow” on maps, is a regionalism that means “small valley.”)

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