In my Campus Ecology class, when we’re reading the chapter on “The Nature of Screens,” I ask students to watch their favorite programs for its environmental implications. Here’s an example—try it for your own shows. What will it take to change media portrayals of environmentalism?
Yesterday in class we discussed TV and how TV makes us think about environmental values. How perfect then that today I was watching my Scrubs DVD collection and saw the environmental episode they did. In the show, the janitor takes on making the hospital sustainable, comically threatening those who didn’t recycle, carpool to work, etc. Like all Scrubs episodes, it was hilarious, but I decided to focus on what environmentally the episode was telling me. The episode just ended up upholding the common comical view of environmentalists. First, the person who pushed the janitor to become an environmentalist was the hospital’s lawyer and resident sad-sack, Ted. It’s also a common theme on the show that the janitor’s pretty crazy. So that’s what a viewer takes away from the show—environmentalists are made up of pathetic and weird people. Throughout the episode the janitor is also mocked for what he was doing, including being the stereotypical “hippie.” And by the end of the episode, he gives up, thinking he can’t and hasn’t made a change—another negative environmental message. The one positive was the episode did end by showing people carpooling and wrapping it up by saying maybe we can affect small changes even when we feel we aren’t making a difference. So that was a nice little end, but overall I got a negative portrayal at environmentalists from the media, a view I think TV takes too often.