At the corner of St. James St and Portage Ave in Winnipeg is a building which has provided the canvas for some massive murals for Winnipeg Hydro. As I passed by the mural today I saw two kids laying back on the grass at the edge of a lake. They were looking up into a blue sky made lighter with the presence of distinct white clouds. It was the classic scenario of seeing ‘something’ within the unique and random shapes that pass by. The clouds, however, betrayed the clear and unmistakable shapes of an energy-efficient light bulb and washing machine. There are an increasing number critiques out there of how capitalism continues to entrench itself within environmentalism providing the therapeutic opportunity to buy and consume your way to a cleaner world and therefore feel good about yourself without having to change anything (I can remember a hybrid car commercial with the question what is this car doing and the answer cleaning the environment.
This mural, however, struck me as even more sinister. Instead of offering a simple sedative to the problem of whatever our environmental crisis may be this mural actually attempts to co-opt the very possibility of imaginative alternatives. Go ahead and dream of what is possible but the game is fixed, we now posses the material of your imagination and can mold it for our gain. Am I wrong? There is a cult growing around environmentalism that I am having little faith in. It seems disinterested in and detached from the larger issues of equality and social restoration.
I found the image online and as I looked at it again it keeps getting worse. The light bulb and washing machine are actually placed as the exclusive variables for a mathematical equation the sum of which equals a green tree. This is a blatant lie. The variables in this equation are no different then the variables of an old bulb and washing machine (perhaps with a slightly lower numerical value). This ad is trying to tell you that these new products are of a fundamentally different order and composition. They no longer add to disaster but now add to salvation. This is a load of crap.