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A movie production company founded by an Academy Award-winning filmmaker hopes to incite public frustration towards the urgency of the global climate crisis.
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A movie production company founded by an Academy Award-winning filmmaker hopes to incite public frustration towards the urgency of the global climate crisis.

The advertisement starts with a scenic view of countryside mountains, accompanied by a soft, uplifting piano melody. Vintage footage from old car commercials plays on the screen. As 1950s icon Dinah Shore sings “See the USA in your Chevrolet.”

However, this is not your typical car commercial. As the title track from Singin’ in the Rain starts playing, the advertisement shows cars engulfed in flames during wildfires and being filled with water during floods. The lively music shifts to a more melancholic tone.

This commercial is the latest production from Oscar-winning director Adam McKay’s climate-focused production company Yellow Dot Studios. Launched last year, the non-profit studio produces short-form videos aiming to push back on climate disinformation.

The satirical piece utilizes a darkly comedic approach to highlight the impact of fossil fuel cars on climate change. It may come across as preachy, but there is a subtle playfulness underlying the message.

According to Staci Roberts-Steele, managing director of Yellow Dot Studios, the car commercial evokes a sense of anger and fear, which she believes are the driving forces behind people’s actions in regards to climate change.

Yellow Dot’s videos are known for their distinct style and are shared through YouTube and social media. Some of their recent endeavors include teaming up with comedian Tim Robinson from I Think You Should Leave, as well as a recurring short series that satirizes an oil company in the same fashion as The Office.

A new video released in January parodies the popular TV series Game of Thrones, with appearances from actors on the show and Rainn Wilson from The Office. Wilson portrays a climate expert who travels from the future to alert the rulers of Westeros, the fictional kingdom in the show, about the hazards of relying on “big oil”.

“I used to believe that the refusal to accept the inevitable coming of winter in Westeros was similar to the denial of climate change in the US,” Wilson shared with the Guardian, mentioning the show. “The unpredictable and dangerous weather is comparable to the threat of the white walkers. And what better time to highlight this shocking absurdity than when Cersei is faced with tangible evidence (science) of zombies, yet remains fixated on her own battles. I just hope we can protect King’s Landing before it is destroyed.”

According to McKay, Yellow Dot’s way of writing is like a hidden advantage.

According to him, the companies in the fossil fuel industry are unable to produce content that evokes genuine emotions such as laughter and righteous anger.

According to McKay, numerous communicators who prioritize the topic of climate change also neglect to tap into a diverse range of emotions. Rather, they often opt for polite and sanitized language and rely solely on scientific data to make their arguments.

Rainn Wilson on the set of a Yellow Dot Studios production.View image in fullscreen

In the past 40 years or so, there has been a slow and gradual shift towards neoliberalism, where wealth and large corporations have become intertwined with various social movements, culture, politics, and the media. This has led to the emergence of a more formal language that lacks the passionate emotions of popular culture, such as anger, sadness, humor, and absurdity.

According to McKay, Yellow Dot was created to address the lack of communication. The idea for this project came to him while he was working on his climate-themed film, Don’t Look Up. The purpose of Yellow Dot is to use the widespread anger of the general public and redirect it towards progressive causes, as this anger has become associated with far-right ideology.

The videos aren’t for everyone. Some “liberal professionals” who “don’t like us nakedly saying what’s going on” find the tone off-putting, said McKay. And one donor even withdrew substantial funding when Yellow Dot began to produce ads calling out extreme wealth as a problem, he said.

However, there is a demand for these videos. A new clip, featuring Robinson assisting earth scientist Henri Drake in crafting his message for the general population, has received 1 million views on TikTok and almost 250,000 views on YouTube. Additionally, a parody Chevron ad released in 2023, which served as inspiration for the Yellow Dot project, gained over 4.5 million views in just 24 hours.

There are other attempts to combat the promotion of fossil fuels through humor besides Yellow Dot. Most recently, Gas Leaks Project, a non-profit that advocates against gas, released a spoof called “Hot and Toxic” that satirizes the promotion of gas stoves. Last autumn, Fossil Free Media, a non-profit media group, showcased billboards displaying maps of alarming temperature records with the statement “Sponsored by Big Oil.”

Dana Fisher, a sociologist at American University and author of the book Saving Ourselves: From Climate Shocks to Climate Action, believes that this is an intriguing approach to instill anger for motivation.

Fisher’s research has found that outrage over experiencing climate disasters can motivate people to join climate protest movements. It’s possible that media projects like these could, too, she said, but “it would be great to study it to actually measure the effects”.

Yellow Dot’s videos have focused on President Biden’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. In a video from May, comedians June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson can be seen enjoying wine while discussing the advantages of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. This act offers tax breaks and rewards for those who switch to renewable energy sources and electric vehicles. Wilson comments, “I didn’t think the Inflation Reduction Act meant anything, just like everything else in DC.” To which Raphael responds, “A lot of it may be meaningless, but the tax breaks are legitimate.”

In general, McKay expressed disappointment with Biden’s achievements in addressing climate change.

According to the speaker, the Biden administration has not demonstrated genuine concern for our current circumstances. Their language suggests that they consider it solely as a topic to gauge public opinion.

According to him, the clearest instance of the Biden administration’s inability to address climate change is their refusal to declare a national climate emergency. He believes this is because the president is afraid of upsetting his financial supporters. The Biden administration did not respond to requests for comment.

According to McKay, the reaction of wealthy countries, including the US, towards the climate crisis has been more concerning than the response of officials in the film Don’t Look Up towards the comet. In the movie, there was an attempt to intercept the comet, although it was for misguided motives. However, the US is currently heading in the opposite direction when it comes to tackling the climate crisis, such as increasing production of fossil fuels to record levels.

Leading up to a critical presidential election, numerous progressive and environmentally focused groups have commended President Biden for his actions on climate policy. On Wednesday, the center-left thinktank Center for American Progress published an analysis stating that he is “the most impactful climate president ever”. Additionally, a variety of environmental organizations endorsed Biden in June.

According to Roberts-Steele, Yellow Dot plans to create videos to promote voting in alignment with one’s own interests, specifically on the topic of climate change. However, McKay has no intention of using Yellow Dot videos as a platform to support Biden. According to McKay, attempts to appease powerful Democrats by being agreeable are not effective.

“He said they only react when pressure is applied.”

Source: theguardian.com