Friday, May 18, 2012

Being dismissed

No Impact Man is a documentary about Colin Beavan, who, along with his family, tried to live for a year in New York City with no impact on the environment. The Beavans lived practically trash free, without running electricity, ate food that came from only a 250 mile radius, and traveled around using only human power, among other things. Many people felt that Beavan undertook the project solely for searching for a topic for his next book, that the project was just a self-indulgent, privileged, power trip. Others thought he was sincere in his efforts. Some people changed their opinions over the course of the project.

Regardless of your opinion of Beavan and his efforts, what was undeniably surprising was the amount of media coverage he received. The blogosphere was abuzz. The New York Times, WNYC, media outlets from Japan, Italy, France, and elsewhere interviewed him and covered his efforts. Good Morning America followed his family around for several weeks.

The part of the movie that I found most fascinating was Beavan's relationship with a long time community activist and gardener, Mayer Vishner. In an effort to be more connected with the food he ate, Beavan helped Vishner work the land in a small community garden. Vishner looked exactly like someone who rallied during the sixties and seventies--long hair, bearded, with simple clothes. He and Beavan would sit in the kitchen and talk about how the project was going, but also about the larger issues that were being raised by the project. What must be done about American corporate capitalism? What about the fact that your wife writes for Business Week, which promotes this corporate capitalism? And what should be made of all the media coverage that Beavan was receiving?

Dorothy Day has said, "Don’t call me a saint; I don’t want to be dismissed so easily." Yet, Vishner believed that this was exactly what was happening to Beavan. All of the attention Beavan was receiving seemed to mean that he wasn't a threat to the system. That his advocacy would be viewed as extreme, impractical, unhygienic, and profoundly anti-American. This was apparent when Beavan was being interviewed by Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America. In one scene, she asks people in the audience whether they could ever do something like this. It sounded more like a parent asking their child, "Will you ever put your hand on the stove?", seeming to goad an answer of no. And that's exactly the answer that she got from the audience.

It is clear that Beavan has been able to reach a wide audience with his efforts, which to me seem sincere. In trying to affect larger policy issues, he has chosen to run for US Congress, as a Green Party candidate, to represent central Brooklyn. But what about his efforts to show people what might need changing in their daily lives?

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