MTV Casting Call: Seeking Eco-Stereotypes

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MTV has been doing outreach with some blogs to find environmental activists for its True Life reality show.
Apparently, though, they’re not interested in profiling people doing the quiet, hard work of creating change and winning hearts and minds. They only want to feature the small group of activists who regularly carry out confrontational, radical stunts.
Here’s the casting call from MTV:

True Life: I’m Stopping Global Warming
Are you an activist involved in a fight to protect your local environment in some way? Maybe you’re taking legal action against a polluter in your area? Perhaps you’re challenging your local government to become more green? If your eco-activism is helping to stop global warming, we’d love to hear your story.
If you appear to be between the ages of 17 and 28, and are an eco-activist, email us at: ecoactivist@mtvstaff.com with all of the details of your story.
Please be sure to include your name, location, phone number and a photo, if possible.

Seems pretty inclusive, right? Well, my good friend Josh Tulkin works for Chesapeake Climate Action Network and has dedicated his life to stopping global warming. He spends his days raising awareness of climate change among citizens of Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, and organizing them to demand substantial policy changes. josh_square.jpg
A mutual friend nominated Josh, but MTV responded that they were looking for someone more “on the front lines.” For me, Josh embodies the qualities of an eco-activist making change in his community. In my view, there is no one who is more “on the front lines” than he is.
After our friend sought clarification, the MTV recruiter responded:

“It sounds like Josh is active by being a speaker and spreading the word. What MTV wants is someone who is going to climb up a smoke stack and stick a banner up there for a couple of days and get there [sic] voices heard.”

Olivia Zaleski, a blogger at TreeHugger, investigated. Here’s what she heard:

“”We want to inspire kids and students to take action,” said MTV’s casting researcher. “We’re looking for those kids sleeping in the woods so the endangered forest doesn’t get cut down.”

“When asked for examples of “inspiring eco-activists,” MTV described those who might chain themselves to a company’s headquarters, or make a pile of dead animals to illustrate what “catalogues do to nature.””

I’m copying below a letter that I sent to the MTV casting agent. If it moves you, feel free to copy as much as you’d like and send it to ecoactivist@mtvstaff.com.

To Whom It May Concern:
I was extremely disappointed to learn that MTV’s casting call for eco-activists on True Life was intended solely for the small minority of activists engaged in confrontational direct action. While I appreciate your effort to engage young people in activism on climate change, I fear this casting call will produce a sensationalized and unrepresentative picture of today’s environmental movement that will hurt more than it will help.
The vast majority of environmentalists are not angry, confrontational, or outside of the mainstream, which seems to be the image you hope to capture. Many are involved in business, engineering, research, and design, just to name a few of the many fields where environmental activism is making a difference. Most environmentalists do their part simply by making smart choices as consumers and educating each other. And the environmentalists who are actively working to change corporate and government policies usually prefer quiet consensus-building to militant demonstrations.
The current casting call makes MTV seem more interested in reinforcing stereotypes than documenting the hard work that many are doing to create change. True, these stereotypes may inspire some young people to action. Confrontational activism, however, will seem both inaccessible and outside of the mainstream to most American viewers. If spotlighted on MTV, it will serve to demonstrate that environmental concerns are disconnected from and indifferent to the concerns of Main Street America. For those of us working to weave environmental values further into the fabric of the United States, that would be a tragedy.
I do not doubt your good intentions. I am well aware of MTV’s longstanding commitment to civic involvement and action on climate change. For that reason, I hope you will immediately reconsider your concept for eco-activism on True Life in the service of our shared goals.
Sincerely,
Scott T. Paul
www.thewashingtonnote.com

— Scott Paul

Comments

13 comments on “MTV Casting Call: Seeking Eco-Stereotypes

  1. sarah says:

    younger generations choice to speak and push ideas is justified,
    the older generations who helped drive us head long into an un-
    certain future should (unless offering helpful advise on how to save
    the life of billions) stop using yet more energy by sending mail…
    just goes to show why MTV are casting!

    Reply

  2. stacy says:

    call me on 3773462

    Reply

  3. Slick says:

    Pandering to empty-headed guerilla marketing gussied up as activism? Not the MTVs!!1!

    Reply

  4. sdemetri says:

    A timber company has a proposal to develop a fairly large portion of their holdings near Greenville, Maine. This is Maine forest land… rugged, little populated, beautiful, mostly used by the locals, fishermen, hunters, snowmobilers in winter. Plum Creek wants to develop resort areas, condos, open up areas up until now accessible to only those adventurous enough to withstand the blackflies, bad roads, and lack of services.
    Some radical enviromentalists, whom I sympathize with to a point, vandalized some of the Plum Creek offices in the area, using blood and entrails to make their statement. It caused a significant stir in Maine, prompting some in the legislature to craft legislation which included the term “enviromental terrorism.” I believe it failed in the last legislature, but there was much debate about how these folks had gone too far, damaged the cause, and prompted this over the top legislation.
    Plum Creek is revising its plan but not because of the vandalism. The vandalism brought the issue into the public’s eye briefly, but those responsible were seen more as too radical, and too over the top. Acts, like spiking trees, which poses a physical danger to loggers, should not be condoned under any circumstances. Non-violent, civil disobedience ought to be the guiding principle in this type of “action” work. At the same time, the slow, legal intervention work of education, persuasion, and advocating sound policy is just as important. MTV, if it wants to be helpful should focus on the whole enchilada, not just the radicals. There are young folks turned on by policy work, as there are some turned on by camping out in a tree.

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  5. Jin says:

    Thank you, Scott, for eloquently elaborating that the MTV’s approach would incorrectly depict how and what our generation of environmentalists are striving to achieve.
    Please keep us updated on how this unfolds.
    Jin

    Reply

  6. Erin Kenzie says:

    Thanks for writing about this, Scott. I was forwarded Zoe’s email exchange with MTV and had the same reaction. If they want people on the front lines, people like Josh or the kids in our Agents of Change program would be perfect… but they don’t realize that the everyday activism that actually affects change isn’t of the chain-me-to-something brand. They should be excited about the opportunity to profile young people involved in international policy, but no, they’d rather perpetuate the stereotype. Unfortunate.
    Erin
    SustainUS

    Reply

  7. cds says:

    “… but that’s not the goal or what MTV is about…they want to “rile up” a generation on this issue and create more activist.”
    My only concern is that this type of exposure can be used by those who seek to dismiss global warming activists as “kooks”. MSM does a piss poor job of informing and covering the good work done by people like Josh Tulkin.
    I have serious doubts that this type of MTV program will encourage young people to take global warming seriously and become active.

    Reply

  8. Carroll says:

    “or make me feel as though I could be part of the solution. It further alienates me from the process of environmentalism and eco-activism because I am not in the position in which I could or would do those things.” Personally, I believe MTV’s show would be more effective to perhaps show the radical kids, as well as people like Josh, and especially people who are making personal daily choices that can’t be measured in Congress or by police records. Such as giving up their car or changing their lightbulbs; making the choices to live more deliberately.
    Environmentalism and eco-activism should not a “fad” for MTV to exploit, and by only showing only the radical protesters as representative of eco-activists, I fear that they will polarize and alienate those who would and could make significant change in other ways.
    Posted by Becca at May 12, 2007 02:10 PM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    I agree that showing different kinds of activist would be good.
    But I don’t get the statements above. Why would you be dissuaded from doing what you are able to do just becuase others are doing something different?
    I think those who can be “radical” probably should be in some circumstances. One personal instance comes to mind. The Park Service was going to “put down” the stallions in our OuterBanks wild ponies herd because they didn’t want to be “responsible’ for their upkeep which consisted of nothing more than vaccinating the herd every few years…this would have eventually made the herd extinct. A local group had committed to take over that chore with vet’s volunterring their services. The Park Service wouldn’t consider it. Our congressman was “slowly working on it”. On the day the Park Service showed up to put down the stallions a bunch of us literally physically confronted the park sevice. They could beat up a bunch of citizens or they could leave. They wisely choose to go instead of being caught on tape manhandling a group of mostly women…and the picture of the incident appeared in the local paper. After this incident our congressman went into overdrive since he realized we were dead serious and passed an immediate bill to protect the ponies and save a national treasure and part of our heritage. Not one “paid organization worker” or employee or gov. heritage agency or “official” enviromental group put one minute or one dime into this, not before or after. To this day a local group of citizens and volunteers rises money to pay for the herd maintance and monitors the health of the herd and the ecology of the islands they roam on.
    I could point to some other ‘radical” groups like Greenpeace who if not for their “radical” confrontations against commerical net fishing that issue would not have been on anyone’s radar, much less the public’s and the seas would well on their way to losing a lot of species like dolphins.
    Same can be said of the really “radical” PETA who hits one thru the ball park every now and then and is mainly responsible for a lot of corps who now “do no animal testing”…meaning blinding bunnies and doing things to other furry creatures to test their vanity products.
    So let’s not disparage others because it’s not your particular mode of activism. There is a place for everyone in the enviromental movement.
    If you feel you personally are not getting any appreciation for your non radical efforts go to you local newspaper and get them interested in doing a story on the postive impact you and others are having on the enviroment with your disciplined day to day efforts…that would inspire people who can’t or don’t want to do the radical thing to follow your example.

    Reply

  9. bianco says:

    “Green Jackass”
    .

    Reply

  10. Becca says:

    I agree with Scott’s perspective — I think it’s important not to polarize or stereotype the environmental movement, which is what I feel MTV is (perhaps unknowingly) doing. Yes, there are many very dedicated radical environmentalists out there who are “sleeping in forests” and “chaining themselves” to their causes, drawing attention to their causes, and making change. And, I understand Carroll’s viewpoint that MTV knows that by showing the radicals they will have a more “interesting” show and perhaps more people will watch – and maybe get more people involved.
    However, as an average American citizen who is environmentally conscious but would like to be inspired, seeing those kids chaining themselves or sleeping in trees or getting arrested “for their cause” does not “rile me up” or make me feel as though I could be part of the solution. It further alienates me from the process of environmentalism and eco-activism because I am not in the position in which I could or would do those things. Personally, I believe MTV’s show would be more effective to perhaps show the radical kids, as well as people like Josh, and especially people who are making personal daily choices that can’t be measured in Congress or by police records. Such as giving up their car or changing their lightbulbs; making the choices to live more deliberately.
    Environmentalism and eco-activism should not a “fad” for MTV to exploit, and by only showing only the radical protesters as representative of eco-activists, I fear that they will polarize and alienate those who would and could make significant change in other ways.

    Reply

  11. TLittle says:

    MTV is interested in one thing, ratings, not a political agenda. They want the most out-there, commmitted person, on the show. People will end up laughing at these people rather than taking them seriously.
    I think instead of an ecoactivist, MTV would probabbly like to have some ecoterrorists. At least that would drive up the ratings.
    In 2004, Wangari Muta Maathai won the nobel peace prize yet she and her group burned bulldozers and tree-cutting equipment in 1998…not really that peaceful.

    Reply

  12. Marcia says:

    Good for you Scott Paul. Just the right tone to protest an overblown image of environmentalists who are infinitely more serious than our government and concerned about the world and life we will leave to those who come after us.

    Reply

  13. Carroll says:

    This is a society where actions speak louder than words, especially to young people….MTV is right in it’s marketing decision that confrontation and action draws more attention than plodding dedication.
    Too bad for your friend not to get recongized for his good work, but that’s not the goal or what MTV is about…they want to “rile up” a generation on this issue and create more activist.
    Therefore I don’t think their choice is bad…it’s more effective…as any one in sales or marketing will tell you the first thing you do is “put people in the picture”.

    Reply

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