June 14th, 2010
Okay, now that I’ve managed to insult and infuriate every ocean lover on the planet, please hear me out.
Like all ocean lovers of my generation, I grew up on Jacques Cousteau. And having lived in Hawaii from ages five to ten, I can assure you I was a full-blooded ocean lover — enough to carry me through junior high, high school and college in Kansas and still become a marine biologist. I loved the guy, loved his show, and cherish the photo I have of me shaking his hand in Australia when I finally met him.
But that said, the times have changed.
“Who will be the new Jacques Cousteau?” This question is being posed over and over again right now with the 100 year anniversary of his birthday. I get this same sort of question with almost every screening of “Flock of Dodos” — someone inevitably asks during the Q&A, “Who is going to be the new Carl Sagan?”
“Hoping for ‘the new Jacques Cousteau’ is like hoping for a new bow and arrow design for our military.”
It’s time for everyone to quit waiting for a miracle — waiting for a new prophet — and get to work. We live in a new media environment. Cousteau was a wonderful man, but he was a part of the old media environment. He lived in a more reverential and deeper thinking age — a time of only three television channels and no Twitter. He lived in a time before Mike Judge nailed our potential future with his masterpiece movie, “Idiocracy” (if only they’d had a scene of the ocean in the movie!). Hoping for “the new Jacques Cousteau” is like hoping for a new bow and arrow design for our military. Times have changed.
All of the ocean communicators of today have failed. If you were to plot a graph of the number of really wonderful, earnest, dedicated ocean-loving communicators and conservation groups over the past four decades versus the health of the oceans, it would be an inverse relationship, headed straight downhill, and currently featuring the Gulf oil spill as the latest data point.
And yet, we know that mass communication has infinite potential power. It’s why corporations throw billions of dollars into television commercials.
The public can still be reached and motivated. But it will never happen so long as the people with the money continue to support only the dullest, most cautious and most conservative of communication efforts, while talking a big story about their favorite buzz word, “innovation.” It’s not happening. And pining for Jacques Cousteau, as saintly as he may be (and I’m with you on this — I contributed a silly little anecdote to Andy Revkin’s blog on Friday in honor of the man), simply isn’t going to save the oceans.
The oceans need new, innovative, brave, probing, experimenting, exploring voices. What do I mean by this? I mean projects and programs where everyone involved is genuinely nervous because they are taking big risks. I don’t see enough of that happening. As the businessmen I worked with recently said, “Polite discussions produce polite results.” I will add to that — polite results aren’t enough to save today’s oceans.