Celluloid saviors: Why the world doesn’t need Superman—or Al Gore

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In multiplexes near you, the world is ending. On one screen, Lex Luthor is about to create a new alien-derived land mass that will make mincemeat of the already existing continents. On another, global warming is about to turn Greenland into water. In both cases, New York City — or Metropolis — is destined to swim with the fishes.

We need a hero! Fortunately, we have two: the Man of Steel, and the Man of Wood.

Inconvenient truths — for Gore. There’s much talk about Al Gore’s new charisma, with an Entertainment Weekly article that glows as brightly as green Kryptonite placing him firmly in the “pop idol” category. Watching Gore’s new Earth-in-the-balance documentary, I didn’t quite see it myself.

An Inconvenient Truth has got to be the wimpiest, most evasive name imaginable for a film about looming planetary disaster; only a Democrat politician could come up with it. But don’t get me wrong: I think everybody should see this movie. When reviewers call it compelling, they aren’t lying. It’s basically a slide show, yes, but the science is up-to-date, the presentation is stylish and grabby, and it’s a real cliffhanger.

The only problem with Al Gore’s movie, as Tom Brokaw noted regretfully, is that there’s too much Al Gore in it. And yet, somehow, not enough.

Watching Truth, you would never know that the Cassandra making the call to arms — or at least to bicycle-riding and Prius-buying — spent eight years occupying one of the most powerful positions in the world. As Bill Clinton’s vice president, Gore was also the environmental point man for an administration whose party, for a time, controlled not only the executive office but also both houses of Congress.

The conventional wisdom is that this administration was a green one. But the conventional wisdom is dead wrong.

Books could be written about how bad the Clinton-Gore years were for the ecology. (And, in fact, have been, by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair.) Suffice it to say, if you like dolphins in your tuna salad, dioxin in your scrambled eggs, a hazardous waste incinerator next to your childrens’ elementary school, and clear-cutting in your national forest, then this was the administration for you.

Surprise — it’s our fault. One of the most simple and direct favors the Clinton-Gore team did for the corporations during their term was selling off the government-owned Elk Hills oil field to Occidental Oil, the source of much of the Gore family wealth. This was the biggest privatization in U.S. history, resulting in fabulous profits for Occidental.

I don’t think that we even hear the word “profits” anywhere in the documentary. The cause of the ravaging of the Earth, according to Gore, is not the capitalist lust for green stuff (that other kind), but the “clash between civilization and the environment.”

It’s all of us who are responsible. You and me and Aunt Minnie. It’s just one of those unfortunate things that as the population grows and technology advances, we encounter a few glitches.

Not to worry, though! Gore gives the example of ozone depletion in the atmosphere as an environmental comeback story. From his brief comments in the movie, you would think that this is a problem that’s licked. In fact, a just released study by NASA and others shows that ozone recovery is coming along much more slowly than expected. And new harm from ozone loss is being discovered and reported all the time.

A bouncy list of “solutions” to global warming mixes with the credits at the end of Truth, as Melissa Etheridge sings the closing tune (for free, EW reports). They are all things that you can do as an individual (no need to join an organization, let alone a radical one): recycle, take public transportation, and, “if you believe in prayer,” pray.

Heroes-in-waiting. Which sort of brings us back to Superman Returns. In that movie, of course, we don’t have to save ourselves — that’s the job of the guy in the colored tights and cape. We’re all saved from above.

So, two models of redemption: individual solutions for global problems, or relying on those on high. But, you know, been there, tried that, and only came back with a lousy t-shirt. The answer, in my view, is a huge dose of collective auto-heroicism.

An awful lot of people, including my two Truth-going companions, are wondering if Gore’s movie presages another bid for the presidency. Could be. In that case, here’s what I think:

Reasonable people may disagree about whether Lois Lane should go running back into Superman’s sculpted arms after his five-year disappearance. But if Al Gore, with his burnished nerd-hip image, tries to sweep us off our feet again in 2008 — honey, we can do better than that!

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