By Donella Meadows
–February 20, 1992—-
The television people offered to pay my $400 plane fare to New York. Better come the night before, they said, in case there’s a blizzard. We’ll get you a hotel room. (Another $125.) Bring two suits, they said, to be sure one of them will match the set. Since I don’t own two suits, or even one, I took along one plain dress, hoping that it wouldn’t clash.
Be at the studio at 10:00 sharp, they warned me. I was. They were surprised when I presented them with a bus receipt. Why didn’t you take a cab? they asked.
There were about 50 people dashing around, adjusting lights, testing microphones, carrying clipboards, untangling cables. Go into the Green Room until we’re ready for you, they said.
The Green Room was not green. It was stocked with coffee and doughnuts. People buzzed in and out for an hour, while I waited. One of them stopped suddenly and took a hard look at me. Better go to make-up, she said. I don’t want make-up, I said. Go to make-up, she said, those lights will KILL you.
There were three jolly women in make-up. Their faces showed that they believed wholeheartedly in their own profession. One of them started to work on me. The others were studying the Glamorous Hostess on a monitor, worrying about the bags under her eyes. I think this will do it, said a make-up lady, grabbing one of several thousand little pots and heading into the studio, where the Glamorous Hostess sat on the set, arranging her legs.
Suppose, I suggested, that everyone does this show without any make-up, so the folks at home know they look normal? I said that to three different people, but none of them heard me.
Made up, I waited another half hour in the Green Room. Then I was escorted through a throng of attendants to a chair on the set next to the Glamorous Hostess. She was pencil-thin, in a fashionable suit with a short skirt up to THERE and gaudy jewelry. The set was a wierd apricot color. I didn’t think either her suit or my dress matched it, but no one said anything about that.
Workmen were rearranging a wall of artificial plants behind us at the direction of a person with a clipboard. A microphone tender wired me up. Three people hovered around the Hostess, adjusting locks of hair and gluing them down with spray, flicking lint off her shoulders, and applying last-minute powder under her eyes.
For another half-hour, while these preparations were underway, she and I and various bystanders chatted. This is the first environmental show we’ve done, said a producer, and we’ve all learned SO MUCH. I think it’s going to change our lives! said the Hostess. I’m recycling now, and my whole family has begun to turn off lights!
How about turning off the ones up there? I asked, pointing to the ceiling where about 20 huge spotlights were glaring down at us. They’ve been on two hours, I said, and you haven’t shot a minute of tape yet. They must draw at least ten kilowatts, not counting the fans to blow away the heat. I said that several times, but no one heard me.
By noon we were ready. The Hostess read from a monitor, first an introduction of me and then questions for me. She messed up her reading twice, stopped the cameras, and started over. I responded to her questions as best as I could. If one of my answers lasted more than 30 seconds, she cut me off and started reading the next question. I didn’t dare stop the cameras and ask to do any of my responses again. In three minutes it was over.
Right, if our society does not reduce its exorbitant waste, its heedless excess, we will consume or pollute all the resources of the planet. Thank you very much, Professor Meadows.
I flew home feeling dizzy and dirty. Fifty people, airplane fuel, hotel bills, cabs, coffee, kilowatt-hours, make-up, fake plants, an expensive Hostess, and a day of my life, all for three minutes of fluff. Painstaking attention to image, hardly a thought for content. The resources of the planet squandered, in the name of the planet.
I’ll never do that again, thought one part of me. Another part of me replied, don’t you want to encourage those people in the never-never land of West 57th Street, if they want to put on environmental shows? Isn’t it exactly what they should be doing, and what you should be doing? Don’t you know that nothing is real in America until it’s been trivialized on the tube?
The argument is still going on inside me. What I really want to argue against is the terrible fact that so many people do define their reality by the unabashed fakery of the television world. What I’d really like to say into the camera is, folks, if you want to learn about the world, turn off your television set. Read. Talk to people. Take a walk. Look around. Live.
And don’t let those glamorous hosts and hostesses on the screen intimidate you. Nobody looks like that, not without three people hovering around tending to every detail. Turn off the set and be content. You look normal. You look fine.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1992