VBS.org made a video blog called “Toxic Garbage Island.” It’s about a Texas-sized island of trash in the North Pacific Ocean, in the “gyre”- a confluence of currents swirling above Hawaii. Super important, tragic issue dealt with by well-intentioned if inept set of video bloggers. Some lessons learned:
1. Presentation is Important
They say “fucking,” a lot. They say it about lots of things, truly bad and not-so-bad, and so frequently, you know they don’t think about it at all. It’s slipped innocuously into their mouths- showing perhaps that they don’t have a professional job, or present ideas for a living (teacher, host, etc.). Mostly, it shows to me that they hang out with a small group of people all the time, that all talk the same. That’s not a very good recommendation for a journalist, but what really gets me about it, is that I can’t forward it willy-nilly. So it’s not going to reach its total potential audience.
2. Do Your Research
These kids did none. They get on a boat, for 7 days of sailing to the center of the ocean and what kind of research did he do– knots– and that’s about it. So you get the opinion of a slightly crazy-sunburned captain with a God Complex, that can’t stick to a single line of argument, and a doctor from Fresno who has pretty much no empirical knowledge about the topic at hand. Enter, a scientist, but either she doesn’t like to be on camera or she doesn’t fit the colorful cast, as she’s rarely on film. Once our narrator checks out her sampling gear, goes “nerd heaven,” and that’s about it. It’s cute, discursive, and totally irrelevant. In response to “can we clean it up?” to the Captain, he says, “No” and then goes onto a discussion of how the worldview has to change, change in the direction of anarchy. This leads the viewer to do their own research, but it is such a great opportunity to educate, an opportunity passed up (or scary thought: misinformed?).
3. Title Things Correctly
They get close to the destination, and then the captain says, “we’re here,” though there is no island of trash. What he was referring to was a very high level of saturation of tiny plastics in the water, far higher than anywhere in the world. When the 3 Vice-Films kids figure out they aren’t going to see a large island of trash, they confront the captain, kinda, in really passive mellow ways that made me squint at the computer (and my respect for confrontational 60-Minutes style interviewing went way up). Off-camera they resolve it by getting “dad to give us the keys” to a dingy where they do crazy circles in the ocean, and try on a helmet. Wait, what was this movie about?
Romance! The final movie shows a 5:30AM booty call between two of the kids, the cameraman and producer (Did she need to go, besides eye candy? Seemed irrelevant since this shows zero production value).
4. The Ending Is Important
Don’t talk too much, be concise (12 episodes?) And if it’s something like this, it doesn’t hurt to have a plan near the end. Give people something to do: be it, passing on the video, starting a local recycling group, or contribute funds to study ways to de-polymer the ocean.
On that note, links of interest:
- Giant garbage patch floating in Pacific from PhysOrg.com.
- From the Captain, Charles Moore, “Trashed
Across the Pacific Ocean, Plastics, Plastics, Everywhere “ on Mindfully.org, also at Natural History Magazine
- Christian Science Monitor: Congress Acts to Cleanup Ocean – Quite a good article that refers to the history of beach and ocean clean-ups.
- The SF Chronicle tackles this too, “Continent-size toxic stew of plastic trash fouling swath of Pacific Ocean, nothing really that new information-wise, except for how it reflects on SF’s banning of plastic bags (note: got a bag this afternoon from a grocer, but got a lot of dirty looks from passer-bys on the street!).
- Great blog article referring to the misconception that it’s an island, Why There Are No Pictures of the North Pacific Trash Gyre by Miriam Goldstein. Why blogging is great- she takes it on with good references and thoughtful, straightforward writing.
- Great journalism by LA Times, these video-bloggers could have taken a hint from an incredible intro: Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas by Kenneth Weiss. Diving into the topic deeper, I was interested in this aspect of the trash gyre:
Derived from petroleum, plastics eventually break down into carbon dioxide and water from exposure to heat and the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
On land, the process can take decades, even centuries. At sea, it takes even longer, said Anthony L. Andrady, a polymer chemist at the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina who studies marine debris. Seawater keeps plastics cool while algae, barnacles and other marine growth block ultraviolet rays.