Video Essay: Customer Service

I wrote a short satirical essay last week for an environmental film event at a local watering hole. People seemed to like it, so I thought I’d try something new: I grabbed my camera, hopped on my bike, rode into the forest, and recorded myself reading it. Aloud, of course (otherwise, it wouldn’t make a very compelling video). Cinematically, it’s not much- just a still shot of me reading with a few forest shots spliced in to liven things up- but it’s something new, and different, and (hopefully) entertaining. I’ll let you wonderful people be the judge of that.

As we grow hotter and hotter on our little rock orbiting the star Sol, and the sea level rises to lap at our toes, and the forests are being cut down to make way for car dealerships, it’s easy to feel angry and frustrated, helpless, overwhelmingly and personally powerless at the current trajectory of the planet. This essay arose from those feelings. I got to wondering: as human beings, what do we do when something makes us angry and frustrated?

Why, call Customer Service to complain, of course.

So I did (or pretended to, anyways), and here is the result. At the end there is a faint glimmer of hope- it lies in the realization that we still have control over how we choose to live our own lives.

Enjoy. Full text under the video.

A Conversation with Planetary Customer Service

Hello, yes, Customer Service? Hi… Stacy, OK, I’m John. How are you today. Good. Listen, I’d like to return something that was given to me as a gift. It’s stunningly beautiful, and I love it, but I think it’s broken.

No, I received it in a broken condition. I promise I didn’t, like, shake the box it came in.

It’s a planet. It’s medium-sized, weighs about, oh, I don’t know, 5.9 sextillion metric tons. Currently orbiting the star Sol at a distance of 92 million miles. Most of it is covered in water, and the rest is dirty green rocks. There are monkeys who live on it. They call it Earth.

Yes, I know that means Dirt.

What’s wrong with it? Well, for starters, it’s just crawling with monkeys. There are way too many monkeys, and more arrive every day. I don’t think that’s going to stop anytime soon- monkeys are a lot of fun to make, if you catch my drift. But that’s not my biggest problem with it.

The biggest problem is, it’s getting hotter. The monkeys decided the best way to get around the planet’s surface was to burn this black sludge that they found underground. Ha, yeah, ridiculous, I know. But so that’s causing the ice on the top and the bottom of the planet to melt, which is causing the watery part to get bigger. It’s already gone up seventeen centimeters in the last century, and it might go up to forty by the end of this one. It’s a problem. I mean, I like water as much as the next guy, but really, I’m a land dweller. Also, a lot of the monkeys built houses and cities right by the edge of the water, so… yeah. It’s a problem.

How do I know the monkeys are causing it to get warmer? Ah. I see. You’re one of those people. Look, Stacy, the ten warmest years in the 134-year record have all been since 2000, k? And it’s all correlated to increased carbon dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution. I can point my finger with confidence at the black sludge.

Speaking of monkeys causing problems, a lot of the green parts of the planet are disappearing. They keep chopping them down. Those are my favorite parts! Can you do something about that? Oh, and, Stacy, while you’re at it, the monkeys keep dumping their trash into the watery parts, which is just ruining everything for all the non-monkeys that live there. That needs to be fixed too, please.

I’m sorry, company policy? Company policy! Stacy, it’s broken! The monkeys broke it! Look, if it’s not possible to return it, can I at least exchange it for something? I don’t know, maybe I can get some store credit? Do you have anything else that fits in the very narrow range of temperature and moisture that is required to support life as we know it?

No, I don’t want Mars.

Or Venus.

Stacy, don’t offer me Pluto. That’s not even a planet.

What do you mean, it’s the only one like it in stock? You don’t have anything else? Can you check in the back, please? Yeah, I’ll hold while you look.

*Girl from Ipanema plays*

Nothing? Nothing at all. Damn! Well, now what am I supposed to do with this thing? Seriously, I’m asking you, Stacy. What am I supposed to do?

Oh. Sure. Just get the monkeys to stop burning the black sludge. Get real, they’ll never do that. Most of them are selfish assholes. I mean, a lot of them are on board with the idea, but there’s a very small and very powerful minority that has a vested interest in business as usual. So, I don’t know. We’re working on it. Do you have anything else?

Look, can I just return it, please? It’s broken. And I think I got the extended warranty. I might even be able to track down the receipt, if you give me a second…

No. So I’m stuck with it, is what you’re saying. Great.

Stacy, can I tell you something? I was planning on re-gifting it. Maybe to kids of my own, someday, you know? Little monkeys that look just like me, that I could teach to ride bikes, and make art. We could explore the green parts together. Maybe. It’s always been this stupid dream of mine. But now… I don’t know. I mean, I’m just not sure. I don’t want to saddle them with the same raw deal I got. That wouldn’t be fair.

Yeah, maybe you’re right. Maybe there is something more that I could do, since, as you’ve made perfectly clear, I am the one who is stuck with this planet. Maybe I could… I don’t know, ride my bike more. Like, choose one day a week to not get in my car and burn sludge, and bike wherever I needed to go. That could be a good start. And I suppose I could also choose to buy less, to consume less. Stacy, there’s this great delusion in our country that more is somehow better, that buying things can make us happy, and I think that’s a big part of the problem. Maybe if I choose less, and so do other monkeys, collectively, we can make a difference. It’s not much of a choice, but it offers room for hope. At least it’s action. I mean, what’s the alternative?

Well, thanks anyways, Stacy. Nice talking to you. If you have any more brainstorms, call me back, k? I’ll be here, because I literally can’t go anywhere else. If my phone goes to voice mail, that just means I’m out in what’s left of the green parts, enjoying them while I still can.

Thanks again. Goodbye.


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