domingo, março 30, 2008

the contagion of ostentatious do-goodism

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The darkness that is Earth Hour, Rex Murphy, March 28, 2008.

Tonight, in cities across the country and, indeed, such is the contagion of ostentatious and cost-free do-goodism, in cities around the world, there will be celebrated – if that's the word for so twilight an exercise – something called Earth Hour.

The central action of all these Earth Hours is pulling out the plugs on every “needless” electrical appliance and turning out a whole lot of lights. Toronto puts the goal most succinctly: “to make the city as dark as possible for one full hour.” Does this mean, I wonder, a night session of City Council? As a shortcut to utter bleakness, the idea is unassailable.

Between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., there's going to be a jamboree at Nathan Phillips Square that the very agreeable Nelly Furtado will be highlighting, or perhaps lowlighting in this case. Ms. Furtado, I gather, is an Earth Hour ambassador, and it is a tribute to the seriousness with which she takes that appointment that this global-touring artist will give a “primarily unplugged” performance.

I wonder what “primarily” means here. Will there be – gasp! – electrical cables, microphones and giant display screens at Earth Hour's ground zero? Is this the electrical bulldozer in Earth Hour's Amish barn?

I see from the news reports that Toronto's yoga crowd is really into going dark. Any number of them are going to be holding classes by candlelight, which, it is certain, will mightily stay the rising of the waters and the melting of the polar caps that are the imminent dread of all thinking people everywhere. I don't know if the fatal combination of light bulbs and yoga made it into the great list of free association cautions of An Inconvenient Truth, but they should have if they didn't.

Candles, of course, are an ancient energy-free form of light. I seem to remember an episode from one of David Carradine's immortal Kung Fu series where Kwai Chang Caine explained to a knot of his student “grasshoppers” that candlelight was the only form of energy in the universe that operated outside the laws of physics. “A candle does not insult the darkness,” said the philosopher of slow-motion fists, “it glows from within,” or something like that. Or maybe it was from Kill Bill. That was really philosophical, too.

The Toronto sports community is not one to stay in the light when darkness beckons. In a most Gaia-spirited gesture, the Hangar sports facility at Downsview Park promises a “glow in the dark” soccer game. And how is that going to work? Well, as a spokesperson explained: “We have some soccer leagues scheduled for that night, and they've agreed to play in the dark, complete with glowing balls.” Well, if I know anything about soccer, they may get more than they bargained for.

Lanterns are big during Earth Hour. Several lantern walks are scheduled and, though it's not listed on any program I've seen, I anticipate that prizes will be given to the person who most annoyingly litters his or her sentences with repetitions of “ye aulde.” And there will be an “art” component to the lantern blitz. The High Park Nature Centre is providing “wire and candles needed to transform … jars into glowing, safe, works of art.” There you have it – an old Miracle Whip bottle, a cylinder of beeswax, and Michelangelo's your uncle. Heck, Earth Hour is going to be a second Renaissance.

It will be very, very bad form to show up at any of these events using any form of internal combustion. I have no doubt there will be backsliders sneaking their Escalades into some of the downtown parking lots and then “walking” to the Earth Hour seance. Atheists have gone to Lourdes, and insouciant Christians have smuggled themselves into Mecca's holy shrines, but one must hope that the devotees of this new religion pouring into the unlit neon corridors of downtown Toronto will be less splattered by hypocrisy and shallow-seeming charade.

What happens at 9 o'clock? The lights go on and everyone takes his lantern or her beeswax candle and goes home? Surely it can't be as simple as that. An hour of mere frolic and song, a 60-minute dip into Victorian luminosity, and then back to the game on the plasma TV, up the high-rise elevator, filling up the SUV, turning on the lights in the monster home or condo just to find a sock or read a book.

Surely planets are not saved so easily. One hour a year doing yoga by candlelight or playing soccer with glowing balls and the other 8,759 electrified, lit up, so to speak, like a Christmas tree.

That would reduce Earth Hour to nothing more than a pretentious, hollow, vain and exhibitionistic bout of hyperpublicized moral preening. It would put it on a level with the ludicrous, wristband care show of Make Poverty History a few years back. And God knows, Gaia, too, we wouldn't want to reproduce that empty farce.