Story of Stuff Goes Mainstream, Called "Anti-Capitalist"

When he covered the Story of Stuff over two years ago, Warren said "This energetic and engaging movie covers so much ground in such a short space of time your head might spin."

Since then, it has made more than five and a half million heads spin. It is in all the schools, and according to the New York Times, not everyone is happy about it. In Montana, the Missoula County School Board decided it was biased. One parent said "There was not one positive thing about capitalism in the whole thing;" that is polite compared to what one finds in comments on the Internet. So I looked at it again after a two year break.

He is right. It is biased, it is anti-capitalist, it is a bit of a screed. It makes some mistakes and distorts a bit. But overall the message resonates.

Annie Leonard starts with a description of the linear system of extraction through manufacture through sales through use and then disposal. She is tough, describing mining and forestry:

"We'll start with extraction, which is a fancy word for natural resource exploitation, which is a fancy word for trashing the planet," she says at one point. "What this looks like is we chop down the trees, we blow up mountains to get the metals inside, we use up all the water and we wipe out the animals."

She then goes on to production, spending some time on Brominated fire retardants as examples of the evils of the system. They are in clothing, furniture and computers, and build up in people and breast milk in particular. She cries, "why are they doing this?"

But this is simplistic. The fat evil capitalists don't pay money to add chemicals because they want to, they do it because some government agency thought that it was important to prevent deaths from fire by adding retardants that they thought were safe.

We know now that they are not necessarily so, and at TreeHugger say that we shouldn't be using them. But it is a stretch to imply that manufacturers are evil in putting it in; that is what the safety authorities told them to do. It is a problem throughout the film; life is really a bit more complicated.

She is dead on in the distribution section, about the externalizing of costs. And about consumption too, that it was the engine of the economy, and much of what has been sold to us was junk. And about the treadmill of consumption and credit and work to pay for it all.

She also gets the key point that production, distribution and disposal cannot be linear but must be circular. Her drawing is a bit rougher than the one we keep using, but the message is the same:

In the end, if we are going to keep making stuff, we have to encourage good design, clean production, producer responsibility and resource recovery. There is nothing commie and anti-capitalist about that. And nothing that our children shouldn't know about. It is just good business.

Watch it here at the Story of Stuff.

Tags: Consumerism | Education