Happy Earth Day! As a sustainability consultant, I loathe Earth Day. I council my clients to stay clear of it. My high school basketball coach used to warn us kids against going out hard on New Years – it’s amateurs night, he said. Same goes for Earth Day. It’s not the same day it was when it was founded in 1970. It’s a Hallmark card for the earth. Hallmark cards are trash. Enjoy your symptom, as Zizek says. Every Earth Day brands, celebrities and commoners veneer themselves in what they think sustainability should look like. 3 Rs and chasing arrows. With a “Seventh Generation” pastiche assuming the posture of some imagined Native American sensibility takes over our Facebook feed, I watched The Shining (Kubrick, 1980).
In Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden” (1899), Kipling is unapologetic about European’s burden to “take care of” third world inhabitants. The poem is about manifest destiny, imperialism, and racism – it’s the original first world problem. Stanley Kubrick channeled a bit of this when he reimagined Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining as a movie in 1980. And, here I think we can explore The Shining’s relationship with Native Americanism, and the 70’s quaint sensibilities with environmental protectionism.
Much has been made of Kubrick’s forceful insertion of Native Americanism into King’s text. The film can certainly be read as an indictment of the genocide of Native Americans thanks to our imperialistic ways. I want to be clear that I don’t trust this as a reading of the movie, but Kubrick put it there to be found, and I believe, to distract and play with a common theme in the horror genre – that of a horror from an unknown. That said, he inserted a back-story and sets of iconographies that was not in the book. In the movie, the Overlook Hotel was built on an Indian burial ground, and was under attack by Indians throughout its construction. The set design and costume design is littered (wait for it) with Native American artifacts. From Wendy’s squaw inspired fringed leather jacket, to paintings titled “Great Mother”, to Calumet Baking Powder packaging with the profile of an Indian Chief, to Navaho and Apache visuals and auditory references throughout the movie – it is there to be found. Kubrick played similar games in Full Metal Jacket alluding to Native American genocide. It’s a thing he does.
And, quite pointedly and out of place, when Jack is sitting at the bar talking to ghost bartender Loyd, he refers to the Kipling poem – “White Man’s Burden, Loyd, my man, White Man’s Burden.” There is our thread to yank as we look at Sustainability drifting into this Pop-Culture text.
To reflect the time and create yet another connection to Native Americanism, Kubrick inserts bit to localized Pop-Culture into the movie. It takes the form of a single line of dialogue, a simple game played between mother and son. When the Torrance family arrive at the Overlook, Wendy and Danny decide to go explore the infamous garden maze. As they are racing to the maze, they toss back and forth a kind of colloquial game: “Loser has to keep American clean.” It’s a great example of early sustainability Pop-Culture being used in film to place the film in a certain moment in time, much the same way Navajo design, fringe leather jackets, etc. place it in the Colorado mountains. The quip is a reference to the Keep America Beautiful campaign of 1971. Remember the canoe trip down the river, the bags of trash falling at the Native America’s feet, the single tear of Iron Eyes Cody (who was actually an Italian actor)?
The PSA was a critique on disposable culture. It was an early form of William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle cry of “there is no away.” Trash always ends up at someone’s feet. Usually, that someone is poor and brown. The dirtiest places on earth are also the poorest and the least white. White man’s burden indeed. Imperialism, according to Kipling, was a form of humanitarianism. It was the white man’s responsibility to save the savage. We see this today as we solve the world’s problems through our consumption. We can’t buy a latte these days without also creating a job for a woman in a developing country, according to modern sustainability reports and ad campaign.
Or, to bring this back around…The Stanley Hotel sits at the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. It was King’s inspiration for the Overlook. Today, Coors, the taste of the Rockies, doesn’t just produce banquet beer, but is also cleaning up our landfills.
Enjoy your symptom.