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Mediation on the Media

Our class has investigated environmental justice and its multiple facets as a field of study, frame of social and political understanding, and as a social movement.  Several themes have emerged as we explore the history and documentation of environmental justice.  The media–its role as advocate and adversary– frequently appears in the EJ story.  In Sweet Crude, the media distorts, simplifies, and just simply misrepresents the Nigerian struggle for a clean environment  (and their fight against Shell’s collusion with authoritarian government at the hands of paramilitary thugs).  At times, environmental justice fights are “sexy.”   Yet, in Steve Lerner’s recent monograph Sacrifice Zones (2011) and other documentaries, the media offers a critical venue to change minds and perceptions of politicians and the public.  Woven into environmental justice struggles is recognition and claiming a voice; the media is a tool to carry that voice across space and time.   So, where is the line between voyeurism and reporting, or exploitation and representation?

Our visit to Port Arthur provided a glimpse into the relationship between the media and environmental justice advocates;  a television reporter and cameraman along with a major newspaper reporter recorded our visit.  Their presence poked a hole in our classroom “bubble,”  disrupted how we may have envisioned our field interaction with the community.  Some may have refrained from using cell phones for fear of being caught on texting on television. Others may have self censored questions being in the presence of the newsman.  Beyond this self-awarness, the media presence forced us to reflect on our own role as “toxic tourists.”  Are we just as voyeuristic, or the other side of the coin?  Does it depend upon how we conduct ourselves, or what we do with the information once we leave?

Cameraman, Hilton Kelley, and Student


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