J500 Media and the Environment


Laugh and They’ll Laugh With You (Hopefully) by KaylaReg

I lived with the female version of Ras Trent for two years of college.

She was completely unmoved by what her brain was like on drugs or how she too could kill her younger sibling while driving under the influence.

Only one anti-drug campaign I know of ever made her stop and think, simply because it was so funny that she didn’t know what she was watching.

Like it or not, we live in a world of multiple and sometimes conflicting truths, where reality is often different for each person. In such a world, laughter can be the best tool for putting all of its complexities in perspective.

William McDougall, one of the theorists discussed in Dr. Jim Lyttle’s research on humor, claims that laughter gives us a sort of release from the stresses of living in a conflicted society. It’s why we laugh at the satiric hyperbole of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. We understand the absurdity of the movie because we see very real reflections of it every day, like Atrazine in our water and fast-food being likened to cocaine. When we can find humor in even what seems to be the most desperate of dilemmas, the situation can’t paralyze us in fear and we can still work to fix it.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure whether people are seeing much humor in things these days.

Consider this video telling us that if we don’t shape up immediately, global warming will kill our daughters and we will be responsible.

Buzzkill, right?

This is my very basic illustration of the paths of humor. Laughing at an out-group will set a norm for exclusion. Self deprecation will allow members of an out-group feel comfortable. Shared laughter creates a bond and sense of community between groups.

Such advertisements are just begging for parody from Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and John C. Reilly’s Green Team and the psychotic earth day spokesman. At least these videos make environmentalism look better than the “tree people” of this Ali G Show episode and it couldn’t hurt environmentalists to take a little ownership over such self-deprecation. It works for politicians, and few things are more political today than Mother Earth.

Since the political polarizing of environmentalism, the saviors and enemies of our planet are seen in terms of left and right, Democrat and Republican and who signed what legislation and who worked against it. Such absolutes construct artificial dividers of people based on opinions and affiliations, undermining the whole “we’re in this together” idea of the environment.

According to Lyttle, anthropomorphic and sociological studies have repeatedly shown that shared laughter creates a sense of community among diverse populations and reflects tolerance, acceptance and sympathy towards others. Remember what The Cosby Show did for defusing stereotypes and empowering the black community?

We can bash the Monsantos of the world all day and night, but it won’t get the average farmer to stop using its products. If anything, demonizing Monsanto products (that frankly help many farmers support their family) only excludes its customers from the conversation, throwing away any knowledge the group could have offered.

If environmental leaders want people to jump on the bandwagon, they might want to take a hint from the Huxtables and stop taking everything so seriously.

Green Police, a Super Bowl advertisement for a hybrid car, is a great example of how environmentalism can poke a little fun at itself and still reinforce a positive, progressive message. Jack Black’s Earth to America promotion encouraged me to be part of a movement towards progress, not a frenzy to stop a speeding train. I wanted to learn more about coal and clean air after I giggled at the Cohen Brothers’ This is Reality video.

Ultimately, laughter influences our attitudes, understanding, and brings people together better than any amount of finger-pointing or doomsday warnings ever will.

Swami Beyondananda argues that by embracing societal conflicts with humor, we’re better able to process its paradoxes and see solutions that fall outside of our normal thinking. No better example exists than America’s greatest humorist Mark Twain. By making us laugh at the often complicated and multiple truths of humanity, he completely changed American perception of slavery and racism.

So even though Ed Begley wants you to know that “there’s nothing funny about climate change,” I’m going to respectfully disagree. I’m sure we can find plenty of humor in climate change as well as everything else in life, and it’s something to be embraced.

Lighten up, principal Begley. It’s time to have some laughs.

-Kayla R.



Organic Pet Food? by Sean T.
  • Wysong offers organic cat food in a bag that preserves freshness. SOURCE- Sean Tokarz
  • Organic product sales are rising. Out of the people I know who buy organic, only a few are willing to spend extra for organic pet food. Why is that, I ask them? Some say they never thought of it. Some people say jokingly that their pets don’t mind the taste. Almost all agree that it’s because they think the costs outweigh the benefits.

    My cat Bootsy was out of food so I decided to get some organic cat food. I tried Wysong‘s Vitality Feline Diet. It costs more per pound than Bootsy’s old Purina but the pieces seemed heartier. I looked at the ingredients and it contained less animal by-product and corn substance. It also contained more chicken and looked grainier. Bootsy was in love with it, but I wasn’t convinced yet.

    I called Wysong’s customer service line to ask if their product was better. Betty, the representative, said that she thought it was better because it had more nutrients and less chemicals than conventional pet food. She said that just as I felt peppier after eating organic food, so do pets notice small changes. A shinier coat and more energy are things she specifically noted.

    Since Wysong’s feed doesn’t have preservatives it means that less foreign chemicals enter the animal’s body. This is important because chemical preservatives can hurt pets–especially when combined with pesticide residue. Betty also mentioned less “filler.” Filler is the term for non-protein matter in pet food, mostly corn-based. She closed with saying that organic food was worth trying to see how a pet responds.

    In fairness, I called Purina‘s customer representative. Bootsy has eaten their kitten chow for most of his life so I was interested to hear their opinion. The service representative assured me that the food had “complete 100% nutrition” because of its balance of protein and carbohydrates. The second-most ingredient is corn meal, which seemed unnatural to me. The representative said that cats needed this for carbohydrate energy.

    I asked about animal by-products. Were they safe? Why don’t humans eat them? The representative said animal by-products were a natural choice for pets because they are hunters. When they catch something, he said, they eat the whole thing–livers and intestines included. So even though eating chemical-treated gizzards regularly is harmful for humans, our pets should be okay.

    To round out the representatives’ biases I talked to a local veterinarian. Dr. Matt Coles at the Animal Hospital of Lawrence said that dietary needs vary from pet to pet.

    He said that better quality food does make animals feel better. But he also said that pets have very adjustable stomachs. If a pet is sensitive and has an “inflammatory condition” a certain diet may agitate cancer. If the pet is not sensitive, the quality of food is not as important.

    According to Dr. Coles, dental disease and obesity are the worst health conditions for cats. Dental disease comes from too much sugar in a diet (whether from wet food or…too much corn!). Obesity stems mostly from overfeeding pets, not the actual pet food.

    Dr. Coles said that once cats are a year old they should be fed a certain amount each day. When they’re allowed to eat freely is when Dr. Coles sees “cats that are 20 pounds and have diabetes.”

    So, if you want your cat to feel rejuvenated spend extra money on organic feed. You don’t have to do it every time but everybody likes a treat. Just don’t treat them too much or you’ll be spending extra for Diabetic Cat Chow in a few years.

    Dr. Matt Coles said sugar content and amount fed are bigger factors with cat food than whether it's organic or not. SOURCE - photopost.com

    Sean T.



    Earth Day: yer doin’ it wrong. by bendcohen

    Earth Day is great.  For one day a year, even the non-environmentalists can get together and say “You know what, I kind of like the planet.”  For forty years now, Earth Day has provided people a brief respite from being called tree huggers (at least in a derogatory way).  The problem is, when a lot of people only pay attention to sustainability on special occasions, they can get it wrong.

    I first thought about this point a few years ago when the story came out that Sir Paul McCartney, an avid environmentalist when not busy being the guy who wrote “Hey Jude”, had some kind of especially green automobile delivered to him in England from Japan.  Now, no matter how it was transferred, getting a car from east Asia to the (for them) far end of Europe would take a lot of money and a lot of energy.  Apparently the plan was that the car, a Lexus L600H, would be transported by boat.  Sadly, the news broke quickly that this didn’t happen, and it was delivered by airplane. The estimate given for how much this increased the carbon footprint of the car: about 100 times.

    "Know what gets great mileage? My yellow subma-" "Don't even start, Ringo."

    I roll my eyes when celebrities try to take up a cause and occasionally fail miserably, because no matter how insignificant they are supposed to be to a movement, inevitably the media will focus on them, and the ironic situations that frequently arise from the attempted mixing of two different kinds of green lifestyles.  One of those is the kind of “green” that traditionally gets the label, that of somebody who tries to lead a sustainable life, in The Cute One’s case by buying an awesome, really expensive hybrid car.

    I am reminded by the occasional poor attempts at encouraging the right thing on Earth Day this year.  During an Earth Day celebration at KU’s Kansas Union, where different environmental groups passed out literature and hosted educational games, there was one booth that got my attention.  After picking up a reusable water bottle from them, I noticed that they were the source of a t-shirt I had seen with some frequency that day.  It was green, and read on the front “My shirt is green.  Are you?”

    While a little condescending, my biggest problem with the shirt wasn’t what it was, but how people acquired it.  You see, the whole Earth Day fair was sponsored by Coca-Cola, which has a corporate partnership with the University.  Needless to say, they liked having their name on something positive, and also wanted a good way to make money off of it, which I don’t begrudge them.  Back to the t-shirts: you got one by buying two bottles of soda.  Buy more of an unhealthy product packaged in a non-biodegradable object, and get a free t-shirt (made of organic cotton!), without even a note to be sure to recycle those bottles.  In related news, authorities still have not located Irony’s body, though have assured us that they will continue searching around the clock.

    In fairness, I later asked somebody working at the fair who assured me that the exchange was a mix-up.  The plan was that the t-shirts would be a new line made out of recycled plastic, but this fell through, and they hoped using organic cotton would be sufficient for people.  For me, it wasn’t.  For everyone I mentioned it to, it wasn’t.  There’s a difference between supporting sustainability, and giving it lip-service on a holiday, and this was cleanly the latter.



    Celebrities Going Green…Or Are They? by jackiemcc

    Last week, I was browsing the Internet, and came across one of ABC’s Stars Go Green videos. In these videos, they feature celebrities in their own homes who are going green.

    These days so many stars are claiming to go green. However, after viewing the above video, I started to rethink the concept of celebrities going green. I began to wonder how many of them are actual leading green lives themselves.

    It’s easy for someone to say they’re going green, but the truth is, that not all of them practice what they preach. There are many stars out there who say they support protecting the environment, but when you look at their personal lives, they are not following through with their word. All these stars are contributing to ‘greenwashing.’

    Celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, John Travolta, Natalie Portman, and Madonna are all among the culprits. Many of them preach for a greener environment, but when they’re off flying their own private jets and “using synthetic materials in [their] vegan line of footwear,” it’s hard to believe them. All of their practices are not supporting the environment.

    But what is prompting these stars to greenwash? Last semester I took a “Current Issues in Journalism” course at KU. In this course, we discussed a lot of these same issues. We talked about how celebrities are used to promote popularity of certain products. Because consumers idolize certain celebrities, they may be tempted to buy a certain product if their favorite celebrity is using it.

    As a result, celebrities might catch on to this, and take their popularity for advantage. They may think that because they’re popular, people will believe whatever they say. And this is what is happening with the “going green” trend. It is quite popular now, so the celebrities want say they support the cause, even if their actions don’t confirm it. Bottom line, they want to make themselves look good, so they can maintain public approval.

    Whatever their reason, I would ask these celebrities who are not following through with their words, to please step aside and make room for those who are going green. There is no need for those who aren’t contributing to the issue; you’re not positively impacting the environment. I would rather hear from the celebrities who are, even if that means fewer.

    -Jackie McClellan



    Portions in restaurants need to “SuperShrink” by bpirotte

    “Are you gonna eat that?”–the question that always seems to come up after a meal shared with friends. And it usually comes from me.

    You might be thinking I’m just an incredibly hungry, insatiable 20 year old male, but the truth is, I ask to help finish people’s plates because I hate waste so much.

    Growing up, I was always taught the idea of a “happy plate.” Finish all that you were served, no matter if it was meat, potatoes, vegetables or pudding, time at the table wasn’t done until everything was eaten up. And this didn’t seem to be a challenge for my sister and I as children, one because we were decent eaters and not particularly picky, but also because Mom never over served us, making sure we had just the right of food on our plates.

    While it wasn’t until later I ever heard the threat of “there are starving kids in Africa, eat your food!”, I just knew it was my duty to finish what I was given, and that value has stuck with me ever since.

    In a culture where restaurants serve way too much,

    A 30 oz steak? How many meals could you make from that? Restaurants need to lower portion sizes. Photo from Flickr by TheMuuj

    it’s hard not to waste. It’s not always practical (or possible) to ask for that doggy bag, but when possible, dinner the night before often makes a great lunch the next day. In reality, though, restaurants really should be making portions smaller to avoid such blatant waste. I don’t think customers would complain really, either. How many times has a waiter come to your table to ask about dessert and you have to deny them on the basis of your stomach already being at carrying capacity? No wonder obesity is such an issue.

    With eating out being something Americans just don’t seem to want to give up, restaurants should respond by offering healthier, smaller portions of their food at least an option. The restaurants would save money, and the consumers could save some pounds.

    –Ben P.



    by tesshedrick
    April 23, 2010, 2:37 pm
    Filed under: J500 Week 13

    As I sit here, the only thing on my mind is hunger.  It is mid afternoon and I have just realized that I forgot to have lunch.  School work has taken over the precedence of eating today.  The closest I’ve had to food since my 8 am breakfast is a venti non-fat latte from Starbucks.

    The coffee has helped me get through the day but I imagine if I had eaten something then I would have had a longer lasting burst of energy.  Presently, I am thinking of the millions of people in the world that suffer from hunger everyday.  I have “suffered” hunger for only hours.

    Should I tell myself that I am lucky to have eaten just hours ago or should I scold myself for whining about being hungry?  Growing up in the suburbs of Kansas City, I have never really been exposed to those that suffer from hunger.  I know people are living suffering from hunger, but I have never stopped to think how that must feel.

    When I hear of people starving to death, I feel so sorry for them.  Any type of death is sad.  However, I have just realized that I haven’t put myself in their shoes before.  How would it feel to be hungry for days at a time?  That is a scary thing to think about.

    -Tess H



    My Environmental Awakening by micolea

    Photo by paul david/Courtesy Flickr

    When it comes to helping conserve the environment, my mom practices what she preaches. Long before I was even aware of our planet’s perils, my mom was doing her part and setting an admirable example for me to follow.   

    Conserving water: It is a part of my mother’s daily routine to always turns off the faucet when she is brushing her teeth, and when showering she also turns off the water in between shampooing and conditioning her hair. Plus, when washing the dishes, instead of letting a constant stream of water run, she just fills the sink with the water needed. To understand why my mom is stringent about the issue of water is to acknowledge her childhood. My mom came from a country where water was often rationed. In some of the provinces in the Philippines water was only available for certain times during the day. After those hours, the water companies would simply turn the water off. This was a normal, everyday occurence.

    Curtailing food waste: In my mom’s eyes the only thing worst than wasting water is wasting food. At dinner time, I was reminded regularly to only take the amount I could eat. Likewise, we would always eat leftovers. My mom was determined not to throw away any food that was “still perfectly fine,” as she would say. I recall one of the first and most astonishing cultural experiences I had regarding food waste. I was nine years old and my mom, aunt and myself were dining at a buffet in Manila, Philippines. Being young, and considering that my eyes were often bigger than my stomach, I was unable to finish all of the food on my plate. When the waiter came to collect our plates and he saw the remnants of uneaten food still left on mine, he sternly informed my mom that there would be an extra charge for the wasted food. At that age, I did not understand the gravity of wasted food, but now, in retrospect, I realize the relevance of that experience.   

    My mom grew up in a country where water was scarce and access to food was, at times, limited. Her upbringing and her surroundings are what engrained in her an appreciation and respect for the environment and its natural resources. We all come from different walks of life and our cultures and the society’s we live in shape our experiences and attitudes about the environment.   

    It was and still is my mom’s continuous example of being aware and caring about the world around her that inspired me to reevaluate my daily routines. I began to incorporate my mom’s environmental habits into my collegiate lifestyle. It wasn’t an overnight change, but a gradual adjustment in recognizing that in order to make tomorrow better, I have to start today. We are all in this together. Each action we make, no matter how big or small, affects us all. Each of us, as individuals, can take small steps to improve the health of our planet.   

    Micole Aronowitz