INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE | Re-telling climate change stories

New Cultural Grammars of the Anthropocene?: Reflections on Post-Science Climate Politics, Affect and Celebrity Politics in Showtime’s The Years of Living Dangerously

Lead Author:

The next Media Communications and Cultural Studies Association conference (MeCCSA) will be held 6-8 January 2016 in Canterbury, UK. The conference is hosted by the School of Media, Art and Design, Canterbury Christ Church University

The theme of the MeCCSA 2016 is ‘Communities’. MeCCSA have invited contributions that address the theme of 'communities' and examine topics such as "communities in the digital age; communities and the commons; communities and cultures; communities on the margins; local and community media; politics and policies of communities; community engagement and cohesion; inclusion and exclusion in communities; communities and the past; media, cultural and communication practices of different types of communities".

The paper summary is as follows:

The Years of Living Dangerously (YOLD), shown in 2014 on Showtime in the USA, was a Hollywood-funded, big-budget, celebrity-presented series of 10 one-hour programmes designed for climate change public engagement. Presented as a succession of intertwined storylines about numerous ‘real life’, everyday aspects of climate change, these dramatic tales were fronted by the likes of Matt Damon, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jessica Alba and Don Cheadle, with each celebrity theatrically performing the duties of a climate change ‘reporter’ or ‘documentarian’. This paper explores the ways that YOLD worked to create a ‘post-scientific’ landscape in the context of climate change whereby public debate is no longer over the science of climate change (i.e. is it happening, how fast, is the science ‘right’, etc), but rather over its impacts and how we might mitigate its effects. In this, affective relationships amongst the audience, celebrities and the characters/ecologies in YOLD are critical: Celebrities work, through forms of ‘para-social activism’, drama and spectacle to facilitate affective responses in audiences (to then spur action) rather than continuing to ‘prove’ the scientific realities of climate change to a more sceptical public. We work to assess how the YOLD—now going forward with a new season in 2016—is creating new cultural and political grammars of the Anthropocene through its attempt to shift the storylines, rationale and affects in the context of the politics of climate change.