Posted by: bmeverett | May 18, 2009

Mao smiles down on “The Story of Stuff”

A recent front-page New York Times article nodded approvingly at a 20-minute video it called “a sleeper hit in classrooms across the nation.” “The Story of Stuff” was developed and narrated by Annie Leonard, formerly of Greenpeace. A Google search of the title produced 631,000 hits. A quick look at the first 200 hits showed exactly one expressing any type of concern. Everyone ought to watch this video, which is available on YouTube. Rather than tell you what I think, a few choice snippets from the video’s narration should give you the idea:

“My friends tell me I should use a tank to symbolize the government, and that’s true in many countries and increasingly in our own. After all, more than 50% of our federal tax money is now going to the military.” (Time: 1:52)

“And as the corporation has grown in size and power, we’ve seen a little change in the government where they’re a little more concerned in making sure everything is working out for those guys than for us.” (Note: Accompanied by a cartoon of the government polishing the shoes of the corporation.) (2:27)

“What [the natural resource economy] 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.” (2:49)

“…[Americans are] using more than our share [of the world’s resources]…. My country’s response to this problem is to go take somebody else’s.” (3:34)

“…we use energy to mix toxic chemicals in with the natural resources to make toxic, contaminated products.” (4:48)

“The erosion of local environments and economies [in the Third World], ensures a constant supply of people with no other options.” (7:08)

“So what do [corporations] do? Move the dirty factories overseas. Pollute someone else’s land.” (8:00)

“How do [retailers] keep the prices down? Well, they don’t pay the store workers very much, and they skimp on health insurance every time they can.” (8:29)

“We’re in this ridiculous situation where we go to work, maybe two jobs even, and we come home and we’re exhausted so we plop down on our new couch and watch TV and the commercials tell us “You suck!” so we gotta go to the mall to buy something to feel better and then you gotta go to work more to pay for the stuff you just bought, so you come home and you’re more tired so you sit down and you watch more TV that tells you to go to the mall again and we’re on this crazy work-watch-spend treadmill, and we could just stop!” (16:23)

“There are people working on saving forests, on clean production, people working labor rights and fair trade and conscious consuming and blocking landfills and incinerators, and, very importantly, on taking back our government… “(19:17)
If teachers are going to use this video as a teaching tool, they need a lesson plan to go with it. Here’s my proposal for the elementary school level (ages 9-11):

1. Ask the students to list 10 things that make America a terrible country. You can start with (1) we waste 50% of our tax money on the military and (2) we steal resources from poor countries. Give extra credit to students who can connect these two points by correctly deducing that we have a large military precisely because we steal things from poor countries.

2. The video shows us that Americans are divided into two groups: evil and stupid. Ask the children to interview their parents to find out which group they are in. They should start by asking their mom and dad whether they are corporate criminals (evil) or have dead-end jobs (stupid). They should then ask whom they voted for in the last presidential election. If they voted for John McCain, they are evil. If they voted for Barack Obama, they are stupid. Please note that Barack Obama is a nice guy with some good ideas, but Americans who think that they can improve their wretched, miserable lives on the “crazy work-watch-spend treadmill” by participating in the corrupt American political process are obviously clueless.

3. Since our homes are one of the major sources of the evil of consumption, explain to the students that homeless people (properly called “low-consuming social units”) should be considered heroes. Ask students to come up with a plan to make their family homeless as well. A grade guide to student answers is as follows:

Student response (Grade)
Donate your house to Greenpeace. (A)
Share your house with 5 other families. (B)
Convince your parents to spend your college fund to get “off the grid”
with $100,000 worth of solar panels, batteries, geothermal heating, etc. (C)
Burn your house down (the right idea, but emits too much carbon). (D)
Enjoy the home your parents bought with their hard-earned money. (F)
4. Automobiles are our second-largest consumer expense, but are much worse than houses, since they are fueled by petroleum – the most evil substance on the planet. As the Duke of Wellington once said about trains, automobiles “allow the common people to move about needlessly.” Ask students to come up with a plan to deal with their families car(s). A grade guide to student answers is as follows:

Student response (Grade)
Donate your car to Greenpeace. (A)
Throw a temper tantrum if your parents don’t buy a hybrid immediately. (B)
Convince your community to buy only 2-seater “smart cars”.
Assign one person to organize the funerals for the extra fatalities. (C)
Push your car into the river (the right idea, but adds trash to the environment). (D)
Enjoy the safety, comfort and mobility your family car offers. (F)

Class activities
1. Plan a series of “conscious consumption” birthday parties for the children with no cake, no candles and no presents. Instead, play fun games like “Pin the Blame on the System.”

2. Start each morning by asking the students to stand up and say what they feel most guilty about today. Some possible examples:

a. Playing with toys (made from toxic plastics).
b. Watching cartoons on TV (exposes children to ads).
c. Going on a family vacation (burns fossil fuels)

3. Encourage students to inform on their parents, telling the teacher whenever a member of their family goes shopping, works hard or enjoys something.

4. Eliminate from your curriculum all mathematics, science, history, economics, civics and anything else that promotes so-called “critical thinking.” Replace all textbooks with a single small green book of vacuous environmental platitudes which the children should wave in unison while gazing lovingly at a picture of Al Gore and singing “Big Yellow Taxi.”



  1. Сенкс. Интересно, и вообще полезный у Вас блог

  2. Отличная статья, спасибо!

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