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The Sudden Violence of the Exxon Valdez

The Sudden Violence of the Exxon Valdez

(p.223) Fourteen The Sudden Violence of the Exxon Valdez
Seeing Green
Finis Dunaway
University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines media imagery of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. The pathos-inducing pictures of oil-soaked creatures contrasted with the image of Exxon as ruthless despoiler of the Alaskan wilderness. Still, the visual media reduced the complex dynamics of energy policy and environmentalism to easily understood tropes of blackened beaches and doomed wildlife. While Exxon complained that the coverage preyed on spectator feelings to malign the corporation, environmentalists such as Murray Bookchin and Bill McKibben believed that the emotional power of oil spill imagery also worked to obscure other environmental crises in the making. Even as scientific theories of global warming gained increasing acceptance, the long-term risks of fossil-fuel dependency, including the slow, systemic violence of climate change, seemed far removed from the wreckage of Exxon Valdez. While some environmentalists warned of these long-term, accretive dangers, dominant views of the spill underwrote the green consumerist strategy of boycotting Exxon, an effort to punish this clearly identifiable agent for its environmental sins. As with the Alar crisis, this campaign presented the market as a promising realm for environmental politics, a way for green consumers to protest the sudden violence of the oil spill.

Keywords:   Exxon Valdez, oil spill, Alaska, sudden violence, slow violence, Murray Bookchin, Bill McKibben, boycott, emotions

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