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Seeing GreenThe Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images$
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Finis Dunaway

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226169903

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226169934.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 17 September 2021

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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