Syriana: the next oil awareness movie

Last night I saw a trailer for the movie Syriana. Much like The Deal and Oil Storm before it, Syriana is a movie in which bad things happen as a result of fuel shortages. Unlike those two movies, however, Syriana is a big budget Warner Brothers film starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper and a bunch of other big names.

Perhaps more interesting than the movie itself is the fact that it's affilated with a new movie production company called Participant Productions, which also brings us the website  

According to the website:
Welcome to where the power of media meets the strength of community to make a real difference in the world. Brought to you by Participant Productions, this is the place where activists, moviegoers, filmmakers and issue experts can come together around the real issues presented in our films. You can share your ideas, make friends, and create meaningful change. We hope you will help us build the community as a powerful resource for social activism.

The webpage for Syriana (which, notably, is, explains why this movie is related to's mission:
Our dependence on oil is bad news for our environment, economy, and national security, and it creates dangerous flashpoints in politically unstable regions around the globe. We already have the technology to start fixing the problem today with hybrid cars and renewable energies. These solutions reduce our oil demand, save money, and create new high-tech business opportunities. The energy decisions you make every day can have an impact.

Interesting concept, but I'm not sure that movies (unlike books, for some reason) end up empowering people to make a difference. There are plenty of movies about people making a difference, but do they really inspire new change? Can a movie like Syriana (or Oil Storm or The Deal, for that matter) really encourage people to conserve, or make the transition to alternative energy go any faster?
Did 'The China Syndrome' have any effect on stopping new nuclear power plants?  If the right current events happen to reinforce the movie's message then like Three Mile Island the effect could be very powerful.
In fact, Three Mile Island could possibly have been swept under the carpet (or at least downplayed) if it weren't for the fact that 'The China Syndrome' detailed exactly the same kind of accident.

I think films like this can influence the general public and make them aware of issues.

We've had a couple of films from here in NZ that have greatly influenced how NZers think about and relate to the local Maori people.  They were "Once Were Warriors" and "Whalerider".

Other movies can be very educational. The vietnam war movies of the 80's ("Full Metal Jacket", "Platoon", "Hamburger Hill") did a lot to highlight how bad that war actually had been. And films like "Sophies Choice" and "Schindler's List" help us not to forget some truly terrible times in our history.

And let's not forget that Michael Moore has done pretty well out of presenting some issues very close to the American bone.

Well, the China Syndrome example is a good one, but re: Michael Moore, I think that's actually a case of a missed opportunity. In theory (and I'm not discussing this politically), had that movie fulfilled its goal, the whole country would have seriously questioned Bush's fitness to be president. But clearly, it didn't convince enough people and Bush was reelected.

It's also true that historical movies help us remember horrifying past events, but I'm talking about movies that lead us to make positive change in the here and now. I just can't think of any good examples. And as Descolada notes down below, I don't think any of these oil movies are focused on peak oil per se, but rather on reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Thus, a movie like Syriana is probably not going to inspire the public to demand the implementation of alternative energy on a faster timescale. Or even worse, it could lead people to clamor for drilling in ANWR.

(Too bad Oil Storm was only a cable movie on FX, or else more people would have been shocked to see Katrina do exactly what had been laid out in the movie.)

Briefly digressing on ANWR. I think its a near absolute certainty. It may not make any sense even in the short term (it won't in the long term. We need as many relatively stable ecosystems as we can get, not to mention that burning more oil is always bad), but we're addicts. I can only hope that the movie will not be too hollywood--for example like "The Day After Tomorrow." While I've not actually seen it, my impression is that it depicts some very improbable events (timescale wise, not necessarily  magnitude). Had it focused instead on the reality of what a stopped gulf stream would do over the course of say a YEAR or DECADE that might've been more realistic or at least less easily dismissable. We need something like a modern day "Grapes of Wrath." But I guess that can only really truthfully written after the fact.

But my point is that I think it is very hard for any MSM movies to adequately address any kind of serious problems. The hope for Syriana and others of its ilk is that they are not MSM movies (although it seems to be that way), and instead tackle issues head on, and deal with profitability second.

Re: Re: Michael Moore's film

People in the USA (and all around the world actually) are not electing politicians based on whether they are corrupt or not - they generally take this part for granted. People are electing those that they think will make their lives better; in the case of US - those that promise to continue their pretty unsustainable way of life at least a little longer.

This is the sour truth and at least according to my observations there is a huge group that on the surface is expressing their rage against the Iraq fiasco, oil dependance etc., but when they get home or get on their SUVs, they start thinking in other terms and finally vote for Bush. And will vote for him even after their world starts crashing down before their eyes.

A well done movie can alert more people to our oil problems than a book like Twilight In the Desert that reaches only a small number of people.

George! lose the beard!
To your point about reach: I was rather shocked to learn that the first printing of Twilight in the Desert was only 44,000 copies, and Simmons was pleased with that quantity. A movie will hit millions, even if it's not very successful.
I think a great movie can affect people at a more emotional level than books. We are a visual culture, raised on movies and TV. I think we need every available medium to get out the word on Peak Oil. Some people like books, others like movies. Personally the whole issue of peak oil was already placed into my head long ago playing a game called SimEarth (from the makers of SimCity).

The real question is, when will people actually start to re-evaluate their energy consumption choices? I'm definitely starting to believe that absolute shortages are the only way that people will take notice.

The new Refining Bill is just another example of how much people don't get it.

Exactly!  Instead of encouraging nuclear energy we're funding more refineries.  Great!  How forward looking!  I've never been a big fan of nuclear but it's obvious that it's one of the best intermediate steps we can take.  Time's running out.  Nuclear power plants take a long time to build.
Building refineries makes a lot of sense--if you consider that Cheney/Halliburton is running things.
"Nuclear power plants take a long time to build"

63 months from when you sign the contract and get the license to commercial operation for a domestic plant.

That is, if you're one of the first.  The critical path is reactor vessel fabrication and delivery.  We know of four fabricators - two in Japan, one in South Korea, and one in Spain.  If you're not quick, you'll have to stand in line.

As to "China Syndrome", look carefully, nothing really happened except Jack Lemon went nuts (just like all nuclear engineers - I guess that's the take-home message.)

As George Clooney is producing this new movie, expect nothing but empty-headed liberal boosh.

As opposed to empty-headed conservative Bush?
Neil Postman has a great book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. He argues that TV (and movies) ultimately aim at "applause, not reflection." (When was the last time you saw something on TV that was so deep you turned off the TV to think about it, especially as opposed to putting down a book to think or take notes.)

The website is an interesting twist and I hope it can be an outlet for many who see the movie and want to follow up. Let's hope it gets stacked with some good resources for people to read more about the problems, solutions, and tool to communicate with our elected "leaders."

Certainly a profile movie isn't bad, and its better than a movie bashing climate change or trumpeting a wonderful future brought to us by technology. It's just the jump from the movie to "maybe getting here by public transit rather than my SUV would be better and I should work to encourage more public transit" isn't especially direct. At least as many people will think about flying to Hollywood to see Clooney's star on the Walk of Fame.

(FYI - my background isn't oil but sociology, including media)

There have been many movies that have spurred long discussions with friends afterwards. People always talk about movies after watching them, and the right type of political movie can result in political discussions
do people who have seen the film
 "the day after tommorow"
think that rita and katrina are the result of their consumerism?

If people are intrested in social engineering then they need to start researching stuff like NLP and dare I mention "the continuum concept"

Personally, I think this is a great concept.  While activism movies generally don't do well (Day After Tomorrow?), they also almost always blather on about a topic people already know about (global warming, in this case.)

What's good about an oil movie is about bringing awareness to Peak Oil, a concept very few people know about.  Let's just hope that they present it in a reliable manner.  If it's not preachy in it's nature, people will start recognizing the meme, at least, especially if the likes of George Clooney is spieling on it.  Hopefully, they'll actually use the phrase, "Peak Oil."  Another benefit, and more important is the media attention brought to it.  The media will more than likely, when interviewing these actors, have a small spin-off segment along the likes of "What is Peak Oil?"  THAT would be good.

My one worry though is, reading that blurb about their relation to's mission, it doesn't sound to me like they're actually talking about Peak Oil.  They're probably just regurgitating the same crap about dependebility as it relate to politics, etc.  It doesn't sound like they actually recognize the possible demise of it as an energy source as much as they worry about the ramifications of it's use.

Who knows.  

This is my first post .  I enjoy reading the oildrum largely because of a higher level of civility .  This post Is, in the short run, off topic .  
Pigeonholeing: I'm 62 years of age and retired .  I have a master of arts degree in sociology with a minor in psychology .  I view myself as a paleo-conservative .  
I love metaphor and would like to suggest two.
western industrial capitalism , in the context of our times, can be studied as a Ponzi scheme .  Inexpensive , available fossil fuels and rising population are required to keep the game going .  The game is over .  How disquieting !  
The second metaphor may give Many reader's a headache.
a significant number of those who post here have a background in the hard sciences and know far more than I do about this topic .  The topic is linear programming .  Some readers may have never looked into this .  
In its simplest form , one minimizes Or maximizes a function .  This effort is subjected to constraints .The constraints can be viewed as defining a playing field .  The playing field must have mathematical volume in order that the problem Is feasible .  Take your excedrin now.
as we plummet into what has been called "the long emergency " feasible solutions do not exist on a political level .  Myriad special interest groups are clawing for power and influence .  I think that most people would rather die than scale back their ideologies .  Geological certainty will eliminate worn out inappropriate ideologies by eliminating the morons who cling to them. that'll restore volume to the playing field . At that time, perhaps, the optimization process can begin .  
Thank you for your patience .        
"I think that most people would rather die than scale back their ideologies."

Yes and who fosters most ideologies? Who is on top today?
 If you like, inspect Trust Us, We're Experts! by Rampton & Stauber.


Coercion: Why We Listen to what "They" Say by Rushkoff.

I second Coercion by Rushkoff.  I read it twice.  Everyday powerful forces are trying to shape how we think, and most people aren't even aware that's the case, or think they're benign or just out for money, but the motives are not as inconsequential as that.
As for how powerful forces shape what we think, see Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, Manufacturing Consent, 1988.  It is an easy book to find in Canada but I hear quite difficult to find in the U.S.

The book lays out the systematic bias (much along ideological lines and who are 'official enemies' and whom are freinds) that exists in the mass media (and its political economy).  While I do not agree with all Chomsky has to say, this book is one of his (and Herman's) finest.

How peak oil is handled by the MSM is still largely to keep it off the radar screen - for now.

Sorry, I'm late on this, but what makes you think "Manufacturing Consent" is so hard to find in the U.S.? I can get a copy in 24 hours (used or new) from Amazon.  Maybe that's not what you meant, but I thought Amazon was a US based company.  (Barnes & Noble can get it to me in 3 days.)
(sorry for another post)...and my local public library has a copy available now, as well as TWO copies of the DVD...I'm deep in the heart of red-state Tennessee too...
This is good to hear
Just a thought...

I wonder how much it would cost The Oil Drum to do some product placement type advertising in a movie like this.

You could have Clooney's character say something like, "I found this information at" or something like that. Imagine how many people would check out that site after the movie or especially when it hits DVD.

Probably out the monetary scope of this site, but would be a cool concept.

I think I could only take one , OMGZ!!! OMGZ!!! GEROGE CLOONY IS SOOOOOOO HOT!!! I WANTZ 2 RAPERZ HIM!!!!!, before shooting myself.  
RE: opinion shaping, manufactured consent, etc.

It was an eye-opener when a group of our local high school juniors and seniors locked their family televisions out of the major cable news outlets. Mom and Dad suddenly were listening to radio for their local news and scanning the internet for regional, national and international.

Perhaps of MORE IMPORT is that most (78%) senior (over 16) family members spent at least 30 minutes each day following particular topics on their own, AWAY FROM the big media outlets!! 30% of these families spent over ONE HOUR DAILY digging up background and researching opinions and websites concerning various headlines.

I think it is important for everyone to realize how much influence the "BIG EYE" in the family room exerts on an unsuspecting public.  

By simply switching off the MSM news, things change...