[From Sizzle: No caption needed.]
On Saturday night, along with Molly and two friends, I attended the opening of Sizzle at the Fairfax theater here in Los Angeles. The movie was airing at Outfest, a gay and lesbian film festival, and the woman introducing the film remarked on its pioneering attempt to find shared ground between the environmental and gay communities–to, in short, bring concern about global warming to a broader audience.
There were some 200 people in attendance, along with the entire cast and a few personages from the film–Dr. Naomi Oreskes of the University of California-San Diego and Dr. George Chillingarian of USC (of whom more in a minute)–and, finally, fellow ScienceBlogger and Sizzle fan Jennifer Jacquet.
Overall, at the screening I continued to feel struck by the incredible gap that exists between most ScienceBloggers, and most others, in terms of their responses to this film. Whereas many ScienceBloggers either didn’t like Sizzle or didn’t appear to get it, the audience in LA laughed at all the right moments, laughed repeatedly throughout, and generally seemed to be having a grand old time. Similarly, although I get the impression that many ScienceBloggers aren’t particularly entertained by Randy Olson’s mother, Muffy Moose, the audience loved her. Just as it loved Mitch, and Brian, and especially Marion, the film’s trouble-making cameraman.
At the end of the screening came a question and answer session, one in which virtually no one got up to leave; instead, the entire audience stayed and listened intently and energetically. And as for questions: None of the sorts of concerns that have been raised here on the blogs seemed to come up. For example, nobody asked the black or gay cast members whether they were perpetuating stereotypes of themselves through comedy–although the audience laughed loudly and knowingly when Randy Olson explained the negative response to the film here on ScienceBlogs and remarked, “lots of the scientists don’t quite get it.”
One interesting incident that I can report to you: “Dr. Chill” apparently stormed out of the film in mid-screen. Randy Olson conveys that according to two observers:
…he was smiling all through his segment, smiling with the skeptics in DC, laughed out loud at the NRDC woman, but then he and his buddy started shaking their heads in the New Orleans footage, then he made a major scene of shuffling his papers when he got up and stormed out.
Huh. We may or may not hear more about this.
In any event, various ScienceBloggers have of course been peeved at me for my post last week emphasizing the contrast between how many of them have reacted to Sizzle and how other audiences have reacted to it–and for suggesting the former ought to be more like the latter. But now that I’ve been to see Sizzle in the theater with a few hundred other folks who enjoyed it, I’m more struck by this phenomenon than ever. There really appear to be two cultures here–with different sets of assumptions and thus, different responses to stimuli.
I knew that by pointing out and criticizing this obvious perception gap, I’d be starting trouble. But if I’ve persisted in doing so anyway, it’s for at least one very deep-seated reason: I grow increasingly tired of all the negativity, nastiness, and hypercritical behavior on ScienceBlogs–and the response to this film, in my view, epitomizes that.
After all, here we have an innovative attempt, by a scientist-filmmaker who is one of us and part of our community, to reach new demographics with information about one of our recurrent and core topics–global warming. In short, Sizzle represents the kind of effort that we ought to be promoting vigorously, selflessly, and with enthusiasm–especially given the lack of much available funding for this kind of experiment in Hollywood from major studios.
Yet instead, what I see is far too much negativity, far too much criticism, directed at a film that is funny and damn good and ultimately very profound–all of which the audience in LA clearly appreciated. So why can’t we?
But even if you don’t agree with me about these observations, I will stand on this point: Randy Olson has the right idea. He’s trying, as best he can, to get beyond our relatively narrow community with a message about science. He’s trying to reach new audiences, new demographics–new souls. It’s really too bad that in order to do that, he can’t also bring this community along with him–but that instead, he’ll apparently have to leave some of it behind.