It’s interesting that we have decided shaming and yelling are the easiest ways to change people’s minds. Which is not to say I do not think there are people in this world who deserve to be shamed and yelled at: people who use the term ‘cancel culture’ sincerely, people who are deeply invested in the marriage and divorce cycles of celebrities, Meryl Streep. But do I think yelling at Ms Streep will accomplish what I fervently wish for, which is for her to stop ruining perfectly fine movies with her barely adequate performances? No.
Every issue in our cultural lives is politicised right now. Just searching through various podcasts I see episodes titled ‘The Politics of’ followed by ‘sex’, ‘meat’, ‘video games’, ‘work’, ‘Covid’, ‘race in American film’, ‘McDonaldland’, ‘the Oscars’, ‘truth’, and then a whole podcast called The Politics of Everything. Every issue in our lives that we used to be able to take for granted must now be analysed through a lens of justice, fairness and politics. (Yes, I am a hypocrite. Yes, I do this on my own podcast all the time.)
And because we only understand politics as an arena of yelling and screaming (some call it debate, I guess), that’s how we go about most of this. By yelling at people who disagree with us. When I turn on one of these episodes, someone is almost always holding forth, lecturing and ridiculing those people (real or imagined) who dare to disagree. Thinking of not wearing a mask outdoors now that you’ve received your Covid vaccine? Well, then, you are a dangerous lunatic who cares not for your fellow human, you want the most vulnerable members of our population to die, off to the stocks with you!
This is part of the reason why I like the Roaring Earth podcast so much. The movement for sustainability and environmentalism has been a place of yelling and shaming for years now. If you watch a nature programme these days, it is sure to contain a lecture in there somewhere. But the storytellers of Roaring Earth make us want to pay attention to these issues by making the world strange, mysterious, and compelling again, focusing on extreme and unusual environmental and nature reportage.
The episode ‘Will Giant Invasive Pythons Take Over America?’ is a fantastic story about big snakes and the people whose job it is to wrestle one away from your beloved pet dog when they encroach on your backyard. It’s also a story of invasive species and how plants and animals artificially introduced into the environments can start to dominate and overwhelm every other living thing — in this particular case possibly by people who thought a snake would be a cool pet but either had a moment of reflection about what it means to be a ‘snake guy’ or balked at the idea of feeding a live baby goat to a pet on a regular basis and decided to ditch the thing in a swamp.
These are stories of human interaction with the wild that are fun and rowdy, and yes, set against the backdrop of a dying Earth, but without a stern warning that we could stop it all if only we sorted our recycling better or went vegan.
Speaking of vegans, is there a group more responsible for the ‘if I just scream at them, tell them they’re murderers, they will surely change their behaviour’ tone of ordinary daily discourse than them? Trying to find a calm and compassionate guide through the new emphasis on ‘plant-based’ eating — now there is a term that broadcasts its source in multiple corporate PR strategy meetings — is like trying to find one moment of spontaneity or wit in a Meryl Streep performance, nearly impossible.
But food culture is rapidly changing with the rise of celebrity vegan chefs such as Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen, the proliferation of plant-based burgers in fast food, and Bill Gates weirdly buying up all of America’s farmland. One needs a thoughtful guide through these changes, and I’ve started to like the dopey and sweet guys Andy Tabar and Paul Steller at The Bearded Vegans.
Their attention is focused more on the culture than the actual food of the vegan lifestyle, talking through issues like what to do when the political movement you truly believe in is taken over by corporations pandering to you just to sell you stuff. As a feminist who now has to endure ads about feminist lipsticks and feminist spin classes when I go on Instagram, I found these conversations very relatable. It’s just two guys, hanging out, enjoying each other’s company while untangling very complicated conversations about ethics and living a life by your own values, no yelling necessary.