but for now, here are some of my thoughts on the anthropocene, suburbia, ecology, timothy morton's hyperobjects, and stanley kubrick's the shining:
what is the anthropocene?
the anthropocene is the current geological period when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems. simply put, the anthropocene is the age of global warming. its epoch is highly debated among geologists, but i’m not too interested in any of that debate because the fact of the matter is that we are in it. however, there are two dates that I want to highlight. firstly is 1492 — when mass genocide in the west, initiated by christopher columbus’ arrival to the americas, followed by europe’s consequent colonization efforts, uprooted approximately 20,000 years of established cultural practices among indigenous people. through indigenous subsistence methods, there was a wholistic relationship among people, land, animals, and all organisms. that relationship was so wholly ingrained, that with columbus’ arrival, due the reduction of land use, the land’s vegetation increased carbon stocks. in other words, because of settlers’ violent disturbance, there was a consequent ecological secondary succession whereby plants and animals were forced to recolonize their habitats. this led to a carbon uptake that “reduced atmospheric co2 levels that likely contributed to the coldest part of the little ice age” (koch et al. 14).
the second important date is 1784 — when carbon from coal powered industries began to be globally deposited as a result of the steam engine, invented by james watt. the steam engine catapulted the industrial age. i chose these dates not to make a superficial argument about the direct correlation between whites and global warming, because at the end of the day, not just whites excessively manipulate our ecosystems and contribute to global warming. what I am saying is that whites, through grotesque global capitalism, contributed to a standard of violent ecological exploitation — stripping away the wholistic practices that people once had with the natural world on a global scale. whites teed up the carbon uptake. when you think of the anthropocene, think of colonialism and think of industry.
global warming and the reality that is the anthropocene can be characterized with philosopher and ecological writer timothy morton's term, hyperobjects — ‘objects’ that are “massively distributed in time and space, exhibiting nonlocal effects that [defy] location and temporality, [and] cuttable into many parts without losing coherence” (morton 47). hyperobjects defy location and temporality because they are “the future, somehow beamed into the present” (morton 91). you can’t hold or touch a hyperobject in the sense that you can’t hold or touch global warming, which Morton comprehensively unpacks in his work, hyperobjects. with ecological awareness, you instead feel the effects of the hyperobject.
by becoming ecologically aware in the suburban place, things become uncanny. the uncanny, as sigmond freud says, “applies to everything that was intended to remain secret, hidden away, and has come into the open” (freud 187). to bring this uncanniness into the light, it’s helpful to unpack a suburban image:
as you stand on a polished street, without a pothole in sight, an elegantly manicured green lawn sits before you. from a slight distance, it looks just like astroturf. every blade of grass is maintained and accounted for with precision. The lawn leads toward a drab-looking mcmansion with overbearingly predictable architecture and with a fashionable car — perhaps a range rover — parked on a smooth, gray concrete strip. the strip, or driveway, cuts through the neatly trimmed grass as if to provide a red carpet to showcase the luxury car’s eloquence. everything’s like a stock image of what a home ‘should be.’ and that image replicates itself to create rows upon rows of house-lawn combinations that ooze monotony. these rows then form an overarching conglomerate of getty-like images — a neighborhood at its most stereotypically american dream peek embodiment of excellence.
let’s start with the eloquent range rover parked on its concrete red carpet. it leaves the strip every day, going to and from places (any places, undoubtedly countless places) and consequently impacts the global carbon footprint. if it’s an electric car, the fossil fuels and rare earth minerals that allow for its existence still have profound effects on global warming. Traversing from the concrete strip to the astroturf-looking lawn, the pesticides that contribute to forming its perfection contaminate soil, water, and vegetation and therefore harm all organisms, including birds, fish, and insects. the lawn is the largest irrigated crop in the continental united states. americans spend more than $36 billion every year on lawn care. that’s four-and-a-half times more than the annual budget of the environmental protection agency (holthaus). walking into the interior of the house, and skipping over the visible objects, such as furniture and appliances that are only present because of global warming inducing industry, one thing is apparent: the air feels comfortable. it feels refreshing and judging by the suburban illustration’s beautifully manicured green lawn, its most definitely summertime. it’s hot outside, and by walking inside, one experiences the ambient, cool breeze that air conditioning produces. by 2050, researchers expect the number of room air conditioners on earth to quadruple to 4.5 billion. greenhouse gas emissions from air conditioning will account for as much as a 0.5-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures (underwood). there is a frightening contrast between appearance and essence in the American utopia.
this new vantage point of something so normal, familiar, and safe becomes disorienting. it’s to the point where an ecologically aware suburbanite might walk out their front door, squint their eyes, and channel the talking heads from the band’s famous song, “once in a Lifetime:” "…what is that beautiful house? / …where does that highway go to?" / "…am I right? Am I wrong? / …my god! What have I done?" (talking heads 2:19). the lyric’s lack of familiarity with the house and the highway encapsulates the process of attuning oneself to the horrors of the anthropocene, and then recognizing the horrors. questioning whether one is right or wrong and concluding accountability and personal wrong-doing, and subsequent fear of such wrong-doing — that is ecological awareness.
and this recognition of essence in the anthropocene can be further illustrated in stanley kubrick’s 1980 film, the shining. in the film, a family of three head to an isolated hotel (the overlook hotel) as its caretakers for the winter where a sinister presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees the horrific presence from both the past and the future. kubrick uses time, place, and memory to articulate how past and future violence are represented in an omnipresent fashion. He specifically does so regarding violence against indigenous people, and the film is covered from front to back with Indigenous symbolism. indigenous imagery is printed on canned goods in the hotel’s pantry. indigenous art scatters the hotel on which the main protagonist (the father) — jack (played by jack nicholson) — violently throws a ball to both kill time and solve his writers block. the hotel is built on an indigenous burial ground and wendy (the mother) — played by shelley duvall — wears clothing with inscribed indigenous imagery, with instances of her hair done in two braids as well. these are just a few examples.
with that imagery in mind, when the film’s violence appears on screen, it’s meaning is that much more visceral. for instance, with the Grady twins, who were murdered by their father, the previous caretaker of the overlook hotel, we get an insight into this heightened meaning. as mentioned before, the current caretaker is jack, played by jack nicholson. one day, jack’s son, danny, sees the grady twins unharmed in a hallway of the hotel. he experiences the twins in the present because danny is unaware of their prior demise. in the present, as they are, the grady twins are already uncanny because they are doubles of themselves. however, things get particularly uncanny when the twins’ essence is revealed to danny — that essence being the fact that they were axed to death by mr. grady, the previous caretaker of the hotel. danny observes something that for him, is the twins’ future fate, but in actuality is a past occurrence. after their essence is revealed, the twins say, “come play with us danny, forever and ever and ever” (kubrick 50:14-50:21).
kubrick uses the past and the future to articulate the omnipresence of time and its infinite entwinement. the overlook hotel, just like a suburb in the anthropocene, and more generally, just like the entire anthropocene, is a hyperobject. as morton says, “the present does not truly exist. we are experiencing a crisscrossing set of force fields, the aesthetic-causal fields emanated by a host of objects” (morton 93). we are constantly reckoning with the past, and in conversation with that reckoning, the future is “beamed into the present.” (morton 91). when we ecologically view the suburb as a place in the anthropocene, we experience a crisscross of events and feelings. firstly, we become aware of past industrial exploitation, we become aware of the pervasive presence of that exploitation (even within what was thought to be the peaceful background — nature or suburbia), and we become aware of a future that is destroyed by ecological crisis because of the past — a crisscross of time and space. secondly, we become aware of the colonial violence that contributed to a global standard of violent exploitation. we see the past blood of indigenous people cover the present ground and we fear for the future that such violence put in motion. The past and the future exist simultaneously. when you think of suburbia, and more broadly, when you think about the anthropocene, picture colonialism and industry. that picture, and the process of picturing — becoming ecologically aware — penetrates place with unease because it is an acknowledgement of the violence that has been enacted to the planet and an acknowledgment of how we are currently part of that violence. It's an acknowledgement of we are actively participating, how we are actively dominating, and how that domination is a futile attempt at control. it stands no chance against the planet’s inherent power and its reaction to the excessive human mechanization that has caused global warming. the planet is the overlook hotel, and we are the Grady twins. we are subject to the consequences of how we disparage the planet.
full paper (with bibliography)