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The Neapolitan Solution
By Chris Ordal
The Neapolitan Solution
By Chris Ordal
If we can’t have fun with problems, we’re unlikely to solve them. Whatever your opinion of Don’t Look Up (of which there were a plethora), what should be universally celebrated is that the film had fun with the most serious, complicated, and overwhelming problem we collectively face as a species: climate change. Let’s all take a moment to reflect on what a profoundly exciting, yet shockingly simple adjustment to creating climate “content" this actually is. Adam McKay and Co. crafted a narrative that led to audiences flying towards cinematic honey instead of reeling from the pungent vinegar of science and educational materials that - although genuinely good for us - are just not going to attract audiences at the scale we need.
This new era in climate’s narrative hopefully motivates the climate community to fundamentally evolve how we engage our audience. Don’t Look Up is a reminder that audiences will choose whimsy over homework. It also exposes how we have managed to lose sight of what should have been so blatantly obvious - empathy for the audience.
I think we can all admit that Homer Simpson is way more fun than Lisa Simpson, which is why he is the bedrock character. We NEED Lisa Simpson to be a significant contributor to the narrative, but we WANT more Homer. All the flavors are important, but audiences tire of engaging quickly when the flavors available aren't our favorite. The Simpsons spans generations and cultures and has been using humor and animation to attract audiences for more than ⅓ a century!
Empathy for the majority of the population - who by nature prefer focusing on what they want - is the key to inviting more people to engage in the efforts that we all need. As lofty a goal and ridiculous of a notion as that may sound, it’s not only been done before, it was successful beyond measure.
Sesame Street spans generations and cultures and has been using music and muppets to attract audiences for more than ½ a century! Sesame Street is not only the kind of content framework we are in desperate need of regarding our evolution towards greater empathy for the climate and each other, it is a profoundly inspiring example of just how possible having fun solving this problem could be.
Born out of a dinner party where tv producer Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett - a psychologist specializing in education - landed on the question, “If television has kids all over America learning the lyrics to beer commercials, why can’t television also be used to teach them how to read, count and learn?”
Thanks to an $8,000,000 grant from the government, Carnegie Foundation, and other orgs (considered an astronomical amount for such an unproven idea and implausible endeavor), Cooney and Morrisett began a nation-wide research effort to understand how they could use television to help kids from disadvantaged economic realities catch up to their peers in school, ensuring everyone gets a fair chance at a bright and thriving future.
The problem was systemic, the realities endlessly complicated and the idea of using the boob tube for education received a great deal of pushback from educators and other experts. Not only was television not seen as suitable for education, forcing education into the most popular entertainment destination for kids and adults initially scared off the creatives needed to make the show. Jon Stone, an established TV producer/director and one of Sesame Street’s original creators and ultimately one of the most prolific directors of the series, wasn't sure it was possible.
“They told us that we had to incorporate all this education into this new show. I was convinced that it would be impossible to do. I had never written anything like this before but nobody had ever written anything like this before.”
Various versions of potential segments for the yet-unnamed show were created and an unlikely band of researchers, educators, marketers, writers, performers, and other people passionate about crafting programming with purpose began testing it with audiences.
In the early days of Sesame Street, segments featuring exclusively humans were separate from the segments featuring the muppets. The research was clear; kids simply didn’t pay attention to the segments with humans in them, but they couldn’t get enough of the segments with muppets. Once they were combined, it all came together.
What we need from the Climate Community is greater self-awareness regarding what flavors we are offering and more realistic, accountable expectations of how willing audiences will be to consume it. If the Climate Community wants chocolate level results from mostly vanilla and strawberry offerings, then the solution is Neapolitan.
To capture the attention and reach the hearts and minds of enough people to get from where we are to where we need to be, it’s gonna take a hell of a lot more than a single mainstream Hollywood production filled with celebrities generating an awards season’s pile of reviews and think pieces.
We’re going to need exponentially more narratives with climate at their core.
We’re going to need less Lisa, more Homer.
We’re going to need to have WAY more fun with these problems.
The toothpaste is out of the tube. We can’t escape the changing climate or the tidal waves of content about it. But instead of spreading more literal science detailing how sunny days are pushing the clouds away, let’s have greater empathy for our audience and set those facts to music. If we do, we will be on our way to where the air is sweet.
Don’t Look Up is proof that there is a massive audience hungry for climate narratives.
There just so happens to be another movie streaming right now that is a crowd-pleasing narrative choc-full of globally recognized performers, fantastic music and visuals, hilarious bits, truly iconic moments, and a journey that captures how a small group of unlikely characters combined research and entertainment to solve a seemingly impossible problem. In doing so, they fundamentally improved the futures of countless human beings across the globe.
Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street is the story of how such an unlikely and world-changing creation came to be and what it took to create it. It’s streaming on HBO Max and available for rent or purchase across all the usual content channels.
Street Gang has absolutely nothing to do with climate. And yet, it may very well be the most profoundly instructional and entertaining climate narrative in existence.
“It was chaos. But it was the chaos of people dedicated to a real ideal, believing something could be done and having the will to do it.”
This week, Jason caught up with Fred Fournier, Co-Founder & CEO, and Michael Kelly, Co-Founder & CPO of Open Forest Protocol. Open Forest Protocol (OFP) is on a mission to accelerate the global response to climate change via nature-based solutions.
📢Ready to turn your climate concerns into climate actions? The Climatebase Fellowship is the launchpad for the next leaders in climate tech — designed to foster community, friendships, and lasting connections to support you throughout your climate career. Our selective cohorts of Fellows join a curated community of climate founders, innovators, and peers. As a Climatebase Fellow, you'll learn from domain experts through interactive speaking sessions and panels with climate tech founders, group discussions, and hands-on project-based work. Learn more and apply here by January 20th!
The Global Warming Mitigation Project (GWMP) is accepting applications for their 2022 Keeling Curve Prize - projects could win $25,000 towards their carbon drawdown or emissions reduction initiative! Their team is looking for projects with a proven track record of reducing, avoiding, or eliminating greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. GWMP will award $25,000 to two projects in each category - the application deadline is February 10, 2022 (or when the 500 application cap is reached)! Learn more and apply here!
For more open positions, check out the #climatejobs channel in MCJ Slack.
Wren is hiring a Content & Communications Generalist
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