The headline on CNN’s website (not that anyone would go there to see it) said BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well that’s caused so much environmental hell these last five months was “finally killed.” The BBC, taking a more British approach to the same idea, said it was “effectively dead.” And I’m left to wonder when the hell this oil spill became Saddam Hussein. Anyone remember “We Got Him?”
As you might imagine, I’m a sucker for language. Nothing says more about us than what we say. Every argument these days—especially ones concerning the environment—seem to be settled with question, “What kind of world do we want to leave for our children?” so I’ll apply that same logic when I ask, “Just how stupid do we want the future to think we were?”
How about, “BP Well Plugged After Months Of Strife?” or, if you’ve got a flair for the dramatic, just the word “Finally!” and a picture of the magical and “permanent” cement cap they put on the ocean floor? Would that be so hard? But no, we had to make it a war thing. Everything needs to be a war thing. We didn’t just plug that well, we fucking killed it. It’s dead now. Hope someone called its mom and told her before she read all the news stories.
I’m very, very glad the well is capped, and I look forward to the next several months of news stories about all the money BP is pouring into the recoveries of both the local economy and ecosystem (ha!), but I just don’t understand why it needs to be about violence. About murder. Wasn’t an explosion what caused all this bullshit in the first place?
Yeah, that sounds like hippie-dippy garbage, and maybe it is, but you can’t convince me that if Neil Armstrong landed on the moon tomorrow the headline wouldn’t be “America Kicks Moon’s Ass,” or something thereabouts. “Armstrong’s Lunar Bitch.” “Commies Eat Shit.” Etc.
You know what the headline was in Time magazine in 1955 when it announced the success of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine? “It Works.”
“It Works.” How beautiful is that? Can’t you just hear the sigh of relief? “It Works,” as if the third word they’d add to it is “Finally.” “It Works.” There’s hope. We struggled, yes, generations were stunted, but it’s okay. It works. It’s over now.
Of course, there’s still polio, but you get my point. Even if words like “kill” and “dead” are part of the industry vernacular of oil drilling, where do you think that comes from? It’s not just a coincidence they were taken on as the jargon, it’s part of a wider culture of violence, of resentment, that feeds itself with these kinds of inadvertent reinforcements.
What’s the upshot? Well, if you take away someone’s sensitivity to violence (I think there’s a word for that…), they’re less sympathetic, so maybe when it comes time to stay on BP’s ass to make them pay for every cent of the cleanup—which should be no problem for them given current UK-to-US exchange rates—instead of thinking of the people who’ve lost their livelihoods permanently because of this disaster, everyone just moves onto the next thing, the next news cycle, the ever-impending hurricane, trumped-up inflammatory stories about houses of religious worship, and so on.
Meanwhile, nobody knows what the hell the “dispersal agents” breaking up the oil in the Gulf actually do to the water or wildlife therein, and perhaps worst of all, I have to fucking think about it every single time I eat a piece of shrimp. Every time. While everyone’s patting each other on the back about “killing it,” I’m still wondering what portion of this tempura is going to rot my insides. It is neither fair nor enjoyable. “Bullshit,” I believe is the word.
And in a situation like this—fuck it, in all situations—words matter. I’ll be the last person to say life was perfect in 1955 or even better than it is now, but “It Works” is way less douche-tastic than “Oil Well Declared Dead” no matter what time you’re from. My mother used to tell me, “Think before you speak,” and though it seems like the easiest thing in the world to do, it never ceases to amaze me how soon it’s forgotten.