Tuesday, May 5, 2009

SAVED BY THE BELL?: How syndicated TV can bring offshore oil to a ‘screeching’ halt

What’s scarier than taking lessons from third-world countries ? Taking lessons from syndicated TV.

Right now, Ecuador’s indigenous Amazon tribes are suing Chevron because of pollution left behind from decades of drilling. To be fair, that drilling was done by Texaco, which Chevron later acquired – becoming America’s third largest company in the process. But even if the oil execs aren’t taking ownership of the damage, they’re sure taking ownership of the fight by playing some serious hardball. Just like Exxon spent huge amounts and 20 years battling the Valdez decision, Chevron would rather buy slanderous ads in Ecuadorian papers before they’ll pay the $27 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon rainforest and local drinking water. Lesson here? Once you let the oil companies in, promises of clean drilling and “we’re your pal” vanish like exhaust fumes behind a gluttonous SUV.

But what’s more insane is how often this debate resurfaces in 20 year cycles – much like America’s other great source of pollution: syndicated TV. And you need no greater example than Kelly, Zack, Mr. Belding and the rest of the cast of that insanely goofball high school series "Saved by the Bell,” which took up the cause on October 21, 1991.

According to the summary, “When oil is discovered on the property after digging for a new guard post, an oil company arrives to destroy the pond to drill for the oil.” (Keep in mind, this was just 18 months after the Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil – the largest environmental disaster in US history — so America was still enjoying a silly cultural backlash of oil-hating hysteria.)

Now, I know I used high school cliques as a metaphor for coastal activism just two weeks ago, but I didn’t expect the Dalai Lama of losers – the holy Screech himself – to come to my rescue via boob-tube time machine. Even more surprising? Some of the perspectives were — and remain — surprisingly valid.

Check out this conversation:

Jessie: Because of your oil spills, we put 20 dead animals back into the ground.
Mr. Phelps: Well I'm sorry, that was an accident and we did get that cleaned up.
Lisa: Yeah but can you guarantee it won't happen again?
Mr. Phelps: Well no...
Zack: So what happens if there's another accident? Will it look like this? (squirts oil all over the model of the school, getting some on Mr. Phelps’ shirt)
Mr. Phelps: I'm covered in oil!
Zack: I'm sorry, it was an accident.


Lisa: Nothing survived, the oil's all over the pond.
Mr. Belding: But what can I do?
Screech: What can you do? You're the principal! Aren't you man enough to scare anybody besides the kids?

Of course, with “Jessie” – aka Elizabeth Berkley -- later lapdancing her way through the NC-17 rated “Showgirls’ and “Screech” — aka Dustin Diamond — releasing a sex tape (no ‘diamond tip’ jokes, please), both characters obviously changed their minds about both ‘oil’ and ‘drilling’ over the past 18 years. And so has our sadly short-attention-spanned country. The question is: can the current generation of America’s youth can rise up to ‘save us’ before another Valdez disaster?

Bonus trivia: go to the link to note the mysterious repetition of Slater, Kelly and Lisa as character names; also, the title of the episode is called ‘Pipe Dreams.’

Extra credit to Surfline forecaster Kurt Korte for bringing this little piece of pop culture to my attention. I was in college when this episode originally aired, doing mature college things — like streaking museums and waking up in pools of my own vomit — but apparently this was quite the groundbreaking episode for all the kiddies. For those who missed it the first time around – or just miss it in general — you can even watch it yourself Wednesday, May 6, at 7:30am on TBS. (If you want to know when ‘Showgirls’ is on, you’ll just have to, uh, Google yourself.) Or do something useful for 20 minutes and take the Surf-First survey after your next session.

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