Making Movements From Moments
If Don’t Look Up, the hit movie, is going to change anything, it will only be if climate organizers seize the opportunity.
Don’t Look Up, the climate change parody film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep that came out in theaters December 10th, has become a huge hit since it started airing on Netflix Christmas Eve. In its first week on the streaming platform, more than 111 million hours of the movie were viewed, putting it in the top ten list for 94 countries (yes, Netflix has an odd way of measuring movie views). It was number one for the holiday week in the United States as well as many other nations.
Let’s leave aside the debate over whether it’s a great political satire or a terrible one, which I wrote about here last week. Don’t Look Up is reaching a mass audience, one that is undoubtedly much larger than the ten to twenty million people who are already on the mailing lists of climate action and environmental groups. When a message movie reaches so many people, the important question becomes: What kind of political impact will it have?
David Sirota is a long-time progressive journalist (and sometime Bernie Sanders speechwriter and political pugilist) who came up with the original idea for the movie, which his friend Adam McKay then turned into its screenplay. Speaking to podcaster Lauren Steiner on her December 24th show, Sirota said he was hopeful about the movie’s political potential. Noting how widely it was being viewed, he argued a version of the law of big numbers to her: Assuming that it will get seen and talked about by hundreds of millions of people, he said, “If we can move one, two, three percent of a couple hundred million people, that can actually contribute to moving the needle.”
That’s not a bad conversion rate. But figuring out if it will happen isn’t a question of hope; it’s a tactical problem.
Speaking in formal organizing terms, this is an opportunity not for persuasion or mobilization, but for absorption. That is, the process by which a moment of outrage or awakening gets converted into the growth of a movement. Without deliberate organizing, absorption doesn’t happen. People may spontaneously march in the streets or share their anger…