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Is Adaptation Studies Sustainable?

Is Adaptation Studies Sustainable? Abstract The protagonists of Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind recycle twice over, using junkyard stuff like tires and plastic bags to remake famous films in a series of no-budget shorts. This essay turns to Be Kind Rewind to ask how the recycling of materials may relate to the recycling of intellectual properties. It argues that such a question is paramount at a moment when adaptation not only represents a major media practice but also one major response to climate change. As such, the essay offers several different approaches to thinking about media adaptation in the age of global warming, drawing variously from sociologists, political ecologists, film theorists, and designers. adaptation studies, climate change, sustainability, global warming, political ecology, Be Kind Rewind Since the first [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report in 1991, adaptation – defined by the IPCC (2014) as ‘the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects’ – has emerged as the lodestar of public and development policy coincident with the realization that mitigation has receded into a distant future. ‘Adapt Now’ is the rallying cry of the moment (or one might say, ‘adapt or die’). (Watts 20) The plot (or plotting) of Michel Gondry’s 2008 film Be Kind Rewind revolves around a failing ‘Video and Thrift Store’ in Passaic, New Jersey—also called Be Kind Rewind—that exclusively rents VHS cassettes to its dwindling customer base. The store, already under threat of redevelopment and gentrification, is thrown into further disarray when one of its employees, Jerry (Jack Black), accidentally demagnetizes Be Kind Rewind’s entire stock. Jerry’s co-worker, Mike (Mos Def), strikes upon a thrifty solution: the pair will remake the lost movies themselves, on a camcorder and a literal shoestring budget, tying up plastic bags as boxing gloves to stage When We Were Kings’s Rumble in the Jungle; sitting an abandoned fridge amidst a low pile of tires for 2001’s monolithic encounter; and dangling toy planes against a bedsheet to recreate King Kong’s famous finale. The pair recycle twice over: they reuse stuff—junk—at the same time that they recycle the movies’ iconic lines, characters, and visuals. James Naremore famously opens his landmark 2000 edited collection on Film Adaptation by recommending that ‘the study of adaptation needs to be joined with the study of recycling, remaking, and every other form of retelling in the age of mechanical reproduction and electronic communication’, by which means he says that adaptation study will move ‘from the margins to the center of contemporary media studies’ (15). Be Kind Rewind’s conflation of literal and figurative recycling suggests that adaptation scholars have hardly begun to consider the full implications of Naremore’s recommendation some twenty years later, when those implications may be all the more pressing. As Jennifer Fay writes in Inhospitable World, ‘Humans have altered more than 50 percent of the earth’s landmass, depositing “anthropogenically modified materials” (plastics, concrete, bricks, and so-called technofossils but also crops, animals, and food production) everywhere we have settled’ and sending ‘carbon emissions, pesticide residues, and radionuclides’ airborne (2). Mike and Jerry turn towards the trash heap of the Anthropocene, a geological epoch in which ‘Homo sapiens have cast the planet out of the temperate norms of the Holocene epoch that were so congenial to human evolution’ (Fay 2). Nine of the ten warmest years on Earth have occurred since 2005 (Lindsey and Dahlman); in 2018, the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere rose to its highest level in 800,000 years (Lindsey). Mitigation (‘reducing emissions or enhancing sinks of greenhouse gases [GHGs]’) and adaptation (‘adjustment to actual or expected climate’) represent the two primary, ‘complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change’ and forging ‘climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development’, according to a 2014 IPCC report (76)—a report that likewise notes the importance of ‘recycling and reuse of materials and products’ in reducing GHG emissions below baseline (102). Joining the study of adaptation as a media practice with the study of adaptation as an environmental practice lends an exigency to Naremore’s suggestion that may move adaptation study not only to the centre of contemporary media studies but to the centre of the humanities in general. Pausing with Be Kind Rewind brings adaptation studies up to speed with the Anthropocene by defining adaptation as a de facto tactic—an everyday practice—in life during climate change. While Gondry’s film does not belong to the more obvious genre of what Fay would call ‘first world, middle-class’ climate change horror, whose ranks include The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) and Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-Ho, 2013), it nevertheless underscores something of what she labels ‘the everyday Anthropocene’, the ‘dread … not that the status quo will be radically disrupted, but that it will go on as it has been’ (qtd. in Baer). For Fay, ‘the central conundrum of the Anthropocene and the epiphenomenon of climate change’ is that ‘our collective efforts to make the planet more welcoming, secure, and productive for human flourishing … are precisely the measures that have made this a less hospitable earth, transforming it from something given into a disaster we have made’ (1–2). Not for nothing does the accident in Be Kind Rewind that leads Jerry to demagnetize the tapes take place during his attempt to sabotage a neighbouring power plant; the film’s central villain, meanwhile, is the developer who threatens to demolish Be Kind Rewind and build ‘Olde Passaic Gardens’ (‘Where Luxury, Convenience and Modern Technology meet’) in its place. The developer assures Mr Fletcher (Danny Glover), the store’s owner, that ‘we’re looking at a real improvement in quality of life’: ‘I just wanna improve the life of the people of Passaic, that’s all’. In Be Kind Rewind, Mr. Fletcher and Mike and Jerry feel the distinct heat of modernization. Recycling and remaking represent Mike and Jerry’s last stand against these rising temperatures; adaptation emerges as a form of sustainability for the pair and for ‘the people of Passaic’, just as ‘adaptation’ has emerged as ‘the lodestar of public and development policy’ related to climate change while mitigation recedes ‘into a distant future’ (Watts 20). As Michael J. Watts explains, ‘Historically, the IPCC has worked with a conceptual understanding of adaptation as adjustment’, as ‘proximate’ and ‘anticipatory’, in contrast to adaptation’s more contemporary, and potentially more radical, cognates like ‘adaptive capacity, adaptive strategies, and adaptive governance’—‘a more structural rendering of adaptation’ (20). In this formulation, adapting to climate rather than more radically adapting governance or structures appears the more conservative, or at least old-fashioned, response to rising temperatures. But the tactics of everyday adaptation—of an intransitive adapting to (Leitch, “To Adapt or to Adapt To?” 93)—may be all that remains, as ‘[s]cientific consensus now estimates the severely worsening impacts of major human-induced global environmental problems, such as climate change … already exceed the sustainability of planetary boundary conditions (Rockstrom et al. 2009)’ (Zimmerer 154). Unlike The Road and Snowpiercer’s dystopian near futures, Be Kind Rewind offers a dystopian near past, a realization that climate change, ‘in other words, is no longer a disaster looming in the future but a present and unfolding reality in which adaptation is, especially for the most affected regions, no longer a matter of choice’ (Heise 57–58). Fletcher, whose store sits in the middle of a disproportionately affected ‘slum’ (in the developer’s word), complains to a friend early on: ‘I can’t adapt, and that’s why I’m broke’; his friend implores him to ‘visit all of the successful renting businesses and learn and adapt. You said you can’t adapt, adapt!’ (‘Adapt Now’, in other words, or ‘adapt or die’). ‘To modernize or to ecologize: this has become the crucial choice’, Bruno Latour writes in Down to Earth (46). Mr Fletcher can modernize his store—or else. Adaptation is not, as Ursula K. Heise stresses, ‘a matter of choice’, but the only choice left. This lack of choice forces Mike and Jerry into a quite different relationship with their environment—one that could reorient adaptation scholars themselves towards Gaia, ‘a totality of living beings and materials that were made together, that cannot live apart, and from which humans can’t extract themselves’ (Latour, “Tracks Down Gaia”). Far from modernizing the video store, Mike and Jerry come to realize that they have never been modern, entering into close accord not only with each other but with the nonhuman materials that populate the neighbourhood surrounding the store: the aforementioned plastic bags, fridge, tires, toys, and sheets, not to mention broken-down cars, hair dryers, water guns, fishing poles, cardboard, and tin foil; all shooting likewise takes place on location, at the local library, on a playground, in an apartment building, on a construction site, a different kind of familiarity replacing a strict or stricter fidelity. The pair’s ‘swedes’ or ‘videos à la carte’, as they call them, are homegrown, homebrewed, local, low-carbon, organic, and locally sourced—green to a T—transferred to single VHS cassettes endlessly reused by the community. Jeremy Butman, suspicious that ‘[w]hen we talk about sustainability’ we tend to ‘sustain nature as we humans prefer it … for industry’, prefers the term ‘adaptability’ instead, which ‘skews away from the idea of a perfect, ordered nature and unchanging industrial-technological conditions, and favors a vision of nature in a state of constant change, even chaos; a vision that values difference and diversity, both biological and cultural’. Such a state of change, Butman elaborates, would look something like Latour’s ‘unified network of “actants,” human and nonhuman, animate and inanimate’—not unlike Mike and Jerry’s Passaic, where an attention to things stands in stark contrast to the developer’s anthropocentric vision of a better life for ‘the people of Passaic’. Fay, herself glossing Latour, writes that ‘[w]hat is new in the Anthropocene is that the environment, which supports but is supposed to be distinct from the human world according to long-held Enlightenment presumptions, is now also largely human made’ (4). Be Kind Rewind finds Mike and Jerry, in their Anthroposcenic remaking, leaning into this indistinction. For Thomas Leitch, intransitive adaptation brings ‘nonhuman things’ to the fore, as animals and plants ‘adapt … to new homes, new patterns of foody supply, new mixtures of sun and shade, or in, a considerably longer view, newly evolving geological conditions’ (“To Adapt or to Adapt To?” 93). A turn to ecology in adaptation studies would similarly bring nonhuman things forward, extending the longer Latourian view of Leitch’s “What Movies Want,” Regina Schober’s “Adaptation as Connection,” and my own effort to nudge adaptation studies “Towards an Adaptation Network” in 2013. That same year, I elsewhere played the Mike and Jerry to adaptation study’s Passaic, proposing a ‘rematerializing’ of adaptation theory that would see adaptation scholars take up adaptations’ ‘raw materials’ in something less than metaphorical terms. Whereas, for instance, George Bluestone writes that ‘the film-maker ... treats the novel as raw material and ultimately creates his own unique structure’ (qtd. in Meikle, “Rematerializing” 174), Jason Sperb writes of Mike and Jerry and Be Kind Rewind’s ‘fondness for physical things such as videotape but also for the other raw materials used to re-create sweded films’, consolation against the impending ‘immateriality’ of digital storage (162–63). ‘Raw’ in this second instance returns us to the dirt, or at least to the junkyard, to dig up ‘the material culture of the adaptive process’, or to excavate adaptation’s intermateriality (Meikle, “Rematerializing” 174–75). As I wrote seven years ago, such a notion is nascent in the ‘homology between biological and cultural adaptation’, following Gary Bortolotti and Linda Hutcheon (444), that runs deep within the field of adaptation studies. For Bortolotti and Hutcheon, ‘Changes in the environment often bring about changes in the phenotype, whether that environment be biological or cultural’ (448). Timothy Corrigan’s chapter on ‘Defining Adaptation’ in Thomas Leitch’s Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies—itself a Naremoresque landmark in the making—frames adaptation ‘[i]n the broadest sense’ as societies’ capacity ‘to adapt to environmental and social conditions, whether … physical conditions, such as climate changes or the need for different natural resources, or to social shifts, such as population growth or political turmoil’ (25). Brian Boyd’s own Handbook chapter on ‘Making Adaptation Studies Adaptive’ begins by asking whether adaptation ‘means one thing in the humanities and another in the sciences’; he argues that ‘[j]ust as live species try to adapt to different circumstances, so do artists adapt existing art to their own preferences, skills, and tools and to their sense of the preferences and skills of their audiences’ (588–89). In Boyd’s estimation, adaptations are ‘solutions, physiological or behavioral, to particular problems of survival or reproduction within a particular range of environmental conditions’ (587, 590). In the literary environment, Shakespeare creates Falstaff to ‘solve structural problems in adapting to the stage Holinshed’s chronicle and the colorful legends of wild Prince Hal’—and the subsequent success of Falstaff ‘create[s] a new problem’ for adapters: ‘how to capitalize further on that success and the expectations it ha[s] generated’ (590). Even while the paragraph that follows lands on the ‘ways nature has found to adapt existing design—most recently, bacteria’s capacity to soak up the genetic remains even of long-dead organisms (Overballe-Petersen et al.)’ (590), Boyd bypasses nature in his Shakespearean aside. What lumber was necessary to dress Henry IV ’s set? Adaptation, in the context of climate change, offers no neat divide between the environmental and the social, the biological and the cultural, and the scientific and the humanistic—insofar as it represents a human response to a nonhuman phenomenon accelerated by humans through nonhuman actants. As Latour wonders, how could we possibly distinguish between physical geography and human geography when ‘the place “on” or “in” which we are located begins to react to our actions, turns against us, encloses us, dominates us, demands something of us and carries us along in its path?’ (41). Ian Baucom and Matthew Omelsky, reflecting on an essay by Gary Tomlinson, likewise describe the ‘network of environmental feedback loops’ in which ‘human life has long been wrapped’: ‘We have evolved by adapting to environments that have evolved by adapting to human actions’ (13). Climate change disperses agency, or foregrounds an agency that was already dispersed in the adaptive process. Yet Sperb implicitly favours human geography when he remarks upon Be Kind Rewind’s ‘recycling of old movies’ (163) but not its recycling of old cassettes or old tires or old buildings. While rummaging through the rest of the Oxford Handbook, we similarly come across ‘literary recycling’ (Jellenik 40), the ‘borrowing and recycling of plots’ (Jellenik 43), scenes that ‘freely recycle dialogue’ (Miller 60), words ‘recycled or adapted from a Talmudic passage’ (Zierler 133), stage musicals that ‘recycle well-known songs’ (Ingham 334), and telenovelas ‘drawing on universal narratives and recycl[ing] many elements’ (Joye, Biltereyst, and Adriaens 366)—with only a single mention of material recycling. Parsing Bret Easton Ellis’s sense that Hollywood is now ‘making films out of the remains of the empire, “the junk that’s left over” (Gross 26)’, Constantine Verevis describes a character from one such piece of ‘junk’, Transformers: Age of Extinction’s Cade Yeager, who is ‘always on the lookout for scrap he can recycle’ (276). At least this last bit of recycling—or ‘salvaging’, a term that Linda Hutcheon sets alongside appropriation in the first chapter of A Theory of Adaptation (8, 20)—gets us closer to extinction, or closer to adaptation as a response to catastrophic climate change. Downplaying adaptation’s physical geography represents, if not an outright denial, then some form of the ‘climate quietude’ of which Latour says we are all guilty: the ‘hope, while doing nothing about it, that everything will be all right in the end’ (6). This climate quietude is only a diminished form of the climate silence effected by the ruling classes, who Latour says have retreated from any common sense of the global to instead ‘shelter themselves from the world’ (often in the cold—if not downright chilling—comforts of the nation state) (1–2). ‘The absence of a common world we can share’, Latour writes, ‘is driving us crazy’; ‘To resist this loss of a common orientation’, he says, ‘we shall have to come down to earth; we shall have to land somewhere’ (2). The Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies, along with The Routledge Companion to Adaptation (published just a year after), have already done much to expand adaptation studies’ map beyond the United States and the United Kingdom—where Latour directs much of his ire—but consideration of climate change could further press the question of how and where we ground the field, or at what geological level we should settle. Recognizing adaptation as a common word that we can share with those sciences beyond biology may provide its own cold comforts in grounding adaptation scholars or reorienting adaptation studies to the present moment—or it may (more hopefully) find adaptation scholars participating in a greater shift ‘from a local to global viewpoint’: ‘multiplying viewpoints, registering a greater number of varieties, taking into account a larger number of beings, culture, phenomena, organisms, and people’ (Latour 12–13); Patrick Cattrysse, one of the field’s most scientifically minded adaptationists, has encouraged us to do as much, in his Descriptive Adaptation Studies. Latour acknowledges that one of the few true successes of the various ‘ecological movements’ has come in their ‘introducing objects that had not previously belonged to the usual preoccupations of public life’, rescuing politics ‘from an overly restrictive definition of the social world’ and guaranteeing that ‘no development project fails to arouse a protest’ (45–46)—as in Be Kind Rewind. Adaptation scholars could avoid a similarly restrictive definition of the cultural or social world, to incorporate objects that have not previously belonged to adaptation studies, to shift from the national viewpoints that have already expanded the field (to Bollywood or Hong Kong or Latin America in the Oxford Handbook) to a more global viewpoint, or towards what Latour labels the ‘Terrestrial’, which inheres in ‘materiality, heterogeneity, thickness, dust, humus, the succession of layers, strata’ (92). As such, I want to suggest three policy recommendations, inspired by Naremore’s, for a green movement in adaptation studies—three recommendations for materializing or dusting up or layering the field. I put forth these recommendations in the hopes of raising adaptation studies’ climate quietude above a whisper, and to help adaptation scholars themselves adapt to institutional climates increasingly hostile to the humanities (as Andrew Kay describes in his infamous 2019 article on “Academe’s Extinction Event,” citing the precipitous decline of MLA job listings). 1. The study of adaptation needs to be joined with the study of political ecology in the age of climate change My headlining recommendation is to recast adaptation scholars as political ecologists, or to invite political ecologists to assume a co-starring role in adaptation studies’ productions. While Jennifer Fay agrees that the Anthropocene ‘brings the humanities and sciences together around a new set of pressing questions … rather than thinking of the humanities turning (or reluctantly returning) to the hard sciences, it may be that environmental science needs the humanities as never before’ (qtd. in Baer). Yet Fay goes on to speculate that ‘the challenge of climate change is not a problem of science but rather a failure of politics’ (qtd. in Baer). Political ecology, ‘a field that seeks to unravel the political forces at work in environmental access, management, and transformation’ (Robbins 3), would seem a logical first stage for any entr’acte between media-minded and climate-minded adaptationists. For the former troupe, that would mean following Simone Murray’s political economic approach to adaptation beyond The Adaptation Industry (the title of her groundbreaking 2012 book) to the adaptation lobby. Political ecology is itself often defined as/in relation to political economy: as combining ‘the concerns of ecology and a broadly defined political economy’ (Blaikie and Brookfield qtd. in Robbins 12), as a synthesis of ‘political economy … with its broader vision of bio-environmental relationships’ (Greenberg and Park qtd. in Robbins 12), as ‘a confluence between ecologically rooted social science and the principles of political economy’ (Peet and Watts qtd. in Robbins 12). Murray, meanwhile, points out that ‘[t]he content recycling function at the heart of adaptation was noted in passing by individual political economists from the 1970s in analyses of “synergy” within the operations of globalised media conglomerates’ but received ‘only glancing attention’ thereafter; she seeks to examine ‘the how and why of adaptation from the perspective of the authors, agents, publishers, editors, book prize committees, screenwriters, directors and producers who actually make adaptations happen’ (11). Compounding Murray’s political economy with a political ecology would encourage adaptation scholars to consider the how and why of adaptation from vastly different perspectives, agencies, and committees. The authors behind volumes like Adaptation to Climate Change and A Critical Approach to Climate Change Adaptation could indeed lead media-minded adaptation scholars to a more robust understanding of adaptation as a matter of both policy and polity. As Silja Klepp and Libertad Chavez-Rodriguez write in their introduction to the latter collection, ‘“Adaptation” ... is currently the main notion mediating ideas on anthropogenic climate change and society’ (3); Sybille Bauriedl and Detlef Müller-Mahn conclude that volume by considering ‘the critical potential of adaptation research, in the sense of its political impact for local and global environmental justice and equity’, asking how ‘adaptation research [can] become more socially and politically reflexive’ (276). Murray writes that ‘adaptation studies is nothing if not self-reflexive’ (1)—and the field is increasingly reflexive about the social and political import of adaptation(s) as such (to wit: this special issue). Scholars of climate change are equally (and helpfully) reflexive about adaptation, a reflex that could encourage adaptation scholars to rethink and redefine the term at the centre of their field—a task, as Thomas Leitch notes, that they have traditionally declined (“Adaptation and Intertextuality”). Watts, for instance, uses the IPCC’s definition of adaptation as a springboard to think about the ‘ubiquity’ of ‘adaptation speak’, suggesting that adaptation ‘is more than a keyword: it resembles a hegemonic discourse’ (21). Watts traces the rise of adaptation’s ‘revival and rehabilitation after a period – especially the 1970s and 1980s – in which it fell from grace’, speculating that ‘[w]hat appears to be on offer is a recycled version of adaptation thinking of [the] 1960s associated most closely … with cultural ecology, ecological anthropology, and general systems theory’ (21). Adaptation, he says, has subsequently been ‘repurposed and rebooted with a rather new conceptual vocabulary: security, risk, vulnerability, exposure, resilience, adaptive management, and governance’ (21). While this instance of ‘adaptation’ may seem somewhat distant from Naremore’s, both share an evolutionary lineage; that is, evolutionary theory has informed political ecological and cultural concepts of adaptation in equal measure. ‘From the political ecology vantage point’, Watts writes, ‘the “adapt now” mentalité is something of a paradox’, since work on climate change adaptation ‘is unequivocal in identifying the concept’s origins in evolutionary biology (Smit and Wandel 2006: 286) but it was precisely the flaws of organic analogies that political ecology sought to address’ (21). Watts observes that the ‘language of adaptation is ubiquitous, if not promiscuous, travelling effortlessly across biological, cultural, social, and ideological boundaries’: swimming animals have adapted by developing flattened appendages like fins; a lawyer is well adapted to her profession; therapists help us adapt to the stresses of urban living; rituals and cultural institutions among indigenous groups function as adaptive mechanisms for sustainable development; the Federal Reserve fulfills adaptive functions with respect to contemporary American capitalism. (29) But Watts uses this list—notably lacking an example of media adaptation—to signal the semantic slipperiness of adaptation, especially as it has developed from evolutionary biology, where ‘adaptation and adaptive processes have been, and remain, contested, freighted terms’ (30). Watts, glossing Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin’s The Dialectical Biologist, observes that ‘[t]he architecture of adaptation seems to rest on a billiard table view of organisms and their environments when in fact the organism is both subject and object’ (30). While most evolutionary accounts of adaptation in media studies have adopted such a view (e.g., Hutcheon), a scant few scholars have challenged the currents and currency of Darwinian theory (see Jillian St. Jacques, Adaptation Theories; Leitch, “What Movies Want”; and Cattrysse, “An Evolutionary View of Cultural Adaptation”)—and raised provocative questions about adaptations’ agentive drifts, to borrow Julian Yates’s phrase. Mark Pelling, whom Watts cites approvingly, cautions that ‘connections between nature and society are context specific and hard to generalise from’—one of the many ‘tension[s] in understandings of adaptation which persists today’ (40). Pelling proceeds to compare ‘economic and ethical frameworks for evaluating adaptive choices’ (41), discussing three adaptive pathways: resilience (maintaining the status quo), transition (incremental change), and transformation (radical change)—a neat mirror of Dudley Andrew’s oft-cited borrowing/intersecting/transforming taxonomy of media adaptations. Pelling’s four framing questions about adaptation to climate change, meanwhile—‘What to adapt to? Who or what adapts? How does adaptation occur? What are the limits to adaptation?’—carry the valences of media adaptation, even while their answers, involving boreal forestry management, the disasters community, and physical infrastructure systems, stress the way that adaptation scholars would have to accommodate governance and policies in political ecological accounts of media adaptation. This accommodation would ground the adaptation industry in the adaptation lobby, compounding copyright law (which eventually stymies Be Kind Rewind’s local programming: Sigourney Weaver shows up as a studio lawyer) with environmental law—and it might inspire us to consider the sustainability of our own local governing bodies and conferences. What is the journal of Adaptation’s carbon footprint? 2. The study of adaptation needs to be joined with the study of climate change in contemporary media studies Yet adaptation scholars need not look as far afield as political ecology to move towards Gaia; contemporary media studies’ own global warming is already more than hospitable to any such interest, as exemplified by Fay, whose Inhospitable World revolves around her sense that filmmaking ‘occasions the creation of artificial worlds, unnatural and inclement weather, and deadly environments produced as much for the sake of entertainment as for scientific study and military strategy’ (4). Her cases range from the stormy slapstick of Buster Keaton to atomic test films to film noir to media representations of China’s Three Gorges Dam; through these case studies, Fay traces ‘material shifts in cinematic production in tandem with the mid-twentieth-century onset of the Great Acceleration, which has dissolved the longstanding distinction between the earth and human world, the environment and socioeconomic order’ (Baer). For Fay, cinema, in its ‘uncanny aesthetic effects’ and ‘production of artificial worlds and simulated, wholly anthropogenic weather’, becomes ‘the aesthetic practice of the Anthropocene’ (4). Fay’s trajectory reflects a broader trend in contemporary media studies towards reading film production materially, in the context of an environmental catastrophism unmoored from the more/most stereotypical cli-fi (e.g., The Day After Tomorrow [Roland Emmerich, 2004]). A 2019 Journal of Cinema and Media Studies dossier on ‘Film and Media Studies in the Anthropocene’ likewise begins with an epigraph from Latour on that Great Acceleration (‘The West thinks it is the sole possessor of the clever trick that will allow it to keep on winning indefinitely, whereas it has perhaps already lost everything’ [qtd. in Peterson and Uhlin 142]), with co-editors Jennifer Peterson and Graig Uhlin arguing that ‘film and media histories are instrumental—empirically and ideologically—for registering [the] symptomatic awareness of humanity’s discernible impact on the earth’s ecosystems’ (144). As for Fay, film here is empirical and ‘instrumental’—able to measure and be measured in material terms. In this respect, adaptation scholars would do well to follow the likes of Kyle Stine, who weighs the ‘double bind’ of seemingly green film productions that nevertheless ‘rely entirely on the implicated systems of transportation and communication that produce the emissions and waste responsible for climate change’ (2). Stine’s sense that ‘there is no such thing as a carbon-neutral production’ (2) finds further purchase in Melanie Ashe’s analysis of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a film promoted as the ‘most eco-friendly tentpole production in the history of Sony Pictures’ (‘Eco-Spidey and The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ qtd. in Ashe 6). Ashe broaches political ecology when she notes that the film’s energy reduction campaign involved negotiations between ‘Hollywood studios, non-profit environmental groups, environmental consultants, and environmentally engaged online users’ (5), as well as multiple online campaigns, including a ‘Sustainability Sizzle Reel’ that explained how one set in the film ‘was sourced from pre-used materials to minimize overall waste’ (6) and a promotional Twitter account that boasted, ‘755 tons were diverted from landfill or reused while making The Amazing #SpiderMan 2’ (qtd. in Ashe 7). Ashe lands in much the same place as Stine, arguing that a focus on the green practices of filmmaking constitutes only a ‘narrow environmentalism’ centred on production and promotion over consumption (11). A September 2019 special issue of Variety devoted to ‘The Climate Crisis’ offers some further provocations in this regard, with Matt Donnelly looking at ‘How Hollywood Is Reducing Its Carbon Footprint’, from ‘Battery-Powered Sets’ to ‘Finessing Craft Service’. Donnelly writes that ‘[w]hile creators and executives have come under fire in recent months for failing to make movies that address the global climate crisis, they are taking steps to make their productions more eco-friendly’; NBCUniversal’s sustainability director Shannon Bart, for instance, has worked to reduce food waste and red meat on set, as both contribute to ‘some of the most noxious greenhouse gases’. Elsewhere, ‘[d]irectors, cinematographers and artisans have been experimenting with reusable materials at every level of filmmaking’. Donnelly describes how the production designers behind Sony’s The Possession of Hannah Grace constructed the film’s ‘series of complex tunnels’ from Emagispace blocks, ‘fiberboard panels similar to Legos that can build entire multiroom sets, then come apart and be fashioned into new ones’. The materials, Donnelly writes, ‘stand in contrast to traditional lumber, often culled from irresponsibly managed forests and not properly recycled’. Donnelly’s article and the special issue at large juxtapose ‘storytelling’ with these more concrete (or fiberboard) forms of ‘activism’, returning us once more to Be Kind Rewind’s conflation of figurative and literal recycling. Nowhere does Donnelly speculate as to whether franchise productions—which presumably not only reuse characters and stories but sets and locations and equipment in ways that other productions do not—may be greener than other forms of moviemaking. That is, Donnelly’s interest does not extend to the most obvious ‘level of filmmaking’ at which producers and directors reuse materials (e.g., intellectual properties), to see if that reuse bears any relationship to below-the-line production. While Ashe uses a comic book adaptation as her case study, she, like Donnelly, nowhere mentions adaptation explicitly—though she does gesture to the ‘extended impact of material paratexts’ in the Spider-Man campaign, including tie-in ice cream and chips with ingredients not likely ‘sourced from sustainable plantations’ and involving ‘excessively high levels of plastic and paper packaging’ (9–10). Stine, too, says that media tie-ins speak to the ‘inability to separate the motion picture industry from related industries’ and their environmental impacts (6). These tie-ins also potentially speak to the ways that adaptation, as a media practice, foregrounds sourcing, source materials, material relations, and impact. Such tie-ins may lead us to ask: Are some forms of adaptation greener than others? Is intra-medial adaptation more sustainable than intermedial adaptation? Is fan fiction more sustainable than franchising? What do audiences and studios actually reuse in the adaptation process? 3. The study of adaptation needs to be joined with the study of sustainable design Whatever its actual impact, Sony’s eco-conscious campaign for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 reflect the tenets of so-called sustainable design—a design practice that ‘seeks to maximize the quality of the built environment, while minimizing or eliminating negative impact to the natural environment’ (McLennan 4), and the basis for my third and final policy recommendation. For Fay, the Anthropocene itself ‘can be understood as a matter of design, if not an accomplishment’ (qtd. in Baer)—and we can understand Be Kind Rewind in much the same way, as a film about production design, as a film about sustainable design, in which Passaic becomes an Anthroposcenic backlot stocked with possible actors and actants. Mike and Jerry derive their production design from the detritus of modernization and the Great Acceleration. In arguing for design as ‘the third discipline’, Mark Nelson posits that ‘unlike science, design has to take into account that it has choices to make: it isn’t merely uncovering natural facts that already exist, but is creating artifacts … unlike the humanities, it has to take into account that artifacts are made of real stuff, which has properties and constraints: you have to build a bridge out of stone, or steel, or wood’. Mike and Jerry confront ‘real stuff’ only amidst constraint and crisis. Design becomes a form of consolation and consilience for the pair, just as it could begin to reconcile the humanities and the sciences in adaptation studies, offering adaptation scholars a formally minded, if materially conscious, approach to adaptation in their own green efforts. And sustainable design, with its particular focus on environmental impact, unites the sciences and the arts under the sign of climate change, pressing questions of reuse, recycling, and (per Watts) ‘risk, vulnerability, exposure, [and] resilience’—that is, adaptation. In Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide, David Bergman singles out material reuse as the ‘ecologically best’ option for designers, since reusing a material precludes having to ‘mine, grow, or fabricate it’ and keeps said material ‘out of the waste stream’—this despite the ‘stigma attached to used materials’ (105), in a reminiscence of anti-adaptation biases. In Adaptation Strategies for Interior Architecture and Design, Graeme Brooker breaks down eight specific design strategies for reusing existing spaces, including one—‘superuse’—that involves ‘the recycling of waste and its incorporation into new objects and edificies’ (66)—waste that includes ‘[o]ld tires’ and ‘car parts’—‘products that are often not recycled and end up in scrap yards or landfills’ (66). Another strategy, ‘reprogramming’, ‘refers to using an item again, whether an object, edifice, or an idea, that has been repurposed with new use’; it is a process ‘that forms a new composite construct of material and space’, like an old aircraft hanger ‘adapted to house a new trampoline park’ (16–18). Significantly, Mike and Jerry’s remaking in Be Kind Rewind expands well beyond the walls of Be Kind Rewind—always a video and thrift store, after all—into these more general forms of reuse and reprogramming. The film’s third act finds the pair abandoning their swedes altogether, stymied by the copyright rep who threatens them with ‘state and federal’ law. Mike and Jerry go even more local than they already have, enlisting the people and things of Passaic to make an original biopic about Fats Waller, whose birthplace they liberally relocate from NYC to Be Kind Rewind’s very building. ‘Our past belongs to us’, says Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) in an inadvertent defence of recycling. ‘We can change it if we want’. Mike and Jerry base their new movie not on any other movie but on a crowd-sourced story (all but fabricated) about Waller’s life in Passaic. If Mike and Jerry no longer recycle old movies, they continue to recycle ‘real stuff’. In a sequence that parallels the earlier montage involving Kings and Kong, we see Mike and Jerry et al. shooting a snowy train station made of painted cardboard boxes sprinkled with instant mashed potatoes; constructing one harmonium from discarded faucets and exhaust pipes and another from traffic cones; building one bass out of a bathtub and another out of piece of wood and two tires; and approximating an era-appropriate car by attaching a defunct AC unit and folding table to another old bathtub. (Not incidentally, this sequence is as close as Mike and Jerry get to nature as traditionally conceived, shooting scenes on a train as it passes over a wooded bridge). In the last segment, Mike and Jerry use a forklift to tape a party scene in an abandoned building whose facade has crumbled off; that is, they appropriate a tool of modernization in their fight against it. The cops subsequently show up to bust the shoot. Nevertheless, with the Fats film, Mike and Jerry realize—that is, they make real—the shared community previously implied by their videotapes’ shared materiality, the kindness of rewinding paid forward to the next viewer, the next play, the next generation. My policy recommendations likewise look ahead to adaptation studies’ next play, and to the materialities that may (or may not) sustain that play. Discussing Anne Washburn’s Post-Electric Play—in which the survivors of a global catastrophe recount and recreate episodes of The Simpsons—Julie Grossman writes that, ‘adapting to radical change, Washburn’s characters use stories to define their new community’ (187). Be Kind Rewind’s characters similarly use stories—When We Were Kings, King Kong—to adapt to radical change, as a form of community organization. What stories will sustain adaptation studies moving forward? Around which form(s) of adaptation will we organize ourselves? To reprocess Naremore one final time: The study of adaptation needs to be joined with the study of recycling, remaking, and every other form of sustainability in the age of the Anthropocene. Thomas Leitch’s Oxford Handbook concludes with an aphorism by Andre Gide—an aphorism that affirms the centrality of recycling to adaptation and adaptation studies at the same time that its truth is surely evident to any advocate of the environmental movement: ‘Everything has already been said but since no one was listening, everything must be said again’ (708). Gondry’s film ends with a screening of the Fats Waller film at the store, which will subsequently be torn down; the wrecking crew watch along. The rental has expired. The tape is overdue. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I wish to thank Dan Hassler-Forrest for his feedback on an earlier version of this essay. 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Is Adaptation Studies Sustainable?

Adaptation , Volume Advance Article – Jul 21, 2020

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Abstract

Abstract The protagonists of Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind recycle twice over, using junkyard stuff like tires and plastic bags to remake famous films in a series of no-budget shorts. This essay turns to Be Kind Rewind to ask how the recycling of materials may relate to the recycling of intellectual properties. It argues that such a question is paramount at a moment when adaptation not only represents a major media practice but also one major response to climate change. As such, the essay offers several different approaches to thinking about media adaptation in the age of global warming, drawing variously from sociologists, political ecologists, film theorists, and designers. adaptation studies, climate change, sustainability, global warming, political ecology, Be Kind Rewind Since the first [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report in 1991, adaptation – defined by the IPCC (2014) as ‘the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects’ – has emerged as the lodestar of public and development policy coincident with the realization that mitigation has receded into a distant future. ‘Adapt Now’ is the rallying cry of the moment (or one might say, ‘adapt or die’). (Watts 20) The plot (or plotting) of Michel Gondry’s 2008 film Be Kind Rewind revolves around a failing ‘Video and Thrift Store’ in Passaic, New Jersey—also called Be Kind Rewind—that exclusively rents VHS cassettes to its dwindling customer base. The store, already under threat of redevelopment and gentrification, is thrown into further disarray when one of its employees, Jerry (Jack Black), accidentally demagnetizes Be Kind Rewind’s entire stock. Jerry’s co-worker, Mike (Mos Def), strikes upon a thrifty solution: the pair will remake the lost movies themselves, on a camcorder and a literal shoestring budget, tying up plastic bags as boxing gloves to stage When We Were Kings’s Rumble in the Jungle; sitting an abandoned fridge amidst a low pile of tires for 2001’s monolithic encounter; and dangling toy planes against a bedsheet to recreate King Kong’s famous finale. The pair recycle twice over: they reuse stuff—junk—at the same time that they recycle the movies’ iconic lines, characters, and visuals. James Naremore famously opens his landmark 2000 edited collection on Film Adaptation by recommending that ‘the study of adaptation needs to be joined with the study of recycling, remaking, and every other form of retelling in the age of mechanical reproduction and electronic communication’, by which means he says that adaptation study will move ‘from the margins to the center of contemporary media studies’ (15). Be Kind Rewind’s conflation of literal and figurative recycling suggests that adaptation scholars have hardly begun to consider the full implications of Naremore’s recommendation some twenty years later, when those implications may be all the more pressing. As Jennifer Fay writes in Inhospitable World, ‘Humans have altered more than 50 percent of the earth’s landmass, depositing “anthropogenically modified materials” (plastics, concrete, bricks, and so-called technofossils but also crops, animals, and food production) everywhere we have settled’ and sending ‘carbon emissions, pesticide residues, and radionuclides’ airborne (2). Mike and Jerry turn towards the trash heap of the Anthropocene, a geological epoch in which ‘Homo sapiens have cast the planet out of the temperate norms of the Holocene epoch that were so congenial to human evolution’ (Fay 2). Nine of the ten warmest years on Earth have occurred since 2005 (Lindsey and Dahlman); in 2018, the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere rose to its highest level in 800,000 years (Lindsey). Mitigation (‘reducing emissions or enhancing sinks of greenhouse gases [GHGs]’) and adaptation (‘adjustment to actual or expected climate’) represent the two primary, ‘complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change’ and forging ‘climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development’, according to a 2014 IPCC report (76)—a report that likewise notes the importance of ‘recycling and reuse of materials and products’ in reducing GHG emissions below baseline (102). Joining the study of adaptation as a media practice with the study of adaptation as an environmental practice lends an exigency to Naremore’s suggestion that may move adaptation study not only to the centre of contemporary media studies but to the centre of the humanities in general. Pausing with Be Kind Rewind brings adaptation studies up to speed with the Anthropocene by defining adaptation as a de facto tactic—an everyday practice—in life during climate change. While Gondry’s film does not belong to the more obvious genre of what Fay would call ‘first world, middle-class’ climate change horror, whose ranks include The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) and Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-Ho, 2013), it nevertheless underscores something of what she labels ‘the everyday Anthropocene’, the ‘dread … not that the status quo will be radically disrupted, but that it will go on as it has been’ (qtd. in Baer). For Fay, ‘the central conundrum of the Anthropocene and the epiphenomenon of climate change’ is that ‘our collective efforts to make the planet more welcoming, secure, and productive for human flourishing … are precisely the measures that have made this a less hospitable earth, transforming it from something given into a disaster we have made’ (1–2). Not for nothing does the accident in Be Kind Rewind that leads Jerry to demagnetize the tapes take place during his attempt to sabotage a neighbouring power plant; the film’s central villain, meanwhile, is the developer who threatens to demolish Be Kind Rewind and build ‘Olde Passaic Gardens’ (‘Where Luxury, Convenience and Modern Technology meet’) in its place. The developer assures Mr Fletcher (Danny Glover), the store’s owner, that ‘we’re looking at a real improvement in quality of life’: ‘I just wanna improve the life of the people of Passaic, that’s all’. In Be Kind Rewind, Mr. Fletcher and Mike and Jerry feel the distinct heat of modernization. Recycling and remaking represent Mike and Jerry’s last stand against these rising temperatures; adaptation emerges as a form of sustainability for the pair and for ‘the people of Passaic’, just as ‘adaptation’ has emerged as ‘the lodestar of public and development policy’ related to climate change while mitigation recedes ‘into a distant future’ (Watts 20). As Michael J. Watts explains, ‘Historically, the IPCC has worked with a conceptual understanding of adaptation as adjustment’, as ‘proximate’ and ‘anticipatory’, in contrast to adaptation’s more contemporary, and potentially more radical, cognates like ‘adaptive capacity, adaptive strategies, and adaptive governance’—‘a more structural rendering of adaptation’ (20). In this formulation, adapting to climate rather than more radically adapting governance or structures appears the more conservative, or at least old-fashioned, response to rising temperatures. But the tactics of everyday adaptation—of an intransitive adapting to (Leitch, “To Adapt or to Adapt To?” 93)—may be all that remains, as ‘[s]cientific consensus now estimates the severely worsening impacts of major human-induced global environmental problems, such as climate change … already exceed the sustainability of planetary boundary conditions (Rockstrom et al. 2009)’ (Zimmerer 154). Unlike The Road and Snowpiercer’s dystopian near futures, Be Kind Rewind offers a dystopian near past, a realization that climate change, ‘in other words, is no longer a disaster looming in the future but a present and unfolding reality in which adaptation is, especially for the most affected regions, no longer a matter of choice’ (Heise 57–58). Fletcher, whose store sits in the middle of a disproportionately affected ‘slum’ (in the developer’s word), complains to a friend early on: ‘I can’t adapt, and that’s why I’m broke’; his friend implores him to ‘visit all of the successful renting businesses and learn and adapt. You said you can’t adapt, adapt!’ (‘Adapt Now’, in other words, or ‘adapt or die’). ‘To modernize or to ecologize: this has become the crucial choice’, Bruno Latour writes in Down to Earth (46). Mr Fletcher can modernize his store—or else. Adaptation is not, as Ursula K. Heise stresses, ‘a matter of choice’, but the only choice left. This lack of choice forces Mike and Jerry into a quite different relationship with their environment—one that could reorient adaptation scholars themselves towards Gaia, ‘a totality of living beings and materials that were made together, that cannot live apart, and from which humans can’t extract themselves’ (Latour, “Tracks Down Gaia”). Far from modernizing the video store, Mike and Jerry come to realize that they have never been modern, entering into close accord not only with each other but with the nonhuman materials that populate the neighbourhood surrounding the store: the aforementioned plastic bags, fridge, tires, toys, and sheets, not to mention broken-down cars, hair dryers, water guns, fishing poles, cardboard, and tin foil; all shooting likewise takes place on location, at the local library, on a playground, in an apartment building, on a construction site, a different kind of familiarity replacing a strict or stricter fidelity. The pair’s ‘swedes’ or ‘videos à la carte’, as they call them, are homegrown, homebrewed, local, low-carbon, organic, and locally sourced—green to a T—transferred to single VHS cassettes endlessly reused by the community. Jeremy Butman, suspicious that ‘[w]hen we talk about sustainability’ we tend to ‘sustain nature as we humans prefer it … for industry’, prefers the term ‘adaptability’ instead, which ‘skews away from the idea of a perfect, ordered nature and unchanging industrial-technological conditions, and favors a vision of nature in a state of constant change, even chaos; a vision that values difference and diversity, both biological and cultural’. Such a state of change, Butman elaborates, would look something like Latour’s ‘unified network of “actants,” human and nonhuman, animate and inanimate’—not unlike Mike and Jerry’s Passaic, where an attention to things stands in stark contrast to the developer’s anthropocentric vision of a better life for ‘the people of Passaic’. Fay, herself glossing Latour, writes that ‘[w]hat is new in the Anthropocene is that the environment, which supports but is supposed to be distinct from the human world according to long-held Enlightenment presumptions, is now also largely human made’ (4). Be Kind Rewind finds Mike and Jerry, in their Anthroposcenic remaking, leaning into this indistinction. For Thomas Leitch, intransitive adaptation brings ‘nonhuman things’ to the fore, as animals and plants ‘adapt … to new homes, new patterns of foody supply, new mixtures of sun and shade, or in, a considerably longer view, newly evolving geological conditions’ (“To Adapt or to Adapt To?” 93). A turn to ecology in adaptation studies would similarly bring nonhuman things forward, extending the longer Latourian view of Leitch’s “What Movies Want,” Regina Schober’s “Adaptation as Connection,” and my own effort to nudge adaptation studies “Towards an Adaptation Network” in 2013. That same year, I elsewhere played the Mike and Jerry to adaptation study’s Passaic, proposing a ‘rematerializing’ of adaptation theory that would see adaptation scholars take up adaptations’ ‘raw materials’ in something less than metaphorical terms. Whereas, for instance, George Bluestone writes that ‘the film-maker ... treats the novel as raw material and ultimately creates his own unique structure’ (qtd. in Meikle, “Rematerializing” 174), Jason Sperb writes of Mike and Jerry and Be Kind Rewind’s ‘fondness for physical things such as videotape but also for the other raw materials used to re-create sweded films’, consolation against the impending ‘immateriality’ of digital storage (162–63). ‘Raw’ in this second instance returns us to the dirt, or at least to the junkyard, to dig up ‘the material culture of the adaptive process’, or to excavate adaptation’s intermateriality (Meikle, “Rematerializing” 174–75). As I wrote seven years ago, such a notion is nascent in the ‘homology between biological and cultural adaptation’, following Gary Bortolotti and Linda Hutcheon (444), that runs deep within the field of adaptation studies. For Bortolotti and Hutcheon, ‘Changes in the environment often bring about changes in the phenotype, whether that environment be biological or cultural’ (448). Timothy Corrigan’s chapter on ‘Defining Adaptation’ in Thomas Leitch’s Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies—itself a Naremoresque landmark in the making—frames adaptation ‘[i]n the broadest sense’ as societies’ capacity ‘to adapt to environmental and social conditions, whether … physical conditions, such as climate changes or the need for different natural resources, or to social shifts, such as population growth or political turmoil’ (25). Brian Boyd’s own Handbook chapter on ‘Making Adaptation Studies Adaptive’ begins by asking whether adaptation ‘means one thing in the humanities and another in the sciences’; he argues that ‘[j]ust as live species try to adapt to different circumstances, so do artists adapt existing art to their own preferences, skills, and tools and to their sense of the preferences and skills of their audiences’ (588–89). In Boyd’s estimation, adaptations are ‘solutions, physiological or behavioral, to particular problems of survival or reproduction within a particular range of environmental conditions’ (587, 590). In the literary environment, Shakespeare creates Falstaff to ‘solve structural problems in adapting to the stage Holinshed’s chronicle and the colorful legends of wild Prince Hal’—and the subsequent success of Falstaff ‘create[s] a new problem’ for adapters: ‘how to capitalize further on that success and the expectations it ha[s] generated’ (590). Even while the paragraph that follows lands on the ‘ways nature has found to adapt existing design—most recently, bacteria’s capacity to soak up the genetic remains even of long-dead organisms (Overballe-Petersen et al.)’ (590), Boyd bypasses nature in his Shakespearean aside. What lumber was necessary to dress Henry IV ’s set? Adaptation, in the context of climate change, offers no neat divide between the environmental and the social, the biological and the cultural, and the scientific and the humanistic—insofar as it represents a human response to a nonhuman phenomenon accelerated by humans through nonhuman actants. As Latour wonders, how could we possibly distinguish between physical geography and human geography when ‘the place “on” or “in” which we are located begins to react to our actions, turns against us, encloses us, dominates us, demands something of us and carries us along in its path?’ (41). Ian Baucom and Matthew Omelsky, reflecting on an essay by Gary Tomlinson, likewise describe the ‘network of environmental feedback loops’ in which ‘human life has long been wrapped’: ‘We have evolved by adapting to environments that have evolved by adapting to human actions’ (13). Climate change disperses agency, or foregrounds an agency that was already dispersed in the adaptive process. Yet Sperb implicitly favours human geography when he remarks upon Be Kind Rewind’s ‘recycling of old movies’ (163) but not its recycling of old cassettes or old tires or old buildings. While rummaging through the rest of the Oxford Handbook, we similarly come across ‘literary recycling’ (Jellenik 40), the ‘borrowing and recycling of plots’ (Jellenik 43), scenes that ‘freely recycle dialogue’ (Miller 60), words ‘recycled or adapted from a Talmudic passage’ (Zierler 133), stage musicals that ‘recycle well-known songs’ (Ingham 334), and telenovelas ‘drawing on universal narratives and recycl[ing] many elements’ (Joye, Biltereyst, and Adriaens 366)—with only a single mention of material recycling. Parsing Bret Easton Ellis’s sense that Hollywood is now ‘making films out of the remains of the empire, “the junk that’s left over” (Gross 26)’, Constantine Verevis describes a character from one such piece of ‘junk’, Transformers: Age of Extinction’s Cade Yeager, who is ‘always on the lookout for scrap he can recycle’ (276). At least this last bit of recycling—or ‘salvaging’, a term that Linda Hutcheon sets alongside appropriation in the first chapter of A Theory of Adaptation (8, 20)—gets us closer to extinction, or closer to adaptation as a response to catastrophic climate change. Downplaying adaptation’s physical geography represents, if not an outright denial, then some form of the ‘climate quietude’ of which Latour says we are all guilty: the ‘hope, while doing nothing about it, that everything will be all right in the end’ (6). This climate quietude is only a diminished form of the climate silence effected by the ruling classes, who Latour says have retreated from any common sense of the global to instead ‘shelter themselves from the world’ (often in the cold—if not downright chilling—comforts of the nation state) (1–2). ‘The absence of a common world we can share’, Latour writes, ‘is driving us crazy’; ‘To resist this loss of a common orientation’, he says, ‘we shall have to come down to earth; we shall have to land somewhere’ (2). The Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies, along with The Routledge Companion to Adaptation (published just a year after), have already done much to expand adaptation studies’ map beyond the United States and the United Kingdom—where Latour directs much of his ire—but consideration of climate change could further press the question of how and where we ground the field, or at what geological level we should settle. Recognizing adaptation as a common word that we can share with those sciences beyond biology may provide its own cold comforts in grounding adaptation scholars or reorienting adaptation studies to the present moment—or it may (more hopefully) find adaptation scholars participating in a greater shift ‘from a local to global viewpoint’: ‘multiplying viewpoints, registering a greater number of varieties, taking into account a larger number of beings, culture, phenomena, organisms, and people’ (Latour 12–13); Patrick Cattrysse, one of the field’s most scientifically minded adaptationists, has encouraged us to do as much, in his Descriptive Adaptation Studies. Latour acknowledges that one of the few true successes of the various ‘ecological movements’ has come in their ‘introducing objects that had not previously belonged to the usual preoccupations of public life’, rescuing politics ‘from an overly restrictive definition of the social world’ and guaranteeing that ‘no development project fails to arouse a protest’ (45–46)—as in Be Kind Rewind. Adaptation scholars could avoid a similarly restrictive definition of the cultural or social world, to incorporate objects that have not previously belonged to adaptation studies, to shift from the national viewpoints that have already expanded the field (to Bollywood or Hong Kong or Latin America in the Oxford Handbook) to a more global viewpoint, or towards what Latour labels the ‘Terrestrial’, which inheres in ‘materiality, heterogeneity, thickness, dust, humus, the succession of layers, strata’ (92). As such, I want to suggest three policy recommendations, inspired by Naremore’s, for a green movement in adaptation studies—three recommendations for materializing or dusting up or layering the field. I put forth these recommendations in the hopes of raising adaptation studies’ climate quietude above a whisper, and to help adaptation scholars themselves adapt to institutional climates increasingly hostile to the humanities (as Andrew Kay describes in his infamous 2019 article on “Academe’s Extinction Event,” citing the precipitous decline of MLA job listings). 1. The study of adaptation needs to be joined with the study of political ecology in the age of climate change My headlining recommendation is to recast adaptation scholars as political ecologists, or to invite political ecologists to assume a co-starring role in adaptation studies’ productions. While Jennifer Fay agrees that the Anthropocene ‘brings the humanities and sciences together around a new set of pressing questions … rather than thinking of the humanities turning (or reluctantly returning) to the hard sciences, it may be that environmental science needs the humanities as never before’ (qtd. in Baer). Yet Fay goes on to speculate that ‘the challenge of climate change is not a problem of science but rather a failure of politics’ (qtd. in Baer). Political ecology, ‘a field that seeks to unravel the political forces at work in environmental access, management, and transformation’ (Robbins 3), would seem a logical first stage for any entr’acte between media-minded and climate-minded adaptationists. For the former troupe, that would mean following Simone Murray’s political economic approach to adaptation beyond The Adaptation Industry (the title of her groundbreaking 2012 book) to the adaptation lobby. Political ecology is itself often defined as/in relation to political economy: as combining ‘the concerns of ecology and a broadly defined political economy’ (Blaikie and Brookfield qtd. in Robbins 12), as a synthesis of ‘political economy … with its broader vision of bio-environmental relationships’ (Greenberg and Park qtd. in Robbins 12), as ‘a confluence between ecologically rooted social science and the principles of political economy’ (Peet and Watts qtd. in Robbins 12). Murray, meanwhile, points out that ‘[t]he content recycling function at the heart of adaptation was noted in passing by individual political economists from the 1970s in analyses of “synergy” within the operations of globalised media conglomerates’ but received ‘only glancing attention’ thereafter; she seeks to examine ‘the how and why of adaptation from the perspective of the authors, agents, publishers, editors, book prize committees, screenwriters, directors and producers who actually make adaptations happen’ (11). Compounding Murray’s political economy with a political ecology would encourage adaptation scholars to consider the how and why of adaptation from vastly different perspectives, agencies, and committees. The authors behind volumes like Adaptation to Climate Change and A Critical Approach to Climate Change Adaptation could indeed lead media-minded adaptation scholars to a more robust understanding of adaptation as a matter of both policy and polity. As Silja Klepp and Libertad Chavez-Rodriguez write in their introduction to the latter collection, ‘“Adaptation” ... is currently the main notion mediating ideas on anthropogenic climate change and society’ (3); Sybille Bauriedl and Detlef Müller-Mahn conclude that volume by considering ‘the critical potential of adaptation research, in the sense of its political impact for local and global environmental justice and equity’, asking how ‘adaptation research [can] become more socially and politically reflexive’ (276). Murray writes that ‘adaptation studies is nothing if not self-reflexive’ (1)—and the field is increasingly reflexive about the social and political import of adaptation(s) as such (to wit: this special issue). Scholars of climate change are equally (and helpfully) reflexive about adaptation, a reflex that could encourage adaptation scholars to rethink and redefine the term at the centre of their field—a task, as Thomas Leitch notes, that they have traditionally declined (“Adaptation and Intertextuality”). Watts, for instance, uses the IPCC’s definition of adaptation as a springboard to think about the ‘ubiquity’ of ‘adaptation speak’, suggesting that adaptation ‘is more than a keyword: it resembles a hegemonic discourse’ (21). Watts traces the rise of adaptation’s ‘revival and rehabilitation after a period – especially the 1970s and 1980s – in which it fell from grace’, speculating that ‘[w]hat appears to be on offer is a recycled version of adaptation thinking of [the] 1960s associated most closely … with cultural ecology, ecological anthropology, and general systems theory’ (21). Adaptation, he says, has subsequently been ‘repurposed and rebooted with a rather new conceptual vocabulary: security, risk, vulnerability, exposure, resilience, adaptive management, and governance’ (21). While this instance of ‘adaptation’ may seem somewhat distant from Naremore’s, both share an evolutionary lineage; that is, evolutionary theory has informed political ecological and cultural concepts of adaptation in equal measure. ‘From the political ecology vantage point’, Watts writes, ‘the “adapt now” mentalité is something of a paradox’, since work on climate change adaptation ‘is unequivocal in identifying the concept’s origins in evolutionary biology (Smit and Wandel 2006: 286) but it was precisely the flaws of organic analogies that political ecology sought to address’ (21). Watts observes that the ‘language of adaptation is ubiquitous, if not promiscuous, travelling effortlessly across biological, cultural, social, and ideological boundaries’: swimming animals have adapted by developing flattened appendages like fins; a lawyer is well adapted to her profession; therapists help us adapt to the stresses of urban living; rituals and cultural institutions among indigenous groups function as adaptive mechanisms for sustainable development; the Federal Reserve fulfills adaptive functions with respect to contemporary American capitalism. (29) But Watts uses this list—notably lacking an example of media adaptation—to signal the semantic slipperiness of adaptation, especially as it has developed from evolutionary biology, where ‘adaptation and adaptive processes have been, and remain, contested, freighted terms’ (30). Watts, glossing Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin’s The Dialectical Biologist, observes that ‘[t]he architecture of adaptation seems to rest on a billiard table view of organisms and their environments when in fact the organism is both subject and object’ (30). While most evolutionary accounts of adaptation in media studies have adopted such a view (e.g., Hutcheon), a scant few scholars have challenged the currents and currency of Darwinian theory (see Jillian St. Jacques, Adaptation Theories; Leitch, “What Movies Want”; and Cattrysse, “An Evolutionary View of Cultural Adaptation”)—and raised provocative questions about adaptations’ agentive drifts, to borrow Julian Yates’s phrase. Mark Pelling, whom Watts cites approvingly, cautions that ‘connections between nature and society are context specific and hard to generalise from’—one of the many ‘tension[s] in understandings of adaptation which persists today’ (40). Pelling proceeds to compare ‘economic and ethical frameworks for evaluating adaptive choices’ (41), discussing three adaptive pathways: resilience (maintaining the status quo), transition (incremental change), and transformation (radical change)—a neat mirror of Dudley Andrew’s oft-cited borrowing/intersecting/transforming taxonomy of media adaptations. Pelling’s four framing questions about adaptation to climate change, meanwhile—‘What to adapt to? Who or what adapts? How does adaptation occur? What are the limits to adaptation?’—carry the valences of media adaptation, even while their answers, involving boreal forestry management, the disasters community, and physical infrastructure systems, stress the way that adaptation scholars would have to accommodate governance and policies in political ecological accounts of media adaptation. This accommodation would ground the adaptation industry in the adaptation lobby, compounding copyright law (which eventually stymies Be Kind Rewind’s local programming: Sigourney Weaver shows up as a studio lawyer) with environmental law—and it might inspire us to consider the sustainability of our own local governing bodies and conferences. What is the journal of Adaptation’s carbon footprint? 2. The study of adaptation needs to be joined with the study of climate change in contemporary media studies Yet adaptation scholars need not look as far afield as political ecology to move towards Gaia; contemporary media studies’ own global warming is already more than hospitable to any such interest, as exemplified by Fay, whose Inhospitable World revolves around her sense that filmmaking ‘occasions the creation of artificial worlds, unnatural and inclement weather, and deadly environments produced as much for the sake of entertainment as for scientific study and military strategy’ (4). Her cases range from the stormy slapstick of Buster Keaton to atomic test films to film noir to media representations of China’s Three Gorges Dam; through these case studies, Fay traces ‘material shifts in cinematic production in tandem with the mid-twentieth-century onset of the Great Acceleration, which has dissolved the longstanding distinction between the earth and human world, the environment and socioeconomic order’ (Baer). For Fay, cinema, in its ‘uncanny aesthetic effects’ and ‘production of artificial worlds and simulated, wholly anthropogenic weather’, becomes ‘the aesthetic practice of the Anthropocene’ (4). Fay’s trajectory reflects a broader trend in contemporary media studies towards reading film production materially, in the context of an environmental catastrophism unmoored from the more/most stereotypical cli-fi (e.g., The Day After Tomorrow [Roland Emmerich, 2004]). A 2019 Journal of Cinema and Media Studies dossier on ‘Film and Media Studies in the Anthropocene’ likewise begins with an epigraph from Latour on that Great Acceleration (‘The West thinks it is the sole possessor of the clever trick that will allow it to keep on winning indefinitely, whereas it has perhaps already lost everything’ [qtd. in Peterson and Uhlin 142]), with co-editors Jennifer Peterson and Graig Uhlin arguing that ‘film and media histories are instrumental—empirically and ideologically—for registering [the] symptomatic awareness of humanity’s discernible impact on the earth’s ecosystems’ (144). As for Fay, film here is empirical and ‘instrumental’—able to measure and be measured in material terms. In this respect, adaptation scholars would do well to follow the likes of Kyle Stine, who weighs the ‘double bind’ of seemingly green film productions that nevertheless ‘rely entirely on the implicated systems of transportation and communication that produce the emissions and waste responsible for climate change’ (2). Stine’s sense that ‘there is no such thing as a carbon-neutral production’ (2) finds further purchase in Melanie Ashe’s analysis of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a film promoted as the ‘most eco-friendly tentpole production in the history of Sony Pictures’ (‘Eco-Spidey and The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ qtd. in Ashe 6). Ashe broaches political ecology when she notes that the film’s energy reduction campaign involved negotiations between ‘Hollywood studios, non-profit environmental groups, environmental consultants, and environmentally engaged online users’ (5), as well as multiple online campaigns, including a ‘Sustainability Sizzle Reel’ that explained how one set in the film ‘was sourced from pre-used materials to minimize overall waste’ (6) and a promotional Twitter account that boasted, ‘755 tons were diverted from landfill or reused while making The Amazing #SpiderMan 2’ (qtd. in Ashe 7). Ashe lands in much the same place as Stine, arguing that a focus on the green practices of filmmaking constitutes only a ‘narrow environmentalism’ centred on production and promotion over consumption (11). A September 2019 special issue of Variety devoted to ‘The Climate Crisis’ offers some further provocations in this regard, with Matt Donnelly looking at ‘How Hollywood Is Reducing Its Carbon Footprint’, from ‘Battery-Powered Sets’ to ‘Finessing Craft Service’. Donnelly writes that ‘[w]hile creators and executives have come under fire in recent months for failing to make movies that address the global climate crisis, they are taking steps to make their productions more eco-friendly’; NBCUniversal’s sustainability director Shannon Bart, for instance, has worked to reduce food waste and red meat on set, as both contribute to ‘some of the most noxious greenhouse gases’. Elsewhere, ‘[d]irectors, cinematographers and artisans have been experimenting with reusable materials at every level of filmmaking’. Donnelly describes how the production designers behind Sony’s The Possession of Hannah Grace constructed the film’s ‘series of complex tunnels’ from Emagispace blocks, ‘fiberboard panels similar to Legos that can build entire multiroom sets, then come apart and be fashioned into new ones’. The materials, Donnelly writes, ‘stand in contrast to traditional lumber, often culled from irresponsibly managed forests and not properly recycled’. Donnelly’s article and the special issue at large juxtapose ‘storytelling’ with these more concrete (or fiberboard) forms of ‘activism’, returning us once more to Be Kind Rewind’s conflation of figurative and literal recycling. Nowhere does Donnelly speculate as to whether franchise productions—which presumably not only reuse characters and stories but sets and locations and equipment in ways that other productions do not—may be greener than other forms of moviemaking. That is, Donnelly’s interest does not extend to the most obvious ‘level of filmmaking’ at which producers and directors reuse materials (e.g., intellectual properties), to see if that reuse bears any relationship to below-the-line production. While Ashe uses a comic book adaptation as her case study, she, like Donnelly, nowhere mentions adaptation explicitly—though she does gesture to the ‘extended impact of material paratexts’ in the Spider-Man campaign, including tie-in ice cream and chips with ingredients not likely ‘sourced from sustainable plantations’ and involving ‘excessively high levels of plastic and paper packaging’ (9–10). Stine, too, says that media tie-ins speak to the ‘inability to separate the motion picture industry from related industries’ and their environmental impacts (6). These tie-ins also potentially speak to the ways that adaptation, as a media practice, foregrounds sourcing, source materials, material relations, and impact. Such tie-ins may lead us to ask: Are some forms of adaptation greener than others? Is intra-medial adaptation more sustainable than intermedial adaptation? Is fan fiction more sustainable than franchising? What do audiences and studios actually reuse in the adaptation process? 3. The study of adaptation needs to be joined with the study of sustainable design Whatever its actual impact, Sony’s eco-conscious campaign for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 reflect the tenets of so-called sustainable design—a design practice that ‘seeks to maximize the quality of the built environment, while minimizing or eliminating negative impact to the natural environment’ (McLennan 4), and the basis for my third and final policy recommendation. For Fay, the Anthropocene itself ‘can be understood as a matter of design, if not an accomplishment’ (qtd. in Baer)—and we can understand Be Kind Rewind in much the same way, as a film about production design, as a film about sustainable design, in which Passaic becomes an Anthroposcenic backlot stocked with possible actors and actants. Mike and Jerry derive their production design from the detritus of modernization and the Great Acceleration. In arguing for design as ‘the third discipline’, Mark Nelson posits that ‘unlike science, design has to take into account that it has choices to make: it isn’t merely uncovering natural facts that already exist, but is creating artifacts … unlike the humanities, it has to take into account that artifacts are made of real stuff, which has properties and constraints: you have to build a bridge out of stone, or steel, or wood’. Mike and Jerry confront ‘real stuff’ only amidst constraint and crisis. Design becomes a form of consolation and consilience for the pair, just as it could begin to reconcile the humanities and the sciences in adaptation studies, offering adaptation scholars a formally minded, if materially conscious, approach to adaptation in their own green efforts. And sustainable design, with its particular focus on environmental impact, unites the sciences and the arts under the sign of climate change, pressing questions of reuse, recycling, and (per Watts) ‘risk, vulnerability, exposure, [and] resilience’—that is, adaptation. In Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide, David Bergman singles out material reuse as the ‘ecologically best’ option for designers, since reusing a material precludes having to ‘mine, grow, or fabricate it’ and keeps said material ‘out of the waste stream’—this despite the ‘stigma attached to used materials’ (105), in a reminiscence of anti-adaptation biases. In Adaptation Strategies for Interior Architecture and Design, Graeme Brooker breaks down eight specific design strategies for reusing existing spaces, including one—‘superuse’—that involves ‘the recycling of waste and its incorporation into new objects and edificies’ (66)—waste that includes ‘[o]ld tires’ and ‘car parts’—‘products that are often not recycled and end up in scrap yards or landfills’ (66). Another strategy, ‘reprogramming’, ‘refers to using an item again, whether an object, edifice, or an idea, that has been repurposed with new use’; it is a process ‘that forms a new composite construct of material and space’, like an old aircraft hanger ‘adapted to house a new trampoline park’ (16–18). Significantly, Mike and Jerry’s remaking in Be Kind Rewind expands well beyond the walls of Be Kind Rewind—always a video and thrift store, after all—into these more general forms of reuse and reprogramming. The film’s third act finds the pair abandoning their swedes altogether, stymied by the copyright rep who threatens them with ‘state and federal’ law. Mike and Jerry go even more local than they already have, enlisting the people and things of Passaic to make an original biopic about Fats Waller, whose birthplace they liberally relocate from NYC to Be Kind Rewind’s very building. ‘Our past belongs to us’, says Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) in an inadvertent defence of recycling. ‘We can change it if we want’. Mike and Jerry base their new movie not on any other movie but on a crowd-sourced story (all but fabricated) about Waller’s life in Passaic. If Mike and Jerry no longer recycle old movies, they continue to recycle ‘real stuff’. In a sequence that parallels the earlier montage involving Kings and Kong, we see Mike and Jerry et al. shooting a snowy train station made of painted cardboard boxes sprinkled with instant mashed potatoes; constructing one harmonium from discarded faucets and exhaust pipes and another from traffic cones; building one bass out of a bathtub and another out of piece of wood and two tires; and approximating an era-appropriate car by attaching a defunct AC unit and folding table to another old bathtub. (Not incidentally, this sequence is as close as Mike and Jerry get to nature as traditionally conceived, shooting scenes on a train as it passes over a wooded bridge). In the last segment, Mike and Jerry use a forklift to tape a party scene in an abandoned building whose facade has crumbled off; that is, they appropriate a tool of modernization in their fight against it. The cops subsequently show up to bust the shoot. Nevertheless, with the Fats film, Mike and Jerry realize—that is, they make real—the shared community previously implied by their videotapes’ shared materiality, the kindness of rewinding paid forward to the next viewer, the next play, the next generation. My policy recommendations likewise look ahead to adaptation studies’ next play, and to the materialities that may (or may not) sustain that play. Discussing Anne Washburn’s Post-Electric Play—in which the survivors of a global catastrophe recount and recreate episodes of The Simpsons—Julie Grossman writes that, ‘adapting to radical change, Washburn’s characters use stories to define their new community’ (187). Be Kind Rewind’s characters similarly use stories—When We Were Kings, King Kong—to adapt to radical change, as a form of community organization. What stories will sustain adaptation studies moving forward? Around which form(s) of adaptation will we organize ourselves? To reprocess Naremore one final time: The study of adaptation needs to be joined with the study of recycling, remaking, and every other form of sustainability in the age of the Anthropocene. Thomas Leitch’s Oxford Handbook concludes with an aphorism by Andre Gide—an aphorism that affirms the centrality of recycling to adaptation and adaptation studies at the same time that its truth is surely evident to any advocate of the environmental movement: ‘Everything has already been said but since no one was listening, everything must be said again’ (708). Gondry’s film ends with a screening of the Fats Waller film at the store, which will subsequently be torn down; the wrecking crew watch along. The rental has expired. The tape is overdue. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I wish to thank Dan Hassler-Forrest for his feedback on an earlier version of this essay. 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Journal

AdaptationOxford University Press

Published: Jul 21, 2020

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