Initia-tainment: The Eco-Celebrity Campaign
A Fortune 500 scion, a fimmaker and a minor celebrity walk into a bar...and they decide to change the world.
Bill Ford, Chairman of Ford Motor Company, strives to make his cars more earth-huggable. Peter Glatzer documents eccentric, intellectual environmentalists to serve as models for what he hopes to be a growing movement. Adrian Grenier, best known as Vince Chase in HBO’s Entourage, and whose current plans are somewhat nebulous, wants to lend his name and “star power” to the group. The question is, can Grenier sustain this Eco-Entourage and is he in it for the long haul?
As a profile and sometimes “green” writer, I was invited to a party “on the eve of the TriBeca Film Festival” that wasn’t part of the film festival at all. Instead, the invite promised “breaking news,” relating to the partnership of Ford (Chief Officer of the Board of his Great Grandpa’s business, Ford Motor Co.), Grenier and filmmaker Peter Glatzer, and their new initiative; a website called SHFT.com. Its tagline, “Curating the Culture of Today’s Environment,” speaks to a multidisciplinary approach to saving the earth; one that defies classification and is, in essence, a clearinghouse for all categories of better living though ecologically-minded design and engineering. With film clips, photos, links to pertinent articles and even a shopping component, is SHFT a Green Initiative? Is it entertainment?
Well, it’s both, as I soon discovered; it is, if I may coin a term, initia-tainment.
Lending a name to an environmental cause is nothing new in celebrity-ville. Ten years ago, I wrote a couple of articles illustrating this trend. One was a profile of Pete Seeger who, in 1969, hatched the idea for a boat that would draw attention to the “stinking cesspool that was the Hudson River.” As I wrote then, “Seeger and a motley crew of several musicians including Arlo Guthrie and Don McClean (who would later debut his smash hit American Pie at a 1972 Clearwater Fundraiser in Washington, DC), took possession of the ship (in Maine) in the summer of 1969, then slowly made their way back to the Hudson River. To raise funds, Seeger remembered, ‘we’d sail 25 miles, give a concert. Sail another 25 miles, give a concert…Portland, Portsmouth, Gloucester and down.’ When they arrived at South Street Seaport in New York City, Mayor John Lindsey took the helm for a few hours. Even before arriving at its final destination in Poughkeepsie, NY, the Sloop Clearwater had garnered major publicity.” TheSloop Clearwater plies the Hudson yet, over forty years on, and The Clearwater Festival - still featuring Seeger in his 90’s- draws tens of thousands of fans annually.
The other piece was for Sierra Magazine titled "Green Glitterati" in which I focused on two organizations; Earth Communications Office, (with a member roster that included Pierce Brosnan, Patrick Stewart, and James Cromwell – the group produced emotional “Power of One” public-service videos shown before the main features in movie theatres all over the globe. Swelling orchestration, footage of pristine waters, roiling clouds, leaping dolphins, and time-lapsed sunsets implored movie-goers to reuse, reduce and recycle), and ClimateChange.org starring early Prius adopter, Kevin Bacon who declared, "Six degrees can make a world of difference. Not separation–temperature." Neither organization exists anymore.
Is SHFT/Ford/Grenier a Sloop Clearwater or an Earth Communications Office? Will it survive and shift societal perceptions like Seeger’s initiative did, or will it fizzle as soon as those involved turn attentions elsewhere? I went to the party determined to get a sense of the dedication of its founders. Is it really about keeping our earth clean or pure self-promotion?
The event– in a repurposed industrial building on the fringes of Chelsea in NYC – turned out to be a befuddling mashup of cast party, pop-up store, car show and indie band concert with a bit of book launch – or in this case website launch – thrown in. An array of valets and security men-in-black with headsets and clipboards stood outside, dismissing the curious and ushering in mostly sweet young things, but some others, like me, who had no idea what to expect. I walked in to find Grenier, with his trademark pretty-boy aloofness, greeting guests in the glow of wall projections of Ford Co. and SHFT.com logos. Products, like recycled wood IPhone charging docks ($65) and New Balance newSky101 jogging shoes (made of recycled PET plastic for $89.99), were showcased on shelves, and the stage was set up for a folk-rock concert.
Grenier, Ford and Glatzer introduced a preview of a documentary called "The Big Shift; Ten Innovators Changing the Way We Live." The clip showed a guy with Malcolm Gladwell hair exuberantly extolling the virtues and potential of garbage; this guy loved trash. Then Glatzer rather bemusingly hailed Bill Ford as "the first industrialist on our board (of SHFT)". Ford spoke about zipping around New York City in his surprisingly peppy Ford Fusion electric vehicle, and about some of the newly instituted Eco-innovations both at the Ford plant and in its cars; soy, coconut husks, straw, kenaf – all utilized in the manufacturing of new automobiles. The message? Ford Co. cares about sustainability and is replacing petroleum-based products with plant-based products one coconut husk at a time.
Then Grenier’s band, The Honey Brothers, debuted their indie sound. Though many of the sweet young things were more interested in signaling availability to the drummer - Grenier - than in the music itself, I was drawn to the camaraderie onstage. It was collaborative and fun and the music was actually really good. It kind of felt like a Sloop Clearwater Festival, but with models, cocktails and Men-In-Black bouncers instead of tie-dye and tents. It was a new kind of Eco-Fest where you don’t drop dollars into donation boxes – you go shopping.
Perhaps initiatainment is the conservationist model of the day. It doesn’t ask you to DO anything, it just asks you to enjoy and then buy. In this, SHFT.com is the perfect website for our age - the union of industry, science, art and one photogenic entourage-rich celebrity drumming up business for a coolly curated design for living.
It makes me want to hug a tree then buy that awesome crosscut tree-trunk turntable.