Saturday, June 8, 2013

Obama and Xi: Get to the Point!

Is it too late to suggest that Barack Obama and Xi Jinping take a ride up to Zabriskie Point?

Certainly it won't be out of the way if they do, indeed, to visit Las Vegas.

Zabriskie Point in California

The suggestion was inspired by thinking about cars -- particularly, thinking about how vast both the United States and China are, and how easy it is to fall into thinking that, well, life just isn't worth living in these big, expansive countries if you can't just hop into your car and roam at will as far as you want to go -- and then I was thinking about Obama and Xi in Southern California and that got me thinking about those beautiful scenes of the young woman in "Antonioni's film Zabriskie Point hastening through the desert, and the young man flirting with her from his stolen prop plane.

Zabriskie Point, a film by Michelango Antonioni

"What would be the point?" you might ask. Well, three points (at least) of a trip to Zabriskie Point come to mind.

The first, and most obvious, is that if the leaders of China and the United States are together in California, what they really ought to be doing is getting out into nature. Leave the briefing books behind, ditch the talking points, and get into the real world. Both of our countries are natural wonders from one end to the other, and California, in particular, is a place that begs to be experienced as a showcase of nature. Maybe some shared exploration of the natural world would jog some thinking about our the shared environmental challenges we face.

Zabriskie Point has the added benefit that it provokes reflection not just on space but on time. It is a truly American style memento mori -- a site that teemed with life millions of years ago, but is now deader than dead.

Another reason? Simply for beauty.

Zabriskie Point

If we expect our leaders to solve the biggest problems in human history -- to come up with the most valuable ideas in the world -- don't we need them to stoke their minds with material that inspires?

Of course, with specific reference to the climate crisis, I can think of no better place to have a discussion about the consequences of burning up the Earth than a landscape that no longer supports life.

A possible bonus: Why don't Barack Obama and Xi Jinping arrange a private screening of Zabriskie Point? After a sobering trip into the desert, what better than a film filled with commentary on student radicalism, dissent, capitalism, consumerism, patrimony, the environment ... plus some of the the most beautiful cinematography ever and a historic soundtrack? And (spoiler alert) an apocalyptic ending transcends language?

Zabriskie Point (finale)

MORE: #chinaEARTHusa - Radical Change? or Planetocide?

Related posts

The United States may set the standard for human desire -- for the mindless pursuit of the bright and shiny object -- but, heaven knows, China is not to be outdone.

(See China and USA - Like a Moth to the Flame)

Reisner's book, Cadillac Desert describe how ambitious American entrepeneurs, entranced by the potential to turn Southern California and Arizona into boom areas with the simple addition of a little bit of water, have upset the balance of nature and set us on a path for disaster

(See Cadillac Desert (Don't Try This At Home))

I'm grateful to my friend, Jim Barton, for framing the problem in a way that is adequately broad, and yet contains a measure of hope.  It's about the future, and whether we have one -- or can construct one -- he said.  Young people today are asking: Do I have an economic future? Does the planet have a future? Will (nuclear) war extinguish everybody's future?

(See A FUTURE: Can we construct one? )