In cartoonist and activist, Nina Paley’s short film “The Stork”, she describes the devastating effects the human race is having on the Earth and the unsustainability of our current lifestyles. She succeeds in convincing her viewers that overpopulation is leading to mass extinctions, irreversible damage & pollution to our environment, and leaving fewer resources for humans to survive on. Causality, metaphors, and irony are some of the techniques that Paley uses to create a strong and effective film.
Paley begins the film with a familiar song (although we might not know it by name: Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Morning Mood), we’ve all heard it at least a few times in our lifetimes. It’s reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons, where Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse wake up, the sun is shining, everyone is smiling, and the birds are chirping. In Paley’s film, a stork glides through the sky as the uplifting and well-recognized tune plays in the background. This immediately puts the audience on common ground with the rhetor, by evoking a popular image and making them relate to their own personal experiences as a child. This technique is greatly effective as Paley has now appealed to the universal feeling of once being young & carefree. This also provides a sense of unity among the audience as everyone was once a child, including the artist. She’s established a commonality with her audience and they can now relate to her as someone that is just like them and has shared similar experiences. Suddenly though, there is a shift in mood. Shortly after the first stork shows up, it drops not just a cute, smiling baby, but bombs which explode into small mountains of the things that usually accompany large family life: a huge house, a SUV, clothes, toys, and electronics. “The Stork”? Or the Enola Gay? Paley uses a strong metaphor here to drive her point: soon there isn’t just one stork. There are a few more joining in every second, until the sky is swarming with storks, each carrying a bundle that explodes into a pile of babies and “stuff”. The audience no longer sees just a stork delivering a giggling baby. Those storks have suddenly become enemy war planes, dropping explosions and obliterating everything in their path. Entire forests, waterways, and the animals that resided within them are destroyed. Yes, this is also familiarity but it no longer makes us reminisce about early Saturday mornings spent with a talking mouse while sitting 5 inches from a t.v. screen and the volume way down low. The film has taken an extremely dark turn and it now shows images of wartime, havoc, and suffering instead. It’s strongly suggestive of films and documentaries of World War II. Paley has unexpectedly induced a cringe-worthy reaction each time a stork appears on the screen. The audience is left with a feeling of trepidation, fear, and hostility towards the war birds as they swoop down on the beautiful landscape below and destroy it.
The rhetor has now introduced what seems to be one of the film’s most effective techniques, irony. A birth is normally a celebration of life. It is typically seen as a means to new beginnings, happiness, and love. Paley is instead equating this event to death and destruction. It at first seems a little farfetched but as the video continues, it shows that it’s not just one birth. There are so many, there isn’t a way to even begin to count them. With each baby bomb, explosions bring forth more and more “stuff” until that “stuff” takes over. New houses go up where forests once were and the animals there are destroyed with it. The waterways are polluted and the fish are destroyed as well. The irony continues with the images of smiling and happy families when each bomb goes off, even as the beautiful landscape around them is obliterated. Not one family in the film is portrayed as being concerned for the nature around them. They continue to smile perhaps because they do not understand the direness of the situation or perhaps because they simply don’t care. In either case, Paley has effectively shown that humans are conditioned to not just want what resources are needed to survive but to continue to want more. The artist seems to describe this as not just consuming more but overly consuming what can only be described as unnecessary luxuries: a huge gas guzzling car, a huge house with more rooms than actually needed, the latest in electronics and gadgets. Humans may want to prove their success by nature but they have also been conditioned for it. The media and manufacturers of all the mountains of “stuff” in the video, have both played a huge role in this conditioning. The car, the house, and the gadgets are all proof of success or at least that is what humans have been influenced to believe up to this point. The rhetor paints the way of consumerism in such a negative light, the audience will question why they would ever need all that “stuff”. Sure, they will at first picture their own two-story house with bay windows and a double garage with two shining SUVs parked inside and one in the driveway but the video then begs the question of them: at what price? What is the price to be paid to not just use up the Earth’s resources but to further annihilate it with those mountains of “stuff” as we add more and more human lives every second? Paley more than adequately paints the picture of human consumption and happiness then greed, overconsumption and destruction. Now the audience can clearly see that if the human race continues with the current birth rates and overconsumption, more and more problems will begin to arise. Not only is the world losing the beauty of its natural state, it will continue to lose the capability of producing the very resources needed for every living creature, including humans, to survive in it. Another critical shift has occurred in the film. Paley has created a satire which seems to be the most important technique of the film. While at first she caught the attention of her audience with familiarity, she has now turned the tone around and is almost mocking the audience by continuing to show happy families that seem oblivious to their depleting surroundings. The way in which she presented the two techniques, familiarity and irony, within the 3 minute film, is extremely significant to the effectiveness of the film. Had she only used a satire film, her audience may have felt ridiculed. She would have undoubtedly offended them and her film would have been less effective by lessening the bonds between the rhetor and audience. Instead, she placed herself on common ground with the audience first by including a familiar tune and recognizable scene with the stork flying to deliver a baby, then moved onto satire. Paley was very specific in the way she combined the two techniques, which was beneficial to how successful the film was at portraying her point. Another technique Paley uses is cause and effect. One baby is equal to one huge pile of “stuff”. The audience is shown a baby beside a dozens of boxes of Huggies, a stroller, a car, a television set, a house. Each baby then grows, they don’t need Huggies anymore, and they become toilet trained where they contribute to the pollution of the waterways. In the film, families are shown having fun in the very water being polluted as the fish turn to skeletons. It then shows that once that child has grown, it will have at least one another baby. It goes on into a vicious looking cycle until humans have multiplied by the billions. Simply put, each new life will most likely go on to procreate and create at least one other new life, complete with another set of things. Not only is more space required for all the new people being born each day, more resources are required. The more resources are required, the more of the Earth is destroyed.
The artist has undoubtedly done extensive researching to include facts in her film. Research by the Institute for Population Studies provides evidence to confirm Paley’s claims. As of this second, there are 7,215,427,510 living people on Earth and more births occur every second. Humans already do not have enough of our most basic resources required for survival: food, clean water, forests, oil, and gas are immensely strained by the population level. 25,000 people die daily of malnutrition and there are severe water shortages. Today, 1 billion people do not have access to clean water. To put that into perspective, that is somewhat less than the entire population of China or India. Asthma rates have risen dramatically in the past 20 years as the air quality has also been compromised. Our destruction of other species is another claim made by Paley that has also been confirmed. “We are in the midst of one of the greatest extinctions of other species in the history of the planet. The last one of this magnitude was over 60 million years ago, when the dinosaurs became extinct…we're the cause of this one, as we either kill them off outright, or cover over their living space with houses, roads and development.” (Institute for Population Studies).
Now Paley has pointed the audience to the big, clear picture. The extreme to which the human race has populated the Earth and at the alarming rate they continue to do so will lead to the irreversible pollution of the air, land, and water. This will lead to the extinctions of many different species. There could even be extinction of the human race, as we compete for resources that are being depleted at an alarming rate. As the view pans out and we look onto the world from space, we see nothing but the geography of cityscapes. Gone are the beautiful landscapes and greenery we are accustomed to seeing. The artist has very clearly stated her view: overpopulation and overconsumption will not only lead to the destruction of other living creatures and Earth’s natural resources, it would lead to the destruction of the Earth entirely. The last image of the film is the Earth becoming gray as it is taken over, then red, and it finally explodes to reveal a smiling, cooing baby.
Paley’s film brilliantly combined all of these techniques to tell her view in an evident manner. There is no question as to what her point of view is, throughout the course of the film. She has successfully used strong metaphors and irony among other rhetorical techniques to tap into the audience’s emotions and present her point of view.
Institute for Population Studies. “Overpopulation: Environmental and Social Problems”. http://howmany.org/environmental_and_social_ills.php Web. 8 Sep. 2014.
Paley, Nina. “The Stork”. (2002) http://archive.org/details.php?identifier=NinaVision. Web.
7 Sep. 2014.