March 27, 2008

Saving the Planet and Other Ill-Advised Plot Devices

OVER AT STEPHEN SILVER'S site, the following was listed as his "quote of the week" -- and it was so good I'm blatantly using it as the basis for my own blog post. Mr Silver, in noting an enjoyable post from The Onion AV Club's Web site about "amusingly-misguided eco-friendly entertainments," recognized in particular Item Eleven, which references no less than Saved By the Bell. Yes, that Saved By the Bell, God save us.

The AV Club writes as follows:

Similar to Paul Thomas Anderson's epic capitalist fable There Will Be Blood, only dumber and cuter, the '90s teen sitcom "Saved By The Bell" explored how wanton greed and blatant disregard for the harmful side effects of oil prospecting can wreck the souls of men, as well as blond boys who talk to the camera. "Saved By The Bell's" oil episode begins, in the series' usual inexplicable fashion, with irrepressible preppie Zack Morris making friends with a duck named Becky he has accidentally hit with a baseball behind the high school. Just as Daniel Plainview's son H.W. comes to represent all the inner good the father eventually betrays, Becky is a metaphor for Zack's kinder, gentler side, which is soon poisoned by dreams of vast wealth after Slater discovers oil in the football field. In spite of the efforts of the muckraking Jessie Spano, whose Upton Sinclair-esque newsletter No Oil In Bayside is ignored by the 10-person student body, oil companies come in to drill the field. Tragically, there's a spill, and Becky is killed. Zack Morris—and the audience—learn a sad, valuable lesson: If you discover oil in the football field behind your high school, keep it a secret. Otherwise, your beloved duck friend will die. Unfortunately, this environmental lesson is applicable only in a world controlled by hacky sitcom writers.

Thanks to the Magic of the Internet, I did about two minutes of research and discovered this particular episode aired on Oct. 26, 1991. Do you have any idea what the price of oil was back on Oct. 26, 1991? I'll tell you -- $23.12 per barrel. $23.12! I mean, my God, gasoline was at 64.72 cents per gallon on the NYMEX. It's a hell of a lot easier to pontificate about the Myriad Evils of Crude Oil Exploration when the stuff and its distillates can be had for a song.

Of course, this was "Saved by the Bell," so it had no bearing in reality. After all, let's say this scenario happened at Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo, Mich., back in 1991, and the football team discovered there was oil at the 50-yard-line. The following would have happened:

One. Kalamazoo, being a God-fearing town, would not drill for oil on the football field, which was holy and sacrosanct. Instead, it would drill for oil in someplace more convenient, like the baseball field, the teachers' parking lot behind the school, or the Robert I. Quiring Gymnasium. It's oil, for God's sake.

Two. The idea of drilling for oil would lead to all manner of arguments in the local press. These arguments would all come to a crashing halt once people realized a) this would create industrial jobs, and b) this could conceivably result in lower schools taxes.

Three. A chain restaurant serving bland American fare -- like a Bill Knapp's -- would be built next to the drilling site. This would be universally hailed as Kalamazoo's latest step forward into the modern age. Remember, it was 1991 -- this was all we had. I mean, as much as I love the auld sod, you'd have trouble finding good Italian food in Kalamazoo back in '91.

Four. Once the students at Loy Norrix realized oil drilling was taking place -- this would be about when the well's gas flare was going full-bore -- it would cause protests among the preppier and with-it students, who labored under the delusion that protests which high-school students conducted had any bearing on the machinations of the larger world.

Five. The protests would fade away when the students got distracted -- for instance, if a really good fight was taking place in the "M" wing -- or more interesting things to do presented themselves, usually involving driving at unsafe speeds.

Six. Morning classes would be skipped. (No, wait. That was later, in '94. Apologies).

Seven. Some time later, after the precious oil had been flowing from the ground for months, a teacher would attempt to appear cool and with it through uttering the line, "I drink your milkshake! I DRINK IT UP!" Little inspiration would result, and the school's abysmal drop-out rate would continue unabated.

(You think I kid. If I remember right, when I started at Loy Norrix back in the day, I had about 400 students in my freshman class. When I graduated, I had ... oh, 235 or so classmates. That doesn't appear to have changed much, either -- in an Oct. 30 AP article printed in the Detroit News, "Michigan stung by study's dropout list," my alma mater was listed as one of several Michigan high schools where no more than 60 pc of the freshmen starting there made it to their senior year).

And that was back in '91. Now that oil is more than $100 a barrel, a drilling operation could literally open Pandora's Box in the process and it wouldn't stop the well from being built. Not that I could blame folks, either -- things are tough back home.

Interestingly enough, a lot of the works mentioned in the AV Club's article hailed from the Nineties -- when it was more important to care about environment issues than actually do anything about them. Strange how that all turned out. But do give the whole list a read -- if you liked No. 11 on it, you'll undoubtedly like Nos. 1-17 inclusive.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at March 27, 2008 10:18 PM | TrackBack
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