I just watched what may be the most perfect encapsulation of our alienation from the natural world.
I don’t watch many commercials nowadays, thanks to DVR technology, but one caught my eye yesterday as I was fastforwarding through the commercial break.
The 30 second commercial opens on a scene of wild nature, a wide river running through a forest. Zoom in. A deer walks up to the water’s edge and bends its head to drink. Then deer lifts its head from the water and its ears turn forward. We faintly hear a blaring sound in the distance. Some distance away, is a bridge over a creek. The sound is louder now. It sounds like a car horn, stuck on. We move under the bridge and see a car has left the road. All that is keeping it from plunging 20 feet down into the creek is a tree.
We hear a disembodied voice, “Jane, the is Jim from OnStar.” We’re inside the car now, with the woman who was driving. She’s catching her breath. “I’ve contaced help and they’re on their way,” the voice continues, “Don’t worry, I’m going to stay with you until help arrives.” “Thank you,” the woman says.
The camera pulls back, and we see the bridge, and the trees, and the river again. And as the scene closes, we hear the woman say, “That deer, it just came out of nowhere.”
“Nowhere.” That’s the last word we hear as the scene closes on a beautiful scene of wild nature.
Nowhere. Nowhere? The deer came out of nowhere?
Something was wrong with this juxtaposition, I thought.
The deer came out of nowhere, she says. But for the deer, it must have seemed it was the car that came out of nowhere.
The woman, enclosed in her air conditioned capsule, made of glass and plastic and metal, talking to a disembodied voice, assuring her she is not alone. Meanwhile, just inches away, the world is there, a world full of life, full of other beings. Outside the hermetically sealed environment of the car, there is a real place, a place where beings live and interact. The “no-place” is inside the car, where the woman exists, disconnected from all that life, clinging to an electronic connection to a stranger.
“It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
— Moby DIck
The commercial closes on this tagline:
The last thing you want to be right now is alone.
As if she were alone! We saw the deer. We saw the trees. We saw the birds. We saw the river in which fish must swim. We saw the forest in with thousands of species must live. How is she alone?!
Obviously, I get what the commercial was trying to say. But if you wanted to make a commercial for humans’ alienatation for nature, this would be it.
We imagine we are together when we are cut off from nature, and we imagine we are alone when we are surrounded by life. We imagine we are “somewhere” when we are surrounded by our own creations, but we call wild nature “nowhere”.
A couple of weeks ago, my family and I went on vacation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s remote, at least in comparsion to where I live, a suburb of Chicago. Cell phone connection was spotty and, thank Goddess, even non-existent in some places. There were still people around, residents and tourists. There were even some places we went to that could be called “touristy”. But we did take some side trips to more remote areas. The farther away from civilization we got, the less paved the road got, the more “rustic” the path became, the more into “nowhere” we went, the more I felt like I was finally getting “somewhere”. The more we got away from other human beings, the more connected I felt to the world around me.
What the creators of the OnStar commercial are trying to sell is a world of human omnipresence. How terrible such a world would be. How ugly. How lonely.
I think the car wreck was blessing in disguise. I hope the driver took advantage of the opportunity and got out of her car (carefully). I hope she went down to the river’s edge and drank the water. I hope she found something in those woods that she would never find where she was going. I hope she found that she was already somewhere. I hope she realized she was never really alone.
But to realize that, she might have to turn off OnStar.
Yeah, she got out and found the woods were too quiet from her memories in childhood camping trips. She took a gulp from the river before noticing it tasted off. No doubt, days later she came down with the symptoms and was diagnosed with rare bacteria spreading northward with the warming climate, already eating a whole into her intestines and heading for her kidneys, liver, and heart. She survives, and never lets her kids go out in Nature again.
Well, there is that!
You would probably like a trip into Northern Minnesota/Southern Canada. Boundary Waters National Park, Quetico Provincial Park. I haven’t been there in nearly 50 years, but I still remember how things were when we got north of the border with Canada.
The Canadians didn’t allow any motorized traffic on their side of the line, so in some places it was like you were the first people to see a vista. (We did find a campsite or 2 littered with garbage, but we left them in better shape than we found them.)
Not sure how old you family members are, but I went with a high school group. There is some danger being away from civilization. One of the teachers who organized the trip every year died several years later – he saved a kid from going over a waterfall, but he got caught in the undertow.
Sad what happened to your teacher. Rivers can be really dangerous.
I know you know this… I hope you know this.
People, especially women, especially Indigenous women, are afraid to be alone in situations like this, not because the wilderness and Nature are outside, but because other humans with hostile intentions might happen to be near.
I’ve stopped my car in the mountains of Scotland and got out and enjoyed the silence and the fresh air. It’s a wonderful feeling. As long as you know that you are safe from other humans. (And in parts of North America, bears, to be fair. Also mosquitoes. The mozzies are vicious.)
So I get what you are saying here, John, but the reason the advert features a woman completely overrides all other possible meanings, for me. If you don’t get it, look up Suzy Lamplugh.