Contemplative practices: Connecting Political Ecology/Economy with pop culture

Contemplative practices have been a useful part of my learnings in this class. They have been useful for me to think back on what we have learned in the class and reflect on it and what it means to the world at large and connect ideas. One of the things that sometimes happens during the contemplative practices is my mind wonders to other subjects and how they intersect with the course materials. Recently, through these contemplative practices, I have noticed how the problems, and themes discussed in the class cross over into pop culture. For instance, in the new Avengers movie Infinity Wars, consumption was a motivation for the villain. The Antagonist’s main motivation for his actions was that the universe was too overpopulated. He believed that organisms would use up too much of the universes finite resources and led to the extermination of all life in the universe. While this is a fantastical hyperbolic example I did find it to mirror some of the discussions about the population and its effects on the environment that happen today.

Another popular series that on the surface seems to be mostly space opera, but with further thought can be seen to connect a lot of ideas in political ecology and political economics is the Star Wars Prequel trilogy. The trilogy is criticized for having a convoluted and boring plot, but that plot is precisely why it connects well with the themes of the class, specifically the economics side. The main driving force behind the prequel trilogy is a political disarray caused by a trade war. The synopsis of the dispute is a powerful shipping conglomerate and mega-corporation, called simply The Trade Federation, invaded the Planet of Naboo in retaliation for increased tariffs on their goods. Eventually, the Trade Federation was defeated on Naboo. However, The Trade Federation would go on to join a separatist movement fearing nationalization from the Galactic Republic that Naboo was a part of. This story of trade conflict has many elements that can be seen throughout history and our world today. The Trade Federation is the space equivalent of the East India company, or possibly in a modern context something like Amazon. The idea of trade wars is also particularly relevant to the possibility of one happening on a global scale as a result of steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the United States on China. However, unfortunately, I don’t believe the US-China dispute will get resolved by space monks with energy swords, which would definitely be the cooler solution.

Contemplative practices are a worthwhile addition to the class because they help contextualize the material and how the material can be seen in the culture around us. The contemplative practices, like media such as movies, are a great way for people to digest and understand complex topics.

3 thoughts on “Contemplative practices: Connecting Political Ecology/Economy with pop culture

  1. Devon Kristopher Mcbride

    [Response 1]
    Liam, thank you for a take on the course and contemplative practices that I did not even think about thinking about. The focus of my studying is political science, so I often look at how the environmental issues we look at intersect throughout politics and areas of society, but had not even considered finding pop culture parallels. I think just as contemplative practices is a method to supplementing course material, so could be finding parallels in whatever interests you. I agree with you that this could be helpful in explaining and contextualizing complex ideas for more universal understanding.
    I particularly appreciated your ability to relate the Star Wars scenario to the likelihood of today’s (potential) trade war and, again, it’s simply not a parallel I would have drawn. Movies, TV, and music are inspired by people’s lives, so clearly there are analogous situations we can look to, and I think it could be an effective approach for a range of political and policy specializations.

  2. Corina Isabel Yballa

    Hi Liam – this is a very interesting take on our course’s contemplative practices! So often we fail to connect what we learn in university courses to interests outside of the academic sphere, even such massive social phenomena like Star Wars of the Avengers, so I appreciate your effort to connect the two. I am a huge fan of sci-fi movies also and I am always amazed at how often these kinds of movies will use political and economic conflict, like those created by the Trade Federation on Naboo, to frame their stories (I attribute the popularity of these franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek to these realistic plot drivers). Expanding on the ability of Star Wars’ The Trade Federation to represent real-life corporations like the East India Trading Company or Amazon, what role could pop culture play in representing contemporary problems surrounding food or the environment? Would a Star Wars of food instead of a Star Wars focused on politics and war be as successful? Clearly, I don’t have the answers to these questions, but it’s fascinating to entertain the idea and to try and imagine what that would look like! Interesting post, Liam. Thanks!

  3. Iris Aurora Thatcher

    Hey Liam!

    This was a really thought-provoking blog post. I never thought about how contemplative practices and course material can overlap with pop culture. I’ve seen all of these movies, and reading your synopsis helped me reevaluate my thoughts and feelings about these storylines. Interestingly enough, this week I have just recently learned about how Sci-Fi movies, in particular, are inherently political and address salient social issues.

    Something I was thinking about was how Thanos, the antagonist in “Avengers: Infinity Wars”, condemns overconsumption, but seems to consume too much power himself when capturing the Infinity Stones. He may be trying to conserve finite sources, but isn’t he using up the universe’s resources by hogging all of its power? Is killing off half of the world’s population really the only solution? (I really hope not.)

    I think this relates to how those in power today tend to think that the only way to solve the finite resource issue is by limiting population growth, rather than their reevaluating their country’s aggregate consumption of certain products (fossil fuels, cheap food, etc). In reality, powerful countries like the U.S. and planets like Naboo should eliminate subsidies/tariffs that against smaller countries and federations, grow food based on demand in markets, find alternative methods to fossil fuels, etc. Although many people think that an expanding population will outnumber world’s or universe’s food resources (as Thomas Malthus states, look at Little, 159), it is really the unsustainable practices that are permitted and rarely restricted in trade and food production that create these issues.

    Thanks, again, for sharing your thoughts!


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