Green issues: skin-deep and paper-thin?

Opinion Online | June 29, 2009

It must have taken a lot of brainstorming at the Australian offices of Rolling Stone to come up with the cover of its first “green issue” (June 1, 2009). Not just a supermodel but a naked supermodel! Sure, Naomi Campbell, Sophie Monk, Imogen Bailey, Maggie Q, Joanna Krupa, Eva Mendez, Alicia Silverstone, Pamela Anderson and so on have bared all for animals, but here it is Miranda Kerr getting nude for the whole ecosystem! No one’s done that before – apart from Gisele Bundchen and that Ukrainian Greenpeace activist who got arrested for her troubles.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for celebrities (and the media that promotes them) using their position to advance worthy causes. The 20 out of 114 pages Rolling Stone devoted to its “green issue” are mostly very worthy. Pop culture plays a far bigger role in the lives of most young people than politics – the Rolling Stone cover even contains an ironic reminder that the most popular search term related to the word “green” in Australia is “green day” (which is a pop band for you older types), followed by “baggy green”, “green slip” and “green tea”.

So articles on the positive things being done by musos like John Butler and Xavier Rudd are to be applauded. But the decision to dress up this worthy environmental coverage by undressing a Victoria’s Secret model mostly leaves Rolling Stone with, dare I say it, the sound of one hand clapping. As one pop culture commentator observed: “Anyone else notice that Stone has a history of requiring nakedness for a female to appear on their cover?”

There is a danger, too, that the enormity of environmental problems are trivialised by the tendency of the mainstream media to fawn over “eco-warrior” celebs who are mostly only making a few easy lifestyle choices that they can most certainly afford and which don’t do them any damage at all in the publicity stakes. When you think “environmental activism” are names like Madonna and Gisele Bundchen really the ones that spring to mind? Apparently in magazine land they are.

The free publicity (and no doubt sales boost) Rolling Stone generated from the Kerr pictures can’t but help leave cynics asking whether its interest in the environment is merely skin-deep and paper-thin, just one more publication in a long line that have jumped on the green bandwagon and churned out a solitary annual “environmental issue” while continuing with business as usual.

Kerr’s stated reason for posing “au naturel” – apart from the make-up, lighting and photoshopping – is to raise awareness for koalas and the destruction of their habitat (those trees being chopped down in part, I dare say, to make paper for the printing of magazines like Rolling Stone). A koala was reportedly even on hand for the photo shoot, though intensive study of the published photos of Kerr in various states of undress contain no evidence of this (but perhaps I should check those pics again, just to make sure).

It is great to know that Kerr loves koalas, but who doesn’t? Yes, their numbers are down to 100,000, but that’s nowhere near as concerning as the plight of Australia’s most endangered animals, such as the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat (estimated population in the wild: just over 100) or the Gilbert’s Potoroo (estimated population in the wild: less than 50).

It is also great to know that Kerr eats organic food, but that’s hardly a huge sacrifice given her occupation and pay packet; and let’s just ignore not only how resource-intensive her international jet-set lifestyle and use of hair-dryers really is, but also that her main job involves pushing consumers’ psychological buttons in the cause of getting them to buy more stuff they hadn’t realised they wanted or needed.

All of which reminds me that the word “green” can also mean naïve or gullible.

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