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Sempé Fi: The Green Fields

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4-26-10 Frank Viva Earth Day.JPG

Pollux writes:

The massive oil spill makes landfall today in the Gulf of Mexico, oozing towards the marshlands of Louisiana that threaten bird breeding areas, oyster beds, otter playgrounds, tuna spawning grounds, and President Obama’s plan for expanded offshore drilling.

The oil rig explosion and ensuing spillage remind us that despite our awareness that the earth is a fragile planet, we are still very careless with it, like an 8-year-old playing and then breaking his father’s expensive watch.

Frank Viva’s cover, “Earth Day,” for the April 26, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, reveals a planet that is busy and humming with activity. Oil is not spilling and exhaust fumes are not being discharged from Viva’s oddly-shaped cars.

Nonetheless, we are all aware of the damage that our inventions can cause. Despite the stylized shapes and smiling faces, Viva has created a cover filled with very timely significance and meaning.

His cover is dominated by power line towers. They crowd out and outnumber his trees. The power line towers extend confidently and aggressively across the landscape and skyline. In the distance, the horizon consists of a long cityscape. Cars whiz across the cover, moving almost as if in formation towards the east, where a few trees bereft of leaves can be found.

Viva’s cover is dominated by the color green, but it is a green that is reduced and lacerated by white shapes and lines that symbolize the intrusion of technology over nature.

Frantic efforts to contain the Gulf of Mexico spill to prevent an ecological and financial crisis cannot erase the initial carelessness that caused it. Like the figures on Viva’s New Yorker cover, we put up towers and drive our cars but don’t stop to think about how much less green our world is, despite the coming and going of “Earth Day.”


Your interpretation of Frank Viva’s “Earth Day” cover is brilliant. The Deepwater Horizon disaster fills me with dread. It’s a huge sickening lurch in the earth’s spiral toward what John McPhee says will be “the first mass extinction caused by a living species” (“Season On The Chalk”).

Thank you, driedchar! I appreciate it. We are indeed facing disaster. I find the name “Deepwater Horizon” ironic. Our “deepwater horizons” will soon be filled with lethal and oozing pools of disgusting oil slicks.

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree