THANK YOU FOR NOT BREEDING
An animated documentary by Nina Paley
Treatment - February 10, 2002
Biologists estimate 20,000 to 40,000 species go extinct every year, many times higher than the "background extinction rate" built into the evolutionary process. The cause? Human environmental impact, the product of consumption times population. Many environmentalists focus on our excessive consumption, but discussing the latter factor in the equation - population - has fallen out of vogue. Most scientists agree that the Earth cannot sustain even the 6 billion humans already here, but pro-growth ideology, cultural elevation of childbearing, and social and political marginalization of non-parents conspire to make stating the obvious taboo. To speak out about population's cause - making babies - is to lose political credibility across the board. Thus, non-procreation's most outspoken advocates throw political viability to the wind, turning instead to humor, performance art, and and a willingness to not be taken seriously. Welcome to environmentalism's radical fringe: the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and the Church of Euthanasia. Armed with slogans like "Thank You For Not Breeding" and "Live Long and Die Out," their ideas are usually greeted with laughter or hostility. But beneath the silliness, do they have a point? Through humorous animation and live-action interviews with academics, economists, and activists across the political spectrum, "Thank You For Not Breeding" takes a new look at our species, our environment, and our future.
scene from "Fertco" ©Nina Paley 2002
STRUCTURE: "Thank You For Not Breeding" moves from "problem" to "response" to "the future", focusing not on how people solve the problems of overpopulation - they may be unsolvable - but the specific response of not having children.
The predicament of overpopulation in the over-consuming West is encapsulated in the animated segment, "The Stork." Grieg's Morning (Pier Gynt) plays over a classically animated stork carrying a bundle in its bill. As it sails over a peaceful natural setting of trees, rivers, and wildlife, another stork appears, then another and another. The formation of storks drops a bundle on the unsuspecting landscape: it explodes like a bomb, leaving not a crater, but a tract home and SUV. More storks assemble into warplane formations, and dropping bundles turn forests into cookie-cutter housing developments. We pull out to a growing flock of storks from above, over a satellite image of a sprawling city. From outer space the Earth grows redder and hotter, until a final explosion reduces the planet to a cute smiling baby head.
Scene from "The Stork" - background photo by Greg Thompson, In The Clouds Photography
The problems of overpopulation - mass species extinctions, pollution and environmental degradation, more competition for fewer resources - are summarized by Dr. Warren Hernıs "Humans as a Cancer on the Earth" hypothesis. As Dr. Hern explains each of the criteria for his diagnosis, we cut to visual examples: "secreting toxins" is illustrated by belching smokestacks and oil slicks, "uncontrolled growth" by animated maps of urban sprawl, "de-differentiation" by chain stores and housing developments. Hern's interview fades to the animated segment, "The Wit & Wisdom of Cancer", which features a microscopic nightclub full of chattering cartoon cancer cells. One worries, "weıre using up resources other cells need," while another announces, "when this host is consumed, we'll find another one -- or its economic equivalent." Later, we zoom out of the tumor to the host patient, and the camera rests on her ID bracelet, which bears the name "Gaia." From this grim scenario, we cut to upbeat "cornucopian" David Theroux of the Independent Institute, who invokes the late economist Julian Simon and insists more people = more prosperity. Sound bytes from Theroux and other optimists are sprinkled throughout the program, to leaven the tone and provide contrast and context.
from "The Wit & Wisdom of Cancer" ©Nina Paley 2002
The bulk of "Thank You For Not Breeding" examines non-procreation as a response to human-caused crises. The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) advocates the voluntary phasing out of Homo Sapiens through non-reproduction. Although by its own admission it only has 2 chances of success - "slim and none" - VHEMT founder Les U. Knight feels compelled to spread the message of "hopeful hopelessness" to the masses. Knight says the concept of humans going extinct helps people connect to the extinction of so many other species: "Theyıre gone forever, and it took them billions of years to get here. Just like it did for us." Knightıs interview fades to the animated segment, "Requiem for the Animals": to the sorrowful strains of Albinoni's Adagio, names and illustrations of extinct animals fade in and out of a stark black background. The mood is somber and respectful, the sheer volume of names conveying a message similar to Maya Lin's Vietnam War Memorial.
The Church of Euthanasia introduces the philosophy of "anti-humanism," expressed with startling directness by Rev. Chris Korda. The CofE evolved from the surrealist art group "International Global Dada," and continues to employ street theater and media stunts to, in Korda's words, "surprise people" Some of these surprises are documented on video: a protest in front of a sperm bank, a raft bearing a "Save The Planet, Kill Yourself" banner in the Boston Harbor on Earth Day, and a subversive 1997 appearance on the Jerry Springer Show. These are intercut with a mesmerizing interview of Korda decrying humans' long history of animal abuse, the tremendous ecological degradation he's witnessed in his own lifetime, and the mass denial of our environmental predicament.
"Thank You For Not Breeding" also highlights the "Childfree", or CF, movement, whose members don't want, have never had, and never will have children. Their reasons for eschewing fertility vary; some are environmentalists, some are not. Regardless of intention, all CFs put into practice what VHEMT and the CofE preach. And unlike the aforementioned fringe organizations, the Childfree movement is gaining mainstream popularity.
Finally, we return to Korda and Knight, to look at "the future" through the eyes of those who are so disenchanted with our species. In spite of their gloomy predictions, they find a reason to get out of bed every day. In fact, they seem to enjoy an unusual zest for life. This paradox - living as an "anti-humanist" human, seeing the human species as "hopeless" yet hoping it will voluntarily go extinct - is funny, thought-provoking, and inspiring. The final segment conjures the fantasy of Voluntary Human Extinction, reincorporating earlier scenes of environmental devastation - in reverse. To the strains of inspirational music, smoke is sucked into smokestacks, bulldozers return soil to the ground, cities shrink, and bundles of joy rise into the bills of storks, who fly backwards toward eternity.
from "The Stork" ©Nina Paley 2002
STYLE: A combination of animation and live-action. The often satirical animated segments employ different styles (traditional cel-style, dimensional clay on glass, cut-out animation) and keep viewer interest through aesthetic variation. Talking heads contextualize the more poetic and intense animated segments, and offer the eye relief. Too much animation can be overwhelming and fatiguing, so the slower pace of live action has a grounding effect. The soundtrack includes a variety of music, including quirky a capella songs by The Bobs, classical symphonic passages, and music composed specifically for this program. TYFNB varies its pace for maximum impact, yielding a Fun, if not particularly light, program.
THEME: At the heart of "Thank You For Not Breeding" lies the question of whether Homo sapiens is capable of living in balance with the rest of the biosphere. Most humans consider our species the pinnacle of evolution, our big brains rendering us capable of solving any problem. Yet we are destroying the very ecosystems that sustain our lives, not to mention the lives of every other species. Are we the "Ultimate Resource," as Julian Simon once wrote, or just "a bunch of stupid monkeys," as Rev. Chris Korda believes?
VOICE & POINT-OF-VIEW: "Thank You For Not Breeding" is a personal expression, and although highly informative, it does not attempt to provide a neutral view. Although it will avoid direct narration, its content and style reflect my views. I present the main "oddball" voices with more sympathy than they are usually afforded.
I have been involved in population awareness since I published my first "Ninaıs Adventures" comic strips on the subject in 1991. Since then, I have become well acquainted with VHEMT and the CofE, and am a part of the online Childfree community. Issues of overpopulation and overconsumption have captivated me for years, and it is with great joy that I finally express my feelings through animation on this theme.
Existing programming on this subject tends to be extremely dry and often downright boring. As an independent producer with no political aspirations, I am free to present passionate, unusual and creative voices that are seldom heard.
FORMAT: 56:40 or 70:00, depending on funding/distribution secured (can be edited longer/shorter), including about 20 minutes of animation. Most of the animated segments are created digitally (with the traditional look of cel, cut-out, and other 2-D animation styles); some, like the clay-on-glass segment, are shot on 35mm film. All the live interviews are shot on DVCAM or mini-DV. I am editing digitally, with Final Cut Pro.
With its animation and humor, "Thank You For Not Breeding" should appeal to a broad audience: even those who disagree with the content can laugh with the presentation. However, it will be of particular interest to the Childfree Community.
The US census estimates 19% of adults remain childless today, double since 1981. While some adults remain childless due to infertility, a growing number consider themselves "childfree": they intentionally choose not to have children. Many cite overpopulation as a factor in their choice not to reproduce.
The Childfree community is severely under represented by the media. In drama, most adults have or want children. Commercials use images of babies to sell products, relying on positive associations with children that are not universal. Nonfiction programs seldom reflect the existence of Childfree adults. The media's pronatalist bias reinforces the prejudice that only "selfish", unhealthy people don't have children. "Thank You For Not Breeding" is an early step in acknowledging the growing childfree community.
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