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article imageTrump vs oxygen? The new take on Trump’s America Special

By Paul Wallis     Apr 3, 2017 in Environment
Toronto - When Donald Trump “saved” the coal industry, there was a collective groan from environmentalists. Another regressive, “pollute everything” policy? There’s another issue here, and it’s all about the air we breathe.
Benjamin von Wong, well known for his famous Mermaids Hate Plastic media, highlighting the vast amounts of toxic plastic in the world’s oceans, has a new production: Mad Max meets Trump’s America. It’s an eye opener, with some heavy metal elements.
Imagine a world where oxygen is a commodity, bought and sold. Where you need to wear a gas mask to breathe outside. It’s already happening, in some places. Heavily polluted areas have air which really shouldn’t be breathed at all. China, India, and even, disgracefully, London, have had severe pollution issues which speak directly to this scenario. The working theory here is that pollution is damaging the oxygen cycle, putting at risk breathable air for future generations.
That’s what Mad Max meets Trump’s America is all about. Made in Germany with help from environmental activists Wasteland Warriors in a very suitable post-everything environment, it’s a visual representation of a truly hideous future.
I interviewed Benjamin, and got some interesting answers to some admittedly pretty verbose questions:
How much “instinctive art” is in this concept and how much is extrapolation? It looks like you’ve made a natural association between Trump’s America and the post-apocalyptic, must-pollute- everything disaster scenario.
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Benjamin von Wong
When I first designed this campaign, it didn't have Trump in mind. The shoot happened way back in May of last year and was simply supposed to be an anti-pollution project. At the time, Trump's presidency was only a remote possibility in my mind. It took us a while to get the video assets and launch strategy ready and over that time frame I began seeing all sorts of promises from the Trump campaign to bring back coal. That's when I decided to link Trump and this campaign.
Ferropolis definitely doesn’t look like it was waiting for the end of the world. I notice that like all Industrial Revolution sites, it’s carefully positioned to pollute the water, as well as the air and land. How did you decide which parts of Ferropolis were best for your shoot?
To be honest it was more about aesthetics. We decided to choose the most photogenic bucket-wheel excavator.
Obviously your Wasteland Warriors friends have a few things to say, too, with their DIY oxygen equipment and gear. Those “oxygen refugees” outfits are pretty spectacular. Looks like a lot of talent, as well as thought, went in to planning that gear?
Most of Germany is extremely environmentally conscious. The Wasteland Warriors aren't unique in wanting to protect and help the environment. Though their outfits were not custom-built for this photo shoot — it didn't take a lot of convincing for them to tweak their outfits a bit to fit the concept!
I would say from concept to execution, we had about a month and a half of lead time!
You mentioned that your old elementary school in Beijing now has an airlock and filter system in the gym. How common is that? Is Beijing air as lethal as people say it is?
I wouldn't say that airlocks are common since they cost so much - so it's really just for a rich privileged few. As far as how lethal it is - I'll leave you with this article.
Are they actually introducing it in the city, or is it selective planning?
Just the rich privileged can afford it.
Trump has brought back coal since your shoot, with a new deal for coal businesses in the US. How realistic is the return to coal, would you say? Is it pure anti-climate change politics, or some sort of integrated “pollute and prosper” commercial ideology?
I think that Trump's move to "clean coal" is a bid to create jobs over protecting the environment. I think that he wants to be seen as "people first" - even though changes in his policies can't change the economics of the situation. I think what baffles me the most is that across the grid, from India to China - all countries are putting measures in place to limit environmental impact while Trump is doing the reverse.
Rather than invest in re-training coal workers into green energy workers, he's bringing back a technology that is neither economical nor healthy. What for? For ratings?
Why is it that carbon producers obviously don’t get the message about pollution, after all these years? Is “market slavery” real in this sector, or are they just dumb? There’s a virtual industrial chemistry library for other, much more profitable, uses for carbon. Even when prices for carbon products are literally collapsing before their eyes, they don’t see any other alternatives to burning carbon?
I don't feel qualified enough to answer that question - but when you're a multi-generation coal miner, or your town has developed and grown on the back of a coal industry - you can see how it would be hard to let go of - especially when the negative impacts are not always that easy to see and experience directly.
Did you know your tree in a container is also a good way of harvesting water, another vanishing commodity, like oxygen? What are the chances people in the future will be running around with modified goldfish bowls, trying to make a living selling oxygen and water?
Gosh. That sounds very inconvenient to travel around with. I hope that our world doesn't get to that!
Also check out the video of Mad Max meets Trump’s America on Facebook. Benjamin has a way of turning even grim issues in to fun.
More about Benjamin Von Wong, Mermaids hate plastic, Mad Max meets Trump's America, Air pollution, oxygen cycle