Are we rich? Ecological privilege in the park
The second season of AMC’s Mad Men contains a now iconic scene: the Draper family enjoying an idyllic picnic.
It’s a perfectly realised and knowing tableaux of heteronormativity, a fictional portrayal of a seemingly perfect 1950s nuclear family (1).
At one point one of the children ask “Are we rich?” In response they’re told it’s not polite to talk about money.
As the picnic ends Don, the family patriarch, finishes his beer and pitches the empty can off screen into the park.
Betty, the mother, packs up as the rest of the family troops back to the car. In a manner equally cavalier to Don, she grabs the corners of the rug the family had been sprawling upon and flicks rubbish across the park.
Like the rest of the family she turns her back and leaves, unconcerned about the spoiled landscape they leave behind.
Of course it’s a fictional scene. However it perfectly encapsulates the intersection of wealth, privilege, willed indifference and the impact of the modern consumer lifestyle on the environment.
The Draper’s feel entitled to use the landscape in a way that asserts the primacy of their needs.
In many respects, it is a fitting example of ecological privilege.
What we do we mean by ecological privilege?
“So why the hell shouldn’t the rich destroy the planet? After all, it’s theirs. They own it. We live on it… The Landlords do what they want with their property. To get their gold, they dump arsenic in our drinking water; to get their oil, they melt our polar ice caps…” – How the Rich are Destroying the Earth (2)
What exactly do I mean by ecological privilege?
Over the course of this three-part article I’ll attempt to:
- define what ecological privilege is;
- discuss how it’s origins and how expresses itself in Australian society
- look at how it shapes our response to climate change and other environmental emergencies.