I have to be honest, I’ve never considered myself an environmentalist, but it seems that Neal Campbell, producer of GeekBrief.TV thinks I’m a bit of an “environmental fascist“.
First, a little background.
Geekbrief has a video podcast hosted by Neal’s wife Luria Petrucci (aka Cali Lewis). It comes out roughly three times a week, and it’s a short, fun look at the latest gadget news. It’s well put together, but retains an amateur feel, which is something that appeals to me. Cali is a pretty good host – she knows her stuff, she’s very attractive, and most importantly of all, she never stops smiling.
Geekbrief has been on my subscription list for nearly two years, and I’ve donated money to the show to help out on more than one occasion.
I love my “Shiny, Happy Tech News”, but earlier this year, Cali announced that they were going to buy an RV and spend a year driving around the US, visiting every state.
This immediately didn’t sit quite right with me. My initial reaction was to wonder how they could afford to do this when they were apparently making the show on a shoestring and quite happy to take a few dollars here and there from fans.
Then I saw this video of them looking at RVs:
For this little jaunt, they’re looking at buying a vehicle that costs at least 6 figures – possibly as much as half a million dollars. I started to question not just where my money had gone, but the environmental impact of driving a “house” that does 5-10 miles per gallon around the US for an entire year.
I posted the simple question on a blog post about the trip:
I’m interested to know what you’re doing to offset the carbon emissions from this “trip”.
I had expected a simple response along the lines of “we’re looking into it” – but all I got was Neal’s jokey response “We’re going to eat more cows!”.
After trying to make my views a little clearer, Neal responded with:
The Big Trip is about celebrating American exceptionalism, not about politics. It’s perfectly okay for you not to celebrate with us. Here’s what I think about environmental fascism: http://www.nealcampbell.com/2008/04/20/not-easy-not-being-green/
I don’t know if I’m getting old, but I find the use of the word ‘fascism’ to be a little tasteless. And while Neal didn’t directly call me a fascist personally, he certainly implied that’s how he felt about my views.
I will admit that the phrase “American exceptionalism” did make me laugh though.
But I do want to get one thing straight. I’m in no way a “rabid environmentalist”. But excessive waste does annoy me. And making even the tiniest concession to the environmental impact of driving such a huge vehicle around the country isn’t so much about global warming as it is about cleaning up yourself. Common courtesy.
But there are many other reasons why this “Big Trip” doesn’t sit right with me:
- The fact that they’re happy to take money off viewers on the basis that they have to scrape together the cash to produce Geekbrief. Yet they don’t seem to bat an eyelid at spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a shiny RV.
- The fact that they’re taking donations from fans for the trip, but haven’t said what will be happening to the RV and equipment after they get home. Presumably they’ll be keeping the RV for their own use whenever they want to go away. Nice.
- The fact that it doesn’t seem to have crossed their mind how “insular” it looks to consider your own country to be the be all and end all of technical innovation.
- The fact that the utter extravagance of it all has apparently not occurred to Neal and Cali.
To me, the “Big Trip” sums up everything that’s wrong with America. It refuses to acknowledge the world outside the USA. It’s a display of rampant consumerism that flies in the face of fans who have donated to get this small, amateur tech show off the ground. The lack of any notion of the environmental impact is just the tip of the iceberg.
It seems the whole trip is aimed at fulfilling Neal & Cali’s personal ambitions to drive around their country in total luxury. I don’t know where my personal donations ended up, but it feels like they’re being used to give the show’s producers the holiday of a lifetime. I find that a bit of a slap in the face when I have to scrape together enough money just to pay the rent every month.
I’m not asking them to cancel their trip. All I’m asking is that they be a little more open to the issues.
Maybe it’s because I’m old too but “American exceptionalism” always seems to me to be a modern version of the German term “das Herrenvolk”.
Insularity in many Americans is often between amusing and annoying but when terms like “American exceptionalism” appear as a euphemism for an American master race, I get very worried.
The cost of the RV we purchase, will be less than $200,000.
We’re good shoppers, frugal, and we’ve done a lot of research. We’ve also written about the difference between a $200,000 RV and a $1,000,000 RV. We looked at RVs of all prices because we wanted to know if there is a practical difference in safety. We found that all you really add beyond $200,000 is fluffy decoration, and inexplicably, mirrors on the ceiling.
The RV will be our home and shooting studio for the next two or three years. It’s 400 sf. If that’s total luxury, I’m jaded.
What we mean by American exceptionalism is demonstrated by this video: http://www.bigtrip.tv/tales-from-the-big-trip-fish-wharf-washington-dc.
It’s no different than Italian exceptionalism, or Japanese exceptionalism, or Brazilian exceptionalism. It’s a look at special people and places hidden from public view.
The donation buttons on the GeekBrief.TV Web site generate less than $100 a month. They are there on the advice of our mentor, Leo Laporte, who says donation buttons give viewers a way to feel like they’re a part of the show. I’m not sure if he’s right, but he said it when we started, so they’ve always been on the site.
PaidByPixels.com, to us, is extremely sentimental and touching, but if you read the FAQ, people aren’t making donations, they are buying ads that enter rotation on our network of sites. Every block adds to the number of times the ad is shown on the network. The number exposures based on the price makes it a very cost-effective and easily accessible way to advertise with us.
The only thing about the Big Trip that will be anything like a holiday will be some of the views. It will be 16+ hour work days, 7 days a week and we’ll be challenging the limits of mobile technology to release 4 episodes of GBTV, and shows about the trip and people we meet along the way. Five minutes of video takes a minimum of 8 hours to produce. This isn’t a vacation.
I think I’ve hit all the points we haven’t already talked about in other forums.
RVs are not bad for the environment. They run on clean diesel. We’re likely to continue to disagree about that.
There is NOTHING wrong with America. I hate that we disagree about that. I believe you live in the UK. I love and respect your country. It’s my dream to visit, but I wouldn’t be allowed to bring my dogs.
Our Paypal account shows that you have donated $15 to Geek Brief, and if you’ll check your Paypal account, you’ll find that it has been returned.
It’s an incredibably interesting marketing experience and I suspect Neal and his family will do very well out of it. The emotional aspects are disturbing to me (especially asking his public to show his wife that they support his having a child) but probably will bring in more funds.
I do think that taking the trip of a lifetime and trying to convince the world what a rough time they are having is going to backfire, though.
It’s disturbing that rather than actually consider the term American exceptionalism, he exhorts you to watch his video so you can see how wonderful the US is. All I can hope is that the majority of the world know that not all Americans are like this. Most of us love our country without descending into a superiority complex.
I am shocked and a little offended that you’ve chosen to pay back money I’ve donated to GBTV. I genuinely can’t figure out your motive for that one. I donated in good faith because I like the show and wanted to help out. That has nothing to do with your trip. Leo is spot on.
I’m glad you don’t think $200k is a lot of money. I’m not even going to attempt to address your “RVs are not bad for the environment” line.
As for “There is NOTHING wrong with America”, well in general I agree. I used to live there. But many Americans still demonstrate that insularity. A refusal to accept other viewpoints or cultures. I have to believe that your close-minded opinion here is related to the close-minded planning that’s gone into your trip as a whole.
All I asked was that you open your eyes for a second. You seem set on doing anything possible to avoid that – and for someone who’s job involves reporting on the world, that’s a little sad.
Sorry, I just can’t read and leave without saying a couple of things. It wouldn’t feel right. First, Neal is not a superiority complex kind of guy. Acceptance of others and a strong distaste for judgementalism is absolutely core to who he is. However, he doesn’t back down from debate, and he argues his beliefs passionately. As does Dom. That speaks well for both of you. I think the vigor of Neal’s reactions in this exchange is rooted at least partially in the suggestion that the realization of this long-standing dream he and Luria have held is to some degree morally wrong. Maybe that suggestion was never intended, but I think that’s what he heard. And Dom, I think I can understand the shock of having your donations returned. Here’s my guess at why they chose to do that. You said that you felt your donations were being used to fund a pleasure trip, that you really don’t support. You said it felt like a slap in the face. I think Neal and Luria were trying to remove that feeling. If they had kept the money, you probably would have always wondered if it had gone toward buying a camera for their show, or fuel for their RV. One you’d support, one you wouldn’t. They didn’t want you to feel misused and didn’t want to worry about conditions under which which they could spend your donation. Finally, Dom, you ask that they at least consider the issues that raised your concern. But the thing is, they already have, and long before this debate began. They just came to a different conclusion on the question than you have.
Full disclosure time: Neal and Luria are friends of mine. They are people I feel privileged to know, and therefore I’m hardly an unbiased spectator in all this. But like I said, I wouldn’t have felt right keeping silent, so I’m sharing a little of what I know about them. Thanks for your time.
Dave, well said. Blessed are the peacemakers.
One factor in this entire argument that has eluded me is why Dom and others get the impression that Neal and Cali are somehow begging/guilting fans into supporting the podcast or the trip. Or when they’ve claimed to be impoverished and in need of anyone’s help. They’ve had commercial sponsors ever since I can remember (shortly before they left the day job and began doing the Brief full-time). Also, as Neal noted, the PaidByPixels site is a commercial venture — not a plea for charity. I don’t see the problem, but I’ll keep reading and see whether I can make more sense of it.
P.S. I’m a bit amused at the thought of a Brit labeling the Yanks as insular. In the words of Phoebe Buffay-Hannigan, “Hello, pot? This is the kettle. You’re black!”
I’m not entirely sure how seriously I can take someone who quotes “Friends” to make a point, but I’ll give it a go.
Firstly, if you think the Brits are insular compared to the US, try watching BBC World News America for a taste of our news media and compare it to your own. News media is fairly good indicator of how outward looking a country is. I think (hope) you’ll be surprised.
As for your point about Neal – it’s about transparency. Neal or Cali may have mentioned financing in passing, but it’s not displayed clearly on the web site. There’s a “status indicator”, but nowhere does it actually say what the target is.
If I’m paying individuals for a commercial venture, I *really* want to know where the money’s going.
They’ve already said that this is their “trip of a lifetime”, and at the end of it they’ll have a $200,000 luxury RV for their personal use. Who owns that RV? A holding company? Neal personally? If I donate, will I own a share? And is “donating” even a valid concept for a commercial venture?
I don’t expect you to answer those questions, but they’re the kind of things that go through my mind when I’m reading about this project.
My son made me discover your show and I absolutely love it. I learned a lot of things from you guys… And it is my hope that this recent exchange with Dom will also teach a few things to Neal… Instead of being confrontational from the start, you should have tried to understand what Dom was trying to tell you. And maybe there were, and still are, ways for you to improve your approach to the trip, taking some of those issues into consideration… Let’s hope that we all grow from this little jabbing exercise… claude
this is fascinating.
The only think I can add is to point out the irony.
It’s ironic that the last post on this blog is by someone who writes for what is apparently an online marketing exercise on promoting consumerism for ‘big chocolate’ companies like Lindt who refuse to state categorically whether or not they use cacoa grown using slave labour.
In two years of this Dom Ramsey’s chocolate review blog, there seem to be no reviews of fair trade chocolate, certified or not.
Certified fair trade chocolate is the only chocolate that you can be sure was truly free of being produced using slave labour.
So, it’s interesting to see comments about international awareness and consumerism here. …
…Good on you, Dom!
I know this is an old post, but:
“There is NOTHING wrong with America”
^ is absolutely ridiculous. The number areas and traits where America needs anywhere between ‘a little improvement’ and a MASSIVE OVERHAUL are overwhelming.
There is TONS wrong with America, and I am glad to see that Americans are slowly waking up to that fact.
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I think Neal should open his mind a bit. i intend to blast this little exchange all over the blogosphere.