An Old Hollywood Take On the Gulf Oil Disaster

Thunder Bay is a city in northern Ontario, Canada. It is also a 1953 movie with Jimmy Stewart although as it turns out, the movie not about the city. When I decided to watch Thunder Bay this week, I judged the DVD by the (nondescript) cover and thought I would be watching Jimmy as a fur trapper/scout facing off against Indians/Hudson’s Bay Company baddies in the distant past. It was actually about Jimmy and his partner, Dan Duryea finding financing and building the FIRST offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. I overcame my initial disappointment and tried to enjoy the movie for what it was but as it unfolded, I became aware of a raft of fascinating similarities to a situation currently unfolding in the same area, the BP oil rig explosion and subsequent environmental disaster as millions of gallons of oil pour into the Gulf unchecked. In the movie, Stewart has to convince a shrimp-fishing town that the building of the rig will benefit the town in ways their small-town eyes can’t envision. The first way he sets out to accomplish this is by dynamiting their fishing waters and then telling them the dynamite doesn’t hurt the shrimp. Predictably, the townspeople turn on him in their small-minded ways and invariably turn to violence to correct the situation. The oil men and financiers are shown as forethinking men who just want progress because, after all, as Stewart’s character states, we all need oil and without this precious liquid, civilization as we know it would cease. This line is stated with all the conviction of a reading of the Declaration Of Independence. (SPOILER) Of course, the movie ends with the glorious discovery of oil and the breakthrough that shrimp seem to (conveniently) gather around the rig, thereby providing a solution for all parties involved and ending the movie on a positive note. This may seem disingenuous at first, but the reality is that this movie was made over 50 years ago and as such, is guilty of nothing more than naiveté. This was a time when fossil fuels were seen as the future and the environmental impact wasn’t even considered. This was truly was seen as progress and while until 2010, it appeared the oil companies and those who lived and worked in the Gulf lived in an uneasy peace, that peace was simply waiting to be broken, like the proverbial needle breaking the camel’s back. This movie, while not a great film in and of itself, becomes a sober yet intriguing counterpoint to horrific disaster we have been recently witness to.

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