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Gushing fiasco
The strange language of the BP oil spill aftermath

BP killed aquaman

Are you like me — have you been waiting for someone to use the phrase “black swan” in reference to the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the gulf? Well, it’s happened, so let’s look at the literary consequences thus far of this thing. I bet the science fiction writers are kicking themselves for not thinking of a disaster like this. I don’t know what SF writers could do with the scenario, but presumably something more coherent than our collective slack-jawed response of the worldwide media. But let’s put aside the obvious need for a sweeping explanation of what this means for humanity, and instead look at some of the fun wordplay that has come out of the disaster.

There is of course the much commented-on string of failed hole-patching attempts: “top kill,” “containment dome,” “blowout preventer,” “junk shot,” and the latest, “sweeping arm system.” One wonders who’s naming these procedures; is it BP’s engineering department or public relations team, or is it some sort of in-house poetry department? (I do not believe BP has a poetry department, but it really would not be so far-fetched. This is a company which, were it a country, would have the 34th largest economy in the world — larger than Finland — and which in any case produces two magazines for public consumption.)

But of course the best work takes an outside perspective. How about Tom Junod struggling to figure out what to call the incident:

You could call it a blowout. That’s the proper term, the descriptive term, the industry term. But “blowout” only says what it is; it doesn’t say what it does, or is doing; it is silent as to extent and agnostic as to consequence. Calling this a blowout is like calling the Holocaust an anti-Semitic incident. It gets it right, but somehow misses the point.

You could call it a hemorrhage, as some people have proposed. But even a hemorrhage has a degree of finitude that the underwater smokestack we see in the BP feed doesn’t: it either ends or you die, and in any case it ends when you die. But death — the death of men, the death of ingrained ways of life, the death of untold innocent creatures, the death of species, the death of what’s left of American certainty along with the death of the American Sea — offers no endpoint for whatever it is that’s happening at the bottom of the Gulf. It will continue pumping out the bounty of a few billion years of geology unabated until it is abated, or until the bounty is exhausted. It is less like a hemorrhage than it is like The Terminator, in that it so steadfastly resists termination.

seafood shack shut down

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Or how about the fantastic fake BP Public Relations Twitter feed, which BP has reportedly tried to have shut down, and which has been producing caustic bon mots at the rate of several per day:

Our company psychiatrists say now is the time to move onto the last phase of experiencing a tragedy, acceptance mixed with forgetfulness.

Please text “Wildlife” to 20222 to donate hot dogs to the BP Corporate Memorial Day Picnic #bpcares #3dayweekend

The oil leak was caused by a natural gas explosion, or sea fart, which is now having silent but deadly consequences. #bpseafart

Eating at a very expensive restaurant and spilled salad dressing on my pants. Not sure how to tackle this.

OMG This isss ridciulsus. playing a drinking gamee where we drink a shot everytme we seeee an oily birdddd!!! LOL! so wasted!!11 #pbcares

Due to public outcry, our “Spill Or Be Spilled” flash game will be taken off our BP Kidz Klub website. “Smack the Greasy Manatee” stays.

BP CEO Tony Hayward

On the other hand, some of BP’s official responses are not that far behind. Here and here are their “official” twitter feeds pertaining to the disaster. Meanwhile, a Google News search yesterday for the phrase “gulf oil spill” produced an ad for BP that read, “Learn More about how BP is Helping.” And of course there’s CEO Tony Hayward, who can’t seem to stop saying stupid shit and has more recently taken to lying. He’ll probably be remembered for this one: “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”

Little wonder that some are calling for the US government to temporarily take the company over.

In any case, we are at the very beginning of all this. BP has just hired Dick Cheney’s old campaign press secretary Anne Womack-Kolton to do damage control on their public image, which should be an interesting job as information comes out on all the ways in which the company cut corners to save money, not just on this particular well but over the years.

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swampthing, the comic book hero, was not always a radicalized environmentalist. He was once a humble scientist who figured out a way to turn barren land into fertile swamp. One night he was poisoned with his own formula by a developer who had designs on mrs swampthing.

Our dr jekyll did not die but mutated into a thing 50% man 50% swamp. Forced to hyde in the bayou, he would only venture out to get revenge on the platers, pavers, builders and road-makers.

The sequel might be called “Oilthing from the Gulf of Mexicoil” and would read something like this:

A lowly BP submarine driver discovers damming evidence that the oil spill was no accident but he becomes the victim of more foul play when the sub springs a leak and he is doused from head to toe with oil gushing into the craft. With his last human breath he is able to transmit the evidence to the UN and so the rest is history. Our hero is doomed to inhabit the gooey abyss and soon figures out a way to stop the leak. Using swampthing’s formula to save the gulf waters and all it’s creatures, he devotes his time to roaming the worlds oceans to protect the planet from greedy the oil giants.

swampthing · Jun 2, 05:54 PM · #

How about: “hemerhoild”? That might describe the rupture as well as the noxious CEO.

squathole · Jun 3, 08:19 AM · #

I was in a taxi one night and as we drove by a BP station, my girlfriend opens her mouth and tells the driver he should not be filling up there.
Instead of agreeing with us the taxi driver starts telling us we have no sympathy & that the leak could have happened to any oil company.
He also told us we should consider the shareholders.
I’m scared that a lot of idiotic people will start to feel this way.
Aren’t there some mistakes that are just too big? Aren’t there some risks that are just too big to take?
While I am what I consider to be a normally sympathetic person in this case I don’t think they deserve one shred of it.
No sympathy for them, no sympathy for shareholders (who invest in oil rather than more forward thinking ventures) and no sympathy for any ass-hat that ever chanted “drill baby drill”.

— Lila D · Jun 3, 10:56 AM · #

Amen, Lila.

I guess the truth is that it could have happened to any company, but it happened now to BP. Thus, they have become the locus for all of our emotions surrounding the destruction of the earth and all that entails (job loss, dead birds), the irresponsibility of big business, the blind eye of the government. Appropriate feelings include fear, sadness, horror, anger. To defend big oil just seems insane.

I’m not going to say that if I were wealthy, I wouldn’t have invested some money in oil; what the fuck do I know about being rich? However, sympathy for the devil, I mean investing in the market is always a risky venture. Next time you run into BPfan#1 you could emphasize the importance of diversifying portfolios. Maybe countering their evil oil money with investing in clean energy? Get with the green program, cabby man.

All I know is my heart hurt the other day when I saw those poor animals drowned in oil on PBS. I almost threw up.

I need a solar car already.

EAT · Jun 3, 11:37 AM · #

Global Oiliarchy, a Glob Story.

Spill the Oil, Spread the Wealth.

Can Obama move BeeP shareholders to the end of the line, be the last to collect $$$$$$$$

swampthing · Jun 3, 07:28 PM · #

Im all for boycotting BP, if it really would make a difference. BP is a huge company and its sales at the pump are a drop in the bucket. Boycotting pumps directly impacts the owner and employees; before the gas is even pumped in your car the owner’s already dished out the cash to buy it. If rage should be directed at anyone it should yourselves, ourselves for that matter. And oil isn’t just used in gasoline or lubricant. BP oil is in plastics all types, and the roads we drive on. I think all this anger should be directed at the politicians and policymakers that have allowed our oceans to be taken advantage of and ruined. This is the price of cheap gas.The price of an American lifestyle. Who is to blame maybe Joe Blow on the rig, maybe CEO douchebag, or really ourselves and the lives we lead.
I think cabby man sees the bigger picture.

— bob hope · Jun 7, 09:24 PM · #

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