July 22, 2010

The Story of…. Cosmetics? Nathaniel Janowitz

The Story of Stuff creators strike again. Social Media for Social Change.

Over the last few years with the evolution of free content video websites like Youtube and Vimeo people have been uploading videos like crazy. Everything from short films to men getting hit with footballs in the “you-know-whats”. One avenue that has caught on like wildfire are short videos aimed at explaining social issues like Conflict Minerals and Carrotmob.

Arguably the biggest video of this kind was Annie Leonard and Free Range Studio’s The Story of Stuff.

The Story of Stuff is exactly that; it’s the story of stuff and all that encompasses. From where it comes from to where it goes, and everything in-between.


The Story of Stuff has received a wide range of responses. It’s been lauded as a novel way to teach people about their own consumption habits. It’s been shown in classrooms from Elementary Schools to the Graduate level. In my current Masters Program we watched a segment from it one day in class. The accessibility of the message and the use of such a basic visual experience allows the watcher to understand the issue without the usual doom, gloom and boredom of a lecture.

Personally, I think the Story of Stuff was a genius idea and helped many people understand a process that before didn’t seem real. Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way.

Another very successful video was The Critique of The Story of Stuff which attempted to debunk the statements made in “The Story of Stuff.” Many vocal right wing activists have spoken up against “The Story of Stuff” as well.

For example;

“(The Story of Stuff is an) anti-capitalist tale that unfortunately has virtually no facts correct.”

~ Glenn Beck

Even though there has been some negative feedback that has not deterred Leonard.

Since releasing the Story of Stuff Annie Leonard and Co have released 3 other videos. The latest, “The Story of Cosmetics” was released yesterday on July 21st, 2010. Just as the title says it explains how cosmetics are made and the affect they have.

Their other videos; “The Story of Bottled Water” and “The Story of Cap and Trade” have also become very successful on the web.

In the fall “The Story of Electronics” is planned to be released.

This trend of using short videos for social change has been very successful and has garnered large media coverage. Yesterday, the LA Times featured on the front page an article about “The Story of Cosmetics”.

Discussing and thinking about how our consumption adversely affects the world is important.

“(Leonard admits to having) a kind of neurosis: when I pick up a pen or a cellphone or a toothbrush, its whole life cycle flips through my mind. Plastic is made from oil: I think of oil fields in Nigeria. I think of kids in the Congo dropping out of school to mine coltan, a metal used in electronics. I think of mountains of hazardous waste.”

~ Annie Leonard

The relationship we have with ourselves can only be truly cultivated if we take responsibility for our actions. I do not believe ignorance is bliss. In my opinion, by not accepting our roles in these problems we do unseen damage to our psyche by attempting to ignore these problems. We suppress our loathing for our actions through increased consumption and meaningless activities. By embracing new ways to live and ways to look at our lives we open up an entire world of possibilities we had previously limited ourselves to.

Leonard has made it easy for people to take these first steps. How we each ultimately move forward with the information about our choices is up to us. A new life is ours for the taking if we choose to.

The Story of Bottled Water

The Story of Cap and Trade

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