Picturing the excesses of Western culture

Here is a tool to get us all thinking and motivated about the impact of our culture of consumption. Chris Jordan is a photographer who has been able to make large numbers real through his artwork. I see good potential for use of this 11 minute video with older students.  In this video he demonstrates his work and gives his motivation for what he does.

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Filed under discernment, stewardship

23 responses to “Picturing the excesses of Western culture

  1. Michelle Kapteyn

    I was very impacted by this video for a few reasons. I was blown away by the large amounts in the pictures. It became real for me because he not only shared the statistic, but he put a picture with it. The second reason is that it reminds me that I am made in the image of God and therefore, I have a calling and command to be a steward of His creation. As Christians, we are called to take care of our bodies by exercising and eating healthy foods. We are not to harm it by smoking cigarettes and taking excessive drugs. We are also called to take care of the earth and yet we waste so much everyday. Thirdly, I thought about how a new teacher could have a huge impact in motivating and educating the children in his or her classroom about being mindful of the decisions they make everyday pertaining to their bodies and the earth. Teachers have opportunities everyday to help shape students’ views about the world and if they could encourage a change in behavior of wasteful Americans, it can only help. If a teacher is passionate about these things, students will hopefully learn by example and think twice about their consumption and use of things. I could absolutely use this idea in the classroom because showing a picture with astounding statistics would definitely wake students up. Hanging up posters and pictures on the wall could be an everyday reminder. I could also have them research topics and present to the class about how smoking and using excessive drugs can harm the body and how much garbage and waste is produced each day. I need to challenge my future students to think of ways that they can help cut back on being excessive Americans. If I show my children that I deeply care about these issues and that it matters to me, then maybe my attitude will rub off on them and it will start to matter to them as well. If you want your students to care about it and make a difference, you have to work on changing your own daily behavior and habits first.

  2. Rose Radomski

    As I was watching this video I was shocked more and more. I was not shocked by the fact that it was true, but rather that it is happening. The numbers and the people that are actually allowing this to go on really make me wonder. How could such a strong country, a country that has been victorious through the years, have so many severe issues within it? I think this work would mean a lot to a new teacher. Being a future teacher myself, I already see and feel a lot of significance. Being a teacher, it is our jobs to provide a good example to our students. We are there as a big influence, especially for those who might not have anyone else. I would definately use this piece to teach someday, and help the kids realize too what is going on. It is a very good way because it doesn’t only tell the information, but it is shown through art. Sometimes what people need is to see something to actually process and understand it.

  3. Kayla Brickson

    It’s disgusting how much we Americans waste on a daily basis. This video puts into perspective the excess of what we throw away. So much of what we throw away can be recycled. For instance, the cups pictured in the beginning of the film could’ve easily been recycled instead of flooding our landfills with non-biodegradable garbage. I get the feeling that so much of society feels like their bodies are nothing more than just garbage. Why are there so many drug overdoses or desires for plastic surgery? God created this world and our bodies to gloriy Him and also to bring us joy. I think we often forget that God’s ultimate reason for creation was to please us. Changing or altering our bodies, or putting them through unnecessary stress can only bring temporary happiness. I think that these people need to start seeking God instead of being so concerned with getting their quick fixes or altering their body shapes, or even carelessly throwing away trash. We must remember that we are God’s children and we need to start taking better care of the things He put before us.

  4. Katy Rediger

    I was taken back by everything that was being discussed. It is amazing that we use the amounts he was talking about between the number of cups we use on a daily basis, to the number of prisoners just in America. People do what they want and don’t even bother to think of the consqueneces that come along with their actions.
    I want to teach elementary age children, and I think discussing these topics in class can at least be a start to teaching children to recycle, and not to smoke when they are older and such. It can show them that the problems that are going on, are not going to get any better unless we have future generations start watching how they are affecting our world.

  5. Stacey Koning

    I thought that this video did a very good job of opening up our eyes as Americans to how vast some of our problems are. I thought that it was a good way to represent some of our issues. This video would be a wonderful tool in the classroom. It is dealing with issues that students would love to talk about. It is all about excess and how America has too much. I could easily be used to facilitate discussion of issues other than the ones that it directly raises. You could base a lesson on contemporary issues off of this video, especially the issue it raises specifically such as smoking, pollution, and body image. You could also base a lesson on art and the impact it can have in our world off of this video. Those are two of the obvious lesson plans that come from this, but it could also create a lesson on American culture in general. He talks about how Americans in general start habits that create tons of excess. You could create a lesson on how to use everything in moderation. You could do a Bible lesson on what God would have to say about this over use of things. Stewardship is a good thing that can be taken out of this video too.
    This video is not only a good tool; it is a good eye opener for me. It made me reconsider some of my habits. Not everything I do every day is necessary. It is not necessary for me to write ten sticky notes to myself when there is still room to add to one. Little things like that can help to reduce the excess that I create personally. As one person it does not seem like there is that much that I can do, but one person can change the world. If even one Barbie was left out of his picture the picture would not be the same. One less plastic cup and the image would have been a slightly different shape. One can do something to help and as Christians I think that it is our responsibility to do what we can to help reduce the excess.

  6. Deb Swets

    I hope this video gets widely circulated. Americans have become so blinded by the ‘American Dream’ the need for more; for success, for wealth, for power, to be better than neighbors, friends and brothers. When you ask an average young person what they want from life, their answer will be, “To get a good job and make a lot of money. To have a sweet car and a huge house and lots of stuff.” Money and materialism have become the goals of this society. Everything in excess. People don’t care if they waste money or resources as long as they are having fun and getting money and power. I have been struggling more and more lately with the materialistic ideology of America, and trying to go against the grain. When I look at the lives of people that inspire me, who made a difference in the lives of others (such as Mother Teresa and most importantly Jesus Christ), their aim was to forsake the trappings of this world and to simply love others. I think we have lost the sense of community, the need for others that is so essential to living, in our greed-induced isolation. Once again, I hope this video gets widely circulated, and makes people stop and think before they waste another paper cup, smoke another cigarette or feel the need to get another plastic surgery. We need each other, not more possessions.

  7. Kimberly Verhagen

    I think that this video is a great reminder of how we as a society need to change. Chris Jordan does a great job of expressing the problems in our society through his artwork. It is problematic to think that we as Christians often ignore our environment as well as our health. We often passively ignore the problems to try to focus on the positive things, which is not always good as this video shows.
    I think that it is great that there are images to go along with what Chris Jordan said. We as a society often will not truly grasp something until we can actually see it with our own eyes. America is so often looked up to by other countries, but in a few years from now, that may not be the case at all. We have been so blessed and now we are letting our freedom get in the way of the stewardship we should have. Smoking a cigarette or throwing something in the trash that should be recycled may be a person’s right, but it definitely is not beneficial in any way. It was so surprising to me to hear the statistics of how many plastic and paper cups we use a day without even thinking twice about it.
    As Christians, we should be stepping up and trying to improve our society. Lets not be passive any longer. Let’s live our lives with stewardship in mind and take care of this earth that God has so generously given us.

  8. Katie Heaney

    This video put many tragic phenomenons, as Chris Jordan called them, into perspective. While I knew that people were dying from lung cancer on a daily basis, I was not aware of the extent of these phenomenons. It is incredibly sad and disappointing that our nation has in a sense lost its zeal in regard to these issues. Everyone talks about “going green,” yet we use millions of paper cups each day that go unrecycled. It seems to be more talk and less action. He also mentioned that our country has lost its emotion. We tend to oversee these and other problems simply because they occur on a daily basis and seem impossible to solve. Through his work, he tries to convey the vastness of these problems, and encourages us as a citizens to act.
    Chris Jordan’s images were mind-boggling because they looked like simple paintings from far away, but once you got really close, you could see the vast amount of objects that were involved in the painting. You could also say this about all of the problems in our society. If you are uninterested and “far away” from the problem, it doesn’t seem as big or insurmountable. Yet when you move closer, investigate the issue, and start to feel passionately about it, it begins to feel more real and damaging than before.
    I feel that as Christians, we are not called to solve every single problem that our nation and world faces. Instead, as servants of God and stewards of his creation, we are called to find that one issue that we can feel passionately about, and try to encourage change within it.

  9. leah branderhorst

    Wow. Who would have guessed some of those number that were mentioned above. I am aware of some of the problems of our world, but if I were honest, I don’t think I could say that I am as concerned, or even as aware as I should be. This video is very well done, and should be used in classrooms often. I am planning on teaching high school ages students some day, and at this point in time, I can really see this video impacting them. In fact, it would probably impact them in some of the same ways it impacted me. These students are our responsibility, it is our job to teach them. Not only is it our job to teach them about the curriculum based things of life, but it is our job to prepare them for reality. Many of them, just as many of us, are completely oblivious to what we are doing and the problems we are creating. As a teacher, it is our job to show them the things of this world, to bring issues like these to their attention. As the video implied, we pass onto to others (students) the decisions we have made. Our daily choices that we make now will forever leave a mark on the students that will one day be our future. So as teachers, we must make the call to help save our future students and their world, we must make these and other issues come to the forefront of our society.

  10. Luis Gil

    I felt like finally I hear something from someone that I can absolutely agree with. I have had several conversations similar to what TED’S speech was and most of the times my friends accused me to be unpatriotic or American hater. The reality is that as Ted mentioned in his speech this is not about pointing America as a bad guys it is just a wake up call for all of us who belong in this society. I believe that this speech will open many people’s eyes about how blind and superficial our society is. Unfortunately we have reached a big level of unawareness toward what is going on around us, and how the decision that we make now will have a direct impact in our future. Everything that we do affect us directly or indirectly, so why not say Stop to things that solely brings bad news and chaos. I’m talking about thing like the great waste of our natural sources and the exploitation of our nonrenewable resources that are only destroying our world, soon this is not going to be the same place and things will never be the same. If we don’t put a stop to our unreasonable behavior we will destroy our society and the world, as we know it.
    In my opinion, they should be more people like TED. People that are not afraid of express their thought and feeling to the public even dough they might hurt or contradict other’s ideas or believes. I will definitely use this as an inspiration video. Also this material could be use to create conscience among my students and their families.

  11. I was very inspired by Chris Jordan’s artwork and interested in what he had to say about our culture’s bad consumption habits. After watching this clip I decided to actually visit http://www.ted.com because I wanted to see what others had to say that could be inspiring as well. I watched a clip about the beauty and vast bio diversity living in our oceans, another about third world shanty town living, and finally one about the harm from charcoal burning in third world countries. I plan on watching many more of these short informative talks, but I think what Chris Jordan has done with his artwork makes his passion for consumption in the Western culture more powerful than the other three videos I’ve watched. His artwork literally breaks down the statistical numbers we are given about these issues and allows us to see the impact of the choices we make everyday. My favorite piece Jordan showed was the picture of the statue of liberty in front of what 40 million cups stacked up would look like. We consume about 40 million cups per day, in which the majority are not being recycled. His picture is able to help our minds perceive this statistic by scaling what a person would look like next to 40 million cups, which is like standing next to a 42 story building. The statue of liberty is also placed in front of these cups to grasp a further comparison of the monstrosity of consumed paper cups everyday.
    I think this is a great tool to spark interest in these issues. I wish his artwork could be used to compare every statistic involving large amounts of numerical data because it is much more effective. What he has done is a great thing; being able to transfer statistics in a way our minds can fully grasp. I agree with Katie Heaney that if one can be called to become passionate about one issue, then we may find ourselves helping to change that issue. Out of all the artwork Jordan showed, that paper cup picture makes me think how I can become more resourceful everyday. Each of us probably had one picture that stuck out more than all the rest. I think Jordan’s artwork allows for us to be compelled and want to help change at least one of these issues.

  12. Clifton Hurt

    Clifton Hurt
    Trinity Christian College

    This video was incredibly eye opening for me. I was really shocked at all of the statistics that were presented in Chris’s presentation. My first response was a response of anger but then I realized that even though these things are such major phenomenon’s that i can still play an important part in reversing these common trends that are a result of self hatred, peer pressure and so many other things… We are americans are so caught up on chaning the situation that we do not really dill with the situation.
    I think that there should be more open discussion about things like this, so often we as christian and even none talk about things that go on everywhere else in the world but we do not focus on the crisis that is happening right a home in our front yards. “Is that Justice?” ( I could say more…)
    This work is very important to new teachers because this is the world in which we live. So often people and even teachers try to go around being “real” with there students, but the reality is students are living real lives and need people( parents, teachers,etc) to not shelter them but expose them and showthem how to work through and within a constantly changing world. For me a I would use information like this to have to discussion and open dialogue for mystudents so they will fill comfortable i my class and know that they can talk to at least one teacher…. Furthermore i would use this info to ensure just present different out looks for tm students…. Help them think outside of the box that we all tend to limit ourselves to so often….

  13. Megan Visser

    This video clip is amazing! I had no idea how big the numbers were until watching this video. I really liked his art-work, it helped me put into perspective! It is hard to understand statistics when I just hear huge numbers like 1 million. I think that the topics that were chosen were very good for this speech. I think that the topics were not specific to one bad thing going on in our world — there is a variety. This effects everyday life. This article would be very effective for teaching upper level classes. I think it would help them realize what is actually going on in the world around them. I know for me it has helped put big numbers in to more digestable terms. If I was shown this in high school, i think it would have helped me learn more about the stats that everyone talks about in our world today. This speech was very moving! I think it helps spark interest in these very important areas of our lives.

  14. Chris Jordan is awesome. I love his art work and how he gave me a real picture of what is really behind all those stats and numbers. People these days just see the numbers and not what is behind them. Chris, along with his art work, helped show us all what the numbers really looked like. They were staggering art works. I never knew the actual number of women that were getting breast implants and to see what the number looked liked was just shocking. He not only hit on topics that many people know about and have talked about but also the topics that normally people tend to just forget or pass by. I know that if more students were shown these art works they would get an actual picture of what is going on in our world. Us teachers can only do so much through words, that is why visual ads are so helpful in the classroom. They help grab the students attention and made help them remember alittle bit better what we talked about in class or what that number was. I would definately use it as a visual ad in a class but I would use it in a very tasteful matter. I might not show the breast implants one but it all depends on the age of the class and what we were talking about. In a current event class I would definately use Chris Jordan’s works of art to help show the students more what we are talking about with all those numbers and stats.
    This speach was great and it helped me think more about the very important issues and topics that we do have going on in our world today. It opened my eyes to different ways of presenting materials not only to an audience but also to a class.

  15. Jason Held

    I really enjoyed this video. It helped me realize and put into perspective the large numbers that we hear associated with statistics. I had no idea the amount of paper cups that were used each day. Even when he said the number it was still unreal to me but when he showed the picture and then put in the Statue of Liberty as a scale it really brings the huge numbered statistic into perspective. Another piece that I found interesting was the barbie doll piece. I was shocked to hear him say that breast augmentation is becoming the number one graduation gift. It amazes me that our society has gotten to this point. My favorite point in the video was the cigarette piece of work. I thought it was very creative that when you stood all the way back that it was the skeleton smoking. I thought his comparison to the 9/11 attacks was very affective. When he talked about how devistating that was and how it always will be then discussed that 1100 people die each day from smoking and that our society just puts it aside was eye opening. The smoking statistic is one you hear everyday but when it was put into that artwork and compared in that way it really put that statistic in perspective for me. I think this video would be very beneficial for a high school level class. It would help them understand the statistics they are being told. I know it helped me understand.

  16. “If we can feel issues, then they will matter more to us…”

    I completely agree that our nation has become incredibly desensitized to the real issues around us and I was amazed at my own level of detachment upon viewing these pictures.

    As Christians who have been born-again, we are given a responsibility to reflect Christ and to care not only for others but ourselves as well. The amount of waste and the number of those killed by cigarettes are issues we are all familiar with yet have come to somehow accept.

    As a teacher, it gives a profound example to the impact each of us can have by beginning with ourselves. If we can take responsibility for our own behaviors, how much more would that impact our students? In the big picture, we may not feel we attribute to much, but by defining ourselves as individuals who make up this nation, we will learn to care more and to finally take responsibility for the issues plaguing our current world. Beginning with ourselves and extending this care to each of our students will show them that they each matter as well and that everything they do has a significant impact on their world — that they are crucial members of this society and that their actions will have consequences both good and bad.

  17. Chrisitne Iwema

    This was an interesting video clip and I enjoyed listening to it. It is funny how in the beginning it begins with all the little things we as people do without realizing it. There are many actions we do on impulse and excuse. The examples that were given included eating too much and taking anger out on a loved-one. We dismiss things such as cigarette smoking. Why do we do this? Is it because it is easy? I think that he is right and as a culture we need to feel. We are too calloused. As a culture we need to feel again. Smoking matters. The bottom line is it is bad for your health. There is no way around that. It would be a wonderful way to present America’s problems to students. These are issues that are affecting them. Teenagers are the people that cigarette companies target. If students are able to note this then they can decide for themselves what they want to do.

  18. Kaitlyn Knudtson

    I really liked this video clip because it did show us just a piece of why and how our country is suffering. These statistics were apalling to me. I knew we were in bad shape, I just did not realize how bad. As I watched this video the one thing that kept resounding in my mind was the question of what can I personally do to help fix our country? I have heard of all these terrible things in our world and I can’t help but inwardly weep because I have no idea about how to help our world. Everytime I hear one of these statistics, I immediately want to change it. I know that I can’t though and it makes me sad. I want to live in a safe and pleasant world. I want my children to live in a safe and pleasant world. I fear that we are going downhill and we won’t be able to climb uphill again. It is weird to think that what Chris Jordan talked about, the statistics that he gave was only scratching the surface of how bad off we are. I do believe that there is alot of good in this world, but I also believe that it is slowly and steadily being corrupted by people only thinking of themselves which is a major reason we have the problems we have today.

  19. After I watched the video, I learn how to approach these issues to a student and the importance of awareness and, lastly how to face these issues as a teacher.
    Firstly, the video reminds to all generations the awareness of a contemporary issue. Photography delivers heavy issues in one picture. The canvas is powerful than the research paper. Visual of the picture helps people who are young or who aren’t interested in contemporary issues to pay attention. Chris Jordan’s description on his work is different than common description. He starts to point out the small portion of the picture. He pays attention to the single part of the problem. For example, to explain the issue of smoking, he starts with one smoke box and it build up to the picture of a skeleton which means death by smoking. The way he expressed the picture, I thought that the issue needs to be approach from the small part. Teacher can interact with students in the class individually. Interacting with students who are struggling with those problems will help to solve the problem. It won’t affect right away. But, the dedication of a teacher to students influences students. Repeating of this action can affect other students. Students who will grow up and they also can give good affect on the problem. By small portion can build up and it can help solve the issue.
    Second my reaction was the awareness of the contemporary issue. Chris stressed out the ignorance of issues. In the fact, even in my life, I usually am not aware of these issues. Often times, the accidents reminds me those issue but, it is too late to be prevent it. After I watched the video I realized the environment which doesn’t have lot of reminder of the issue. My environment is mostly school. I don’t blame the teacher but, we need to get more attention on the issue to aware. Just awareness of the issue is different than unawareness. Awareness will give the direction how to solve the problem or at least it can prevent the further committing the problems.
    Third, this video makes us think to how to solve this problem. This video doesn’t expect the passive action. Chris asks to audience how to deal with these problems. I thought that teacher also needs to ask students the active action. From the second thesis, teachers and administrators can afford the materials to students. But, this process only ended by awareness. To profoundly committee to this action of problems, teacher needs to help students to find their own way or to discus the solution. This process deepens the semiotic thinking into students. They also can apply to other problems which surfacing up into teenagers. The teenager especially exposed to mass media, about smoking, breast augmented surgery, crime, and waste materials; they can see the clear point and scholastic perspective.
    Overall I think the video is very helpful to teachers as well as students to learn how to approach to these kinds of problems.

  20. Pamela Banks

    I really enjoy the fact the this mam used is gifs to visual show people what’s really going on around them. It like a elephant standing in a room and nobody say anything. That is how we all see thinks sometime. I believe that in some areas or another we are decieved. We as americans are very selfish and not selfish enough to take care of our self. We won’t deal with what’s inside, but try and make sure everything on the outside is “perfect.” It true, we try to outwardly change all types of situation that our within our country, but don’t understand that the people need to change along with their hearts and mind sets. So many people are so hook on the Image of the “GOOD LIFE” What will it take for us to take a step out of that blurry life and try to live the “Real Life.” Try dealing with what goes on inside of us,try loving each other, try forgiving each other, and try accepting each other’s differernce. There is way too many people in jail and way to many young people getting plastic surgery. That is just crazy.

  21. smig33

    This video by Chris Jordan really opened my eyes to the problems we have in our society. Chris pointed out how we face many problems as a nation with our overconsumption habits. He also detailed how our society doesn’t appreciate the bodies the way they are and how often we make decisions which harm our bodies such as cigarette smoking, abuse and misuse of prescription medicated drugs, and plastic surgeries (elected breast augmentation). I also learned from the video the fact that our society doesn’t care about our environment due to the fact that we way over consume such things as plastic cups. His point over America having the most amounts of individuals in prison also highlights the fact; the people in our society don’t understand the consequences that result from their poor decisions in life. The statistics he gave where amazing, though a little hard to comprehend because the numbers he was throwing around were in the thousands and millions. I think these topics he covered gave a good overview of how we as a society need to change the way we live our lives. I like the way he used images to convey the enormously large numbers, it made it easier to picture and understand. As a Christian I feel that we are doing a disservice to God, by consciously destroying our bodies through harmful decisions as smoking or abusing drugs. We are also destroying the earth that God made through our overconsumption habits. I think I could use the lesson from this video in a classroom setting for older students in secondary education (especially high school). It could be used in the junior high grades by having lessons on how important individual’s decisions are too their own personal lives and those of society. I would emphasize to the younger kids to cherish their bodies the way they are because they were made that way by God and are beautiful and unique in their own individual way. Along with that I would state that they were made by I would have lessons on how cigarette smoking and the abuse of drugs are detrimental to an individual’s body. I would post pictures and posters which point out the fact of how many people die as the result of these poor life decisions. I would also have several lessons on how important it is to respect your body and the planet Earth so that the students I teach can have an understanding of how important it is make the right decisions to make a better Society which is in line with God’s divine plan.

  22. Danielle De Roos

    I was inspired by Chris’s artwork. To visually recognize the disturbing material habits of this world was eye opening. The thing that struck me the most was how closely related most of these problems in society were to those students in middle and high school. Chris mentioned how plastic surgery is quickly becoming a lot of kid’s graduation gift. And we know that our students struggle daily with peer pressures to take drugs and drink alcohol. As teachers, it is our responsibility to open their eyes to the things of this world and sometimes it takes shocking them to ingrain it into their memories and change their lifestyles. I think Chris’s artwork is definitely shocking and can do just that. Incorporating his art in the classroom would be so beneficial especially in the upper grade levels where these issues are dealt with on a daily basis!

  23. Mark Eckel

    For every Chris Jordan-like video, for every cover of Newsweek, for every op-ed from the New York Times, I need to listen to one country song from Nashville that reminds me America is a good place.

    Jordan’s views of America and Americans are not to be lightly set aside. Who cannot agree with the awfulness of cigarette smoking by teenagers? Who would disagree with questionable consumption choices? Who could argue with a “throw away” society (that’s a lot of plastic cups!)? And I am quite grateful for the fact that Jordan did not blame government but he blamed us, right now. His view of change begins by taking “responsibility for our own behavior.”

    But Jordon’s video need be juxtaposed with caution. When will we stop referring to 9/11 as a “tragedy”? To allow our enemies who desire our individual and collective deaths cover for their war against America by using the same term to describe breast augmentation (“a tragic phenomenon”) is at best shortsighted ignorance. To what does Jordan refer when he blithely references “atrocities committed in our name around the world?” Should we compare Jordan’s sense of “outrage” over individual choice in American culture against the lack of women’s rights in many Muslim countries or the systemic persecution of Christians by Muslims around the world?

    Jordan’s video needs an infusion of thankfulness for America within the providence of God. When will we ignite the call to learn the beneficence of our country’s ideals? When will we focus on the good America does around the world without precondition or expectation? When we will remember that created wealth helps everyone? When will we simply say something good about our land?

    Trace Atkins sings a country song about The American Man. It should be remembered that while material enlargement may lead to excess in some, there are many others whose day-in-day-out work expresses the positive attributes of service and stewardship. I reflect on our cultural conditions with soul-searching concern. But I am also a grateful Christian thankful for the good things with which God has allowed America to benefit others.

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