It used to be if you weren’t online you didn’t exist. Now, it seems, if you don’t have an online video series you don’t exist. San Francisco eco-startup SustainLane has recently launched an animated webisode series called “The Unsustainables” about a “blended urban family” trying to live the sustainable life, but often stumbling on the way there.
The show’s very “blended” family consists of your usually racially diverse sitcom cast as well as a prophetic talking goat and a vain marble fountain. Between caprine commentary and egotistical statuary, each two-minute episode focuses on issues ranging from mercury poisoning in fish to junk food in public schools. Aimed at a younger audience, The Unsustainables has a high production value with interesting voice acting, attractive animation, and an entertaining cast of stereotypical characters.
Nellie, the socially active high schooler, is filming her own protest piece for YouTube. How meta! The site even runs a blog where the characters comment on their actions in the episodes and talk about recent sustainability issues.
However, as a piece of activism media, it’s not clear what The Unsustainables is trying to teach. While some episodes are clean cut and show how natural cleaning products are superior and safer than their toxic chemical counterparts, other episodes have mixed messages about recycling and consumer consumption. The show’s tagline, “Stumbling Towards the Future,” speaks volumes about the content. Most confusing of all its idiosyncrasies is that the female protagonist, the most level-headed of the entire cast, smokes cigarettes. I can’t remember the last time I saw a cartoon character casually smoking.
While it’s great to see environmental cartoons getting away from the legacy of Captain Planet, who probably did more harm than good by teaching kids environmental problems are caused by singular polluting criminals, The Unsustainables is not teaching a cohesive message. As green living becomes a very profitable niche market, green entertainment grows too, but the environmental movement has yet to find its own Chuck Jones.
SustainLane, founded in 2004 by Netscape veteran James Elsen, indexes sustainable government and business policies and practices, with reviews of everything from green baby diapers to green kitty litter. The Unsustainables can be seen on YouTube, Google, and Blip, as well as Comcast’s first “green” TV channel, “Green Scene,” available to Bay Area subscribers.