Appalachian Basin

The Fox Theater of the Absurd

It’s hard to be surprised at anything Josh Fox does these days, as he and his friends lash out incoherently at those who are winning the battle for natural gas development.  One minute he is speaking to the Occupy Wall Street crowd about how to take down America and in the next he is appearing in a video appealing to patriotism and the spirit of our founders as he tries to rally opposition to DRBC gas regulations.  There are, of course, some constants.  Fox continues to be the self-promoting charlatan he’s always been as he promotes Gasland II and persists in spreading falsehoods on the theory that these serve the purpose of conveying some greater truth.  Still, his recent assertion to a French reporter that, in Pennsylvania, “There are places so contaminated that it will become difficult for some to find a way to live normally,” takes us well inside the theater of the absurd, doesn’t it?

Before addressing the absurdity of Fox’s baseless assertion, it is important to understand who he is.  Josh Fox is the “badboy wunderkind director of the International WOW Company” according to the Playgoer blog.  The “bad boy” description is well earned.  Fox has been involved in some pretty far out stuff such as Limitless Joy, described on the WOW website as “A dance-theater epic focusing on the origins of our species’ voracious desire.”  A New York Times theater review entitled “Apocalyptic Vignettes, Violent Yet Intimate,” said it was “limitless, all right… a muddled three-hour epic … of surrealistic, often wordless, visions, some lighthearted, some sensual … When a trapdoor opens, so many fresh-faced actors, in various states of undress, emerge that it reminds you of a clown car.”  Fox promoted ticket sales by saying “International WOW invites you to … a massive tomato fight where audience members are encouraged to throw their own tomatoes; to underwater scenes where dancers covered in chocolate pudding narrowly escape from shadow-puppet sharks.”

Fox also produced Memorial DayFilm Journal International describes the movie as an “unpleasant concoction attempting to link soldiers on a drunken, sex-filled holiday beach leave with their horrific, sadistic behavior at an Abu Ghraib-like Iraqi prison.”  It further notes “there’s no story.  Instead, the film is bifurcated into two equally unwatchable parts. Part one has a wild bunch of young men and women drinking, cursing, bragging, mating, bashing, talking real dirty and abusing others at a beach resort, apparently as they film themselves home-movie-style. There’s an abrupt changeover to part two, wherein we rediscover these lovelies as American soldiers in the Iraq War, as they put Iraqi prison captives through the demeaning rituals familiar from the Abu Ghraib reportage and visuals.”  Revealingly, in comments on the blog, Fox says:

Everything in the film was planned, every scene was either scripted or outlined beforehand – but everything really happened, because it was real, in a sense, we were immersed in that reality.

This notion that fake is real is, of course, what totally pervades Gasland and makes it the fairy tale it is.  That Gasland is fakery is evident from interviews such as the one he did with Jon Stewart, where he began by stating he got involved because he was offered $100,000 by a gas company to sign a lease for his 19.5 acre property in Milanville, Pennsylvania.  We exposed that lie in a piece we did a while back demonstrating he relied upon a draft lease that didn’t even exist at that point to make his claim.  Even so, he still had to stretch the terms beyond any credible interpretation to reach the magical $100,000 threshold.

And, then there is that famous flaming faucet hyped in every movie trailer and politically correct television interview about Gasland.  Viewers are startled when water from a faucet seems to burn and, of course, hydraulic fracturing of wells is blamed.  But, a thoughtful observer might ask if this had occurred prior and whether there are other explanations.  The answer, in both cases, is YES.  Methane is common in water supplies in many regions of the country, including the Colorado town where Fox filmed this episode.  It is often found in shallow geologic formations and finds its way to the surface, yielding faucets that flame if someone lights them.  Indeed, the very place where Fox filmed one of these episodes had been investigated before he filmed and the State of Colorado found “naturally occurring biogenic methane gas in the well and no impact from O&G (oil and gas) operations.”  Worse, Fox knew it beforehand and proceeded anyway.

Like the charlatan salesman from some old movie, Fox arrogantly dismisses this evidence of his nonsense as a “typical industry smear tactic” conveniently resorting to the ad hominem attack when he has no factual rebuttal.  He creates an industry bogeyman to avoid confronting the reality of local people who know the truth.   He imagines he is the truth, being, as he is, “immersed in reality.”

Fox and his friends also engage in speculation as a way to distract others from reality.  A rambling and  incoherent 38-page tome intended to answer the challenges to Gasland’s authenticity is replete with “could of’s.”  Still, even this document, reports in the case of the Colorado wells “officials have determined that at least nine of those contamination cases are not drilling related; they are likely the result of a water well intersecting with gas underground.”  It then suggests the tenth case “remains a mystery,” but notes state officials say it “is best characterized as an isolated circumstance,” that cannot be said to be “coming from somebody’s gas well.”  This is an affirmation Fox was correct?  Hardly!

It get’s worse when, after several paragraphs of speculating how hydraulic fracturing could affect water supplies thousands of feet above, it is admitted “In most cases, the study couldn’t pinpoint the exact pathway the contaminants had used to travel a mile and a half up into the drinking water aquifer.  So Thyne (the source of speculation) could only reason the possibilities.”  This must be what Fox means by “immersion in reality.”  You get an expert to speculate what might happen or did happen and then call this speculation a fact.  Some people might say “reasoning the possibilities” is nothing more than guessing and they’d be correct.

Problems such as this pervade Gasland.  One only has to read Gasland Debunked to see them.  Moreover, when defending yourself takes 38 pages of gobbledygook that has to be qualified with statements about how your expert had to “reason the possibilities,” you know you’re in deep trouble with the facts.  The lack of factual support, of course, has never been obstacle to Fox in gaining the fawning attention of sympathetic reporters who have allowed him to make outrageous statements like the one he made to the French writer alleging Pennsylvania is so contaminated it is unlivable in parts.  Like representatives of several other states, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection just stated there’s never been a documented case of groundwater contamination from the hydraulic fracturing process. He has been joined by U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, whom Fox recently interviewed, and regulators in 15 other states.  But reality is relative for Fox, so none of this matters.

Who enables this kind of lying?  Who is behind this effort to convert Fox from the “badboy wunderkind director” into the innocent filmmaker who was shocked by what he learned and became determined to crusade against the evil empire?  Well, we learn from the film credits and an article at that actress Debra Winger was “deeply involved” with Gasland.  She owns a home in Fremont Center, NY.  The article states

Josh Fox, the director and star of ‘Gasland,’ contacted the actress for advice, and she jumped at the chance to become involved in getting Fox’s message to a wider audience. She even consulted with her friend and “Legal Eagles” co-star Robert Redford, since Redford has been successful in warding off gas drillers in Utah.

Robert Redford, of course, is the founder of the Sundance Film Festival that gave Gasland an award.  The fairy tale that is Gasland takes shape.

And, who showed up at the HBO screening of Gasland in Manhattan?  Well, not only Debra Winger, but also Senior Attorney Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the force behind the Catskill Mountainkeeper, where NRDC founder John Adam’s son Ramsey is the Executive Director.  Ramsey also appeared at the gala screening.  Robert Redford is an NRDC Trustees.  So is John Adams, who earned $640,188 in compensation in 2005, as NRDC’s President.  He serves, too, on the Boards of the Catskill Mountainkeeper and Delaware Riverkeeper, all these organizations having relationships and overlapping memberships.  Gasland was aggressively promoted by each.  And, we now know the Park Foundation has funded Fox.  So all the usual suspects have been enablers.

Environmental hysteria is apparently very profitable and absurdity pays.  It allows its purveyors to make huge salaries dwarfing those of ordinary residents of the region, while also presenting themselves as the righteous and selfless coming to the rescue of those residents.  Meanwhile, the bad boy director Fox gets new found respect, tons of free publicity and a chance to hob-nob with the rich and famous.  As the Playgoer blog notes; “what does a downtown director have to do to get on national TV?  Make an HBO muckraking documentary, of course!”  That’s what Gasland is all about; fame, money and prestige for a very few people who travel in small circles under different names.  The losers are the local residents looking for the economic opportunities that responsible natural gas drilling might deliver.  But, for Fox and friends that’s irrelevant, because it’s all about them.



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