In 2007, Annie Leonard created "The Story of Stuff," a short, child-friendly video that explains the problems with consumer culture. Teachers love it because of its straight-forward format, but many parents aren't so happy.
"The Story of Stuff" is narrated by Leonard, who also stars as the sole human figure. Behind her, black line drawings of factories, waste, pollution and the big gold "arrow of consumption" play across a white background. She describes the process of environmental degradation, the problems of capitalism, and the exploitation of third world nations, all while maintaining a cheerful tone. Leonard makes it clear to kids that excessive consumption has lead to our forests being felled, rivers polluted, and animals going extinct.
The New York Times reports that teachers across America have begun to include "the Story of Stuff" in their curriculum. Hundreds of teachers have written Leonard to say they assigned the video as homework for their class (it can be watched on Youtube and at storyofstuff.com), and over 7,000 schools, churches, and others have ordered a DVD copy of the short film. Kids are reportedly responding well to the video; the NYT mentions several students who have become young environmentalists, thanks to Leonard's persuasive video.
However, not all parents are happy about the pervasiveness of the film. As Mark Zuber, a parent from Missoula County, notes, there is "not one positive thing about capitalism in the whole thing." He went before the school board to argue that since the video does not present an alternative perspective, it violated the board's standard on bias. Indeed, Leonard's "Stuff" is not exactly unbiased. At times, the video can come across as preachy and one-sided. She depicts the cartoon character that symbolizes the government shining the shoes of the bloated figure of capitalism. "Our primary identity has become that of being consumers, not mothers, teachers, farmers, but consumers," she says. Throughout the video, Leonard, who describes herself as an "unapologetic activist," voices her criticisms of capitalism, the US government, and the fashion industry.
Despite some parent's worries about the overtly political nature of the film, "The Story of Stuff" is a growing phenomenon. Leonard hopes that the video will make its way around the world. "I've heard from teachers in Palestine and Papua New Guinea," she said. "It is just spreading and spreading."