Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Blood Diamond

I don't understand about
Diamonds and why men buy them
What's so impressive about a diamond
Except the mining
~ Red Red Red by Fiona Apple

Monday afternoon My Man with Gills and I watched Blood Diamond.

I enjoyed it quite a bit - and know so because I would be happy to see it again in spite of the questionable inclusion of a very brief scene with a young chimp. Any movie with Djimon Hounsou is a movie I am happy to sit through! Leo gives a good performance too - especially the few scenes he speaks Creole. It reminded me of listening to the guys in Belize speaking it. The subtitles were nice, but not totally necessary. The action was intense - the street fighting scenes were appropriately chaotic. I really liked that the diamond they were after was pink, as if it was already tinged by the blood shed over it.

I also liked that the producers/director/DP did not include a love scene between Jennifer Connelly and Leonardo DiCaprio. I wondered why they didn't. The movie was violent enough to warrant an R rating, so it seemed like a given to include a sex scene, and there was indeed a place midway through the movie where one could have been included. Maybe it was filmed but got edited out. Anyhow, I think if they had included one it would have been pandering. I appreciated that the story was appropriately morally legitimate which is to say all of the bad guys more or less get what's coming to them, even McSmuggler.

The only thing that has kept me scratching my head is the inclusion of a juvenile chimp sitting in a tree in the juggle. First, a chimp that young would never just be quietly sitting there all alone. Second, chimps are very rare in West Africa - they are almost extinct save for a few tiny isolated populations. The chimp was not a wild chimp but rather one rented for the hours it took to shoot the scene. There are a number of Hollywood animal providers who rent out exotic animals for movies. I don't think chimps should be used this way, and wondered why the decided to include it.

My stab - perhaps it will make people think about the effect of the illegal diamond trade/civil war on the habitat and livelihood of chimpanzees. There's no doubt that civil war, really any war, is disastrous for the environment. People flee their homes, forests burn down, chimps get eaten as bushmeat. In the Congo when coltan (highly valuable mineral used in electronics, especially cell phones and computers) was discovered, chaos ensued. Gorillas and bonobos who live anywhere near the mining camps suffer. Can cell phones be certified conflict free too?

What's the point of certification anyway besides some vain hope that consumer behavior will actually change corporate policies or international politics? Sure, you can refuse to buy dirty gold and conflict diamonds, but really, are you achieving any more than someone who prays diligently for their relative to be cured from a glialblastoma brain tumor?

What's so impressive about a diamond except the mining?
Why do men buy them?

In an EP nutshell, a diamond is an expensive courtship gift that is a difficult signal to fake, thus, it is an honest signal of a man's commitment, level of investment, and willingness and ability to provide. This assumes a woman who doubts her mate's honesty is smart enough to take her shiny new ring to a jeweler to find out whether it's a diamond before she commits to him.

"Two generations ago, Japanese couples did not bother buying diamond engagement rings. Then the De Beers diamond cartel, through an intensive advertising campaign in the 1970s, convinced Japanese women that they deserved a ring just like Western women. A new standard was imposed: Japanese men must spend at least two months’ salary on a colourless lump of carbon to demonstrate their romantic commitment. Japanese marriages are probably no happier than a generation ago, but De Beers is richer," says Geoffrey Miller in his award winning essay Waste: A Sexual Critique of Consumerism.


Angela Breidenbach said...

Yay, you're blogging:-) I didn't know anything about diamonds when I was engaged. I know a little more now. Funny thing is that I'll bet most women would rather have something else, but we Americans somehow establish consumerism that sticks forever! I used to live in Spain. For three years, I had no consumerism at Christmas time. When I came back to the states, it actually overwhelmed me. I still don't like it. I love Christmas Eve and midnight services. I love singing the carols, but I don't want it all in my face to push the "buy, buy, buy" mentality. The same with diamonds. I think we Americans have been taught by our media to be lemmings. We need to learn to think for ourselves and not follow the crowd or be swayed by advertising. Then, we need to say no to our children and monitor all the junk being focused at them. Help our children and ourselves become more critical of the message the way a scientist is taught to be skeptical of process and results.
PS How about a post or two on critical communication skills? How could a person break down media/news messages to question the content and the manipulative power? That would be really interesting. Then another on how to discover when the public is being manipulated by the press. (For instance the CNN issue of anti-American newscasts everywhere else spinning news differently on the same stories shown outside the U.S.) Could be interesting stuff.

Alasdair said...

I know something cool about diamonds... they are great conductors. Anytime I need to escape from an ice prison, I just use my earring to (slowly) work my way free. :)

Look, in today's age of "synthetic" gems made in laboratories, you can have a diamond or sapphire or whatever without the mining problem. The mining companies, of course, try to convince people that "real" diamonds are better, but that's hogwash.

It seems to me that if people want to provide a deeply symbolic (aka deeply expensive) sign of betrothal and marriage, they'd be better off working with a jeweler who would handcraft a one-of-a-kind item and could - like the organic farmer - vouch for the provenance of the materials involved. Antiques are nice, too!

But nobody tells you that when you're 24 and trying to impress the hot girl...

Johnny Yen said...

Diamonds are actually about as scarce as gravel-- the geologic conditions that form them are very common.

Emeralds, on the other hand, are rare-- it takes a very specific and unusual set of geologic conditions to form them (I read this in a National Geographic article about Emeralds).

The rarity-- and high cost-- of diamonds was a consequence of the Debeer's cartel keeping them artificially scarce. This is breaking up as diamonds are mined in places like Russia and Canada.