The BP Coffee Spill Video: Why it’s Not Funny

I didn’t find the video funny in the first place, so I guess I’m off the hook on this one. But The Crucible explains why the Internet video parodying BP attempts to plug the oil leak isn’t funny for those who might have chuckled after their first viewing.

Essentially, The Crucible points out that the underlying premise—that the spill could be somehow easily plugged, but BP’s incompetence is getting in their way—is fundamentally wrong. And it’s a valid point, important even, because it cuts to the heart of what’s wrong with how most people seem to be looking at this issue:

The video portrays BP executives spilling coffee and then attempting to clean up that spill unsuccessfully. Obviously a metaphor for BP’s handling of the recent Gulf spill caused by the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The executives try all sorts of bizarre and overly complex solutions to mitigate the spill, ultimately ending in a failed attempt under the direction of movie actor Kevin Costner.

The essence of the humor here is the executives myriad of failed attempts in the face our own knowledge of a remedy that is simple, commonly known by all, and virtually guaranteed of success. One could simply use a paper towel to wipe up the spill (an irony made more concrete by the use of such a paper towel, not for its obvious use, but instead to draw a schematic for another overly complex failed mechanical attempt). The video is funny because the executives are portrayed as buffoons. If we laugh at those things we find insignificant, then it is the executives status as incompetent clowns that forms the basis of the humor in this case.

But does this metaphor actually hold? A simple question reveals the problem with the metaphor. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon incident, what is represented by the metaphorical paper towel? What is the solution to this incident that is obvious even to you, simple, and has an almost 100% guarantee of success? Do you know? You must know if the metaphor is to hold. But you don’t. I’m certainly not a petroleum engineer or deepwater geologist. I don’t know what it is. This is because the metaphor doesn’t hold, not in the least.

Drilling oil in a mile of water is a complex engineering feat, similar as The Crucible post points out, to farming on the moon. And why are companies like BP “farming on the moon” rather than in easily accessible Midwest soil? Of course, it’s because environmental policy prohibits doing what’s easy and makes necessary doing what’s very, very difficult. And it only makes sense that if drilling for oil in such deep waters is difficult, than plugging a leak down there must be difficult, as well.

Read The Crucible post. It lays things out clearly and, really, if you laughed the first time you saw the video, then maybe you should take a moment to review your basic premises.

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