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Why Lil Dicky made this star-studded Earth Day music video

"Earth" features about 30 of the biggest names in entertainment.

  • Lil Dicky is a rapper and comedian who released his debut album in 2015.
  • His new music video, "Earth," features artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheehan, Kevin Hart, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • All proceeds of the music video will go to environmental causes, Dicky said.

Lil Dicky dropped a new Earth Day-themed music video today that's being called the "We Are the World" of the digital era, and it features about 30 of the biggest names in entertainment. But don't expect to see those artists in the video as themselves: The bulk of the 7-minute music video is sleekly animated, with artists cast as various animals: Justin Bieber is a baboon. Ariana Grande is a zebra. Ed Sheeran is a koala bear. You get the idea.

What's the joke-rapper's main goal?

"... to get people to give a shit about saving the Earth," Lil Dicky told Rolling Stone.

Dicky, who released his debut album in 2015, said his initial plan was to create a funny music video to raise money for environmental issues.

"It was always in my head that this was going to be something that helped raise money for environmental issues, but I didn't really know the facts," he told Rolling Stone. "I looked into it and was blown away. I didn't realize, remotely, that it was such an urgent, dire situation. I didn't know that we literally have 12 years to completely change how we do so many things on Earth, from a fundamental standpoint, or the damage will be irreversible and in our lifetimes we're going to experience such drastic impact. Upon realizing that, it went from a silly song about animals to, 'Oh my God, this is the most important thing I'll ever do.'"

"Earth" starts out in the real world, showing a group of children bullying a kid and toppling over a trash can. Dicky appears on the scene, and starts getting trash-talked by the much younger kids. As Dicky walks away, the kids follow, but one kid stays behind and notices that a mysteriously old-looking book had fallen out of the trashcan. When he opens it, he's transported into a magical animated world where Dicky plays a sort of everyman-caveman who soars across the planet, encountering various animals who spout off jokes in-sync to the music, like:

"Hi! I'm a baboon. I'm like a man, just less advanced, and my anus is huge!"

The video then takes a somewhat unexpected turn, as caveman-Dicky starts touring the modern world's countries and continents, injecting some sociopolitical commentary on top of the Earth Day stuff:

"These days it's like we don't know how to act, all these shootings, pollution, we under attack, on ourselves. Like, let's all just chill, respect what we built."

But "Earth" eventually gets around to its key message: We've got to do something soon about climate change.

"There are so many people out there who don't think global warming is a real thing. You know? We gotta save this planet. We're being stupid!" Dicky sings.

In an interview with Ellen Degeneres, Dicky, whose real name is David Burd, said the proceeds from the music video will go environmental organizations, and that Leonardo DiCaprio's environmental foundation will consult him on where the proceeds would best be invested.

"You, too, are in denial."

Dicky's video ends with the message that it's stupid not to believe in climate change. But some take that idea a step further, as seen a recent piece from David Wallace-Wells, a climate columnist at New York Magazine, titled: "You, Too, Are in Denial of Climate Change." Wallace-Wells argues that inaction about climate change is tantamount to denial, and that "simple belief in climate change is not enough to move the needle." According to the columnist:

". . . it should not be surprising that, even in many of the world's most progressive places, even in the moment of acknowledged environmental crisis, a sort of climate NIMBYism prevails. The cost of inaction is sort of unthinkable — annual deadly heat waves and widespread famine, tens of millions of climate refugees, global coastal flooding, and disasters that will cost double the world's present-day wealth. And so we choose, most of the time, not to think about it. This is denial, too, whatever you check on a survey about whether you 'believe' the climate is changing."

The origins of Earth Day

The U.S. has celebrated Earth Day since 1970, and, while it's not considered a federal holiday, the annual event has helped raise awareness and millions of dollars for environmental causes over the decades. What some may not realize is that Earth Day was born out of an ugly natural disaster: The Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969.

Ranked as the worst oil spill at the time, the spill resulted in some 100,000 barrels of crude oil being dumped into the waters off the coast near Santa Barbara, California. It's estimated that the disaster killed about 3,500 sea birds, as well as an unknown amount of dolphins, sea lions and elephant seals. The spill sparked widespread media coverage and public outrage, all of which put pressure on lawmakers to draft legislation that went on to support the nation's modern environmental movement.

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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