Friday 20 May 2016

Using Classics to Oil Corporate Wheels

Fiennes' Oedipus, sponsored by Shell
What is it with enormous oil companies and the sponsorship of classics-themed cultural activity?  In 2008 the National Theatre accepted funding from Shell to stage Sophocles’ Oedipus, a play concerning a plague-stricken land suffering from blighted crops and airborne pestilence. Now BP is pretending that it cares about our oceans.

What BP want you to associate with them
On Tuesday I enjoyed the press preview of the British Museum’s stunning new exhibition ‘Sunken Cities’, featuring underwater finds from the lost Greek cities of the Nile Delta. As I said on BBC Radio’s Front Row, it is exquisitely designed, accessible but erudite, and perfect for All The Family.  Besides the sensational statues, the best thing is the juxtaposition of artefacts with video footage of the divers on the sea floor pulling them from the sand.

Dudley's Pen mightier than truth?
But the effect of all these translucent aquamarine Mediterranean seascapes is jeopardised by the surreal hypocrisy of the ‘Sponsor’s Foreword’ to the exhibition guidebook, penned by Bob Dudley, Group Chief Executive of BP.

A few Environmental Protesters at the BM
Discovery is part science and technology, part human endeavour… we feel a strong affinity with the maritime archaeologists who have created and studied their own maps of the Mediterranean seabed to discover the lost cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. We may work at different depths, but like our fellow marine explorers, BP knows the Nile Delta and the waters off the Mediterranean coast well… We continue to invest in Egypt’s future … through our social programmes which are supporting education and local communities. We remain grow [sic] production safely, reliably and efficiently.’ Nauseating.

What I actually associate with BP
The worst oil spill in U.S. history occurred on April 20 2010. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. It killed 11 people. By July 15, when the well was finally capped, BP’s pipe had leaked more than 3 million barrels of oil into the ocean off Louisiana. Both the oil and the chemicals used to disperse it did incalculable damage to water quality, seaweed stocks, wildlife, coral and the Gulf coast as well as the entire ecosystem and human health.

Mexico Gulf Dolphins
Sponsorship is not philanthropy. In this case it is a cynical attempt to obscure well-deserved reputational damage. BP have never issued any very convincing apology to anybody, let alone the millions of whales, dolphins, turtles, fish and 93 species of birds which they killed at the peak of spawning/nesting season. But they were forced into pleading guilty to 11 felony counts related to the human deaths and lying to congress.

Please go to this marvellous exhibition. But get your children to read the Smithsonian Museum’s account of the effects of the Gulf catastrophe before you take them. Because I have a  thing about dolphins, they (rather than BP’s alleged work for the environment and the poor) dominated my consciousness as I gazed into the clear turquoise waters lapping round those divers in the sparkling video installations. As Cervantes said, ‘Truth shrinks and doesn’t fragment, and  lies on top of falsehoods like oil on water.’

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes, to get Virgil and Horace, you must also have Maecenas.