Magazine article The New Yorker

Born Green

Magazine article The New Yorker

Born Green

Article excerpt

"Our world is in peril. Gaia, the spirit of the earth, can no longer stand the destruction plaguing our planet. She sends five magic rings to five special young people. . . ." If you are familiar with this scenario, you probably grew up watching "Captain Planet and the Planeteers," the environmental kids' show that aired from 1990 to 1996 on TBS. With the show, Ted Turner is fond of saying, he invented a television genre that he called "edu-tainment"--a noble endeavor but one that has taken a lot of grief over the years. Critics of "Captain Planet" have pointed to the broadness of its allegory (characters include "Kwame from Africa" and "Gi from Asia"), and the heavy-handedness of its plots (battles against a villain named Hoggish Greedly and a Pollution Syndicate), to suggest that it's less entertainment than a vehicle for "left-wing propaganda," as one watchdog group put it. But Turner remains unfazed. "In terms of programming, it's the best thing I ever did," he said the other day.

Turner had just held a party and auction to raise money for the Captain Planet Foundation, an environmental charity based in Atlanta. (His daughter, Laura Turner Seydel, is the chairman of the board.) The party was in the New York penthouse of the Australian businessman Anthony Pratt, and it was eco-friendly: guests ate mini bison burgers from Turner's restaurant chain, which, an announcer noted, features "paper straws and waterless urinals." Someone was passing around a brick of fly ash, a pollutant produced by coal-burning power plants, while across the room a man dressed in a Captain Planet costume--red shorts, green mullet--posed for pictures. (It was easy to believe that our world is in peril.)

Turner made an announcement: "How many of you know the new president and C.E.O. of Time Warner, Jeff Bewkes?" (Time Warner, which merged with Turner Broadcasting System in 1996, canned "Captain Planet," though there are still reruns at 6 A.M. on Boomerang.) He went on, "All Jeff Bewkes would have to say is 'Put "Captain Planet" on during a good time period,' afternoon or early evening, and it would still do good by teaching today's children."

The guests cheered, though not all of them had seen the show. Chevy Chase, the evening's auctioneer, said, "I'm sure it's right up there with all the other television series." Sue LeCraw, a friend of Seydel's from Atlanta, said that she appreciated its spirit of adventure. At the previous year's fund-raiser, she recalled, she'd scored an invitation from a fellow-partygoer to tag along on a cruise to Antarctica. …

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