My favorite thing about Earth Day isn't the thoughtful meditation on man's symbiosis with his environment. It isn't the copious supply of organic baby carrots ("nature's pretzel rods") or the hot-rockin' benefit concerts ("up next: John Legend, Coolio and Reba McEntire team up on a John Lennon classic!").
No, it's the way the mainstream media pulls its head out of its sensationalist tush for a few glib moments of environmentally minded programming. Whether MTV's stylishly bespectacled correspondents stumbling over the soft C in "recycle" or Meredith Vieira feigning interest in some dingbat's hemp pantalones, my fellow green-when-the-calendar-says-so pundits and I truly get into the Earth Day spirit. We wag our fingers crossly. We suggest biking to work. We share tales of our own sacrifices to the cause, like that one time when I turned off the shower before leaving for Europe.
Thus TV was all over Earth Day. The magazine world was all over it as well, with many a punch-drunk title serving up some variation on "The Green Issue" (oddly enough, High Times devoted its April edition to coverage of the financial crisis ... or not). But whither the web?
I figured there'd be a big ol' slagheap of Earth-Day-specific sites, most sponsored by "responsible" corporations like BP reluctantly playing along with the save-the-planet thing. I expected the sites would tout the practical and ethical virtues of living green, pass along tips about composting and fluorescent bulbs, and draw multiple Styrofoam=bad analogies. I imagined that Al Gore would somehow be involved.
(Parenthetically, did I tell y'all about the time I ventured a few blocks north to hear Al Gore give his environment spiel? He may be a gracious guy and a noble public servant and the prophet of our upcoming iceberg apocalypse and all, but Al Gore is still one boring dude. He took a rapt audience in the throes of ozone ecstasy and rendered it comatose within four sentences; it was as if Springsteen came out and played "Badlands" as an acoustic waltz. I'm sorry. It's true.)
Instead, I stumbled onto something I totally dig. It's SnagFilms, a do-gooder site that streams short-form and full-length documentaries. I found it thanks to the lazy-man miracle that is Google, so kudos to the SnagFilms tech monkey who optimized the site's search-engine doohickey so that its Earth Day page would reveal itself to those seeking enviro-guidance.
That page, which features documentaries on everything from a vegetable-oil-powered Mercedes to China's attempts to go green, presents more compelling and entertaining content than 7,000 centuries worth of Earth-Day-themed "Dateline" segments. And SnagFilms offers much, much more than that.
Quick journeys around the site aren't possible, owing to the presence of some of the most celebrated docs in recent years ("Dig," "Hoop Dreams," "Run Granny Run"). There are quirky obscurities (especially in the "Science & Nature" section, one of the site's 11 topical subdivisions) and there are mainstream excursions (in "Campus" and "Music & Arts"). The individuals documented make you giggle and make you furious. Few are forgettable.
Really, I can't do SnagFilms justice in a smattering of words, other than to say that it's curated in a way that richly rewards anybody who's remotely curious about the world. Put it this way: Start browsing the site at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, and you'll end up spending the afternoon watching seven hours' worth of documentaries.
Did I say "watching seven hours' worth of documentaries"? I meant "working hard at my craft."
I also admire SnagFilms' efforts to support the causes its films survey and create true community. Most such sites trot out a "comment here" box and call it a day. SnagFilms, on the other hand, asks viewers to donate both dollars and energy through a call to arms of sort: Alongside each film, there's a link to a related charity. Additionally, by embedding its "virtual movie theater" widget on a blog or a Facebook page, SnagFilms devotees can, like, donate pixels or something like that. I'm not exactly sure how this works. I still think it's a good thing.
Mostly I'm bummed that I didn't happen upon SnagFilms any sooner. For all I know, the site has been around for half a century, garnering respectful notices and lifetime-achievement trinkets by the armful. I'm pretty out of it; I tend to learn about neat-o stuff like this five weeks after the legit tastemakers -- in order of typical discovery speed: smart-kid bloggers, smart-kid bloggers' Twitter groupies, Slate, dim-bulb bloggers, The New York Times, my mom and local network-news affiliates -- have weighed in and moved on.
Nonetheless, SnagFilms feels like a true discovery to me. It's one of the few places on the web that doubles as a resource and entertainment, and it doesn't merely pay lip service to the quaint notion of community. If you need me, I'll be over there catching up.