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Tar Sands Timmy lovingly tears Keystone XL a new one

Kai Benson

With TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline freshly taking flak from environmental activists and at least one concerned billionaire, a cartoonist believes he has the answer to the controversial project’s PR woes. Enter Tar Sands Timmy, an animated blob of bitumen, who’s here to tell us why the pipeline is nothing to worry about. Never mind the whistleblower who recently forecast a leak--or the April pipeline rupture that sprayed 750,000 litres of “sour heavy Canadian crude” (and its stench) around central Arkansas. Keystone, Timmy reassures us, will be a boon to all North Americans.

Detect a note of irony in Timmy’s praise for the promise of Alberta’s tar sands? It’s no mistake. The blob’s explicit talk—“rape the arboreal forest, strip-mine the land…boil it all up with secret chemicals”— aims to dial up the contrast on soft-focus industry spin, which advertises crude oil extraction with images of scampering squirrels and twittering birds.  

This caustic examination of the merits of Keystone XL comes from the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore. It’s not the first time the Californian has skewered a large public project with a spoof public service announcement.  (The Wall Street Journal calls him the “undisputed guru” of the Flash editorial cartoon.) In another well-circulated ad (below), his avatar proposes that clean energy causes disease, the sun is our enemy, and coal is spotlessly clean.

Tar Sands Timmy calls to mind Michael Moore's friendly talking bullet, another unsubtle and energetic mascot for The Other Side. Though some regard such ads as intellectually dishonest, they’ve proved an effective and entertaining spur to public discussion of important issues. So much the opposite, that is, of TransCanada, whose advertising slogan “Let's get it done” reads more like, “Shut up and let us get on with it, hippies.”

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