Plastic Portrayal in Film & TV: The Begley-Cohen Test

Is your favorite TV show, movie, or other entertainment media doing the work to address the plastic pollution crisis? Most folks don’t tune in to count the number of single-use plastics they spot during their latest binge watch or movie night. That’s why Plastic Pollution Coalition has created a simple test to apply to film and television to help you easily tell if on-screen entertainment is taking steps to Flip the Script on Plastics. Introducing…

The Begley-Cohen Test

Inspired by and modeled after the Bechdel-Wallace Test, which is used to measure female representation in media, The Begley-Cohen Test is designed to help audiences quickly assess the representation and prevalence of single-use plastic within the content they consume.

A film or TV show passes The Begley-Cohen Test if…

(1) No single-use plastics appear on screen (i.e., the film/show is set in a time with no plastic, or plastics are replaced with refillable, reusable, or package-free options), or…

(2) If a single-use plastic item appears on screen, it is portrayed or discussed as problematic.

Why Begley-Cohen?

While there are many environmental heroes in the entertainment industry today, there is one name in Hollywood that is synonymous with environmental protection and that is Ed Begley Jr. 

From making iconic Simpsons jokes, to being recognized with a 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Environmental Media Awards, Ed Begley Jr. is a name that has been synonymous with environmentalism in Hollywood for decades. Ed has also been a champion of Plastic Pollution Coalition since its founding in 2009, acting as a Notable Founding Coalition Member. We are excited to honor Ed Begley Jr. and his environmental legacy with this important new test for the on-screen entertainment industry. 

“The Begley-Cohen Test is a simple way to gauge if our most loved shows are portraying the world we need to create. What we see is what we do, and the entertainment industry can help audiences shift away from our toxic throwaway culture. It is an honor to have my name attached to this important tool to help Flip the Script on Plastics in Hollywood.” – Ed Begley Jr. 

And, of course, we also wanted to honor Plastic Pollution Coalition’s co-founder and CEO, Dianna Cohen. Dianna is a visual artist whose work with plastic as a material helped start Plastic Pollution Coalition and sparked much of the awareness of the issue that exists and continues to evolve today.

Applying the Test to Popular Media

The Begley-Cohen Test is intended to help you simply and quickly identify if the movie, show, or other media you’re watching portrays the world free of plastic pollution that we are working to create.

Some movies and shows will pass the test by premise alone. Recent films like The Northman or Persuasion automatically pass simply because they are set in a time before plastic.

On the other end of the spectrum, some media fails the test as soon as you see their promotional material, such as NBC’s The Thing About Pam, a show who’s ads prominently featured star Renee Zellweger holding a polystyrene cup (aka “Styrofoam”) with a plastic straw.

Some films are more nuanced when it comes to this test, such as David Chronenberg’s new film Crimes of the Future, where the few pieces of single-use plastic on screen are not always discussed as problematic, until it is revealed that the overarching theme of the movie is, ‘We’re destroying the Earth with plastic, so what do we do with that?’ — Yahoo Entertainment

With some media, it may take until the last scene to spot a moment that fails the test, and if that is the case, that’s still pretty darn good. 

This is Just a Jumping-off Point

Much like the Bechdel-Wallace test, the Begley-Cohen test shouldn’t be seen as the ultimate be-all, end-all of plastic pollution representation in media, but merely as a baseline of the bare minimum that creators may use as their jumping-off point to removing plastics from both their storylines and their sets. 

So, next time you sit down to watch a TV show, movie, or other on-screen entertainment, ask yourself, am I seeing plastic in this storyline? And if so, are the characters treating it as a problem, or simply letting it become another piece of trash in the massive pile of worldwide plastic pollution? 

With The Begley-Cohen Test, we are providing a tool for audiences and content creators to recognize, imagine, create, and implement a world without plastic pollution. Together we are shifting popular culture to change the perception of toxic throwaway plastic as being normal—because it’s not.

Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition

Learn More and Get Involved

Learn more about the Flip the Script on Plastics here, and let us know what content you’re consuming that passes The Begley-Cohen Test by posting screenshots or just tell us what you’re seeing and tag it using #FlipTheScriptOnPlastics.

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