• Julie Henderson
  • Discussion of "The Fear of Water in Flint," featured in The New Yorker
Discussion of "The Fear of Water in Flint," featured in The New Yorker
Written by
Julie Henderson
December 2017
Written by
Julie Henderson
December 2017

Craft Response:
“The Fear of Water in Flint” by The New Yorker, 2016

Julianne Henderson
University of San Francisco
Seminar: Further Forms
Professor Soma Mei Sheng Frazier
August 27, 2017

Corporate media outlets go to great lengths to shield the public from exposure to the truth. Whether that truth concerns the impact of human-induced climate change upon the world’s ecosystems or the recent rise in hate crimes and targeted violence in cities across the U.S., a select group of individuals and organizations are deeply invested in redirecting our collective consciousness towards inconsequential happenings and events that diminish our intelligence and awareness. When word about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan made the headlines, these individuals and their outlets suffered a harrowing fallout, and the public raked implicated government officials over the coals for their negligence and heartless mistreatment of the people in Flint. In their interactive video, “Everything Water Touches,” Zachary Canepari and Jessica Dimmock artfully capture the devastating social, cultural, political, and economic impact of the distribution of contaminated water in this community. By way of its overall narrative style and structure, riveting visual imagery, and the seamless stitching together of voices and sounds, “Everything Water Touches” proves to be a powerful multimedia instrument with the potential to incite necessary change.

A collection of firsthand accounts and future projections regarding the water crisis comprise the video’s overall narrative style and structure, which effectively establishes the backstory and evolving incident that is taking place in Flint, Michigan. Despite the fact that the narration is nonlinear and is comprised of a series of disjointed reflections that describe the impact of the water crisis on everyday life in Flint, there is a kind of underlying unity and fluidity that weaves the contributing voices together. A kind of order emerges from the chaos of their situation, as every voice adds some vital insight or perspective that exposes the ruthlessness with which government officials responded to the crisis. Canepari and Dimmock restore power to the people of Flint, who in this video reserve and act on their ability to share an unfiltered and uncensored account of the disturbing truth. In addition, their masterful use of images strengthens the video’s emotional appeal.

The rich visual imagery in this video serves to humanize and localize the powdered and emotionally detached news reports about the water crisis in Flint. Portraits of the people of Flint whose lives have been directly impacted by the water crisis string together to impress upon the viewer just how close this crisis hits to home. Images of newborns bathing in water emphasize the immediacy of the water crisis and the potential danger that it poses to human life, especially in its earliest stages of development. Other images of water dripping, running, boiling, cleaning, and touching the surface of materials we all use on a daily basis reveal the critical necessity for reform and decontamination efforts. Canepari and Dimmock clearly illustrate how water influences “every corner of [our] lives,” and through their use of universal images, they make their message more accessible and relatable to their viewers (The New Yorker, 2016). Imagery aside, the use of sound in this video enhances the viewer’s sensory experience.

From the onset of the video, sound surfaces a powerful storytelling technique that grounds the viewer in the urgency and importance of the narrative’s overarching message. A blank screen accompanied by the eerie and unsettling audio of a faucet’s slow drip sets the stage for the video’s somber tone. Seconds later, a young girl’s distressed voice describes a sign placed above drinking fountains that reads simply, “Drink at your own risk.” The shaky cadence and timber of the voices that follow reveal the intense nature of Flint residents’ experiences with the government’s unconscionable negligence and disregard for human life. Their raw account of the damage and devastation brought on by the poisoning of their community’s water offers a chilling perspective that cuts straight to the heart. While a soft track of singing bowls and running water occasionally plays behind these first hand accounts and reflections on the water crisis, the viewer enters into an induced state of deep contemplation that evokes a sense of responsibility.

Whether by way of its emotionally jarring narrative style and structure, deeply moving visual imagery, or strategic use of sound, “Everything Water Touches” initiates meaningful dialogue and gives way to critical social change. Something that struck me while viewing “Everything Water Touches” is the fact that water is such a soft and yielding element, and yet Canepari and Dimmock manage to convey its illimitable power to harm and destroy. The juxtaposition of these contrasting qualities reflects the two sides of the crisis, which consist of individuals who are on the side of preserving life and the government officials who recklessly oversee its destruction.


References: The New Yorker (2016, March 10). The Fear of Water in Flint. Retrieved August 27, 2017, from http://www.newyorker.com/news

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