A friend of mine who is an immigrant from Mexico was recently telling me about a movie called A Day Without a Mexican. The film takes a humorous look at what would happen if all the Mexicans in California were to suddenly disappear back to their home country, showing scenes of rich people having to do their own gardening, farmers unable to afford laborers, etc. Though I haven’t seen it, it sounds like an amusing conversation starter on the topic of immigration.
I keep thinking I’d love to see some enterprising Catholic filmmakers create a similar short film about overpopulation. I have the storyboard all worked out: A guy named Bob, wearing a Greenpeace t-shirt and a hemp necklace, wishes on a magic mushroom that people would stop having so many kids and overpopulating the earth. A genie pops out of a recycled glass bottle and grants his wish: Nobody will have more than three kids, and all people who were higher than third in their family’s birth order will disappear in a puff of smoke as if they never existed.
Bob turns on his radio, and a song by Celine Dion (the youngest of 14) goes silent right in the middle of the crescendo. And then bad things start happening. The television goes dark when he tries to turn on The Stephen Colbert show (Colbert, as the youngest of 11, is the very embodiment of what overpopulation looks like). No more movies featuring Michael Keaton (youngest of seven), Mark Wahlberg (youngest of nine), or Bill Murray (the fifth of nine). The music of Johann Sebastian Bach (youngest of eight) evaporates from our cultural heritage, and the whole country lurches back decades in terms of technology and political discourse without the contributions of Thomas Edison (youngest of seven) and Benjamin Franklin (the 15th of his father’s 17 kids).
Bob takes a walk through his city and rejoices to see fewer resources being used: Indeed, the refuse at the local landfill isn’t piling up as quickly, and there’s a little less smog hovering over the city that day, since many cars, once driven by people who contributed to “overpopulation,” now sit empty. It’s a little frustrating when the bus he usually takes doesn’t show up, since the driver was a seventh child. He walks down to the coffee shop to get a soy latte, but the doors are closed: The owner was baby number four in his family, and the beautiful barista, whom Bob had a crush on, was fifth among her siblings. It turns out that his best friend was also a fourth child, and the entrepreneur who was going to hire him to work at his company was number six. Bob starts to get nervous when he finds that much of the medicine he’s used to hasn’t been invented yet, and scientific knowledge is stunted without the contributions of scientists like Richard Boyle (a 14th child), Charles Darwin (number five of six), Marie Curie (youngest of five) and Nicolaus Copernicus (youngest of four).
Now I just need a snappy ending. Any ideas? Maybe he ends up in some madcap situation where he needs a carding machine to save his life, and when he realizes that it does not exist because its inventor, Richard Arkwright, was a 13th child, he begs the genie to bring all the people back? I’ll trust you all to come up with something.
Anyway, all silliness aside, I think it’s a good thought exercise because it cuts through the rhetoric in the population control debate, which tends to look at people as if they’re nothing more than resource-consuming machines. Putting actual names and faces to the concept of “population” reminds us that when we lament “overpopulation” and bemoan the existence of “too many people,” we’re talking about individual human souls. And when we confine the debate to numbers alone, we overlook the most critical fact of all: The immeasurable life and love and hope and knowledge that one human being can bring to the world.