The City Dark


Adhering to the brand of bad faith agitprop that views—and damns—the world through a chosen narrow lens, The City Dark mounts a case for why “light pollution,” a/k/a artificial illumination, is a serious threat to mankind and our environment. Frustrated by the dearth of visible stars in the New York sky, Maine-raised filmmaker Ian Cheney sets out to evaluate celestial visibility everywhere from Staten Island to Hawaii, tracking the skies via arresting astrophotography. Yet his scientific method goes undefined: His shoots aren’t controlled for time of night, weather, or moon position. Nevertheless, and to the surprise of no sighted individual over the age of four, he discovers that you can’t see constellations from Times Square, and the sky looks clearer the further you move from a city. But according to Cheney and select fellow travelers, including astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and astronaut Don Pettit, it’s not just the stars that we’re losing track of in urban environments—it’s our souls. Underneath all of the wild hyperbole and unproven hypotheses—that city lights cause breast cancer, foster egocentrism, and prevent us from detecting “Earth-killing asteroids,” among other things—is an obvious unease with urbanism and the synthetic necessities of city life. Cheney is welcome to his anxiety, but not to the specious science of societal collapse by street lamp.