The Activists Behind the Camera
Surely you’ve heard that aphorism, about how if you’re not a liberal when you’re 20, you’ve got no heart, and if you’re not a conservative when you’re 40, you’ve got no brain? Well, I’m a lot closer to 40 than I am to 20, and I just keep getting angrier and more full of liberal-
But I’m clearly not alone. The year 2004 produced more than a handful of angry liberal documentaries — editorials, really, with far more partisan and obvious points of view than your typical newsy flick. Whether by accident or design, these films are countering the balance that has been one-
And speaking of things that really happened and few people seem to be aware of, have you heard how George W. Bush, president of the land of the free, said that “there ought to be limits to freedom”? Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno are the guys who prompted him to say that, when they created the parody Web site gwbush.com. Inveterate pranksters, they’re also the minds behind the Barbie Liberation Organization, which, a few years back, bought up talking Barbies and G.I. Joes, switched their vocal computer chips, and snuck them back into toy shops in time to be purchased by moms and dads during Christmas rush. Kids and gender activists loved the joke; toy corps were not amused. Their subsequent adventures in yanking the corporate world’s chain is exposed here, in The Yes Men, from filmmakers Sarah Price and Chris Smith (Home Movie, American Movie).
“What can’t corporations get away with?” is the metaquestion these two were asking, in their months of impersonating representatives of the World Trade Organization, and the answer they came up with is, Not much. To my eyes, and perhaps to yours, their antics are clearly satirical: one of their “projects” calls for feeding the hungry third world human shit, though they call it “post-
It’s terrifying, once you start noticing it, how invisible corporate abuse has become: That’s the Yes Men’s point, made forcefully in this invigorating film. These guys are just plain good for our collective soul — they’re my new heroes. [See their site for their latest pro-
Morgan Spurlock might be my second-
The results are by now well known: Spurlock gained a ton of weight and his body revolted: cholesterol and blood pressure way up, liver on its way to shutting down. His doctors, who were monitoring his experiment regularly, begged him to stop. He didn’t.
It has been argued that Spurlock’s is not a fair experiment: no one eats nothing but Mickey D’s all the time. But are the vast majority of people really cognizant of what — or how much — they’re eating, anyway? Spurlock’s adventure in not-
Spurlock is asking us to think about the insidious ubiquitousness of McDonald’s, of the company’s advertising and its restaurants, and of its ability to brainwash us into wanting its product. He pukes up one of his early Mickey D meals, but he can still, in all seriousness, later say that he really does enjoy the taste of what he’s been eating for a month. Personal responsibility, yea: you’re either a dumbass or a documentary filmmaker if you eat nothing but McDonald’s all the time. But when there are other stronger, often almost imperceptible factors doing their wormy work on our brains — Spurlock’s detours into exploring how McDonald’s markets itself are pretty frightening — the responsibility we should all be taking for ourselves is being sneakily undermined.
I saw the news today, oh boy
“They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality… and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.” So wrote George Orwell of the manipulated people in the world of his novel 1984, and it bears a striking similarity to the current sorry state of civic clued-
From the early 1980s New York Post whipping up panic over “gas shortages” to the stunning conviction, held by an enormous segment of the American public and fostered by a press that does little to refute it, that Saddam Hussein was complicit in 9/11, Pappas documents how corporate-
Pappas, with breathtaking, take-
Even more infuriating, though, is the insidious conundrum that faces important films like Orwell Rolls in His Grave, that it must perforce preach to the choir. No one can legitimately claim that anyone is censoring Orwell, because no one is stopping anyone from catching the film at its few small screenings, or from buying a copy of the DVD. But someone who will go to the trouble of seeking out this film is by definition someone who already grasps the gist of it, someone who doesn’t necessarily need to be exposed to such powerful, vociferous criticism. Audiences who don’t know that something is rotten in the mainstream medium, who are satisfied to get their news from that compromised source, are unlikely to determine on their own that something is rotten. And they’re certainly not going to get that newsflash on the six o’clock news. It’s a vicious cycle that seems unbreakable — the best to hope for, it seems, is that a slow spreading of the word through alternative methods may reach a few of the unenlightened. So share a DVD of Orwell with someone who doesn’t know they’re not getting the whole truth.
Of all the egregious pseudo-
Outfoxed is a home-
It’s the rapid-
Greenwald uses the same straightforward tactics in the bracing Uncovered: The War on Iraq, bringing together a parade of military officers, intelligence analysts, scientists, diplomats, and Pentagon officials to summarily dissect the Bush Administration’s case for the war in Iraq… often using the very words of administration insiders to damn themselves. These experts are unequivocal: The American people were conned by our leaders. This is chilling stuff, worthy of the most cunning of fictional thrillers but all too horrifyingly real: stories of doctored or trumped-
As an antidote to the ongoing revisionism the administration continues to engage in — shifting the rationale for war from a clear, imminent threat of attack with weapons of mass destruction, for instance, to, once WMDs went unfound, “weapons programs” — this is a film both encouraging, for it may help repair some of the damage done to truth in our culture, and dispiriting: Why did the traditional media ignore what is revealed here and was, apparently, no secret before the war? With Orwell fresh in one’s mind, it’s even more difficult to recognize anything of the ideal of an unfettered, robust, and independent media in the spin and the PR that passes for news today.
If Uncovered shows us the “how” of the conning of the American public, Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire, from filmmakers Jeremy Earp and Sut Jhally, shows us the “why.” Once again, there’s nothing here that will surprise the initiated, nor is there any new information uncovered that was not available before the Iraq invasion or indeed before 9/11. But, like an even more furious version of Fahrenheit 9/11, this devastating film pulls together the unspoken but obvious to formulate a highly disturbing portrait of a presidential administration bent on creating an aggressive new American empire.
“If the war is not about weapons of mass destruction,” ask narrator Julian Bond, as this film and Uncovered and common sense demonstrate is the case, “what is it really about?” The answer: “It’s about power, it’s about domination, it’s about control of dwindling resources,” says Mark Crispin Miller, author of The Bush Dyslexicon, here. If that sounds like nutball, tin-
In their own aggressive way, Earp and Jhally assemble a wide range of administration critics, from usual lefty suspects like Noam Chomsky to retired Air Force officer and Pentagon official Karen Kwiatkowski, as well as news clips and other material to show how a cabal that “doesn’t believe you have to tell the public the truth” has used fearmongering tools like colored-
Earp and Jhally give no quarter to these imperials: they are war lovers who deliberately dodged military service; Bush is a deserter who went AWOL and got away with it. They label as propagandistic the manipulation of Bush’s image as a “tough guy” — the rancher who wields axes and chainsaws, the fighter pilot who struts around on aircraft carriers — when nothing could be further from the truth, and they trot out the images of Bush we never see: the monied, privileged Ivy Leaguer and cousin to the Queen of England. All of these things are open secrets — PNAC’s web site is available for all to peruse, for instance. But in our toxic media environment that either ignores these issues or obfuscates them with smokescreens — that CBS and 60 Minutes got snowed with fake memos does not negate the substance of the Bush AWOL story, but you’d never guess that from the coverage of the story — Hijacking Catastrophe becomes even more vital for anyone who considers himself informed on current events.
No understanding of such particularly aggressive current events, however, would be complete without gaining some idea of how they look on the receiving end, so don’t miss Jehane Noujaim’s Control Room, a refreshingly calm and collected look at the “Arabic CNN,” Al-Jazeera. Though the film explodes the myth of objectivity — everyone is biased, and there’s little point in pretending otherwise — the earnestness and honesty of everyone on camera here, from Al-Jazeera employees to the American military press officer, leaves you with the very hopeful feeling that there’s a wide middle ground that has room for all perspectives.
Noujaim — an Arab American with a foot-
On the Western side, we meet CNN correspondent Tom Mintier, who pushes the military handlers of the journalists reporting on the war to acknowledge and communicate with Arab reporters more regularly, and press officer Lieutenant Josh Rushing, a fascinating, conflicted man, his clear patriotism measured out with a healthy dose of skepticism. As he notes, because he knows what’s happening on the ground, he can tell exactly what Al-Jazeera is including in their reportage, and what its leaving out… and he can make the same assessments about Fox and CNN, too. Highly intelligent, extremely thoughtful, an astute media critic, and strikingly self-
Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire
viewed at home on a small screen