Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"All the better to manipulate you with my dears"

There was a good piece by Henry Giroux at The Smirking Chimp last week (dated 13 February):
Celluloid Heroism and Manufactured Stupidity in the Age of Empire. The author compares and contrasts three recent movies

Citizenfour, a deeply moving film about whistleblower Edward Snowden and his admirable willingness to sacrifice his life in order to reveal the dangerous workings of an authoritarian surveillance state. It also points to the role of journalists working in the alternative media who refuse to become embedded within the safe parameters of established powers and the death-dealing war-surveillance machine it legitimates.

Selma offers an acute and much needed exercise in pubic memory offering a piece of history into the civil rights movement that not only reveals the moral and civic courage of Martin Luther King Jr. in his fight against racism but the courage and deep ethical and political commitments of a range of incredibly brave men and women unwilling to live in a racist society and willing to put their bodies against the death dealing machine of racism in order to bring it to a halt.

The third film to hit American theaters at about the same time as the other two is American Sniper,
...a war film about a young man who serves as a model for a kind of unthinking patriotism and defense of an indefensible war. Even worse, Chris Kyle himself, the hero of the film, is a Navy Seal who at the end of four tours of duty in Iraq held the “honor” of killing more than 160 people. Out of that experience, he authored an autobiographical book that bears a problematic relationship to the film. For some critics, Kyle is a decent guy caught up in a war he was not prepared for, a war that strained his marriage and later became representative of a narrative only too familiar for many vets who suffered a great deal of anguish and mental stress as a result of their war time experiences. This is a made for CNN narrative that is only partly true.

I haven't seen any of the three movies. I'd have been happy to go see Citizenfour and Selma, had they been available locally, but that kind of film - the kind requiring some movement of the grey matter while also chewing on popcorn - isn't carried by our local cinema. The third mentioned movie, American Sniper was here on the day of release though - wouldn't ya know it! 50 Shades of Grey was here, right on the dot too, while movies such as Citizenfour and Selma don't have a chance of showing up. Our town's main cinema has 6 screens, two of which, (sometimes 4) are showing the same juvenile slash-bang movie, in 3D and normal mode. Sex and violence, sex and violence....keep 'em coming eh!?

Mr Giroux wrote:
Citizenfour and Selma made little money, were largely ignored by the public, and all but disappeared except for some paltry acknowledgements by the film industry.

Some part of the blame for the two films' poor returns has to be laid at the door of those dictating who shows what and where, rather than on members of the public who have no option, unless they are willing to take a 90 minute drive to a big city cinema to see an important, serious, thought-provoking movie.

Mr Giroux's last lines:

Maybe the spectacular success of American Sniper over the other two films should not be surprising in a country in which the new normal for giving out honorary degrees and anointing a new generation of heroes goes to billionaires such as Bill Gates, Jamie Dimon, Oprah Winfrey, and other leaders of the corrupt institutions and bankrupt celebrity culture that now are driving the world into political, economic, and moral bankruptcy, made visible in the most profound vocabularies of stupidity and cruelty. War machines and the financial elite now construct the stories that America tells about itself and in this delusional denial of social and moral responsibility monsters are born, paving the way for the new authoritarianism.

There'll be an argument put forward by cinema managers that they have to show the movies most likely to get "bums on seats", otherwise they'd be likely to have to put up the shutters, and get out of town. I guess that is understandable, but it causes a vicious circle doesn't it? If there's never an opportunity to see films like Citizenfour and Selma for people in small-ish towns in semi-rural areas, especially in "red states", those people will remain in the dark about a side of the stories with which they might never have been presented, considering their usual news diet is dished up by Fox News.

Maybe that's the plan though. Corporations running the movie theatre business, no doubt hand in glove with the politicians whose coffers they fill, have a vested interested in leaving certain groups in the dark. "All the better to manipulate you with my dears!".


mike said...

Well, as I often comment here, I think you vastly underestimate the American public's thirst for predigested narratives of pablum for the hormones rather than the brain. "American Sniper" was deemed a sensation by the viewing public. Not much different than the quantity of pleasure sports' fans receive from their machismo entertainment and the incredible dollars fans spend, players receive, and the teams-leagues make.

It's mind boggling that typical Americans (but not limited to Americans) honor and glorify some of the most violent, meaningless, and-or stultifying crap. Relates back to our genetic heritage, I suppose...gotta release the primitive angst either directly or vicariously. Brute force has long been held in esteem, rather than displays of intelligence. Men that display a cognizant countenance without muscle are labelled effeminate. Most women (maybe not you, Twilight!) are drawn to powerful men, either corporate or on the field. Power is a language all its own commanding respect from either sex.

You weren't in the USA during little Bush's first campaign for presidency. He assumed the persona of a rough-and-tumble cowboy from Texas to enhance his potency. It worked by golly...the Republicans ate it up. He maintained this myth as a war god leading his army and the public astray. Never underestimate the aphrodisiac of appearance over substance when it comes to public perception.

Twilight said...

mike ~ I agree, and things seem to me to be gradually sliding further and further downhill in these respects.

In similar vein, since preparing this post I've read Chris Hedges' latest:

"Pornography is what the end of the world looks like"

And just this morning a piece on education in Oklahoma

An Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History class, persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students “what is bad about America.” Other lawmakers are seeking a court ruling that would effectively prohibit the teaching of all AP courses in public schools.

Sigh...."keep 'em ignorant, keep 'em distracted, keep 'em titillated...while we manipulate and fleece 'em!"

mike (again) said...

BTW - Gieoux's excerpt, "...Oprah Winfrey, and other leaders of the corrupt institutions and bankrupt celebrity culture...", is a bit odd, as Oprah was in "Selma" and her Harpo Productions co-produced "Selma".

Yes, can't help but agree with Hedge's essay. However, prostitution was the original, then some works of art were deemed porno, then photography expanded the view. The internet and the many devices that utilize it have mass-marketed the sex industry to anyone desiring such exploits. Unfortunately, Hedges only concentrates on female-as-victim...males are just as easily sold into sex trafficking, exploited as prostitutes, or displayed on gay websites. Sex doesn't discriminate or know boundaries.

Texas is caught in the same under-educating as OK, but worse:

"... The latest “experts don’t know as much as me” nonsense has emerged in one of the worst places possible: high school textbooks. Over the past few months, a new set of books has emerged from the nation’s publishers, the first since the State Board of Education in Texas, driven by political conservatives and Christian evangelicals, adopted standards in 2010 for what should be included in them. And the decisions by Texans don’t just inflict this foolishness on Texas kids; because the state is such a huge purchaser of school textbooks, publishers often opt to print whatever the Lone Star State wants for students all over the country.

Now the books based on those standards are out, and, unsurprisingly, history and knowledge have been tossed aside in favor of politics, propaganda and faith. The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, a group organized to strengthen public schools and counter the influence of the Christian right in education, asked experts—people with doctorates who teach these topics at university levels—to review the textbooks, and their opinions were scathing.

Did you know Moses played a role in the writing of the U.S. Constitution? I didn’t. Apparently neither did the Founding Fathers, since he’s not mentioned in the Federalist Papers or any other relevant document. But students reading Perfection Learning’s new textbook on American history will think Moses was right up there with John Locke and Charles de Montesquieu in influencing Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and their brethren. What role did Moses supposedly play? The textbook claims he contributed the concept that 'a nation needs a written code of behavior.' Forget the biblical ignorance shown in suggesting Moses provided the code for a 'nation' rather than for the Jewish people, who had no nation (failing to reach the Promised Land was kind of key to the Book of Deuteronomy). Forget the legal ignorance in suggesting the Constitution had anything to do with a 'code of behavior' rather than establishing democratic government and the rights guaranteed to citizens. Forget the historical ignorance in suggesting that the first laws came from Moses when the sixth Amorite king of Babylon established one of the first written set of laws, known as Hammurabi's Code, hundreds of years earlier."

Twilight said...

mike ~ Well-spotted - re Oprah. Surprisingly nobody has picked up that slip at Smirking Chimp, or if they did, didn't comment on it.

Re porno -true, the internet has spread it wider and further than used to be available. I've never found ordinary basic "meat and potatoes" pornography that offensive - didn't like it much, so didn't watch it, but understood why some people did enjoy it. It's the
BDSM element that is becoming more generally acceptable - more publicly displayable - or so it seems, that is offensive to me (whether male afflicting female or vice versa). It brings on the smell of a corrupt civilisation in its last go around. I don't have to watch it, of course, but the fact that it's out there is disturbing.

Thanks for the link re TX education matters. The article mentions that TX also is against the AP History course that's not supported by OK. Dang! What a terrible thing! Big Brother TX and OK style!

LB said...

Interesting post, Twilight. Thanks also for the link to that Chris Hedges article.

I'm grateful someone as articulate as Hedges is talking so unreservedly and making the larger connections. mike is right though, about males being victims too, of sexual trafficking and the like, all terrible injustices, all symptoms of a larger problem.

I always go back to chocolate's association with child slavery and how easy it is for us to look away or rationalize our choices, either because everyone else is doing it (so it must not be *that* bad) or because we get something out of it.

I'm not immune and though he doesn't mention it, I suspect Chris Hedges isn't either. It's hard to give up conveniences and pleasures we've all become so accustomed to, much easier to not think about the harm our choices perpetuate or how connected we all are. It's something I struggle with all the time.:(

Related to the subject of movies (and also to the objectification of both men and women, based on sex, wealth, class and/or ethnicity) we've been watching another BBC mini-series, "Wives and Daughters". Have you seen it, Twilight?

Twilight said...

LB ~ The sex-traffic industry (both genders), and child slavery are both horrendous and inhumane inflictions, where abused parties have no choice at all. Not a thing can be said in defense of such evils.

The porn industry, we have to believe, uses actors who have made a choice to make their living doing such work, (though I suppose there are some instances where this wasn't so).

Both forced and chosen routes are feeding in to our gradual slide into degeneration. These things have gone on for centuries, of course, to some extent, but mostly hidden. Now the internet and easy communication has put them under a searchlight - and very sadly it looks as though a good proportion of people remain unconcerned - or even in favour of this downward slide.

This makes me sound like an old fart (which I suppose I am in the eyes of many). Never mind. ;-/

No, I haven't seen "Wives and Daughters" - will look it up. Thanks for the hint. :-)