little foxes at the keyboards little foxes making clicky-clacky little foxes on the servers little foxes all insane there's a black hat and a white hat and a grey one and fun for everyone! and they're all making clicky-clacky and they all look just the same
Game Change is an HBO movie starring Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt, the Senior Campaign Strategist for the McCain/Palin campaign of ’08. The film is a dramatic re-enactment of the events leading to Sarah Palin’s selection as John McCain’s running mate through to their defeat, ostensibly perpetrated a great deal by her incompetence and famously “going rogue.”
I picked up this little gem after seeing Schmidt on September 7th’s Real Time with Bill Maher where the film was brought up by Bill (good HBO shilling work there, Billy :p) and commented on favourably by Schmidt. Apparently, this favour is not shared by Palin or McCain who have dismissed the film as entirely inaccurate without bothering to watch it.
I’m among the thousands who have watched the recently distributed Kony 2012 film and like many of its viewers felt briefly compelled to help carry out its sole objective: dissemination. I would be a hypocrite to help propagandise; I’ve never really cared “enough” about the plight of Africans and to start pontificating now would be insincere and superficial. Of course, by writing this little opinion piece I am helping the film in its mission, but not for the sake of the movement – noble though the cause may be. Rather, I’d like to comment on how it vividly illustrates the major flaw shared by many recent internet-based, movement-oriented documentaries: a fairy-tale-like faith in the power of social networking.
"Around here our ambition throws a non-perishable item in the donation bin at Christmas and pats itself on the fucking back because it thinks it's done something decent." - Matthew Good
I don’t want single out Kony 2012 so I’ll drag the Venus Project’s Zeitgeist and The Reality of Me into the ring as well. While I give both of these documentaries high marks for at least attempting to pose some solutions to the problems they raise they are not readily practical (relying on yet-uninvented technology, for example), cover very little ground in terms of urban engineering and rely on an oversimplified faith in what I can only describe as “natural society.”
What all three share in common is their overt declaration that the mere act of spreading them tangibly and directly helps further their cause. Rather than empower the viewer I would argue that banking on viral marketing more than educational utility helps fuel the disaffected sense of “Oh-Dearism” they are trying to overcome. Oh-Dearism is a term coined by documentarian Adam Curtis to describe the vision of the world provided to us by the mainstream media over the past several decades in which the motives behind man’s inhumanity to man are too complicated to understand and are written off as inexplicable – a world to which the only reaction can be “Oh dear.”
Curtis’ bit on Oh-Dearism ironically also holds a chilly warning for third-world do-gooders:
Their chance came in 1968 with the Biafran civil war in Africa. Western politicians were doing nothing as thousands starved, so a group of radicals began to organize a campaign to help the dying children. Propaganda films were made that portrayed the conflict dramatically as a new holocaust, celebrities held 48-hour vigils and the television news eagarly covered it. Then Blue Peter held an appeal for Biafra, and the response astonished everyone.
What Biafra began reached its high point in 1985 with Live Aid. Michael Burke’s news reports of the famine in Ethiopia had shocked the west. Bob Geldof then used television to create an extraordinary event of global altruism. It showed we together could do more to save the world than our ineffectual and corrupted politicians.
And it also made us feel good about ourselves.
Those running Live Aid thought they had transcended the corruption of politics. But actually, the money they raised may have had its own corrupting and destructive effects in Africa. The dictator of Ethiopia was fighting a civil war and some have claimed that he used western aid to fund the war, and to prolong it for another six years. Médecins Sans Frontières has said that this may have led to as many deaths as were actually saved by the aid.
But this wasn’t reported, because it was too complicated.
And it wouldn’t have made us feel good about ourselves.
I won’t argue the fact that building awareness is the first step in starting a movement but you have to understand the people you’re trying to move. North Americans, by and by, aren’t going to get off their ass and put a dent where it hurts (their wallet) unless they are both impassioned and provided with a short list of clear and simple objectives. They must be educated and given a means to put that education to use. It is not necessary to reach out to the creative, passionate people who can make their own cues – they come around on their own. If the objective is truly massive participation the target audience is the average slob – and they have to be inspired to do more than post a link on facebook and feel self-satisfied.