Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

February 24, 2008

Orwell Rolls in His Grave

Filed under: culture, film, media, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 11:31 am

Google Video has the documentary “Orwell Rolls in His Grave.” There are numerous problems with the production: the music is cheesy, repeats itself, the director needlessly injects himself into the story, etc. In general, I don’t like comparisons to Orwell’s dystopian novel anymore than I like to compare America to fascist regimes in Europe during the 20th century. The reason is that such comparisons, such as those to the fictional state of Oceania, tend to be shallow and used more as pejoratives. It is not only insulting to the thing being compared, such as the United States in this case, but also to the Orwellian state, since some of its deeper depth is also lost in the comparison and thus serves as more of a caricature and template for evil.  If something is evil and bad, we should be able to make the case on its own merits, not by comparing and contrasting it to something else evil.

At its root, this shallow understanding is dangerous. American culture tends to break things down into Manichean struggles. We have heroes and we have villains. I’m not a post-modernist. I do believe there are heroes and villains in the world. However, the problem with our caricatures is that we come to believe that all villains don’t care for their family, don’t love their country, are paper tigers, etc. So, when we encounter a person that seems like decent person, has a good sense of humor, has some charisma, maybe served in the military, we unquestionably place them in the hero category.  Villains would obviously spend their days killing puppies like we’d expect.  This just isn’t true, as Hannah Arendt put it there is a “banality” to evil.  Such facts about our “hero” doesn’t mean that they don’t support or do despicable actions. They might even rationalize such actions in terms of a noble purpose or serving a greater good.  This notion that people are all something (good or evil, great or insignificant, etc.) stops us from recognizing the true spectrum of human capacity and problems as early as we should.

As a fan of Orwell’s works, I also find it insulting on  aesthetic grounds.  Orwell generally presented a deeper picture. For example, the pigs in “Animal Farm” eventually become virtually indistinguishable from their former human capitalist oppressors. It is telling then that in the 1955 animated version of the book, the CIA had the humans taken out from the ending.  The animated version plays into the American narrative of tyrants, a mistake of communism, and finally a revolution presumably ending in U.S.-style democracy.  When in fact, Orwell was critiquing American capitalist society as well.

So, with all those caveats, I still think the documentary is worth watching.  The reason is that it does a good job of presenting the various filters news goes through.  How a small collection of media companies really have a tremendous amount of power, the perverseness of their agenda and how the agenda feeds on itself.  One example is how the media corporations lobbied against public airtime for political candidates because it would interfere with their commercial free-speech rights.  This in turn leads into the need for more political advertising which is good for their profits.  The downside is that it reduces field of potential candidates to those that have the ability to use large amounts of capital on their behalf, either by raising it or because they have the cash on hand.  This effort goes virtually uncovered.  There is a bias in the media, however it is not those of the individual reporters.  It is the system.  Much like the children of Legotown, the reporters don’t question how the rules of the game are made.  If they did, they would probably have to find employment elsewhere.  Covering the policies enacted by the government is one of the essential roles of the media and a key reason for having the freedom of the press.  In a true democracy, such policies should always be in the public trust.  However, it is clear that the media plays a role in serving an agenda which ostensibly not the same as the public trust.  I also doubt that you’ll hear much about it from the media corporations, so it is worth discussing in alternative venues such as the Internet, while we still have the ability.

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