Monday, July 10, 2006

On Syriana and Why We Fight ... Sort Of

I rented two movies in two nights recently which really could be sold as a package deal: Syriana and Why We Fight. In case you haven't heard of the latter, its a documentary probing the accuracy of Dwight Eisenhower's seemingly prophetic warning about the then-new US "military-industrial complex". The former is one of George Clooney's Oscar nominated films from 2005 which amounts to a thriller/social commentary on the influence of corporate oil dollars on Middle East and US relations.

Both were excellent. Both carry pretty frightening messages between the line yet avoided Michael Moore's blatant manipulations of media footage and were therefore subtle enough to seem honest.

Somehow, though, they didn't seem all that earthshaking. And that worries me.

I think we all know, or at least suspect, that corporations "make the world go 'round", so to speak. I think most of us have either read Grapes of Wrath or gathered the notion that capitalism has some inherent dangers to it and don't have much trouble imagining how it looks on a global scale. Am I wrong? Maybe these are still radical films, I don't know, but they seemed sort of old hat to me. And that's the thing. Perhaps the most frightening thing about these movies for me was how little I was moved by them. I felt like they should be compelling me to do something, but when you know there is nothing you can do, not much can compel you to try.

Sounds awfully pessimistic, but that's where I'm at. Being a Canadian citizen, I can't do much about US foreign policy. And for all the glories of democracy, even in Canada I know better than to imagine my vote amounts to much of anything at all. The only people who can make a difference are those with money or clout, and the only realms where you don't need money to have clout are in the media and in religion. Maybe you want to add the internet to that. But money is going to end up helping a lot in those realms as well. And in the end, all these voices blended together tend to drown each other out. We have too many revolutionaries, too many revolutions. Too many places to shop for a cause. And they all get watered down don't they?

Someone once said the all evil needs to win is for good men to do nothing. But maybe the devil has a new strategy: to get good men to try to do a bit of everything.

With the powers that be, and all that's wrong, I think many of us feel like someone tied to a chair under a dripping faucet who has struggled against the ropes long enough to know they won't budge and has resigned himself to the finer art of "getting used to it" and "hoping maybe it will stop".

Maybe I'm just getting old. Maybe I'm just in a jaded spell. But judging from how many people stay home on election day and stay out of global concerns I don't think I'm far off. Even amongst those who are aware of corporate power in world affairs, I think most continue to shop at Walmart and fill up at Shell and max out their credit cards. So I think I'm describing fairly accurately the helpless malaise of the democratic public. We are a complacency-soaked, charitable-cause-overloaded, issue-bombarded, fear-paralyzed, pleasure-sponge of a society.

I certainly can't claim to be any different, except maybe by degree, but is that because of my self-restraint and thoughtful purchasing, or is it because I don't have a lot of money?

So anyway, about those movies I was talking about (and if that flippant segue from the serious back to the relatively trivial doesn't bother you then the societal attitude I'm describing has rubbed of on you more than you probably care to admit) I recommend them highly! They were really good.

Matt Damon's character in Syriana is most of us I think: generally naive, trying to do the best we can with our family and our interests, trying to make the most of the situation we're in. And the docomentary has some amazing stuff in it, including the strartlingly prophetic words of Eisenhower and the reflections of his kids and an interview with John McCain implying some heavy stuff about the vice-president which gets interrupted by the VP himself.

There was more good stuff in both ... but you'll have to see them yourself since I can't remember it. I've since seen Seinfeld reruns and can't get Kramer's antics out of my head. Oh man that guy was funny.

There's one of those segues again. Maybe they're the best way we have of keeping sane.

1 comment:

Coutts said...

By the way, if you are interested in Why We Fight, as of July '06 there are some more comments about it by Donald Miller at