Friday, March 03, 2006

CLASS THREAD: "Orwell Rolls . . . " and Borjesson presentation

The post are Sarah's comments on the "Orwell Rolls in His Grave" film and
Kristina Borjesson's talk last night. To complete the assignment given
last night, please either develop your own essay and email to for posting, or hand it in on paper at next week's
paper, or at a substantive comment to this initial post, with fresh ideas.


-- bill densmore

Sarah wrotes:

Within my notes from the film, an incredibly striking statement stands at
top of the page:

"Ostensible diversity that conceals an actual uniformity." -Joseph Goebbels

I'd say that the presence and the content of the quote hit upon my major reservations regarding Orwell. I took serious issue with the producer's choice to invoke nazism and totalitarianism to elicit an emotional audience reaction while refusing to give the opposing side a voice within the piece.

I'm aware that bringing in Hitler, his henchmen, and their rhetoric when you want to make a strong point is hardly unique to these producers. That doesn't mean that the act isn't cheap and a bit misleading. It's undeniable that our current government and media systems are elitist and corrupt. They speak and publish lies regularly. To compare them to a group of people who created and implemented systems of mechanized mass murder, however, is hyperbolic.

These references, along with the ever-present foreboding music played over those shots of dictionary definitions, were an annoyingly unsubtle appeal to the viewer's deepest fears and insecurities. Using them so blatantly weakened the film's message, that of the necessity of conveying truth.

Similarly, I was a bit unimpressed with their decision not to interview any of these high-powered media moguls or corporation heads they ripped apart for 104 minutes. Yes, yes, all right- if I were the head of a major news company and heard the title of this film, I wouldn't be terribly keen on talking to them anyway. In the clips we did see, there was some clear editing, which no doubt would have been even more intense if they wanted to portray you as an elitist, anti-democratic jerk. But accusing the media of giving only one side of the message while failing to give voice to your opponents in your own work -- lame. And hypocritical.

Another issue that struck me as I was watching had nothing to do with the producer's choices in how he developed the film. The problem: how do you know you can trust what one of these self-proclaimed "real, independent investigative journalists" say? The thought struck me as while watching Mr. Palast speak about the 2000 presidential election.I've actually got something of a history with Palast. For my government class in my senior year of high school, we read Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree and a chapter of one of Palast's books titled "Sell the Lexus, Burn the Olive Tree." Because our teacher had ridiculous connections, Friedman came to our school and spoke to us about journalism and globalization. When it came time for open questions, someone inevitably brought up Palast, who had specifically attacked Friedman's book. Friedman responded by noting specific factual errors in Palast's work, including an instance where he claimed Friedman had refused to d!
ebate him at a conference that Friedman claimed Palast had not even attended.

I'm still not sure who was being honest there (or whether globalization is quite as fabulous as Friedman sells it to be). I am sure, however, that I'm skeptical of what Palast says, and of anything I read on blogs or in tabloids. Why should I take this man's word? Who has verified any of what he says? We've all been taught to be critical of the internet as a news source. "Don't believe everything you read online" has been crushed into our heads over and over, and spilled over into my perceptions of other mediums as well. As a result, I only feel totally comfortable trusting what I read from super-verified sources like the Washington Post or the New York Times. It's kind of a paradox: we can't trust just anyone to be telling the truth, but we can't trust major news sources to ever be telling the whole truth.

All this talk of media corporations and profit motives and the like brought me back to the conclusion of the Okrent lecture, when he pointed out that the best newspapers are the family-owned ones (NYT, Post, Wall Street Journal). No doubt these publications are still driven by advertising & revenues to some degree, but it seems like they're to some degree outside of that umbrella of corporate media that the film focused on. Not a really developed thought there, but interesting to ponder.

For all my criticisms, I can understand why some of those elements were used. They made me mad, but they also forced me to analyze why I was getting mad, and thus delve deeper into the problem. Overall, a very thought provoking film and an interesting class tonight. Ms. Borjessen was great. On another note, have you ever thought about the comparison between the start of the Spanish-American war and the Iraq war? Lately, I've been seeing a bunch of parallels, particularly between TR and GWB... perhaps a worthwhile discussion topic at some point.

(Above submitted by Sarah)

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