Lying Media Bastards

September 16, 2007

Shock Absorbers


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I have been very pleased to see a number of popular liberal/progressive blogs plugging Naomi Klein’s new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. This attention is due primarily to one of the best book-marketing efforts I’ve ever seen for a non-fiction work: get an internationally-famous, Academy Award-nominated director to create a short film about your book and its themes, and put it up on the web for free (video embedded below, higher quality downloads here).

The director is Alfonso Cuarón, most famous for “Y Tu Mamá También”, the third Harry Potter movie, and the excellent Children of Men (if you haven’t seen Children of Men, stop reading this now and go watch it. I’ll wait). I believe that Klein and Cuarón first met via Children of Men; the DVD version of the film contained a documentary about the political, social, economic, and environmental trends that could lead our world to resemble the film’s in the near future. Klein was one of the talking heads who appear in the documentary. Here is Cuarón’s film for The Shock Doctrine (about 6 minutes long):

I haven’t read the book yet (it should be winging its way towards my home as we speak), so I don’t know much more about it than you do. I’ve just seen that short film, read this excerpt that appeared in the Guardian some days ago, and am familiar with a number of Klein’s other works. Her breakout book, No Logo, got her branded (heh) as a spokesperson for the “anti-globalization movement” (the media sucks that way. Instead of trying to understand and report on an immensely important and complex web of issues, let’s get soundbites from an attractive white person who wrote a book), and most of her journalism since has focused on the ruthless corporate power, exploitative trade policies (which do much more harm than people realize), and grassroots resistance against these forms of repression. Which covers a lot of ground: NAFTA, the WTO, sweatshops, military contractors, biopiracy vs. the zapatistas of Chiapas, socialist factory reclaimers in Argentina, labor unions in Iraq, anti-privatization rioters in Bolivia, displaced farmers in India. Attempts by the powerful to steal even more from billions of people who are generally invisible to American eyes. When we think of these struggling poor in other nations, we tend to think of them as the helpless and downtrodden, eternal victims of timeless conflicts. Klein’s coverage tends to show them as live people, struggling ferociously in the here and now, for their own survival and self-determination.

I have to grin at Klein’s cleverly formulated argument in Shock Doctrine. Basically, she’s saying that capitalism as we know it has little to do with democracy, and much to do with rapid, radical, top-down change while the public is reeling in catastrophe’s wake. In a way, that’s not a stunning thesis, the rich and powerful shamelessly taking advantage whenever then can. But by attaching this claim to the CIA’s “shock” tactics used on prisoners, she can also attack the US military’s ongoing interrogation and torture practices. Now the horrors of global capitalism are linked to the visceral and the personal.

But even more than that, framing the issue in this way helps make issues of globalization relevant to the generation of folks who’ve become politicized under George W. Bush. I’m frequently astounded by the number of modern activists who see nothing but this one war, this one administration. But I think Shock Doctrine might split some minds open, drawing these folks in by covering the issues and events that ignited their passion to begin with– Bush, Iraq, 9/11, Katrina– and showing them another side of it all.

The Klein/Cuarón short film ends by declaring that information is the best method of staving off “shock”, that knowing what is happening to you is the way to protect yourself from the disorientation and fear that governments will try to exploit to reshape your world. And this is true. As I’ve talked about several times on this site, in the tumultuous hours and days after the 9/11 attacks, I found that the people who were the most terrified, the most hysterical, and the most willing to wage war on anyone an authority figure said we should wage war on, were the people who were the most uninformed. And that realization is what launched me back into writing that year, after a long hiatus: the more informed I could help make people, the less afraid they would be, and the more clearly they could think.

Of course, “protecting yourself from shock” is not enough. Sure, an unexpected disaster knocks people off balance and makes it easier for the powerful to seize control and violently alter the landscape. But that doesn’t mean they’ll only push to get their way when it’s easy. They’re never afraid to pull out their wallets, or their propaganda, or let loose the billy clubs and bullets. We’ve got to resist the shock, but we’ve also got to resist every other fucking thing they can throw at us. And unless we can transform ourselves from consumers and spectators into something else– I dunno, builders, fighters, creators, communities– we don’t have a prayer.

[update]

Klein was interviewed this morning on Democracy Now!. Transcript and audio here.

Posted by Jake on September 16, 2007 10:25 pm

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