By Ralph Nader
There must be reasons why people are weary of the flood of excellent documentary films, books and articles showing us what the corporate state – that is, the fusion of big business and government to constantly serve the former against the peoples’ interest – is doing to our beloved country.
We are in a golden age of exposés, detailed revelations about out-of-control polluters, corporate tax escapees, corruption of government, cheating of consumers, abandonment of workers, freezing or reduction of wages, and a general hijacking of America for perpetual wars, militarism and profiteering. Even from mainstream television, newspapers and magazines, these exposés pour out in numbers that far exceed our weakened democracy’s ability to respond.
Why does so little change when the truths, the facts and the grim realities are available on request? In the past more prosecutors, legislators, and regulators would be informed and goaded by exposés. The wider media would echo such responses which further encouraged these enforcers to challenge wrongdoing. A cycle of public agitation and official responses kept things moving.
But there were fewer exposés and therefore less information overload. Today, exposés are running into each other and receiving smaller audiences. The shrinking mass media does not give the authors and producers the time that was afforded their predecessors.
Nothing has replaced the Phil Donahue Show that reveled in showcasing injustices. The Today Show and Good Morning America have fewer authors on their stages. Charlie Rose is heavily into entertainers, favored columnist Tom Friedman, and business celebrities. Once welcoming radio talk show hosts are off the air, replaced by curled lip ideologues or soft, fluffy commentators. Local daily city television talk shows that made author tours successful and often would jump-start investigative reports are nearly extinct, replaced by syndicated programs featuring touchy-feely or sadomasochistic fare.
This new media landscape is more hostile to the civic community and discourages the younger generation from believing that change is truly within our grasp. As the years pass, our examples of national re-directions, as if people matter, come from the 1960s and ’70s. There are dwindling illustrations from more variously-troubled, recent decades, even as the information revolution should have accelerated the pace of change.
There may be proportionately as much civic activism today, though the smaller marches and rallies and much less mass media coverage do not demonstrate that there is as much public protest. What is certain is that there are now far more problems, declines in livelihoods, and other deprivations and lockouts from participating in our legislative and executive governments and courts. It doesn’t help that there are far fewer differences between the two major parties and far more gridlocks, garnished by far more campaign cash, resulting in chronic avoidance or postponements of remedies.
Let’s go back to the exposés. What can documentary film makers, for example, do beyond putting out a fine product for theater audiences and DVD purchasers?
An ongoing development pushing the envelope toward change comes from Eugene Jarecki’s documentary “The House I Live In.” Saturating the country with his public and private showings, action meetings with prison wardens and lawmakers – urban and rural – and continuing media coverage, he seeks to make his film “a widely-recognized and galvanizing tool for a national rethinking of America’s drug control policies.” His two-year plan of coalition building and direct legislative pressure is breathtaking in its scope, depth, agility and strategic thinking (for more information visit the website here).
Mr. Jarecki is plowing new ground through relentless follow-through – an extension more authors, capable of doing so, should undertake. After all they have proven themselves as knowledgeable, interesting communicators.
Another contemporary documentary receiving serious follow-up by its production team is “The Invisible War” – the story of rape and other sexual assaults within the U.S. military. This film, directed and written by Kirby Dick, is being taken seriously by the Pentagon which is showing it to commanders and high-ranking military leaders. Attendance is often required thanks to a few enlisted commanders and constant prodding from the filmmakers.
Realistically, many reporters and producers are unable to pursue their findings into the realms of action. Often they are onto their next investigative project and are economically hard-pressed. Here is where some farseeing foundations or enlightened wealthy persons can make a difference by funding small civic groups taking the findings and recommendations into the public policy arenas backed by civic mobilization. After all, civic advocates have proven their worth over the long run.
Or existing groups, such as the anti-nuclear steadfast organizations – Beyond Nuclear and Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) – can be the beneficiaries of funders viewing documentaries such “Knocking on the Devil’s Door: Our Deadly Nuclear Legacy.”
Maybe we need a 24/7 documentary cable channel with a citizen action focus so that fortuitous rendezvous can occur among all these parties at any given time around the ticking clock.