Many of the anti-Bush documentaries, as pleasant as they are, rarely move beyond the usual collection of complaints and grievances — he’s a liar, a moron, a conniving asshole, a strutting prick, etc. No one who inhabits the real world disputes these assertions, but at some point the argument becomes little more than flattery for the like-minded. I’m even more impressed by a film that can rip Bush limb from limb while adhering to the principles of well-reasoned debate. In other words, amidst the frenzy of “hang-George W. Bush-from-a-sour-apple-tree” hysteria (it’s from Inherit the Wind, in case you were wondering where in the fuck I pulled that from), I’m always more inclined to embrace a film about actual ideas; not mere “theories” that might impact a handful of detached academics, but everyday issues that affect how we live, make choices, and look to the future. In the case of Orwell Rolls in His Grave, the issue is arguably the most important facing us today — media consolidation and the overall dissemination of information. That may not be sexy enough for the average American as it lacks pretty colors and happy clouds to keep us distracted, but unless the power of corporate America is checked, there is a better-than-average chance that the news we receive will have but one, all-powerful source. That ain’t paranoia and conspiracy, brother, but merely the logical end to decades of deregulation, favorable legislation, and centralization disguised as “competition.” So while you are consumed with the identity of some pregnant chick’s murderer, or whether Kobe Bryant was the first and only, or one of many to have pounded a trashy mountain slut’s twat last summer, Rupert Murdoch, General Electric, and assorted eccentric billionaires will continue in their quest to control each and every word that flows over the airwaves.
Robert Kane Pappas, the director of Orwell Rolls in His Grave, should be commended for his insightful, tightly focused work, although it is unlikely that he’ll get any favorable mentions in the press. As much as I liked Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, it was far too sarcastic to really advance the debate beyond name-calling. So while Republicans can castigate the Left for its radicalism — and affinity for the likes of Moore — they can rest assured that Pappas’ work will remain obscure enough never to pose a threat. For if it did get more attention, it would be impossible to refute, as it is sober, measured, and far from an anti-Republican screed. Bush and his gang of crooks are implicated as they must be (especially for the appointment of FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a man who refuses to believe that there is such a thing as a “public interest”), but the issue goes beyond the current occupant of the White House. After all, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed during Clinton’s reign, and not even the most rabid Clinton defenders can pull out a critical remark defending his actions. Bush-era Republicans may indeed be more brazen in their corporate cock-chugging, but they aren’t the only whores in the brothel.
And that is why I am a proud liberal, but only a pragmatic Democrat, as to be otherwise would force me to embrace losing candidates year after year. I would be a naive schoolboy indeed if I declared that Republicans were greedy bastards while Democrats were bathed in angelic light. However, Republicans, as a whole, are far more likely to favor a business atmosphere that is conducive to corruption and consolidation. Again, that is not to say that Democrats don’t follow the dollars, but the legislative record is quite clear on at least one point — Democrats can be counted on at the very least to vote for much-needed regulation from time to time. Given the sewer-dwelling reality of politics these days, I’ll take it.
The film itself consists of interviews with fiery opponents of the media’s abdication of its role as corporate and government watchdog, including Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders of Vermont, author Mark Crispin Miller, and BBC reporter Greg Palast. Critics may point to such voices as a weakness in the film’s point of view (they’re all atheistic Reds, they’d cry), but is there really anyone alive who could defend consolidation and the decline of diversity without laughing? I guess the pudgy Michael Powell could, but I’m not even sure his father believes his bullshit any longer. Instead, this is merely a case of educating the public on the matter. Even the savage illiterates that threaten to choke the life from the South and Midwest can understand the need to have local voices, representative media, and numerous points of view; that the truth comes from extensive debate and analysis, rather than pronouncements from some gold-encrusted throne in Washington D.C. Simple grunts and crude drawings are all that is needed to demonstrate that yes, when a massive, global giant holds power over newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, magazines, and books, there is a high probability that the public won’t get the whole story.
More than anything, it is the perversion of language that threatens what remains of our crumbling democracy. One example from the film, and perhaps the most irritating lie perpetrated by the Bush Administration, is the so-called “death tax.” Because few now call it anything else, the move was brilliant indeed, as the tax has been transformed from a truth — that around 50% of inheritance taxes collected come from one-tenth of one percent of families, and that 95% of the tax affects a mere 2% of American wealth — into sneaky populist rhetoric, where images of auctioned family farms and surrendered bank accounts send the average Joe into a sweaty panic. But Orwell himself would be stunned by the realization of his dystopian novel. The record has been changed, reality compromised, and the agents of the public trust serve their corporate masters while portraying themselves as “journalists” and “investigative muckrakers.” Where were the Woodwards and Bernsteins of our own time to point out that everything Bush said on the subject of the death tax was utter and complete bullshit? Outside of a few individuals who were quickly labeled radical madmen, the media remained defiantly silent.
At this point, the whole “if it bleeds, it leads” cliché is an accepted truth of our collective media experience, so it shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that the media is more apt to report Martha Stewart’s “crimes” than the inherent flaws of capitalism that inevitably lead to financial corruption. Individuals may be punished, but the system itself is never to be questioned. And yes, it continues to be a sore spot that sexual affairs get headlines while S&L bailouts costing taxpayers billions of dollars are lucky to secure a Page 10 paragraph, but what can be done? The film doesn’t offer any solutions, most likely because there aren’t any. We’re fucked, ladies and gentlemen. We can pass largely toothless laws that might stem the flow of blood for a time, but eventually the SOBs will get what they want. And then, in pure Orwellian beauty, it will all seem so perfect, so “appropriate.” We might not even remember that it was any other way. Maybe we just like being lied to more than we care to admit. Except about sex; then we really get pissed.