Tomorrow there will be special screenings of the documentary #ReGENERATION around the country, including New York. Go to the #ReGENERATION website for a schedule and screening information, including how to watch it on Itunes. Ironically, despite much of the opprobrium heaped on the Internet in this challenging film, the men and women behind it are exploiting social networks and email to get the word out. Despite the tendency for the Internet to isolate people, there can be no argument against its ability to publicize events, especially when you can’t afford $20,000 for an ad in the NY Times.
Despite the inclusion of interviewees like Andrew Bacevich, John Bellamy Foster, Howard Zinn (footage taken before his death but very relevant to the film’s theme), Noam Chomsky and Michael Albert, the documentary is not so much an attempt to educate people about the evils of the system. Instead, it is an unsparing examination of knowing about the evil so few are willing to take a stand.
Foster, who is one of the country’s leading experts on financial crisis, does not talk about how the crisis emerged. Rather he addresses the question of why young people feel like they cannot have an impact on the system (that’s Foster at the start of the trailer). The general consensus among all the polled experts is that a combination of financial insecurity, a surfeit of television and the Internet, hedonism, and a sense of despair conspire to keep people from taking action. The contrast is continually drawn with the sixties, including remarks from Michael Albert who for some peculiar reason wears dark glasses throughout. I hope he is not suffering from eye diseases like me. My guess is that he wanted to look “cool”. Uncool.
One of the more informed commentators is Sut Jhally, a professor of Communications at U. Mass. Even if you don’t get around to seeing #ReGENERATION (but surely you must!), a visit to Jhally’s website is very useful for understanding the film’s concerns. In an article titled “Advertising at the edge of Apocalypse,” Jhally writes:
A culture dominated by commercial messages that tells individuals that the way to happiness is through consuming objects bought in the marketplace gives a very particular answer to the question of “what is society?” what is it that binds us together in some kind of collective way, what concerns or interests do we share? In fact, Margaret Thatcher, the former conservative British Prime Minister, gave the most succinct answer to this question from the viewpoint of the market. In perhaps her most (in)famous quote she announced: “There is no such thing as ‘society’. There are just individuals and their families.” According to Mrs. Thatcher, there is nothing solid we can call society no group values, no collective interests society is just a bunch of individuals acting on their own.
The film also benefits greatly from the insights of Kalle Lasn, the founder of Adbusters and arguably the founder of Occupy Wall Street as well since it was first proposed in his magazine. (He always stresses, however, that he deserves no credit.) Born in 1942, Lasn has obviously been shaped by the 60s radicalization. Like many others from this generation, he is a trenchant critic of “consumer capitalism”. Despite the sense of alienation and futility that permeates much of the commentary heard throughout the film, it concludes on an optimistic note as it shows young people occupying Wall Street.
The film frets over television addiction, stating the average American spends four hours a day in front of the boob tube. It adds that young people are particularly distracted, often using a laptop, watching TV and texting their friends on a cell phone all at the same time. As someone with a deep hatred for cell phones, or talking on the phone at all, I felt somewhat less enchained by the communications nexus. That being said, I am sure that I have the television on at least those many hours but it usually just background noise while I read or surf the Internet. Someone once described color television as having the same charm of a fish tank and that always rang true with me, especially if I have the National Geographic channel on.
On a deeper level, however, I think the basic problem is over the failure of the “heavy battalions” of American society to challenge the status quo. While the film makes much of the student rebellion of the 1960s, the example of 10 years of civil rights protests set the stage for the first big antiwar demonstrations. The idea of coming out into the streets was entirely natural by 1965, the date of the first protest.
The Black movement went into retreat in the 1970s because of an adroit combination of repression and cooptation by the ruling class. With Black Panthers being shot down left and right and hustlers like Al Sharpton getting a seat at the table, a crisis of leadership developed. It was even worse for the AFL-CIO with leaders that happily made one concession after another as the rank-and-file worker got the shaft. If the minor trade union bureaucrats who launched the Labor Party in the 1970s had the courage of their convictions to actually run candidates, fewer people would have become TV addicts, I’m sure. There is nothing like the power of a mass movement to shake people out of their doldrums.
Thank goodness that the May Day action in NYC yesterday showed signs that the old mole is on the move again.