By Tim Hjersted
Dec 13, 2011
One of the most entertaining yet unsurprising aspects of Occupy Wall St has been the response from traditional media. Whether intentionally playing dumb or genuinely clueless, the mainstream media has failed to inform the public and substantially address the key issues. But why did tens of thousands of people risk arrest all over the world to set up encampments and protest the status quo?
For everyone who has been following independent, alternative media, the answer is obvious. People who have been clued in to what's been going on in this country for the last decade are responding: Finally! A movement to match the scale of the problem is taking root here in America!
A new cultural zeitgeist is growing increasingly more visible in the shadow of the old - one that is steadily zeroing in on the root problems that are paralyzing the prosperity of our future: corporate personhood, an undemocratic system of government, a centralized fractional-reserve banking system, neoclassical economics and capitalism itself.
Seen in this light, it's understandable that the press would feign confusion. Unlike the now co-opted Tea Party movement, which has sadly only served to bolster the corporate welfare state and the interests of the 1%, the problems OWS are exposing are too threatening to the established powers to critically examine.
Our demands are too big to be mentioned.
And so from the media: We have no demands. We do not know what the problem is. We want handouts from government and simply want a free ride. However, as more people get tuned into alternative media and see the disparity between the reality and what the pundits have to say, the comical theater of the mass media only ingrains its own irrelevance.
Of course, for all the people who still get informed by the mass media, there is much work to do. To combat the misinformation, we need to become the media ourselves, and we have ample tools at our disposal. The biggest memes behind OWS - the ideas and analysis of the problem that gives the movement its inspiration - have been amply documented in several amazing documentaries that are freely available online.
So, following, are the top 10 films that capture the spirit and motivation of the movement. They are the heavy-weight truth bombs which provide the intellectual backing and substance to the slogans and chants. Watch these films. Share them with friends. By breaking the bottleneck the mass media holds on the flow of information and turning people on to alternative channels, we'll be able to build the collective understanding necessary to realize the ambitious goals of OWS.
If we work hard to get these messages into the public consciousness, we'll be primed to hit the tipping point that will finally rest control of our future out of the hands of the 1% and into our own.
(My comments in bold)
10. The Yes Men Fix The World (2009)
"The Yes Men Fix the World is a screwball true story about two gonzo political activists who, posing as top executives of giant corporations, lie their way into big business conferences and pull off the world's most outrageous pranks."
This film provides the most comical look at the culture of greed that pervades the corporate world. It also critiques the conventional wisdom of trickle-down economics. Keeping the tone lighthearted and quite funny throughout, this is a great film to introduce the subject with.
"John Pilger travels to many third world countries to investigate the devastating results of loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). This film shows how many wars today are not carried out at the barrel of a gun, but by the monetary policies of global banking institutions. Instead of bombs, it has been discovered that debt is a far more powerful weapon to control and maintain the power of global economic interests. It turns out that the "structural-adjustment" policies of neo-liberal economics are even more deadly than nerve gas and many other weapons of war. This documentary backs up many of the claims made by John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man."
All of John Pilger's films are excellent and worth watching. The oldest pick in this list explores some of the older history of our economic policies to reveal some truly paradigm-disturbing insights. The film highlights the fact that the problems addressed by OWS are not new by any measure, but are rooted deeply in a global system which has, as a matter of policy and design, consistently robbed the third world to enrich the first. This is a hard truth to accept, but Pilger backs up his claims with world-class journalism and professionalism.
8. Zeitgeist: Moving Forward (2011)
"Moving Forward presents the case for a needed transition out of the current socioeconomic monetary paradigm which governs the entire world society. The film aims to filter out issues of cultural relativism and traditional ideology so that we can examine the core, empirical life ground attributes of human and social survival, extrapolating those immutable natural laws to propose a new sustainable social paradigm called a Resource-Based Economy."
Of special interest to OWS is the middle section of the film, which critiques the fundamental problems inherent in our monetary/market-based system, and which offers one of the deepest analyses of the big picture perspective on the global crisis yet seen. It also proposes a logical alternative to the monetary paradigm, if we were to rethink how our system works from the ground up. The film asks: what would a true civilization look like - a world without war, hierarchy, or poverty? Would competition really be the driving force of a civilized society, or would it be cooperation?
7. The Corporation (2003)
"The Corporation is today's dominant institution, creating great wealth but also great harm. This 26 award-winning documentary examines the nature, evolution, impacts and future of the modern business corporation and the increasing role it plays in society and our everyday lives."
Beyond Wall St and beyond the financial collapse is a problem much deeper than traditional left/right discussions about the proper amount of government regulation of markets. Deeper than that is the basic nature and laws that govern what a corporation is. Since 1886, corporations have been considered people under the law, conferring them the same rights as breathing, flesh and blood humans. These rights (as the film documents) give enormous power to corporations, making them far more powerful than many countries. Most people woke up to this problem with Citizens United, when the Supreme court decided money equals speech, and thus corporations have a 1st amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of cash on democratic elections.
While corporations have dominated society for over 100 years, this last transparent power-grab was obviously too much for most people to handle. The silver lining of this move was that it has prompted a strong national push-back from groups like Move to Amend and others, which are calling for a constitutional amendment to revoke corporate personhood. This has been one of the most popular demands of OWS from early on, and yeah, I'm not surprised the media isn't repeating this one.
Golden Rule does an excellent job of exposing several myths behind the terms free market, capitalism, socialism, and democracy. For instance, since the "golden age of capitalism" in the 1950s, productivity has more than doubled, and yet wages have stayed the same and most people are working more hours, not less. At the same time, all of our productivity gains have gone to the owners of capital (the 1%). If capitalist markets benefited all people and not just the top 1% then most Americans today would be able to support a family on one income and work only half the year. Most people would agree that more leisure time and a middle-class standard of living would be progress, yet capitalist markets prevent this. Labor must keep working harder and harder to compete against other firms or else they'll be out-competed, meanwhile the full value of their work is robbed to create "profit" for the owners. True free markets do not require coercion, and our capitalist system has always relied on the state's use of force to maintain the wealth and power inequalities between labor and capital.
Another example 60 minutes in: both America and Stalin's Russia has called his regime a socialist system, but for different reasons. America called Stalin's dictatorship a socialist system because it wanted to defame and demonize socialism. Stalin called his government socialist because that was a popular and celebrated term in Europe, despite totalitarian control having nothing to do with true, democratic socialism. In truth, as Noam Chomsky points out, the people of Russia had no control over the means of production and were essentially slaves. It would be the same as if Stalin came to power in America, created a fascist police state, used coercive force to protect criminal banks, evict people unjustly from their homes, suppress protest and break up unions, then lavished massive subsidies on big companies, gave tax breaks to the rich and allowed many corporations like GE to pay nothing in taxes, and then proudly called this a free-market system. This is the hypocrisy of our own country, which is victimized by our own form of propaganda as profound as the propaganda of Stalin's Russia or communist China.
6. (Tie) Capitalism IS the Crisis: Radical Politics in the Age of Austerity (2011)
"The 2008 “financial crisis” in the United States was a systemic fraud in which the wealthy finance capitalists stole trillions of public dollars. No one was jailed for this crime, the largest theft of public money in history. Instead, the rich forced working people across the globe to pay for their “crisis” through punitive “austerity” programs that gutted public services and repealed workers’ rights. Austerity was named “Word of the Year” for 2010. This documentary explains the nature of capitalist crisis, visits the protests against austerity measures, and recommends revolutionary paths for the future. Special attention is devoted to the crisis in Greece, the 2010 G20 Summit protest in Toronto, Canada, and the remarkable surge of solidarity in Madison, Wisconsin."
Capitalism Is the Crisis goes beyond common causes such as greed or corruption to name the enemy of our society's problems as capitalism itself - that the very organization of our economic system and our relationships to people and the planet are flawed at a basic level. To accept this premise one must understand fully what capitalism is. It is not a "free market" or free-enterprise system, but has always relied on and been coupled with the force of a powerful state to maintain a differential advantage. As Kevin Carson writes in his essay The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand, "Capitalism was founded on an act of robbery as massive as feudalism. It has been sustained to the present by continual state intervention to protect its system of privilege, without which its survival is unimaginable."
5. The Secret of Oz (2010)
"What's going on with the world's economy? Foreclosures are everywhere, unemployment is skyrocketing - and this may only be the beginning. Could it be that solutions to the world's economic problems could have been embedded in the most beloved children's story of all time, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"? The yellow brick road (the gold standard), the emerald city of Oz (greenback money), even Dorothy's silver slippers (changed to ruby slippers for the movie version) were powerful symbols of author L. Frank Baum's belief that the people - not the big banks -- should control the quantity of a nation's money."
Second to Moving Forward, Secret of Oz goes the deepest into the systemic unsustainability of our fractional-reserve monetary system. Examining the historic fight against central banks over the centuries (it was the prime cause of the American Revolution) and how these banks actually destabilize markets and enslave whole nations in debt, we learn how the Federal Reserve and other private banks today represent the greatest affront to our national sovereignty. As long as we allow private banks to create money out of nothing (and loan money to our government at interest), the central banks will always have the power to undo whatever gains we make politically or economically. The film makers do not advocate a return to a gold-based standard. Their two-step solution is quite simple, and if enacted, gives us the greatest prospects for a sustainable future.
4. Inside Job (2010)
"2010 Oscar Winner for Best Documentary, 'Inside Job' provides a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis of 2008, which at a cost over $20 trillion, caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and nearly resulted in a global financial collapse. Through exhaustive research and extensive interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, journalists, and academics, the film traces the rise of a rogue industry which has corrupted politics, regulation, and academia. It was made on location in the United States, Iceland, England, France, Singapore, and China."
Although it's the narrowest in scope, Inside Job goes deep into the criminal corruption, policies, and culture that caused the financial crisis, which is most commonly understood to be the premise of OWS. Examining the period of Wall St. deregulation that started in 1980 and then closely looking at the housing bubble and crash of 2008, Inside Job builds up the facts and detailed analysis of this single event, which provides documentation and support for why so many Americans are rightly pissed off and now taking to the streets en masse. For this reason, Inside Job is likely the best introduction to the subject, and builds the foundation upon which more radical conclusions about our economic system can be drawn.
3. Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
"Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story comes home to the issue he’s been examining throughout his career: the disastrous impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans (and by default, the rest of the world). But this time the culprit is much bigger than General Motors, and the crime scene far wider than Flint, Michigan. From Middle America, to the halls of power in Washington, to the global financial epicenter in Manhattan, Michael Moore will once again take film goers into uncharted territory. With both humor and outrage, Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story explores a taboo question: What is the price that America pays for its love of capitalism?"
While Inside Job takes a more impersonal and conservative overview of the financial collapse, Michael Moore brings it in close to examine many of the personal stories of the financial fallout - the human, emotional side of the story. While many people have a prejudice against Moore, and this might limit the film's potential reach, this is undoubtedly his best film yet, and brilliant on its own terms, regardless. Surprise and disgust, sadness, anger and empathy are mixed in equally with humor, insight, and inspiring examples of potential solutions that are being implemented now. Watching this post-OWS is rather surreal - direct mentions of the 99% vs the 1%, activists occupying foreclosed homes and workers taking control of their factories until their demands for just remuneration are met - it couldn't sum up the story that led to OWS more perfectly.
2. Lifting the Veil: Obama and the Failure of Capitalist Democracy (2011)
"This film explores the historical role of the Democratic Party as the "graveyard of social movements", the massive influence of corporate finance in elections, the absurd disparities of wealth in the United States, the continuity and escalation of neocon policies under Obama, the insufficiency of mere voting as a path to reform, and differing conceptions of democracy itself."
Lifting the Veil is a significant achievement - offering a definitive critique of the Obama administration from a reality-based perspective (Ie, a critique not based on propaganda and spin). It thoroughly deconstructs the hypocrisy of U.S. politics, democracy, capitalism and other aspects of the American brand. This film promotes no illusions, examining our present state of affairs under Obama with eyes wide open. At once disillusioning, the film inspires and offers a great message of hope in it's evocative finale and excellent choice of music. It also points to the most immediate alternative for building a new, directly democratic and liberated world within the shell of the old (workplace democracy). For OWS, the film exemplifies the movement's bi-partisan critique of the status quo, its deep rejection of surface-level reforms or solutions, and the deep insight that comes from waking up to the way the world really is.
1. Rise Like Lions: OWS and the Seeds of Revolution (2011)
When in doubt, go to the primary source. Released just a week ago, Scott Noble, who also produced Lifting the Veil, pulls together a combination of internet and original footage to create the first feature-length documentary on Occupy Wall St, telling the story and motivation behind the movement in its own words. It is a treatise to the beautiful awakening of human heart and hope that has arisen in the American people, capturing the imagination and dreams of a new generation's struggle to create a better world.
"Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.'
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
Great films about OWS that have come out since publishing this list:
American Autumn - an Occudoc (2012)
Occupy Love (2013)
We're Not Broke (2012)
More recommended films as suggested by our reader comments:
97% Owned (2012)
Trading on Thin Air (2010)
The End of America (2008)
The Future of Food (2004)
Then, when you're done with those films, you can check out this:
The Top 10 Films that Explain Why Occupy Wall St. Exists by Tim Hjersted is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are welcome to re-publish freely.