shock treatment 09.17.2007, 6:48 PM
posted by ben vershbow
I've never been a fan of book trailers, but this disturbing six-minute agitprop piece promoting Naomi Klein's new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is genre-transcending. It doesn't hurt that Klein teamed up with Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, who made what was for my money the best major release picture of last year, "Children of Men." Here, Klein and Cuarón are co-writers, Cuarón's son Jonás directs and edits, and Klein provides narration over a melange of chilling footage and animation that sets up her central thesis and metaphor: that free market capitalist reforms are generally advanced, undemocratically, through breaches in the social psyche created by political, economic, environmental or military shocks. It's a shocking little video. Make you wanna read the book?
future fragments on September 18, 2007 2:37 AM:
Already got the book. I was lucky enough to get tickets to the book launch in London, where Alfonso Cuarón spoke just before the launch of the video. Great work. It's been very interesting reading so far (massive tome, so it'll take a while). She makes a compelling argument/case.
Harry Giles on September 18, 2007 4:16 AM:
Naw, it actually makes me feel far less likely to read the book -- and it makes me angry that Klein continues to tout herself around as the prophet-journalist of radical politics. The Michael Moore-style montages and "excerpted" voices, this vague gestures at conspiracyism and the dissembling use of occasional historical facts -- it's just that this time it's got Alfonso Cuarón's name on it, which makes it cooler, swisher, slicker. (Lest we forget: he also directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.)
The last sequence was the most depressing. An animated female figure, representing Klein, presumably, bravely whispering her secrets to us. The intoned warning that the only way not to be duped is to read her book. So that the film itself represents the doctrine she criticises: terrify your audience, so that it's easier to sell them something.
I'd prefer to read analyses from academics with true radical pedigrees, like Chomsky, or from activists working daily in the global justice movements, provided free and shared anarchistically, than deal with Klein's easy positions and slick journalism.
barbara fiser on September 18, 2007 1:31 PM:
A very effective piece of advertising, which is why I'm a bit dismayed to get to the end and have it called "a film." It's anti-capitalist ad spot that practices what it preaches against. Very well, I might add. But nobody ever said it was against the rules to use art to sell things.
But it isn't a documentary about ideas that are also explored in a book, really, it's an ad for the book with a documentary feel. There's a blurring of authorship and commercial purpose here that bothers me.
I wish we could evolve some sort of ethics for what we do on the Web that provides some clarity between what we're doing as artists/writers/journalists and what we're doing to sell the products we create. Here, it's way too blurred for my tastes.
future fragments on September 20, 2007 6:09 AM:
Sure, I can understand where people are coming from.
It's easy to dismiss it all by saying she is being hypocritical because it's an advert, or that it's all about branding.
When I saw Cuarón speak, it was obvious to me that he had felt incredibly moved by what he had read in Klein's book. In fact, he claimed that originally he intended not to do anything, because he simply didn't have the time to. Since his motivation for being part of the project was to get people to read the book - something he obviously felt was important - why, then, is the immediate reaction to say it's done for commercial purposes only?
I'm interested in whether the short film actually is an advertisement. Let's say it was made into a 90 minute documentary that covers the main focus of the book. Does the film cease to be an advert for the book? Why? The film Manufacturing Consent was based on Chomsky's work of the same name; since the content promoted the book, is that not an advert? I watched the Corporation and was moved by it enough to go an purchase the book; does that make the film an advert?
In short: why does the length of the piece make it an advert? Because it's apparently referencing/promoting another product? Because it has a website in it, or a name of a book you should buy? Chomsky's books were shown prominently during Manufacturing Consent, and the Z organisation was given good mentions. Is this not a form of advertising?
Far be it from me to defend her, but Klein is not Chomsky. She is certainly not Michael Moore. To dismiss her so flippantly because she doesn't fit some idealised notion of what a "true" activist is, and imply that she doesn't work in activist circles, is to actually be completely misinformed in the work that she does. She is a journalist and a writer, first and foremost, and she uses this tool to great effect for things she is passionate about. She should be applauded for what she has done, and what she continues to do.
Maybe it is an advert. She wants to promote her message, after all. Fine. I'm certain she's full of contradictions. She's human, after all. I remember Chomsky once being questioned about whether he has a portfolio of shares in an attempt to show him as a hypocrite. He pointed out "You'd have to ask my wife about that. I'm sure she does. I don't see any reason why she shouldn't. Would it help people if I went to Montana and lived on a mountain? It's only rich, privileged westerners - who are well educated and therefore deeply irrational - in whose minds this idea could ever arise. When I visit peasants in southern Colombia, they don't ask me these questions."
She's been to Iraq, she's been across South America, she's been to South Africa ... she's tried to do something. I wish I could do as much, myself.
(Incidentally, I suspect that it is the media that promotes her image of being this leader of the activist movement rather than herself, for various reasons.)
barbara fiser on September 21, 2007 1:51 PM:
If a 90 minute documentary ended with something along the lines of "and the only thing that will save us is information; to get that information, buy this book" I'd feel as if I'd been had.
I wouldn't have any trouble with a documentary (of any length) that deals with the same issues as the book, or that brings in a person identified as "author of..." or in fact is about the book and its author and what that author thinks we should know. But this just felt manipulative and really seemed to be "selling ideas" in a commercial sense: These ideas are terribly important, and you can have them if you buy this book.
To me, that's the trouble with book trailers. If they pretend to be something other than "here's a short ad about a book that might interest you" then it's as honest as a review that was written by the author. Great book. Powerful and important. Everyone should read it. Take the word of an expert - the author.
tk on September 21, 2007 9:55 PM:
Lots of assertions, no facts to back it up.
The truth is capitalism and freedom have done more to imporve the human condition than any government program.
The answer these folks always put forward is some form of socialism. It doesn't work.
It's cost 120 million human lives, and people still try to sell it.
Freedom and capitalism require that people fend for themselves and think for themselves.
That makes it tougher for you to use lies and jarring images to convince them that your assertions are true.
mike Bonnici on April 8, 2008 7:57 AM:
why does everyone want everyone else to be right about everything all the time?
(That's a rhetorical of course.)
What's the answer to yesterday? Today.
What's the answer to today? Tomorrow.
What's another name for tomorrow? The future.
Who cares whos got the best take on the total transcendent absolute truth? How's this for a question: If knowledge is power what are questions?
Ask some. Find out.
For example: What happens in nuclear silos to keep bombs from blowing up? Why isn't Neal Armstrong more famous? What happens to the disembodied brains of rats that are kept alive for 15 years in U of T laboratory? What's worse entropy or apocolypse.
My name is Mike Bonnici. I'm an active grassroots artist and activist. I'd love to talk with anyone about anything anytime.
PS - I love Naomi Klein's book. I think its a gem. It doesn't pretend to be the bible, and it seems silly to pretend it does.