Here are 5 good movies that I think everyone should see that show our current society. Not some far off future. Not some parody of our politics and our problems but a slightly (only slightly) exaggerated version of where we are today.
Bob Roberts (1992)
Politics & Media
Bob Roberts tells the story of a society where a political candidate who is a prepackaged, insincere, self-described rebel, who manipulates the public with his good looks and slick slogans can become a national treasure. Tim Robbins creates a political mockumentary that in my opinion should be watched before you are allowed to vote in an election.
With an all-star cast that includes a young Jack Black and the sensational Alan Rickman, Robbins himself as the title character and Gore Vidal as his opponent, a great soundtrack, fantastic writing, directing, acting and social commentary, Bob Roberts is one of my top ten films of all-time.
Bob Roberts the candidate is a guitar playing, motorcycle riding, singer of right-wing conservative propaganda “folk” songs, that will do anything to make money, promote his agenda and to defeat his opponent; (with the fantastically macabre name of Brickley Paste) an honest, compassionate, intellectual under-funded incumbent senator.
When it first came out in theaters, this film was a cartoon version of our political process. But today, this movie accurately represents our current condition. The sorry state of politics and media. Bob Roberts would win any election, in any state, in a landslide. This film predates the Citizens United supreme court ruling that allows an endless flow of corporate money into our political process and also the liars & fear mongers at Fox News. It predates the Tea Party’s pretend grass-roots up-swell and the smear campaign against the Occupy movement. It accurately shows the state of political campaigns in America today. Only slightly exaggerated… And only ever so slightly.
Health & Education
Idiocracy tells the story of a society that has neglected the importance of education to such a degree that all citizens read, write and problem solve at extremely low levels And the story of an intellectually below average man from the past who is by that society’s standards the smartest person in the world.
This movie is a cartoonish exaggeration of the dumbing down of society however, Health and Education have been our lowest priority for several decades. And in that time we have raised a generation of ignorant and arrogant illiterates with extremely short attention spans.
I once believed that the human race would evolve to be smarter. A lot less social but more intelligent. As it turns out evolution is not a big fan of being anti-social. We are only a few generations from this idiocracy.
Intellect is mistrusted and often ridiculed. Many of our brightest kids feel a need to hide their intellect so as not to be ostracized. The brain is a muscle and if the youth are not encouraged to exercise it, it can and will atrophy. The 6th grade girl who pretends not to be good at science or math in order to be popular becomes the 10th grade girl who is not good at science or math but is popular.
Our elected officials, our news media and even some of our best thinkers can barely converse at an elementary school level.
“Are you smarter than a fifth grader, congressman?”
“No sir. No I is not.”
Southland Tales (2006)
Privacy & Celebrity
Southland Tales tells the story of a society where nothing is private and everyone lives their lives on camera, on the internet, on the grid and under the watchful eye of… everyone else following a nuclear attack on Texas and a discovery that can make energy from seawater. Southland Tales takes place 2 years in the future (now 4 years past) and is a comic take on paranoia in our society told through the lives of a boxer, a porn star and a police officer.
Today’s technology has virtually taken away our privacy and our anonymity. And although I believe this to be a good thing in the long run. It has also allowed the public to locate steaming nuggets of human excrement and elevate them to celebrity status. Romanticizing bad behavior and raising an entire generation of kids to want to be rich and famous and don’t care how.
Common ways of achieving fame and fortune these days include: getting away with murder, having sex w/ a psuedo-celebrity and scandalous or reckless behavior or
With technology, the internet and instant access to other people’s public meltdowns we are able to view the world and find people who are less able to cope than we are. We take the very worse of these people and vilify but at the same time glorify them because in the end they make us feel better about ourselves. So I’m all for it. But if kids are looking at these folks as role models, they’re missing the point by a lot.
Bureaucracy & Paranoia
Brazil tells the story of a society where astronomical amounts of bureaucracy, red tape and paper work are the cause of nearly all of their social and economic problems. Including a perceived terrorist threat that may or may not be a filing error. Terry Gilliam does a great job of painting a picture of this bureaucratic nightmare and one man who is just trying to get the girl.
Most people think of the government when they think of bureaucracy (the DMV comes to mind first) but the more harmful bureaucratic entities are in the private sector; Banks, insurance companies, Hospitals, Corporations. Places staffed with the inept and the uncaring or the caring but unheard. However mostly with people whose only concern is passing the buck and keeping their jobs.
What you find when you examine heinous acts by corporations is that there is no conspiracy in place. But as the document that will destroy thousands of lives is passed from desk to desk each person chooses not to object. Because what you have in the middle of this bureaucracy are a bunch of individuals who are born in debt, buried in paperwork and live in fear. Fear of being out of work and out on the street, while thousands upon thousands lose their homes, their limbs, their loved-ones, and their lives.
Language & Authority
1984 tells the story of a society where language has devolved to such a state as to eliminate the ability to complain. Where authority has forced it’s way into people’s homes and relationships and micro-manages every detail of their already pathetic little lives in the name of fighting a “common enemy” and of the one man who is just trying to get the girl.
1984, the grand daddy of them all needs a little title change. If it were called something other than a future year, now past, I think it would still be as much a part of the discourse as it was in the 60’s and 70’s. Sadly the novel wasn’t future proof and the year 1984 has come and gone. Orwell was prophetic as all hell, just a little arrogant to actually pick a date. So the book is not discussed as much anymore.
But what remains are the ideas.
The video screens in every room, with cameras to spy on the citizens aren’t mounted to the walls. They’re in our pockets and have GPS and contracts. And the cameras are mounted on every corner and every doorway.
The simplification of language and the changes to the meaning of words. (intellectual, patriot, wealthy or climate change for example) The inability to communicate complex ideas or nuanced belief systems without a greater vocabulary in the speaker or the level of comprehension in the listener. (it’s bad, it’s good, it’s godless, it’s from god, it’s Hitler, it’s not Hitler)
The common enemy or enemy of the month has been replaced by two sides. Two warring factions fighting for control over absolutely nothing. (Liberal, Conservative). Either the rich give their money to the government, it gives it to corporations who then give it to rich people OR the poor people give their money to the government, it gives it to corporations who then give it to rich people. (an over simplification but the fact remains the rich get richer no matter who is in office) and why is the other side always Hitler. Dude has been dead for decades and he is still the go to bad guy.
The authority. The Big Brother. The corporate authority that creates more and more laws and more and more restrictions on what we can and cannot do in our homes, or with our stuff and in our spare time. The micro-managing of our lives as they track our every move. Every website. Every purchase. Every call. Every movement. Again we find that what was once an analogy for government control is actually corporate control.
USA: The United Stock-holders of America
Unlike the other four movies. I recommend reading the novel 1984 over the movie. The movie is decent but the book is a lot better. Even if it does need a title update.
– 4 of these 5 films should be considered comedies. And are very very funny (all but 1984). And each of them benefit from viewing in a heightened mental state, if you know what I mean. But as a social commentary, you can’t go wrong with any of these films.
And some might say we are speeding right past these 5 and heading straight for Hunger Games, Fahrenheit 451, Matrix, Handmaid’s Tale and Children of Men. (No resources, no education, no individuality, no choice and no hope) But I have faith in us and I think we’ll make a correction. Unlike the frog in the proverbial pan, we live to complain. And pretty soon we’ll get the fuck up out of that pan and turn the heat off.
“what the hell do you think this is? A sauna?”