I frequently troll political and social blogs, where activist films resonate strongly with receptive audiences willing to take up the torch, and I can state without fear of contradiction that our newfound interconnectivity has given us an unprecedented ability to bitch and moan, and pretend to take action. ‘Armchair activism’ – as TIFF’s Thom Powers dubs it in our Audience story this month – is rampant. We’ve all become little Neros, sitting in front of our keyboards while Rome burns, filling bandwidth with verbal masturbation without bothering to take a leap into the physical action required in order to manifest change.
In fact, the whole system has become so perfectly inert that it’s easy to see a Machiavellian hand, some plotting intelligence pulling strings behind a curtain like in the Wizard of Oz, or doling out bread as we indulge ourselves in electronic circuses. Consider that Oz reference when you next visit a discussion board only to find it populated with the inevitably loud and opinionated critics, themselves without brains, hearts or the courage required to sign a real name to their beliefs.
And, in light of our ironically vocal and vociferous apathy, government and corporations have become immune to public opinion, hidden behind bulwarks of lawyers and public relations firms, barely offering even a casual glance over the parapets at the madding crowds below.
What film or collection of films can assail such institutionalized and regimented dispassion? Since the turn of the millennium, we have been awash with films that take up a cause, or one side of an argument, in the hopes of convincing those already predisposed to believe. Our natural disposition is to call them advocacy films, but they’re not. Advocacy films have an inherent altruism to them – they are a labor of love in the face of overwhelming odds. Instead, what we’re swimming in are projects espousing an opinion or political stance, more often than not bereft of the cloak of righteousness that tends to shelter advocacy efforts.
We have to aspire to be more than propagandists of the ‘anti’ – of the ‘con.’ If our goal is more than entertainment (which, it must be said, is a perfectly admirable goal in itself), then we have to be truth tellers. We have to be fair educators and, above all else, we have to be motivators. We have to be revolutionaries, even if we package those messages in the down-home charm of an Al Gore lecture.
But at all costs, we must avoid piling on just for the sake of it, adding to the voices cursing the darkness just because that’s where the PR mileage is. I don’t believe in a mass media-driven tipping point towards social and political action. Instead, I believe that without that cornerstone of truthfulness, of good journalism, each one of these efforts has an opposite effect, and creates an immunity in the viewer and a resistance against taking imperative real-world action.