I am aware of a little bit of embarrassment purchasing tickets for this particular movie, which is strange as I usually do not give a damn what people think. I feel furtive in my movements, I want the auto-ticket kiosk to move fast, I don’t want to linger in the lobby, and I want to be safe in the dark and anonymous as soon as possible. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.
Other people in the crowd clearly don’t feel the same way. It’s 11:00 am and couples are coming in with an air of anticipation, enthusiasm even. Talking excitedly about finally seeing some “truth” about Obama…and “Isn’t it great that we can finally say what we feel regardless of race?” Most of these people are above 50, with two exceptions, one woman brought her daughter who seems to be a Gen- Xer like me. And of course me and my movie companion who I dragged along because I was frankly not wanting to be seen alone at this movie.
I feel much sneakier than I ever did as a young person going into a sex shoppe.
I have been getting emails from all of my conservative acquaintances for about a month urging me to see this movie before voting. All of them know I voted for Obama in 2008. All of them apparently are more than comfortable pushing their world view on me. This is something I would never do to them; it seems gauche to do so. But then I have noticed people lack basic manners nowadays.
Through these contacts and the media I have come to this movie with pre-conceived notions. I believe this will be an Obama bashing propaganda film, full of the rhetoric we have come to expect from the ultra right. And yet I am still intrigued. There is a part of me that wants to know, how propaganda is being handled in this era. As it turns out, the propaganda is quite well presented.
The movie opens with a comparison. The storyteller, Dinesh D’Souza shows us what he thinks are parallels between his and our president’s life. He was born in poverty in India, a country that was just coming out of colonialism. Our President was born about the same time, albeit in Hawaii, to a father whose country (Kenya) was also separating itself from colonialism.
D’Souza compares English colonialism to American colonialism stating the British colonies were about recourses. The languishing empire had been build on what could be had, produced, traded. America, he states, is a different type of Empire. America’s Empire is one of ideals.
So, okay he sets up his story pretty well, factually there isn’t a lot to argue with, if you blatantly ignore the fact that America in fact is very interested in resources; oil being at the top of the list. We know America loves to pretend they are not conquerors. Americans love to pretend they are liberators when in fact the goal of every interaction is to make more Americas. Lands where the particular brand of democracy we practice is embraced. We know that whatever lands decline our democracy, are considered by America at large to be godless heathen communists.
Once the audience is feeling nice and cozy about the idea that real truth is being presented D’Souza jumps to President Obama himself. And yet this too is done gently…even seductively. He reminds us that a lot of Americans voted for Obama based on the platform of “Hope”. In fact, Hope was on almost all of the 2008 material. It’s imminently okay to hope. We all hoped, we were all in on it. The ways in which we “Hoped” are literally innumerable, but mostly we “Hoped” for another Democratic buzzword-“Change.” Then slyly he slips in a bit of the knife. Our biggest and most secret unspoken hope was, he postulates, that we would be absolved of our racist sins by voting for a black president. Our hope was that he would be everything he “could” be. (Whatever that is, D’Souza is deliberately vague about this) Unstated but clearly implied is that Obama fell far short of what he had potential to be. Along with this, the audience is led like children being chastised to believe: it’s okay, you messed up, now it’s time to grow up and abandon “Hope”. One must vote like an “adult” on what you actually see and hear. All the while leaving out the fact that every illusionist knows, one can see and hear anything the master of illusion wants them to.
The documentary goes on from there to poke holes in the man-Barack or Barry as D’Souza consistently refers to him, using Obama’s own words from his autobiography Dreams of My Father. It’s not an accident or an effected familiarity that he uses Barack’s school day, “white” name Barry either. It is calculated to make the audience feel that this man who is our president is two faced. He pulls in expert witnesses in the form of faculty psychiatrists who haven’t met with Obama and likely haven’t met with any clients in a clinical setting for several years to lead us to the idea that Obama is suffering from an unresolved daddy issue. That everything he has or will do is in fact to gain the love of his absentee and now deceased father.
Not that it’s his fault mind you; it’s a psychological problem that’s all. Implied in all of this is the question: Do we as a nation want to suffer while Obama tries to please the ghost of his father?
Many people are interviewed along this line, including his brother George, a polygamous auntie (one of Obama’s grandfather’s wives) an old teacher. The questions asked by D’Souza are clearly leading. Questions full of “don’t you thinks” and “wouldn’t it have beens” None of the interviewees seem to support D’Souza’s thesis, however that’s okay because they will be described as being in denial too. Or unaware. Or maybe they just hadn’t thought of it yet.
The whole while the audience is eating the story up. They really really love it. It is at this point in the film that I start hearing people making snide and even racist comments. They feel comfortable doing this because as Dinesh D’Souza pointed out; He is not a racist. As an Indian he is in fact “the same colour as Barack Obama.” White Americans are always looking for the first coloured person in the room to speak up so they can comfortably let out all the racist things in their heads that heretofore they felt uncomfortable saying. D’Souza has made it okay to be racist.
From the peanut gallery are yells of “Of course he (Obama) has it in for America!”; “Yeah right!” ,in response to Obama’s auntie not wanting to be harassed by film crew and even “Bullshit!” , when a clip of Obama was shown speaking about Americans cultivating tolerance and dignity.-Go figure, somehow tolerance and dignity is met with “bullshit!”.
Clearly this movie is mainly made for the people who want to hear this story. It’s not made to change minds but rather to galvanize those already on the “right” team. It’s doubtful that many people who are Obama supporters will even go to see the movie in theatres. After all we are in a depression and theatre tickets aren’t cheap. It cost me $5.25 for the matinee. By the time it goes to DVD or streaming its importance will be past. All this leaves me wondering, why play it at the theatres anyway? Why not release it to the Documentary channel or something of the sort thereby allowing more people to see it? How on earth did the decision get made to have it be in theatres, which are mostly empty? I am also curious as to why theatre managers are running it. Theatres have the choice to say yes or no to any particular film. This is why we don’t see a lot of indie films in theatres. If it’s not a money maker usually it doesn’t get picked to play at a multiplex. So, are hands being greased here? Are movie theatre owners that conservative?
In a Huffington post interview D’Souza states, “This was not intended to be a ‘Don’t Vote for Obama’ film, but rather to be a ‘Discover the Real Obama’ film. There’s no question that I knew there would be intense interest in politics this year and so it made sense to drop the film at a time when Americans care more than usual about politics. But it’s not specifically aimed at the election.”
“In fact,” he continued. “The film, as a film, will do better if Obama wins.”
It’s hard to decipher how exactly it will play well after the election at all, regardless of who wins. It seems to me that D’Souza simply wanted his book to do better and knew the right people to make a documentary. He readily admits that “An acquaintance put him in touch with producer Gerald Molan, who’d worked on “Schindler’s List.” Molan agreed that “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” (D’Souza’s book) had the makings of a compelling movie. D’Souza raised $2.5 million from 25 friends and acquaintances — “mostly from my neighborhood in California,”
The entire end of the movie degenerates into accusations that would have given J. Edgar Hoover a hard-on. Statements that Obama is weakening the “American Might”, that he is anit-zionist (as if that is a bad thing) and hoping to help make the “United States of Islam” in the middle east. Again, I don’t see the problem with that really, if it works to keep the peace…
The problem is, none of this is true. However as it degenerated, the crowd got more and more excitable and angry at Obama, democrats and liberals in general. And here is where we get to the real point of the film. It is propaganda plain and simple.
People will believe what they want to believe. If you are able to capture that audience and feed them more of this belief that they hold so dear they will galvanize around it. No need to do further research because look, this Dinesh D’Souza guy already did it and he is a professor and Indian immigrant. We know he wouldn’t be racist in his research. He clearly wouldn’t be looking to denigrate other immigrant families would he? Would he?
The clever presentation of an argument that takes race and birthright out of the equation is clearly working. The film is discussed and the book sales are up as are box office sales. As of this week it has grossed 26.2 million in the box office. But more importantly more people now know who Dinesh D’Souza is. This seems to be a pretty important goal of the whole project.
All in the entire movie drops the ball, even for its own propaganda fuelled formula. The question of what America will look like in 2016 should Obama be elected is not addressed at all. It peters off with half hearted images of “Change” as in; yes you received change before but was it the change you wanted? The implied message is no. The change we received is debt augmented by more slogans from the Obama camp. D’Souza even trotted out embarrassing tapes of Hillary Clinton making a fool of herself.
This isn’t new information for anyone. And really, we expected debt. Nobody reasonable on either side expected the President elected in 2008 to pull us into full economic recovery. But D’Souza’s story leads us to believe all the problems were created by Obama. He also has a nice little love story montage dedicated to Ronald Reagan which he may have pulled from Alex Keaton’s senior thesis.
None of this provided any answers to the questions postulated at the beginning of the film. Who is Barack Obama? What will American look like if he is re-elected? But thanks to repeating the questions over and over again, the minimal answers given; (It’s generally agreed upon Barack or Barry is a pretty nice guy, serious but nice. And America will fail to reach global imperialism) the question itself is what sticks in people’s heads.
I’m listening in the restroom to the ladies who were shouting obscenities at pictures of Kenyans and Hawaiians during the film. It’s pretty clear to them that it doesn’t matter that there were no answers, they discuss things like: “Yeah, what about his dad?” And “Yeah, should someone with unresolved issues be the president.”
It makes me almost want to point out we have had a lot of presidents with unresolved daddy issues the most recent being Georg W. Bush. It also makes me want to point out our country has unresolved parent issues, why do you think we are trying so hard to out-imperialize England?
But I don’t. Because people believe what they want to believe. They consume what they want to consume and they look for entertainment and education that props up their own ideals. Also I hate arguing in the bathroom.
What concerns me most about this movie is its success, both financially and with reaching people, because it means there will be more documentaries and movies along these lines in the future. As pointed out in a new study, what we see, we believe we experience and so our morals are influenced by our viewing. Or as Joshua D. Greene, co-creator of a new study in the area of Visual Imagery and Moral Judgment states: “Emotional responses don’t just pop out of nowhere, they have to be triggered by something. And one possibility is that you hear the words describing some event, you picture that event in your mind, and then you respond emotionally to that picture.”
Or more directly, you are shown that picture directly say…in a movie, by someone who seems trustworthy and qualified to tell you about a story and your morals are shaped quicker. You lose yourself in the images and the tub of buttered popcorn and you forget to think logically, rationally and thoroughly.
This is the essence of propaganda; appealing to the moral conscience of a wide array of people. It is what this movie is doing and more will come. Since we are a society influenced by “The Next Big Thing.” And the draw of media, those of us who care about what stories are being told should take the time to educate our families on the ways in which these tools are being employed.
That is not to say we should stay away from the theatres and throw out our televisions along with our newspapers. It’s important to know what is being said and sold to us and our neighbors. However education, real informative education should be paramount. This needs to happen in the home and amongst our friends and social circles, as it definitely will not be taught in school.
More and more I believe contrary to Gil Scott Heron’s spoken word “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” it seems in fact, the Revolution Will Be Televised. The question is? Which side will be shown and how will it be manipulated? The Revolution will in fact most likely make you five pounds thinner. There will in fact it seems be pictures of pigs shooting brothers down in instant replay and people will cheer. And unfortunately, Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and Hooterville Junction will be more relevant than ever. People care more than ever if Dick gets down with Jane and the Revolution WILL be televised.
But a good portion of the people will miss it because they are busy. Busy cheering for the wrong side, which will be the winning side because it has been figured out; televising the Revolution is the most effective tool against real Revolution.
And judging by the crowd I sat with in the theatre, the Revolution will go better with Coke and a smile and popcorn, which now is served in heart-stopping buckets with cool ranch flavor packets.