What’s got to go
“…I’m 94 years old now and I’m afraid my disposition is the same as it was 74 years ago, THIS SHIT’S GOT TO GO!”
And so begins Zeitgeist: Moving Forward the third film in a series of independently produced and distributed films by Peter Joseph. For those unfamiliar with these films, which have enjoyed considerable success on the internet, perhaps a quick recap will be useful.
In 2007, following on from a live music and visual production, the film Zeitgeist was released on the internet. The content of the film was concerned with religion, 9/11 conspiracy theories, and fractional reserve banking. After viewing this film ‘social designer’ and ex-Technocrat Jacques Fresco contacted Joseph with details of his techno-utopian life work known as The Venus Project. Peter Joseph was so impressed by this that he devoted a large part of his next film the Addendum, and his subsequent life, to expounding these ideas.
In the closing lines of this second film, and as an apparent near afterthought, contained the words ‘Join the Zeitgeist Movement dot com’. On the back of this Joseph has been able to amass a large following on the web and through this fan base co-ordinate an international release comprising of 341 screenings without the association of a major distributor.
Moving Forward itself follows a similar format to the last film in that it is composed of interviews with various academics and journalists, though the range of interviewees is wider this time. There has also been the addition of cartoon animated sequences and other light-hearted sequences that help break the film up giving it a well rounded feel.
The first section of the film is concerned with how society affects physiology and psychology. The film criticises concepts such as ‘human nature’, genetic determinism, nature versus nurture in a way that would be acceptable to socialists, indeed in places covering issues close to those in the socialist party pamphlet Are We Prisoners of Our Genes? Nothing too ground breaking or controversial here but so far so good. Unfortunately things go rather downhill after this.
The shaky economic analysis of the first two films makes a re-appearance. Apparently private property originates not with the beginnings of agriculture but with the works of John Locke. Capitalism starts not with the rise of the mercantile class and the creation of a landless proletariat but with the works of Adam Smith. We are told that the current economic system is characterised by ‘cyclical consumption’ as if consumption under any other system of production could ever be anything other than cyclical, all goods get used up or wear out eventually.
An unfortunate consequence of this section is that it gives the impression that monetary reform would be at least some kind of partial solution. We are told that the problem is that the ‘life cycle’ of commodity production has become dis-attached from the ‘money cycle’ of the market and that people are forced to work because of the debt created by fiat currency; as if the market was ever primarily about human need and people didn’t have to work before the advent of consumer credit and the abandonment of the gold standard.
The fact is that a more thorough and scientific analysis of the capitalist system has already been undertaken, and well over 100 years ago, in the works of Marx; the makers of the film seem ignorant of this probably as they imagine he advocated the continuation of the money system. In fact Marx, along with all true socialists, recognised that money would pass away with the passing away of private property and capitalism.
Though, to be fair, despite these false beginnings the analysis is at least on the right track. In the closing lines of this sequence the narrator states that the fundamental problem facing humanity is not to do with greedy bankers or a secret ruling elite but ‘is in fact the socio-economic system itself at its very foundation’.
The next section of the film, entitled ‘project earth’ is mainly concerned with the Venus Project’s proposed technical solutions to the world’s problems. Anyone who has seen the Addendum would be familiar with what’s on offer here. Hi-tech circular cities, vertical hydroponic farms and suchlike are suggested as ways of producing enough means of subsistence for the world’s population to live comfortably; and perhaps they will be, but such ideas can only be taken as vague suggestions as it is impossible to know what other technological possibilities would have come into fruition by the time such a society becomes a real possibility. The underlying message here is that the technological means for the manufacture of abundance are already in existence, again something which socialists would not disagree with or haven’t said before.
A weakness of the film is that there is no mention of how to get from here to there. Democracy is written off as a fraud since monetary interests are the real guiding force in society. Whilst we would say this is true of all major parties we would also add that a popular movement aimed solely at the transformation of society would be able to exploit the democratic system to its advantage. The closing words of the film are; “The in group will do all it can to stay in power and that’s what you gotta keep in mind. They’ll use the army and navy and lies or whatever they have to use to keep in power. They are not about to give it up because they don’t know of any other system to perpetuate their kind”.
For socialists it can only be heartening that a film questioning the material basis of modern society has enjoyed such success. But it is important not to get too carried away. The ‘Zeitgeist Movement’ has certain attracted many well-meaning people though to the extent that this represents a cohesive organisation is debatable. Peter Joseph is solely responsible for the content of the films leaving the ‘movement’ to take a more or less passive role. If the movement is going to transform itself into an active agent for change it may well involve it becoming something else.
Dramas which attract adjectives like ‘bleak’, ‘gritty’ or ‘brutal’ have been one of the specialities of British film and television since the 1960s. NEDS fits firmly into this tradition, especially alongside This Is England, Scum and early Grange Hill. The acronym stands for ‘Non-Educated Delinquents’ – a dismissive label for teenagers who turn from schooling to violence. John McGill – the film’s lead character – has a promising start at school before pressures from home and his peers push him towards the dubious security of a gang. Most of the characters find themselves trapped in a life of being a victim or perpetrator of violence, or both. Succeeding in education is seen as the only escape, despite the lack of encouragement from jaded, chain-smoking teachers. Sadly, these themes are so common that the film could have been set almost anywhere and at any time. Often, it’s only the accents and the flares which remind you we’re in Glasgow in the early 70s. Writer-director-actor Mullan clearly feels passionate about showing us how some social institutions breed cruelty. Unfortunately, the audience isn’t given quite enough detail about McGill’s motivation, or that of his alcoholic father. And the film starts to unravel in the last act, partly because of jarring appearances by lions, Jesus and taped-on knives.