JWR Articles: Film/DVD - The Shock Doctrine (Directors: Mat Whitecross, Michael Winterbottom) - January 30, 2010

The Shock Doctrine

The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

5 5
85 min.

Reviewed for the 2010 Direct from the Sundance Film Festival program
Pure capitalism unmasked

The film version by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross of Naomi Klein’s book is a cinematic tour de force that, sadly, confirms the notion that unbridled greed is the primary cause of countless innocent lives lost or mangled in the name of freedom and democracy.

The potent mix of archival footage beginning with Dr. Ewan Cameron’s brutal shock therapy experiments, whose goal was to erase the memories of troubled souls then rebuild their personalities one endless suggestion at a time, adds compelling testimony to Klein’s public readings. In their own largely rhetorical words (and subsequent deeds), the likes of Augusto Pinochet, Boris Yeltsin, Richard Nixon, Donald Rumsfeld, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George W. Bush, Paul Bremer, Bill Clinton and Al Gore attempt to make the world a better place by—in varying degrees—implementing Milton Friedman’s economic policies to calamitous effect.

Keeping government out of the affairs of its citizenry and letting the private sector (especially banks and financial institutions) take unregulated control of its own destiny, bonuses and profits doesn’t come easily. Distractions of horrendous proportions are needed to provide the smoke screen for systemic change that favours the few on the backs of the many. Ideological struggles seem best-suited to the task as Latin America—notably Chile and Argentina—rid their countries of the apparent evils of Marxism only to be replaced by thugs-in-uniform dictatorships. To keep the populace at bay, Cameron’s psychological and physical techniques (devoured wholeheartedly, further improved and exported thanks to the vision and “imagination” of the CIA) were implemented to ensure that all naysayers were left dead along the roadsides or simply vanished into the ether of discontent.

Holed up in the academic ivory tower of the University of Chicago, the Nobel laureate, his disciples and U.S.-sanctioned foreign students, the seeds were developed, sown worldwide and tellingly harvested until the bumper crop of the 2008 meltdown became the mother of all financial disasters that might have been avoided if the pure capitalist visionaries and their legions of followers hadn’t hijacked the American Dream and turned it into the Nightmare on Global Wall Streets—one mortgage-backed security at a time. Employing chemist-composer, born-out of wedlock (Russian Prince Gedianov and his 24-year-old mistress, er, hello there John Edwards), Alexander Borodin’s thoughtful “Andante” from the Second Symphony was as contrasting as it was subliminally metaphorical.

“The economy will correct itself” is a bigger fantasy than all of Disneyland, so distractions at any cost are required to win re-election for leaders who must face an electorate to retain power. Thatcher was lucky enough to have the Argentinean invasion of the coveted Falkland Islands in 1982 stir her patriotic subjects into giving the Iron Lady a huge majority at the ensuing election. Father and son Bush used Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan as rallying cries for their populations whether or not the threats to U.S. security were perceived or real. Where might the world be today if 9/11 had had “underwear bombers” or if no oil lay beneath the surface of Saddam Hussein’s bloodied homeland?

In the arena of public relations, soccer came to Pinochet’s rescue as did the Argentine 1978 World Cup victory for Juan Perón. Those lessons were not lost on Nelson Mandela (cross-reference below) as he sought to calm the wild beast of South Africa after assuming the presidency.

Klein offers disturbing statistics about the privatization of America’s military operations and security both abroad and at home (as the film was being shot, contractors outnumbered soldiers in Iraq). She offers some degree of hope in the story of Janine Huard, one of Dr. Cameron’s victims (being “treated for post-natal depression”) who successfully sued the CIA. Klein’s prescription for the future comes directly from FDR’s famous “Now go out there and make me do it” quotation. How curious that, presently, it falls to another resident of Chicago to marshall all of his considerable political smarts and charm to ensure Friedman’s self-serving policies are dismantled or allowed to wither on the statutory vine. So far, the genie of measuring success by material gain seems unwilling to be put back in the bottle of avarice. What kind of shock might it take to achieve that end? A pandemic of civility and peace?

Sadly/happily (depending whose doctrine you subscribe to), unlike Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s shutdown of Parliament to avoid difficult questions about Canada’s role in the torturing (CIA style) of Afghan detainees, Obama has to actually work with his country’s duly elected lawmakers. Let’s hope we’re all shocked back into our senses. JWR

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