Thursday, September 13, 2007

Naomi Klein "Shock Doctrine"

I know that ive already talked about my UNHP class before and how i think its kind of confusing and pointless, but Im gonna talk about it again anyway. Im still not sure what Im going to get out of this class but at least im becoming more accustomed to questioning what I hear and see instead of blindly believing new information. So we watched the film that Alfonso Cuaron made about Naomi Klein's new book the "Shock Doctrine" in UNHP today. Id heard about her book before talking about it in class, but I still didn't know very much about it even though I thought it sounded very interesting. Our class discussion today was mainly about the things we had heard about hurricane Katrina and New Orleans compared to what had actually happened. We watched the film because it went along with the idea that governments use all kinds of methods to control or decieve us, even taking advantage of national emergencies like Katrina. Klein has done all sorts of research on how we respond to shocking situations or even electric shock. What she found is that when people experience extreme shock they are more easily controlled or decieved because they are not able to respond to or process things like they normally would. Klein applies this concept of an individuals weakened state of mind after shock to large people groups. She says that after a shocking national emergency, powerful people can try to push through all sorts of policies or make decisions that normally would not have been allowed. While I agree with her that this often happens, i don't think that the way she represents her theories in the film is fitting. I think that she is guilty of the very thing she accuses governments of doing, using shocking material and events to instill their beliefs and control others. before I start criticizing her though, I want to say that I definitely think that our government has done this sort of thing in the katrina situation and with 9/11 but ill talk more about that later. Anyway, Klein and Cuaron use shocking material such as images of people experiencing electric shock therapy and illustrations of methods used by the CIA to "interrogate" prisoners in order to demonstrate the effects of shock and its documented effects. She talks about the brutality of CIA interrogation by describing things such as the use of phobias, solitary confinement, pain, and sleep deprivation used to crack the prisoners. The film then shows crowds of people being cruelly beaten back by police and other methods used to disperse large riots. next we see all sorts of disasters such as wars and floods to show us instances in which the government or others in power might have pursued their own agendas with disregard to the populace. finally, Klein ends by saying that information can keep us from experiencing and being controlled by shock. Ok, so during this whole movie I was thinking "how did i not know about this," and "surely this isn't happening in my country" and so on, but later on when i was walking to my car i remembered one picture in the film that completely shattered the illusion for me. The scene was of George W. speaking through a megaphone to people in New York right after the attacks while Klein says that after shock we "become inclined to follow leaders who claim to protect us." Im not a big W supporter, in fact i think he has messed up a lot, but i just about wanted to cry when that picture came up of Bush and klein used it in such a negative way. I certainly think that there weren't enough good reasons to enter Iraq and that the reasons he did have turned out to be pretty wrong, but I dont think that when he was standing up there encouraging a nation that had just been attacked that he was trying to maliciously control us, I think he was actually trying to protect us (even if it didnt work out well). I know that Bush hasn't made good decisions but, to me, those decisions don't seem like he has some sort of detrimental agenda, it just seems like he isn't thinking clearly. I hate that Klein made him out to be this big bully trying to control and decieve us when especially in that particular instance I dont think that was true at all. Maybe if Cuaron had used a different scene (maybe a public address or something) this would have come out better, but to me it looked like the leader of a nation trying to encourage and lead his people in a time of national emergency. Aside from the way she portrayed Bush in this film, I think klein went a little overboard in portraying governments as scarily trying to control us and harm us in national disasters. I mean sometimes rapid decisions are made during emergemcies because the situation calls for fast decisions and usually rapid decisions are not the best. I dont think that means that every bad decision or action taken is an attempt to decieve people I just think that sometimes in disasters people dont have time to think clearly before they act. I know that there are plenty of cases in which the government corruptly used disasters like when that department in Lousiana tried to get like 8 Billion or something right after the storm hit. Most cases like that dont seem like an attempt to control the populace though, they seem greed-driven or for some other personal agenda. So thats one way that I think she is wrong but let me get back to my accusation that she is using shock to control people. Ok, so her film shows shocking images and information that most people have never heard of and would find inconcievable. I think she is over exagerating the situation and people are initially responding to their surprise and of course shock by believing her. Most people have never seen anybody undergo electric shock treatment and its very disturbing to see. Also, the images from the CIAs interrogation methods are shocking to watch. i think, whether she is doing this intentionally or not, klein is instilling her beliefs into her viewers by presenting them with shocking new information and images that are initially hard to resist. had it not been for the scene with Bush that I strongly disagreed with, I dont think that I would have really thought about the film in a discerning way after it was over, I think I would have simply thought of it as freaky but true. So to sum up, I think Klein is right about the people in power using emergencies to further their own agendas but i dont think they are usually trying to control us. Also, I think that Klein's film used the same shock treatment like she discusses in her book, to influence her viewers. I plan on reading at least parts, if I dont have time for all it, of "Shock Doctrine" I think it sounds very interesting even though I think she is exagerating a little bit.


Wendy Sumner-Winter said...

This is a really excellent entry Lauren. You're doing precisely what I want you to be doing in all of your work. That is, asking how the author of a particular text (and a movie is also a text) fails or succeeds and why/how.

I think that one of the main things we can learn from this sort of "propaganda" is that NOTHING is black and white. That it, Bush is not all bad and he's not all good. He, like the rest of us, is human.

There's lots of gray in the world.

Poon said...

I wish I could get the full version of Naomi Klein's lecture. Probably a really interesting read.