Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
The Sandanista representative to the Fourth Congress of the Socialist Party of Serbia told the meeting of international delegates that was part of the Congress about the situation in Nicaragua, where the revolutionary Sandanista Government was ousted by US intrigue, destabilisation and propaganda. Today, after several years of US-style democracy and free market "development", Nicaragua has 60 percent unemployment and 40 percent illiteracy. "Youth hopelessness is so great there is one suicide a day", he said. "That's what the US wants for the whole world", he added, in a pointed allusion to the Yanks' much vaunted New World Order. Certainly, US imperialism hasn't much to offer people these days. The same electronic devices that are used to train US soldiers in "look down — shoot down" battlefield responses (so that they will not be inhibited by their humane instincts and will shoot to kill the moment they see an "enemy") are used as arcade games, with no concern for their possible adverse social consequences. Instead of legislators and social leaders demanding that the merchants who make and operate these "teach to kill" games cease making them and cease letting children use them, in fact withdraw them from use and find other means of electronic entertainment, the amusement arcade "industry" launches an attack on critics of the games. The games' defenders use arguments strikingly similar to those of the gun lobby: the correlation has not been proven, guns/games don't kill people — people do, and so forth. Meanwhile, schoolyard killings continue and the number of children that die at home from guns each week in the US escalates. A US criminologist, Richard Rosenfeld, has been investigating the seemingly perverse statistic that for the past six years the overall number of murders in the US has actually been falling. Rosenfeld, a member of the National Consortium on Violence Research, has finally concluded that it's to do with the changing state of American marriages. The fact that less people are getting married means there are less spouses to murder. People who are living together apparently just move out. Rosenfeld also points the finger at the growing influence and effectiveness of domestic violence services and greater recognition of battered wives. This means fewer abusive husbands thinking it's OK to bash their wives to death and fewer battered wives sticking a kitchen knife in the ribs of abusive husbands who've driven them beyond breaking point. What a testament to the quality of life for the inhabitants of the richest capitalist country on earth: the higher the marriage rate, the higher the rate of murders and violence. But we know that this behaviour is not normal, it is not inherent in people: such behaviour is the direct result of the unbearable stresses of living under advanced capitalism. Surrounded by evidence of the unfair basis of the society they live in, forever being urged to consume more and more but with less and less purchasing power, constantly made to feel inadequate, unsuccessful and unfulfilled in the interests of selling more, in permanent fear of losing their job, robbed of hope for themselves or their children — is it any wonder that people's frustrations and anger manifest themselves in violent behaviour? Or that some crackpot solutions will be proposed? Some sociologists in Washington have just launched a new periodical designed to calm people down, The Journal Of Mundane Behaviour. An article in the first issue discusses how Japanese people interact in lifts.
* * *Did you know there was a dark side? The top article on the op-ed page of The Age on March 30 was a reprint of a piece by Jonathan Freedland in the British paper The Guardian on what Mr Freedland perceived as the new willingness of Hollywood to expose "the darker, uglier aspects" of US society. "Those who see the sound stages of California as the propaganda arm of US imperialism ought to think again", says Mr Freedland, which only shows what a naive idea he has of both imperialism and propaganda. Hollywood has produced in every decade films that dealt with "the darker, uglier aspects" of life in what Mr Freedland calls with conscious irony "the great republic". Hollywood has over the years produced memorable films on poverty, unemployment, racism, fascism, corporate ruthlessness, political corruption and more. But even at their best, these films had to be filtered through Hollywood's distorting lens, to remove any trace of a class perspective. Often the message had to be "smuggled" into the film by the writer and director. And when such themes became too explicit for imperialism, the left-wingers were purged from Hollywood's ranks, blacklisted and silenced. No one is hired by a Hollywood film company with the news that they are joining "a glorified advertising agency for the American way". That reality is developed in the subtle play of market forces, which rubs inconvenient working class attitudes off scripts and films in the interests of boosting the "bottom line". The people who work for Hollywood are not blind. They can see the state of their country. They are very well paid, which helps to insulate them and isolate them from the movement for change, but they are still human, they still feel and they still think. To produce today the type of sterile view of US domestic life represented in the past by Doris Day or Donna Reed would be gratingly inappropriate. The filmmakers want to deal with reality. The Hollywood corporate bosses want to sell tickets, so they let them make films that are relevant to today's audiences. But they still filter the finished films through Hollywood's distorting lens: no sense of revolutionary anger, no call for radical change, no sense of the power of people united to change these things that are wrong. Imperialism's control is subtle, and Hollywood remains Hollywood.