Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Surveillance and The Butler

The other day, I did something that I thought I would never have to do in this nation of ours. I took a post-it, reached over to my computer screen, and stuck it over the camera lens. I did this because of reports I had been reading that the FBI can and does monitor the activities of computer users through their skype cameras. I had only recently begun using skype, and so it was chilling and disheartening to learn that the government was taking advantage of the technology to spy on people. Coming on the heels of the NSA surveillance revelations, and the zombie-like reaction of most of officialdom, from the president on down, it was yet another blow to my confidence that anything like privacy might still exist in our society. Then, at the urging of my children, I replaced my archaic cell phone with an iPhone, only to learn a few days later that the NSA uses them as a sort of reverse GPS to track the movements of their owners. Again, the revelation seems scarcely to have raised an eyebrow among the powers sworn to protect our Constitutional liberties. Richard Nixon would have been thrilled.

There is no privacy in America any more. We must simply acknowledge the fact since those in authority seem determined to protect this new status quo, rather than our liberties, and the bulk of the population does not seem to care. I asked my older, computer-genius son why this should be and he had a simple and disarming answer: Young people today, he said, have no expectation of privacy. He took out his smart phone and demonstrated that Google knew that he was at that moment in a sushi restaurant in Pasadena, and it glibly offered suggestions on other businesses and points of interest in the immediate area. The disregard for privacy, he was saying, was the result of generational training in the convenience of technology: Young people would rather know where the nearest cinema or gadget shop is than know that they are secure in their privacy.

Another disheartening realization: Privacy is now a quaint relic of an earlier age. Technology has suffocated it under a blanket of easy access to information. And just as the powers that be are content to take advantage of the woeful state of public education in this country because ignorance serves their purposes, so they are taking advantage of the surfeit of pointless information because it kills privacy. And privacy is a great impediment to government control of individuals. Remember the old dictum of British Common Law that your home is your castle, and not even the King of England has the right to enter without your permission? Monarchs never dreamed that they would one day be eagerly invited in to the most intimate parts of our lives, like our health care, for example, for the sake of knowing where "The Butler" is playing tonight.

And on that score, may I offer my opinion that "The Butler," like Obamacare, is a massive fraud being perpetrated on the American public? It is nothing but another Hollywood liberal screed on American evil that is so simplistic and so politically biased as to be comical, were it not being taken so very seriously. As I watched it, I was alternately amused and horrified. The Civil Rights Movement? I was there; the Black power movement? I was there; the anti-Vietnam War Movement? I was there. And they were nothing like so simple as the movie portrays them. For example, the Black Panther philosophy is tossed off in a few canned sentences in one scene, and beyond that the movement is portrayed as consisting of young people with big hair, big earrings, black leather and bad attitudes engaged in pseudo-political posturing and pouting. This does service neither to the complexities of the historical phenomenon nor to the need of young viewers to form an intelligent opinion of it.

This is ice skating through recent American history, using clichés and stereotypes to make a point that has more to do with the political cant of the filmmakers than it does with the truth about those events. It is Hollywood myth making at its most despicable: propaganda meant to serve a tendentious agenda rather than art meant to educate and edify. Yet, knowing Hollywood as I do, the film and everyone connected with it will doubtless be nominated for all the major awards, and will probably win many of them. For this is how mainstream Hollywood sees history: as cheap drama concocted from convenient clichés and stereotypes that can be served up neatly in two-hour packages over popcorn and slurpees.

Suffice it to say that, at its most clichéd and comical, the film ultimately reveals itself for what it truly is - a racist cavalcade conflated from liberal guilt and elitist daydreaming. In the final scenes, the two main characters, played by Forrest Whitaker and no less an icon of media hype than Oprah Winfrey, suddenly, after a generous time cut, turn into stereotypical aged Negroes. They are transformed into what they are in the white liberal imagination - Amos and Andrea. They slur, they fumble for language, they actually shuffle. This is what wealthy white liberals really think of blacks, and even on a thirty million dollar budget with the whole world watching, they cannot restrain themselves from saying so.

I was for decades a liberal and an activist. I marched for Civil Rights and Student Rights, I met with Dr. King, I camped in Resurrection City during the Poor People's campaign, and I know that for most hardened, guilt-ridden white liberals, raised in privilege and indoctrinated in progressivism, the Civil Rights Movement was nothing but a tool - a tool to assuage their guilt and make them feel better about themselves. They used blacks in very much the same spirit as the slave owners had - to do the dirty work, of their souls if not of their hands.

And now that we have had our first black president for five years, no one in the mainstream seems to notice that the condition of black people in this country is the worst it has been since the Civil Rights days; that black unemployment is over 15% (among young blacks, over 30%), that the murder rate in black communities has soared, that more black people (and Americans at large) live in poverty and subsist on food stamps than have since the mid-Sixties. Meanwhile, the president luxuriates in Paradise playing six-hour rounds of golf, the mainstream media continues to lionize him, cover for his incompetence and swallow his lies, and the rest of America shivers under a frozen blanket of deceived expectations and false hopes.