Zeitgeist Films // 2009 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // October 18th, 2011
Disaster capitalism in action.
At the time of writing this review, the Occupy Wall Street demonstration has been in effect for one month and appears to be picking up momentum worldwide. Organizing this unorganized movement on the Internet, rallies are expected to expand to more than 80 countries in mid-October. This is a protest against what many believe is a corrupt and flawed economic system but one of the criticisms of the OWS demonstration is the unclear goal and lack of specific demands by the participants. Little wonder their goal is vague. How do you list your demands against a system? Most people barely understand how the system even works.
Naomi Klein's 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism examines the political and economic history of the last 40 years as a way to explain how democratic nations have strayed from serving the will of the people in favor of enriching the lives of the elite. I haven't read the book but the documentary film The Shock Doctrine works quite well to summarize Klein's thesis and serve as the introduction to the more detailed work. This is clearly and unapologetically a leftist argument so brace yourselves, neoconservatives.
Directors Michael Winterbottom (The Trip) and Mat Whitecross (The Road to Guantanamo) combine video from Klein's speaking tour with historical newsreel and archival footage to illustrate the author's arguments. Approximating the structure of the book, the film introduces viewers to the leading economic theory of the latter twentieth century and show how it was applied in the real world. It's a concise and chilling recounting of the U.S. influence upon other countries during and after the Cold War.
Milton Friedman and the Chicago School economists constitute the equivalents of mad scientists in this monster movie. Friedman's promotion of radical free market policies was favored by leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The problem for both elected leaders was how to convince the people that selling off public assets and eliminating price controls on essentials was good for them. The solution is what Klein describes as a form of economic "shock therapy" where disasters or great social upheavals distract the people so that they aren't aware of the great theft that's happening to them. When the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami washes away the homes of poor people living on a public beach, that's when real estate companies can claim land for private development. When Iraq's infrastructure is bombed to smithereens during an invasion, companies like Halliburton get billions of dollars in contracts to rebuild it.
Friedman's supporters and disciples learned that war is the most effective distraction. Augusto Pinochet's 1973 coup d'état in Chile serves as an early example where sudden political change and economic change come hand in hand. The military dictator's supposed fight against Communism introduced free-market reforms recommended by the "Chicago boys" and any dissidents were made to "disappear" by his secret police. In Russia, Boris Yeltsin's rule was notable for his defense against an attempted coup in 1991, another one in 1993 when he ordered the army to fire on the Russian White House and the invasion of Chechnya. He promoted privatization during his reign and effectively put the nation's most profitable industries into the hands of a few oligarchs. Moscow has the distinction of being the city with the most billionaires in the world.
The Chicago School field tested their theories in foreign lands and then applied it in the English-speaking democratic world. The film argues that the enforcement lessons learned in the tests with military strongmen in repressive states were adopted by the U.S. and U.K. A good deal of effort is spent looking at the CIA's torture techniques as they evolved from experiments in the 1960s. This is correlated to how a population is "tortured" by repressive authorities until they learn to accept a new reality, or a new economic policy. This is, perhaps, the hardest element to accept objectively as it does imply a deliberate and concerted effort on the part of the wealthy and powerful to subjugate their fellow citizens. How thin is the line between greedy and evil? That's for individual viewers to decide but the film paints a pretty compelling picture.
Assembled from video camera footage of Klein's speaking engagements and historical newsreels, the picture quality on this DVD ranges in quality from passable to mediocre. A few interviews fair the best but a lot of the archival clips are scratched and blurry. The image doesn't detract from the impact of this filmic essay's content though. The audio is a respectable stereo mix that lets the narration by Kieran O'Brien (9 Songs) and various interviews be heard clearly. The trailer is the only extra on the disc.
The Shock Doctrine is a look at recent history with an eye to explaining the connection between politics and economics. It is disturbing to think how an idea -- apparently a flawed and dangerous one -- can be adopted so widely with such devastating results. There is a scene where Friedman receives the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. I was pleased to see that a protester had infiltrated the ceremony and shouted at the economist when he took the stage. That young man represented a generation that felt powerless against a system that rewards avarice and perpetuates corruption and abuse. He had no way to strike against the system except to speak out and cause a scene and I am glad he did so. Remember to check your camping gear before heading to the rally.
The film is not guilty but surely some rich fat cat out there is.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated