Brain Pickings

Market Maketh Man: Distortions of Democracy

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Equilibrium, apathy and what John Stuart Mill has to do with medical marijuana.

You may recall filmmaker Temujin Doran from The Art of Protest, a cunning short documentary about the democratic deficits of today’s political protests. Doran has just released his latest film, Market Maketh Man — an ambitious analysis of several models of liberal democratic doctrine — and today, we sit down with him to talk about democracy, innovation, and the cultural responsibility of filmmakers.

q1

What do you think will be the single most important social or cultural shift, trend or innovation to define the course of democracy in the next decade?

I think that most people are confident in the power of the internet to be a tool that champions our individuality and be a strong force for a more democratic, pluralist society. In some ways this is defendable; social networking, blogging, and online forums can very quickly marshal together like-minded people with potential to bring about dramatic governmental change.

Never before have these tools been so prominent in election campaigns, and in the future they will increasingly define these events and perhaps too, the course of governance. But I think in the coming decade, the internet may be revealed as something that has in fact homogenised society, and stunted our freedoms.

Our thirst for individualism in our lives has become, in a sense, the new conformism; and this has made us predictable. It will be interesting to see how politics and business will attempt to exploit this.

q2

What role do you see documentary filmmakers playing in the past, present and future of democracy? How has this role changed over the past decade?

Perhaps the biggest change in this role is the increasing number of people can do it. It used to be a somewhat privileged position; but thanks to the affordability of film equipment nearly anyone can be a video commentator or journalist on matters that they find important. Via the internet, they can also reach a wide audience. But is this always a good thing? I find it a very troubling question, as it is something that I am also directly part of.

In the same way online commentary functions, it seems perilously close to the world of celebrity culture,; in which an individual’s opinions are marketed as media commodities.

If you look at news channels, they now all rely heavily on eyewitness videos shot from mobile phones or hand held cameras, as well as emails and texts from viewers — what they call “user-generated content.” News groups flaunt this as a kind of open democracy, but it can dangerously simplify the complexities of the modern world with melodramatic “human interest” angles.

q3

How do you think capitalism has altered the vision for and practice of democratic rule?

For much of the western world I think Democracy will always be seen as the route to liberty, but what capitalism has done is to change the meaning of liberty, change the notion of what it is to be free, in both the eyes of the politicians and the electorate. It has replaced any sense of altruism, with selfish individualism, and established the “empire of the self,” turning the world we inhabit into one enormous advert for the life we are apparently lacking. In doing so it has handed the powers of authority to systems of control outside of government, and paralysed the ability of politics to transform the world for the better.

I think the most important thing to understand is that, in many ways, the greatest proponents of the capitalist framework have now become its audience – in short, us.

For more of Doran’s work, including drawings, photography and other films, see Studiocanoe, his creative project. And for a closer look at the evolution of capitalist propaganda, be sure to revisit the excellent BBC four-part documentary, The Century of the Self.

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