Remember the X-Files? At the end of every episode, there was the production card, that little bit of surrealism that identifies the show as being created by a particular production company, in this case, Chris Carter’s Ten thirteen productions. I bring this up because the tag line of that production card always stayed with me. A simple statement, spoken by a child: “I made this.”
It wasn’t just a boast, but a reminder. Someone made the preceding show. It didn’t just appear on your screen, beamed in from outer space. It was consciously made to sell you an idea. Now in the case of the X-Files, we knew it was all just a tale told, full of sound and furry, etc.
I started thinking about this when the Kony 12 controversy erupted last month. What struck me most was how muddled everything became over something as simple as a movie. Though perhaps simple is the wrong word. Movies are complex, deceptively so. We forget how much time and attention goes into editing them into a coherent narrative that we overlook the gaps in that editing, and pretend that the moving pictures are telling us a documented truth. Even and especially documentaries, which purport to be unbiased, or at least backed up with the facts.
But facts are funny things. They’ll serve liars just as well as they will crusaders for truth and justice. Sure, Joseph Kony is a horrible man, and the Lords Resistance Army a travesty left to fester due to the failings of international justice, and the state of affairs in that part of Africa a blight on humanity. These are undisputed facts.* But what gets left out of the film detailing these atrocities is how the movie makers are profiting, not just from harvesting white guilt, but how they divert attention from these and other atrocities by changing the story. Kony 12 isn’t about the lords Army. It’s about what Invisible Children is doing to help raise awareness of themselves. And oh yeah, some bad stuff happening in Africa.
We have let movies dictate our perceptions for so long that we have forgotten that someone else’s vision defines what we see or don’t see. And that makes us responsible, as an audience, to stay informed. It’s long past the hour of when you could simply be a passive consumer of moving pictures. It can be argued that this never was a luxury we had, only another meme sold to us.
All politics is personal. And it doesn’t get any more personal than the images you let people put in your head. This goes double for viral propaganda videos. Anything that wants your attention as much as it wants your money should be suspect. Never stop asking “who made this?” because if the answer isn’t “I made this,” than someone is selling you something and it may not be something you want to buy.
*Unless you’re Rush Limbaugh, but he makes a living out of disputing the known facts. Why is he still on the air again?