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network 02/05/2016 - 12:00PM

RIOTS REFRAMED DIRECTOR FAHIM ALAM ON DOCUMENTARY, PROPAGANDA AND POWER

Photo credit: Film Pill 2016

On the occasion of launching the inspired and fierce British documentary RIOTS REFRAMED online for the first time, we are sharing reflections from the film’s director, Fahim Alam, on the subject of documentary and ‘speaking truth to power.’* Unsurprisingly, Alam’s words are as thoughtful and provocative as his remarkable film. Read the text below, and go to the film’s #CPVOD page here to rent or purchase his film today.

PROPAGANDA PLUS POWER
by Fahim Alam (c) 2014-2016

There are few exceptions to the rule that we are all propagandists. 

Most are implicated in the aggression of spreading ideas, whether through raising children, debating with peers, or retweeting a tweet. The ideas that we spread, are formed and channelled via the experiential vessel of the individual: one’s life experiences and knowledge acquisitions profoundly condition the propaganda that we so vehemently preach, mostly without acknowledgment of this egocentricity of ideas. 

But what is of greater relevance and that which is greatly denied (under the ego-conditioned notion of free-will), is the relationship of these ideas to power, i.e. the idea that our ideas are funnelled via dominant macrostructures, that manipulate us into subjects, and more perversely, into propagandists of the propaganda of power.

Just like seeds and trees are a minutia of deeply interconnected ecosystems, ideas and ideologies exist as small parts of a megalithic ‘powersystem’: every single part, intricately connected to the rest, with a fundamental relationship of dependency through time and space. Just as a seed grows to form a tree, an idea breeds an ideology; and as trees form rainforests, ideologies render civilisations.

This is not to suggest that we are blindly determined by and slavishly submissive to the indoctrination of “power structures”, but it is to establish an honest recognition of the susceptibility of our minds to violent penetration, whilst simultaneously understanding the power of power. Propaganda and ideology do to the mind and societies; what rape and bombs do to the body and communities.

Reified abstractions such as the capitalist clock, the school system and regularised news, all contribute to what Benedict Anderson calls an ‘Imagined Community’ – the impression of temporal and spatial togetherness, despite the lack of connections that bridge our humanity in actuality. All systems that depend on mass compliance for the benefit of minority control, must construct some form of ‘organisation’ of the ideas of the masses, in the same way that physical violence is applied in a strategic way to pacify the bodies of those same subjects.

‘The mind’ holds a special place within humanity. It cannot be seen or touched, therefore causing a reverence of this metaphysical spirit that we all possess. It is difficult for us as a species to absorb the notion that the most powerful part of our humanity is also our weakest. But without this recognition, we leave ourselves vulnerable to a violent rape of the mind, in a way in which we would not leave ourselves open to a violent rape of the body.

To recognise this is to acknowledge a classic doctrine of power, (most simply amplified in the ‘Wind and the Sun’ fable), which can be charted across all philosophies of power, strategies of war, arts of seduction, and so on. The power of brute force is not really power at all, unless accompanied with a successful propagation of ideas and ideologies. In fact, as a general rule, the more effectively ‘soft power’ is used, the less necessary ‘hard power’ becomes – i.e. the power of distraction, over destruction (the three largest industries in the world are drugs, pornography and armaments). 

This is not to suggest a binary opposition however, but more so to suggest that both forms of power work to reinforce each other. Perhaps one of the most significant examples of this in modern warfare, is the use of ‘fear’ to subjugate the body through a simple idea implemented in the mind, that violence may and/or can be used. Such conditioning of the mind, is often enough to temper the acts and omissions of the body.

Specifically in relation to global empire, (that is, the mass subjugation of the majority of the world into submissive labour and other forms of oppression, over sustained periods of time), the propaganda originating from the centres of empire must necessarily relate to the international positioning of power. Within a global system of subjugation, there is no such thing as propaganda which is absent of the international and historical story of the globe, whether overt or otherwise. 

A brief etymological consideration exemplifies this point: the term ‘propaganda’ was coined when ‘The Office for the Propagation of the Faith’ (Congregatio de propaganda fide) was established by Pope Gregory XV, who was concerned with the global spread of Protestantism. This was an institution that prepared European missionaries to go out into the colonies and subjugate whole societies to accept specific ideas, thus reinforcing the ideology and power of the empire. The eponym exemplifies the point that there is no secret to the use of propaganda, by those in power, to subjugate those in the colonies of empire. Indeed, the word propaganda only took on a pejorative meaning until much more recently in historical terms, and for a long time, held its use as a neutral phrase.

So what of the tools of psychological subjugation within the centres of empire? Centre-of-empire supremacy can allow a tendency to assume that as privileged centre-dwellers, we are somehow void of such controls and 'freer' – that somehow, our subjugation is not linked to the oppression of those colonised elsewhere, or that we are ‘less controlled’. This assumption dangerously denies our relationship to the colonies and the societies that live in those geographies, thus fundamentally denying the existence of modern empire and how it is reinforced by the position of denizens at the base; whilst in reality and to the contrary, the masses at the centre, directly contribute to the predicament of the colonial subjects of empire through administering the fate of those people, in both subtle and obvious ways.

The current infiltration and penetration of propaganda into our lives and minds, and importantly, the rapid proliferation of it, is arguably, one of the most dangerous forms of enslavement known in the history of humans. We exist within a melancholy of multiple screens, virtual networks, information superhighways and much more, to the point that the propaganda of the power structure dominates many of our lives, perpetually. And although this is arguably one of the most significant movements in the history of humans, there seems to be little resistance to it. 

To the contrary, many praise the benefits that a life full of propaganda outlets brings whether it presents itself under the guise of ‘staying connected’, or ‘keeping up-to-date’, whilst the status quo persists: the tendency is for those being subjugated to remain consumers of propaganda rather than to become sophisticated producers of propaganda.

Our power in this regard is immense, yet grossly under-realised. For the first time in history, subjects of empire, especially within the centres of it, have the ability to propagate to the masses i.e. to each other, with relative ease. Furthermore, we have the ability to do this through the production of media which is as dynamic as that of the major media machines due to the technologies at our disposal. 

And film, whether documentary or otherwise, is one of the most powerful tools within this trajectory, as it allows the synthesis and interaction of multiple propagation tools (e.g.music, text and voiceovers) towards the manipulation of our minds.

Within this new and unprecedented culture, we must begin to think differently. We can take lessons from the old, but the landscape has shifted, and if our movements don't change with it, it will change us instead.