[Update: Listen to Phil's interview on The Authority Smashing Hour (roughly 16:30-30:00) discussing the film and relevant topics with its director Jonathan Shockley.]
“The public mind might have funny ideas about democracy.”
Can a society whose political system functions in accordance with the self-serving strategies of big business call itself democratic? Is limited, programmed public participation occurring every few years worthy of such an esteemed categorization?
“Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Politics” provides startling answers to these questions–reinforced by an increasingly bleak political climate–and makes a case for social organization free from tyrannical institutions of any variety.
Using UMass Professor Thomas Ferguson’s Investment Theory of Party Competition as a launching pad, the film explores the political process in the United States and unavoidably paints a grim picture of its internal tendencies. Chief among its assertions is that the collective efforts of blocs of investors have more to do with national political victories than either popular participation or relevant issues.
It’s an idea that may be interpreted as conspiratorial upon first visitation (something the clips of “They Live” sprinkled throughout amplify to emphatic effect), but if you simply consider the role of corporate media and the way business conducts itself on a structural level, it’s more or less common sense.
Now, in general, people seem to approach criticizing our brand of governance with a lot of hesitation. Only its most egregious features (the Electoral College, for example) consistently attract tepid protest, and that appears to almost exclusively take shape when it’s in direct violation of people’s preferences. How many Bush supporters can you remember feeling unjustly victorious when the popular vote went to Gore in 2000 and Bush won on a technicality? And along those same lines, how many Obama supporters could you have imagined censuring the electoral college if it had been Obama’s only means of executive ascendancy?
The point is, by and large, that for many people, the ends justify the means. But “Golden Rule” (as well as its theoretical basis) sidesteps that pettiness and, instead, gets to the heart of the matter: What does the ceremonial act of voting once every few years really have to say about our particular system? And what does it have to say about corporate autonomy running the show?
A lot, it turns out. Director Jonathan Shockley (YouTube’s mr1001nights) has a way of framing institutional analysis and political ideas from the anarchist tradition as viable emotional appeals with real cinematic exuberance. Using an interview with Thomas Ferguson as its underlying narrative, the film serves as both cohesive proletarian zeal and engaging entertainment.
Noam Chomsky’s statement that “propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state” (apart from being the crux of “Manufacturing Consent”) has never been more lucidly conveyed for me than in this film when we see an excerpt of an old Looney Toons short with an ugly, overt anti-labor sentiment.
There’s nothing quite as scary as channeling mild-mannered fascism through children’s entertainment, and what it speaks to, ultimately, is the degree to which we’re indoctrinated by these self-defeating sociopolitical principles. Whether we know it or not, we’re bred to weed out dissenters and vest all of our political power in elites who can’t possibly have shared interests with us.
And that’s the clincher, I think. These grotesque corruptions of our core values and noblest democratic aspirations occur frequently and openly, and our expressions of adversarial rage in their midst are few and far between. While individual answers to these systemic problems may vary, democracy in its most poetic rendering is universal.
The film concludes with some frightening images underscored by clips of Noam Chomsky discussing the desirability, functionality, and necessity of democracy for human survival, accompanied by the sullen murmurings of a faint piano. The final shot of the sun rising above amorphous clouds takes what is potentially pedantic and abstruse material and places its origins in the essence of the human spirit.