NETFLIX'S "THE SOCIAL DILEMMA" REVIEW
Watching documentaries that are produced by Netflix is hit and miss. As a billion-dollar corporation, it can be hard for Netflix to release a product that treats a political or cultural problem with true objectivity. Netflix has produced a bunch of content that seems to serve either a liberal agenda or masks as pure propaganda. There are three very recent examples of this trend. The movie “REVERSING ROE” gives a supposedly objective look at the abortion issue but upon viewing, it feels like a very one-sided liberal propaganda film. The excellent documentary “AMERICAN FACTORY” was incredibly interesting, but the filmmakers missed a larger point about the issue being portrayed. Even though the movie tries to come across as a pro-union counter to the Chinese company that opened this factory and was pushing the workers to perform above their abilities, the Chinese investor makes it very clear that productivity can be achieved inside the factory without the use of human beings. This point seems to be missed with its pro-union message when robotics have taken over and dominate the production inside the plant. The final example is the abysmal documentary “THE WHITE HELMETS” which has been proven over time to have been a false portrayal of a movement inside Syria that actually comes across as the worst type of government funded propaganda. So going into watching THE SOCIAL DILEMMA, I had to acknowledge my objectivity as a reviewer but understand that Netflix can often portray a very specific one-sided bias inside their productions.
The documentary does three things exceptionally well. As a person who has followed the technology industry very closely over the past dozen years, I have taken a personal interest in the psychological impacts of this new technology. My cynicism for social media has unfortunately come true with the recent events over the past five years. This documentary does a deep dive on the psychological impact on social media on the young mind and how it directly impacts children’s personal sense of self and creates insecurities where they compare themselves against their peers. Another fascinating impact revolves around how the advertising algorithm works and the fundamental purpose of what it is trying to achieve. This is the highlight of the documentary and portrays the social media companies in a way that George Orwell never could have imagined. The internet went from a knowledge acquiring decentralized tool and has devolved into a surveillance and propagandistic technology where the richest and most powerful interests use the tools available to help guide the cultural discussion. This is the primary reason why these companies are worth trillions of dollars. Finally, technology was originally invented to improve efficiency and with the advent of the World Wide Web in 1989, it was supposed to open and expand our minds to unlimited knowledge. But it actually has created divisive personal bubbles where people with differing perspective and points of view no longer work together to compromise and negotiate so we can move our society forward. Instead, it has radicalized different points of view and hardened people’s feelings towards their opposition which is starting to lead to violence among these individuals best explained by the groups ANTIFA and THE PROUD BOYS. For these reasons alone, this documentary should be seen just to understand how destructive social media has gotten. Like any good drug, social media is something that needs to be appreciated in moderation.
Even though the “whistleblowers” in the film seem to be truly disgusted with what their inventions have done to our society and explain the motivation behind ideas like the “Like” button which has become controversial, they slide into promoting resolutions that I call the Michael Moore Problem. Defined, the Michael Moore Problem is: “The creation of a documentary over a vital political and cultural issue that exposes injustice and other social problems. But the resolution promoted by the filmmaker may actually be more destructive than the problem.” Like his films SICKO, CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY, and BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, Michael Moore is fantastic in analyzing an issue that he is passionate about. But when you look at his final resolution in these films (Which is to embrace more ‘socialism’ or the banning/regulation of guns), these solutions will not resolve the issues that Moore is trying to fix. In fact, these problems will likely only get worse with government intervention. Almost every single person in THE SOCIAL DILEMMA calls for ‘government regulation’ as a solution to the problems of social media. Just like the recent fake…sorry…real “whistleblower” Frances Haugen who exposed the evils of Facebook and is asking the government to be the solution to the problem. First, can any of these people think of something that the government has done well over the past decade? Second, where is the analysis that government regulation is likely to not only make the internet a much worse place but could give corporations and the government more control over the content. These ideas are never discussed. All these tech workers default to is the need for ‘regulation’ and certain types of censorship that can be deemed ‘misinformation.’ If they truly believe this will make the internet a better place, I have a million-dollar mansion in Thailand that I will give you.
Again, take this documentary with an objective grain of salt. The content is fascinating, and the little story told inside the film which is used as an example of the destructive impact of social media is very well done (Shout out to MAD MEN alumnus Vincent Kartheiser for playing the “social media algorithm’). But understand that you can perceive this film as having an underlying agenda that may help the social media companies more than it hinders them if you follow the advice of the individuals inside the movie. Until next week!
Film Analysis was my first class in Spring Semester 2020. When this class ended in mid-March, our world was about to spiral down into a pandemic lockdown that has done more to change the political structures and the psychologies of global citizens than any other event in my lifetime. This was one of my favorite classes. It was a classic evaluation of analyzing the context of motion pictures and how their unique visual form of artistic expression can be discussed. My professor was the best one I had during my Master’s classes. He had a nerdy and intellectual understanding of the industry that was much appreciated. With this essay, we are going to study the positives of the class and a handful of negatives. Like the two earlier classes discussed here and here, you start to see a pattern on how these classes that are supposed to be based around the idea of critical thinking, analysis and educational study quickly morph into reading articles on social activism and extreme politically left-wing thought.
Like the previous classes, the early weeks of the class actually study the content which the course describes. The first two weeks are the introduction to film analysis and a discussion on film genre. As any film studies student will tell you, both of these subjects are key to any deeper understanding of the film industry. It is important to understand film analysis from a critical thinking perspective and how different individuals perceive the themes and ideas portrayed. Film genre is important because every person has particular type of films that they prefer to watch. So going over these categories as a “refresher” with the educational research attached was refreshing.
The first section of this class that led me to start questioning the content was Module 3 on Film Authorship. Later in my educational career, I actually take a class on the concept of authorship in general which will get a much deeper dive later. This module discusses the debates that the educational establishment has about the idea of authorship. It was fascinating but my first experience with social indoctrination that has nothing to do with the subject of this course occurred within the chapter of the book that was recommended to read. Film and Television Analysis: An Introduction to Methods, Theories and Approaches was written in 2015 by North Texas Film Studies Professor Harry Benshoff. This book comes back later into this course as the modules go by. The problem with the book is not his analysis. Like most educators, he makes an important point about the idea behind authorship. But this Amazon reviewer also hits the nail on the head with why I had a particular problem with his overall analysis. The book often abandons film analysis for social justice promotion. As THE GHOST OF OLD J.B. points out,
“I wanted a book on film analysis -- and got a politically fueled lecture. I'm aware that Hollywood is 99.999% "hard left", and I'm aware that most films are trying to make some sort of social, cultural, or political statement. This goes without saying if you're a movie buff. Lastly, I'm also aware that the ability to analyze film and TV has zero to do with politics, and everything to do with psychology, and being able to train your brain. I wanted a lesson on how to read into what I view in a different manner. I wanted exercises, methods, suggestions, and results. But aside from a hint of methodology, this book has very little to do with such things. So much of this book is how depictions of almost everything we see can be reduced to western imperialism, race (as well as racial supremacy) and the LGBT struggle against the oppressive "hetero-normative" patriarchy.
Frankly speaking, I feel this book suffers from an inappropriate title. Calling it "Film and Television Analysis: An Introduction to Methods, Theories, and Approaches" pales in comparison to the title it should have been given: "How Everything Written For The Screen Can Be Tied To The Evils Of America, Capitalism, Imperialism, And Straight White Men" -- Now THAT'S the book you're going to read!”
He is absolutely right with this analysis.
The educational “research” only gets worse from here. During Module 4 on ‘Gender and Film’, the second paragraph of the article, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema written by Laura Mulvey begins like this.
“The paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the CASTRATED WOMAN to give order and meaning to the world. An idea of woman stands as lynch pin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence, it is her desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies.”
Do you think it is going to get better from here? Well, if you are in the mood to read about sexual organs, than Yes. If you are looking for a psychological analysis of a film not based in ridiculous Freudian concepts and simplistic thought patterns, than the answer is No. The problem with analysis like this is that it subjects the idea of ALL OF FILM HISTORY into a concept that woman exist to satisfy the ‘male gaze’ which men appreciate and allows them to protect or sympathize with that woman and become heroes through virtues like honor or sacrifice to prove their good nature. Like many educational articles, it is filled with words that make the author appear intelligent like fetishistic scopophilia and psychoanalytic terms (Dear God, Freud again!). Castration is written WAY TOO MANY TIMES. Her film analysis picks and chooses films that fit into her point of view. She completely dismisses the concept that while women maybe on screen to be objectified by men (See any Michael Bay movie), this is still a small minority of the actual films that are being produced. The word “fetish” appears a lot because all men apparently have one. The article is feminist bullshit that engages more in attacking masculine culture than doing any actual film analysis.
Module 5 is on Race and Film. The article assigned was called “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. This module was actually very interesting. The documentary 13 by Ava Duvernay opened my mind to ideas I had never considered about the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that led to the ‘freeing’ of the slaves. This article is absolutely correct about the evils of the Drug War and how it has led to more incarcerations of African Americans than any other race. Her analysis of the Republican Party in the 1970s and 1980s using the fear of “blacks” with a new ‘get tough on crime’ Southern Strategy is based on historical truths. She also puts the blame where it belongs, on the U.S. government instead of our present-day fixation on individual actors who have become the “terrorists” of the 21st Century. Mentioning the fact that Bill Clinton of the Democratic Party also ran on “tough on crime” laws is also an important analysis. But I disagree with her on two important points. First, she said this is a symbol of a racial caste system. This is where her argument loses some of its legitimacy. If this was the case, why are poor rural people of different race also targeted heavily by the police? To me, this is more of a class-based problem than a racial one. Second, what the hell does this have to do with film analysis? There is not one mention of a film inside of the article. Am I reading a well written treatise on the evils of the drug war and the impact it has had on African Americans or am I reading an article about how these injustices are portrayed on film? Unfortunately, it is the first one. This article would be more appropriate for ethnic, anthropological or political studies. Why it was put into my film analysis class is a question I cannot answer.
The sixth module was fascinating. For this one on Immigration and Film, two articles were assigned. The first was “From Immigrants to Ethnics: The Italian Americans” by Humbert Nelli. This was a deep historical look into the economic and cultural reasons why Italians started fleeing their homeland and coming into the United States. While the article is an interesting historical analysis, it was probably more appropriate for a history class than a film one. But the background is given to explain the film that was assigned in this module. Nu0vomondo which was released in 2006 is a fictional historical film about an Italian family’s journey to the new world of the United States in the early 20th Century. Like Duvernay’s 13, this was the only other movie assigned during the class that I had not previously seen. The film is a fascinating look into a historical time that is not often shown in films. The educational article attached comes from the novel by Barbara Alfalo called “The Mirage of America in Contemporary Italian Literature and Film.” Specifically, it focuses on three films: the above mentioned Nuovomondo, the documentary The Last Customer and the novel Vita. This article actually does dive into a proper film analysis of the aforementioned film above. The quote that America is an “ideological mirror” reflects many of the dreams that immigrants felt upon imagining their new lives in the U.S. The United States will reward you through your own hard work and self determination.
So Part 5 did not have some of the same ridiculous over-the-top ridiculous research as the previous module examined in Part 4. Counting the one egregious exception, the biggest problem was the need to explain historical circumstances or social justice problems inside a research article instead of actually analyzing film which was supposed to be the purpose of the class. This is also the reason why you are starting to see the backlash against this type of teaching. No matter what type of “studies” class you take, it all seems to point in one ideological direction.
Until next month! Enjoy!
It has been three weeks since my last blog/essay. Sorry for the delay. A few circumstances have occurred in my personal life that has eliminated much of my free time. With the ever evolving COVID-19 virus still circling the globe mixed with a changing political climate whose rules seem to change monthly, the results of these new mandates or orders has made it difficult for me to write. Until things settle down and this blog comes back at the end of October, there are two things I want to share with my readers.
First, a debate between an antiwar libertarian Scott Horton and neo-con warmonger Bill Kristol can be seen on YouTube. As a person who admires the former and despises the latter, this could not have gone better for the antiwar movement. By the end of this debate, Horton had the crown on his side and Kristol looked befuddled and strangely quiet as he often declined to reply to Horton’s factual claims. It went to prove what I have been saying about these neo-conservatives since 2003. The movement is filled with imperialist warmongers who have never fought in any of the wars that they proudly imagine on their keyboards. But when confronted with any form of logic or common sense, they fold their tents and go back into the woods waiting for the next organism to infect like deadly parasites. Horton’s dismantling of the neo-conservative movement can be seen here.
Second, I decided to cancel my Google Fi account this past week. Due to the abruptness of the cancellation, it left me scrambling at the last minute. I started paying my account with my American Express Gold Card (Proudly referred on my website here.) After some monitoring, American Express confronted Google over some of my past charges. I ended up getting refunded 250 dollars from American Express who promptly took it from Google. American Express reached out to Google for an inquiry that was ignored. Now, Google insists that the 250 dollars is legitimate and shut my Google Fi account down as a consequence. Since I don’t like being blackmailed or intimidated, I immediately found Mint Mobile and its 30 dollars a line unlimited data which after adding my wife and daughter, only costs me 90 dollars a month with taxes. This is 20 to 30 dollars cheaper than my monthly Google bill. Except with that bill, I did not have unlimited data and Mint uses Verizon which makes their service two times better than anything Google could have provided. So I thank Google for their outright corporate greed. I would never had discovered this alternative if it was not for their actions.
See you again at the end of the month!
EXPERT OF SOME