review: zeitgeist moving forward [2011]

Went along to the world premiere of Zeitgeist: Moving Forward the other night.

I never saw the first Zeitgeist film, and don’t plan to. I saw the second one, and found it to be a reasonable presentation of issues around the money system – the kind of stuff I have been ranting about for a while now – along with some fun techno-utopian bullshit called the Venus Project.

The third one was long. Four parts, the first focusing on epigenetic effects on behaviour – essentially rejecting genetic determinist type arguments, and arguing for the influence of the environment – and was pretty solid. The second was more on the money system, this time focusing on its role as our environment, and its effects on us. The third part was an interesting if incomplete techno-utopian model of how we could run the world instead once we stop being so f**king stupid, but it struck me as a hyper rationalist vision curiously lacking insight into human values. The fourth part I forget exactly, but it got a bit more peak oil on our asses, and a bit more urgent about the need for change.

For anyone who has been paying attention, there is not much new here. The dude could use an editor/input from someone who isn’t him. From the kinds of things he feels the need to clarify – (eg) this is not communism! – he is clearly operating from deep inside an American consciousness. At times it is preachy, and flawed in its argument. But as a freely available idiot friendly introduction – and one with a lot of momentum behind it – it could be much worse.

As ever, it is easier to critique what is going on than produce alternatives. The critical comments are worth knowing about, and the alternative, while limited and flawed, contains some good stuff, and is more use as a contribution to a conversation rather than a viable model. (Following Monbiot, I feel more than justified in saying this, as most of my writing is about creating viable solutions to this sort of thing. Just need to get them published in some form :/)

Mostly what interested me about it was the social phenomenon. I forget the stats exactly, but the dude who spoke before it played said it was launched on the same day in (something like) 280 cities in 65 countries around the world, via a grassroots movement.

Now that is interesting.

Thing is, the Paramount was *completely* sold out – people sitting in the aisles – sold out with normal looking people, not obvious freaks.

Normally this stuff is encountered alone in your room late at night in front of your computer, or maybe with a few similarly cracked out friends. While widespread, it is underground. It is being thought about and talked about but it is not visible. Bringing thousands of people together, in public, around the world, for a shared experience of this material, interests me – it brings things closer to the “everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows” phenomena Clay Shirky talks about in Here Comes Everybody (which I talked about in the last section of this post). It is powerful in some sense.

I don’t know if we will look back on this as some sort of moment that mattered, but it is well named – there is a trend, a movement, a zeitgeist, towards the general awareness that we have comprehensive problems that require comprehensive solutions. Its value is in reaching “the masses”, and opening up these sorts of conversations. In this sense I am not the ideal audience – I am further down the rabbit hole than most people. But those I talked to afterwards had found new thoughts moving in themselves after the film.

It will be available for free download from the 25th of Jan.

7 Responses to “review: zeitgeist moving forward [2011]”

  1.   Scott A
    January 18th, 2011 | 10:33 am

    Here’s the thing. My fairly limited reading tells me ‘aware’, ‘normal looking’ people have been meeting, talking, identify societies problems and finding comprehensive solutions for them for hundreds of years. Probably thousands. There is nothing new in this.

    And, still, things either don’t change, or only change via lurching revolutionary violence or unconcious reaction to adverse situations.

    Why do you think this thing you’re such a fan of will be any different to every other ‘concious’ movement? Why is this any better, more useful, more valuable than, say, what the nineteenth century Aesthetes wanted, for example?

  2.   Pearce
    January 18th, 2011 | 12:28 pm

    It might be worth mentioning that I heard about a group in Wellington that organises people from out of town to get together, and on Saturday night they went to see Zeitgeist.

    The awareness of what it was going to be seemed to be, “Some kind of a documentary.”

    So the audience may well have been stacked with people who ordinarily wouldn’t care, but were just looking for a social event.

    Other than that, yeah what Scott said. Also, “normal looking” does not equate to complacent sheep, just as “obvious freaks” does not equate to deep thinkers. In my experience outward appearance has more to do with how someone makes their living, than with what goes on inside their heads.

  3.   billy
    January 18th, 2011 | 12:36 pm

    Scott: >> “Why do you think this thing you’re such a fan of will be any different to every other ‘concious’ movement? Why is this any better, more useful, more valuable than, say, what the nineteenth century Aesthetes wanted, for example?”
    .
    I am saying less than you are reading into it. To be honest, my attitude to it is bemused interest rather than fannish.

    I don’t claim it is “better, more useful, or valuable” than anything else. (About the nicest thing I said about it was it could be worse!) There are many many resources I would recommend ahead of it. Nor do I claim it will result in anything different. I find it an interesting social phenomenon; I have no idea where it will lead.

    In general, however, I do think that consciously engaging with the world will achieve better outcomes than unconsciously being dragged along; and this, in its own fumbling way, is an attempt at raising consciousness.

    And, from my limited reading of history, change is a constant; and the workings of change are rarely clear, even to hindsight. I think you would find Shirky’s analysis of the fall of the Berlin wall interesting.

  4.   billy
    January 18th, 2011 | 12:44 pm

    Pearce/Scott: Conspiracy theory stuff is generally portrayed by the mainstream media as the domain of freaks and nuts – people on the fringes, people not like “us”. The observations about the people who were there were a comment on this dismissive tendency: they didn’t seem to be obviously freaks or nuts. When they are isolated and alone, they can be portrayed in that way. But making it visible is interesting, because it brings it into the open, and such minimising claims evaporate.

    As for being “stacked with people who ordinarily wouldn’t care”, I don’t remotely buy that based on one anecdote. The film was promoted mostly by hand postering and word of mouth. The zeitgeist films have been downloaded/viewed millions of times. It is the most mainstream edge of conspiracy stuff; people who don’t know much else know it.

  5.   Pearce
    January 18th, 2011 | 1:09 pm

    Whatever, man. You made a paragraph-point about what the people there looked like. I was just pointing out that you seem to be evaluating the audience based on how they appear, and that their motives for attending may not always be what you assume.

    Sometimes it seems to me that you look at “normal looking people” and think, “other”. No offence intended.

  6.   damo
    January 18th, 2011 | 1:53 pm

    nice review – cheers!

  7.   bruce
    January 20th, 2011 | 7:58 pm

    yes, it’s an interesting phenomenon. As someone who has been exposed to the ideas already, I don’t really dig it (the first 2, haven’t seen this one), as it is too fear based and not enough hope/love based.

    However I am impressed with the power it has to convert regular people. 2 different woofers in the past year have identified it as a conversion experience.

    More grist for pondering the “conspiritainment” industry. making a difference or not?

    Scott A: OK, so things change all the time in these ways. Does that make the process as it is occurring to us rather than viewed with hindsight as it happened to our ancestors uninteresting?