When Barack Obama ascended to the presidency in 2008, there was a sense, at least among those who voted for him, that the country might change for the better. Those who watched in awe as President Bush chipped away at our civil liberties over the course of his two terms as president thought that maybe this young, charismatic Senator from Illinois would reverse course and put an end to some of the Bush administration’s worst transgressions—the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, the torture, the black site prisons, and the never-ending wars that have drained our resources, to name just a few.
The pomp and circumstance of the presidential inauguration has died down. Members of Congress have taken their seats on Capitol Hill, and Barack Obama has reclaimed his seat in the White House. The circus of the presidential election has become a faint memory. The long months of debates, rallies, and political advertisements have slipped from our consciousness. Now we are left with the feeling that nothing has really changed, nor will it. This is not by accident. The media circus leading up to the elections, the name calling in the halls of Congress, the vitriol and barbs traded back and forth among people who are supposed to be working together to improve the country, are all components of the game set up by those who run the show.
As one who came of age during the civil rights era, I was profoundly impacted by the life and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. He taught me so much more than just what it means to look beyond the color of a person’s skin—he taught me that life means nothing if you don’t stand up for the things that truly matter. And what are the things that matter? King spoke of them incessantly, in every sermon he preached, every speech he delivered and every article he wrote.
If you want a recipe for disaster, take police officers hyped up on their own authority and the power of the badge, throw in a few court rulings suggesting that security takes precedence over individual rights, set it against a backdrop of endless wars and militarized law enforcement, and then add to the mix a populace distracted by entertainment, out of touch with the workings of their government, and more inclined to let a few sorry souls suffer injustice than to challenge the status quo.
It is perhaps easy for Hollywood to portray North Korea as a fictional enemy when so much of North Korea’s actual history and culture has been fictionalised by its very own leadership. Kim Jong-Un, the young and portly current leader is the third in a dynastic line of Kims to lead the country under the ideology of Juche (loosely translated to mean self-reliance), and to maintain a hard-line and xenophobic attitude to other countries and other ideologies. His father, the late Kim Jong-Il, was perhaps the most prolific author of much of North Korea’s recent fictional history. His own father Kim Il-Sung led the country out of the Korean War and into its first decades of early prosperity and it was Kim Il-Sung who adapted Stalinist and Confucian thinking to his own Juche ideology. It was the son Kim Jong-Il who propelled the cult of personality that surrounded them both into the homes and lives of the North Korean people, via the strong use of social-realist propaganda and state owned media, which pumps anti-western sentiment to the masses and proposes that the country needs nothing and has nothing to envy of the rest of the world.
What characterizes American government today is not so much dysfunctional politics as it is ruthlessly contrived governance carried out behind the entertaining, distracting and disingenuous curtain of political theater. And what political theater it is, diabolically Shakespearean at times, full of sound and fury, yet in the end, signifying nothing. Played out on the national stage and eagerly broadcast to a captive audience by media sponsors, this farcical exercise in political theater can, at times, seem riveting, life-changing and suspenseful, even for those who know better.
The most successful and influential pop group of all time, the Beatles landed in America in February 1964. By the time the Sixties came to an end, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had taken the world by storm, not only becoming icons of popular culture, but also collectively creating an unprecedented legacy of hit singles and best-selling albums. It’s particularly telling that when Rolling Stone recently chose the top 500 albums of all time, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was perched at the top, with Revolver, Rubber Soul and The White Album following close behind in the top ten.
It didn’t take long for the tragedy of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings, which left 20 schoolchildren and six adults dead, to be co-opted by politicians and special interest groups alike, all eager to advance their ideas about how to prevent another deranged madman from taking innocent lives. President Obama is calling on Congress to issue gun control legislation that would limit access to assault weapons. The National Rifle Association (NRA) wants armed guards patrolling every school in America. Legislators in several states, including Florida, want to allow teachers to carry guns on school grounds. Others are clamoring for a lockdown of the schools, complete with metal detectors and guard dogs.
Thanks to the wonders of technology, the indifference of the general public to the growing surveillance state, the inability of Congress to protect Americans’ privacy, and the profit-driven policies of the business sector, the corporate state could write a book about your holiday shopping habits: the websites you’ve visited when trying to decide what to buy, the storefronts you’ve browsed while wandering the mall, and the purchases you’ve made. Even the store mannequins have gotten in on the gig. According to the Washington Post, mannequins in some high-end boutiques are now being outfitted with cameras that utilize facial recognition technology.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) was the highly criticised, and often ignored, Science Fiction film that initiated a new chapter in the Star Trek franchise. It is renowned for its dull and plodding narrative, and for stripping the verve and vigour out of its long serving characters. Despite the fact that two years previous, Star Wars (1977) had made space an exciting and adventurous place to roam, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was literally a galaxy far, far away from the swashbuckling heroics of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, and their attempts to bring down the evil intergalactic Empire.
It wasn’t always like this.