Front page

Are you afraid of the dark?

(Click to invert colors, weenie.) (Requires JavaScript.)

All email will be assumed to be for publication unless otherwise requested.

What's in the banner?

Monday, November 04, 2002

Tuesday in November

In our last episode, I mentioned the glorious Prelinger collection on the Internet Moving Pictures Archive. Now I will tell how this came to be a blog post.

I was tripping through the archive, looking for films to download. I'm interested in:

1) Films which show the 1950s vision of THE FUTURE!
2) Those which talk about atom bombs or atomic energy
3) Those which try to set some sort of standard of feminine behavior
4) The "mental hygiene" films which exhort kids to just behave already
5) Anything else that looks good (Kodachro-o-ome, gives us the niiiice, bright colors...)

This involved a lot of looking at the detail pages for each movie. Now, each of these pages has some sort of description of the film. Sometimes it's very brief, sometimes a shot-by-shot description. Some also have quotes from Ken Smith, and some have comments from reviewers (who are just whoever happens to join the site---you have to sign up). And some have mysterious unexplained comments from someone else. These are not well-separated from the shooting descriptions, and sometimes aren't well-separated from Smith's comments.

Back in 1996 or so, Prelinger was working on a 12-CD set of these movies called Our Secret Century. It was released through Voyager, a software company which I think has gone out of business (taking with it the MST3K CD-ROM). Some of the CDs were released, however; you can read a bit about them here. They were a pretty hefty chunk of change, taken together, and I couldn't afford them at the time. But my point is that some of the mystery comments on the sitecould come from those CDs, or from Prelinger in some other way.

When you watch these movies over and over and over again, certain things start to pop out. The same thing is true when you read the site's comments over and over and over again, whether they are Smith's or Prelinger's or the reviewers'. Again and again, the commenters on the site strive to show how much smarter they are than the people who made the films, let alone those who would view it.

Movies which show mining operations say nothing about the rape of the land. Those which seek to foster pride in America ignore shameful episodes. Those which emphasize common interests and goals among Americans are "dishonest", because people of different classes cannot have common goals. Those which showcase interesting new products are substituting style for substance. Films which urge people to look toward a brighter future are promoting a lie.

In short, America is a nasty place filled with twisted, hateful people and these movies are only the efforts of the powerful to hold up a facade of rainbows and sunshine so the wretched masses won't feel the sting of the iron heel as it grinds into their faces.

This, anyhow, is what crops up after you read about fifty comments for the site, and if no one stops me I'll be going over this in detail in the coming days. HA HA HA HA HA!

But for today I want to showcase this one film.

It's called Tuesday in November, directed by John Houseman. It was commissioned by the War Dept. in 1945 for exhibition overseas, in countries where the people didn't speak English.

Its topic, you'll have guessed, is election day; in particular it's the 1944 election. It starts off with three people on the election board in a small town. The film shows them setting up their polling place (with one booth), and taking the oath of office. It emphasizes that they are of different political opinions but put this aside to run the election. A man is shown marking his paper ballots, voting not only for president and VP, but Representative and Senator and state governors and legislators and county judges, ad infinitum (just like today).

Then it goes into a rather tedious explanation of the three branches of the US government, using non-animated cartoons. This is a very nice introduction or refresher for people who are interested in the topic, but I can't imagine most foreigners being very interested. Exactly which audiences was this made for?

The film points out that elections have been held in wartime before (the comments on the Internet Archive seem to find this telling, showing that the US is secure enough to hold elections in wartime).

Up to now it's been rather sedate. Then we see the national nominating conventions. We also see ordinary people arguing politics (some of them in funny ways). The narrator says that some people think all this arguing wastes too much time and energy, but Americans like to do it.

Finally the vote is over, the results are tallied, and by midnight (!!) the results are in.

To me, this is an unremarkable film. If geared toward Americans it would be awfully boring. I wonder whether its intended target was the ordinary citizen of Europe and Japan, or maybe it was those who would govern those countries. Maybe it was made to be smuggled into Eastern Europe. I don't know, and the site doesn't say.

What the site does say about it is this:

It dramatizes both the participation of citizens in the electoral process and the 1944 campaign for the Presidency, linking these two threads into a quasi-religious quest characterized by unchallenged belief, ritualistic behavior and culminating in a mass announcement before a large crowd. The simplicity expressed in the understated narration and many of the images was a conscious choice dictated by the non-English-speaking intended audience, but for us now underscores the film's stature as a morality play.

The "unchallenged belief" is just bizarre, unless it's because there's an unchallenged belief in democracy. The ritualistic behavior quotient is pretty low (there's an oath, and maybe some gavel-banging). The mention of the large crowd is meant, we find later in the comments, to suggest some sort of sinister fascistic undertone. But it's just a bunch of people waiting for the election results in Times Square.

Tuesday in November ultimately is a case of wishful thinking, or about how things ought to be. Much of what we see is neither truthful nor completely candid. Elections were being stolen that year of 1944. Black people were effectively forbidden from voting in many states. Roosevelt was not strongly opposed in the wartime election of 1944. And it would be fair to say that the film's emphasis on mass events and politicians taking their campaigns directly to the people belittles the effect of the mass media in manipulating the public. The mobilization of communications technology in the service of fair and speedily reported election returns is at best a by-product of a media establishment that was set up to manufacture consent.

Manufactured consent! Noam Chomsky, call your office.

Remember, folks, if it's not perfect, it's rotten. Election fraud in a free society? Then no part of the society can call itself free. Racial discrimination? If some are unjustly kept from voting, then no one's vote can count. Roosevelt not strongly opposed? The political opponents of a popular President, in wartime, can't garner many votes?? Imagine! Consensus is repression, remember that (you won't have to, Barbara Kingsolver will tell you so).

Remember at the time "mass media" meant radio and newspapers. Maybe it's just my 21st century snobbery, but I find it hard to conceive of those media being more powerful than television. And yet I don't dismiss the results of all recent elections because of it.

And let's have this sentence again:

The mobilization of communications technology in the service of fair and speedily reported election returns is at best a by-product of a media establishment that was set up to manufacture consent.

The prompt election returns is kind of an odd thing to focus on. Da, mass media was not formed to broadcast election returns, weather report, and other useful informations to proletariat, Comrade! It "was set up" [please enjoy this passive voice hinting at shadowy machinations] not just in order to make a gigabuck or two, but in order to manufacture the consent of the sheeple.

To conclude:

But, by the time the results are being calculated and disseminated, it no longer seems to matter. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people are gathered in Times Square waiting for the returns. Virgil Thomson's score and the searchlights sweeping the crowd vaguely suggest that they are awaiting some sort of visitation. Ultimately, the elegance and authority of the film lends credence to its optimistic view of our system, making it one of those rare propaganda films that has the power to seek out and stir whatever trace of idealism still may survive in your mind.

You wonder why they don't conclude, "...whatever trace of idealism may still survive in your mind after decades of having your soul wrung dry by the lies of capitalism and the United Snakes of AmeriKKKa."

So remember this, children, when you go to vote: Your vote counts for nothing. Even if it does, if there is one poor unfortunate somewhere who can't get off work, or who can't get a ride to the polling place, or who is too illiterate to read the ballot, or too damned dumb to figure out the butterfly ballot, or to ask for help, or to realize when he's goofed up---as long as there is one such person, the whole system is a cheat and a fraud and unworthy of the loyalty the corporate fatcats and statist spinmeisters would have you invest in it so that they may continue to suck your precious lifeblood from you like the leeches that they are.

Now, g'nite, kids, and happy voting.

[Post-election day special: ISM]