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July 02, 2013


By Cole Smithey — This article is a reprint; it was originally published on September 30, 1999

The New York Times recently published an article describing how the U.S. Postal Service hired advertising executive Warren Weidman to improve the negative image of postal workers. Warren cut a deal with the Post Office for rights to its stories and went on to write five movies based on the adventures of U.S. Postal employees. The first of the five movies, The Inspector, starring Louis Gossett Jr., played on Showtime last September and received the best ratings for any original film in Showtime’s history.

The Truman Show was one of the best received movies of 1998, with its watered down vision of Jim Carrey as the vaguely tortured subject of a hugely popular national television show. The filmmakers’ negligent depiction of The Truman Show’s sub-plot viewing audience saw them as approving patrons of a sterile television show. It translates as a chorus of approval for a commercial brand of the constant observation that we, as American citizens, are subject to at this very moment whether or not we buy Crest.


The title for Enemy of the State speaks volumes in transmitting an idea that the public and private surveillance systems employed in the movie can and do work in concert to defend "the state," i.e. our cities, suburbs, and highways, against outside threat. Even independent film champion Wim Wenders’ excursion into the social ramifications of a widespread surveillance infrastructure took an ironic title and unexpectedly thin plot with The End of Violence, in which the distance between two-bit thugs and government agents is a hair’s breadth. EDtv has most recently weighed-in on the current anthology of voyeuristic surveillance movies — An ‘amusing’ taste of advertising, surveillance, and television entertainment blended together in a happy medium of generic and an even sentimental status quo.

Already these movies have subliminally gone to work on the public’s consciousness to create a zeitgeist of consent for hidden cameras that record much of what we do in our public and even private lives. In reality, every phone conversation that we make is recorded and most public activity is documented on video tape recorded by cameras operated by public, private, foreign, and U.S. government agencies. High-resolution satellites are reaching a level of technology capable of thoroughly documenting millions of people’s day-to-day lives. Movies like The Truman ShowEnemy of the State, and EDtv act as cement reinforcing the concept of constant surveillance as a friendly system that we will come to enjoy and benefit from. The three movies converge from distinctly different angles to form a fuzzy invitation to conform to a higher level of comfort, security, and downright enjoyment that we, as Americans, should desire in our lives. While tech-happy computer users contribute to their own exhibition by installing cameras onto their computers, unspoken is an agenda for having our lives easily accessible on microscopic slides for dissection by private, corporate, bureaucratic, and civil powers for legal, political, and capitalistic goals.

The power of cinema as a propaganda machine as long been recognized and practiced by American, French, British, and German military over the course of the 20th Century. Cinema language has come a long way since Hitler gave Leni Riefenstahl her assignment to capture the spirit of Nazism with Triumph of the Will as a lasting document of fascist temperament. American audiences are remarkably savvy to mainstream Hollywood’s formulaic narrative structures and implied meanings by virtue of having seen hundreds, even thousands, of movies over a brief time span. Still, most audiences are beguiled by wide-ranging cinema parley when it acts between movies with a program furtively combining advertising with different film genres working in subtle unity to affect a desired mass mentality.

America has been living in the age of George Orwell’s prophetic 1984 since about that same year, with Orwell’s uncanny prediction for social clampdown by Big Brother, and now Big Sister, tightening around us as technology advances. When you consider that the United States’ crime rate has been consistently dropping over the past ten years, while prisons are not being built quickly enough to harbor a predominately black male populace detained on drug charges, you can glimpse a trend that presents itself as a formula for the U.S. Government to view our very country as a prison to be watched over and ministered to in ways driven by capitalist greed and voyeuristic lust.

As our country moves toward a totalitarian and fascist government regime operated by citizens who unknowingly participate in their own confinement, it’s clear that the people most able to comfortably endure absolute control by surveillance will be consumers who take their routinely prescribed medicine and dutifully return for more. Hollywood will surely hold our hands through it all. And according to box-office ticket sales, complete control by surveillance is very amusing and entertaining indeed.


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