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Cuaron, Klein film aims to shock

To correspond with the release of her new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, globalization critic Naomi Klein has partnered with "Children of Men" and "Y tu Mama Tambien" director Alfonso Cuarón to produce this short film, which was shown to rave reviews at the Toronto and Venice film festivals. The film ...

To correspond with the release of her new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, globalization critic Naomi Klein has partnered with "Children of Men" and "Y tu Mama Tambien" director Alfonso Cuarón to produce this short film, which was shown to rave reviews at the Toronto and Venice film festivals. The film and book make the argument that governments and corporations take advantage of catastrophes, both natural and man-made, to push through radical privatization agendas. It is only when populations are "shocked" into submission, she argues, that they will allow rulers to dupe them.

Given the participants, it's a bit disappointing at first to see Michael Moore-style use of period stock footage. But this film, which was actually directed by Cuarón's son Jonas, is really far slicker and subtler than anything Moore has done. There is a film-making process known as the Kuleshov effect that allows directors to alter the viewer's perception of one image by placing just before another. (Alfred Hitchcock explains it much better than I can.) Cuarón pulls off a particularly daring Kuleshov by interspersing facts about various privatization schemes with images of electrocutions and Abu Ghraib-style torture illustrations as well as scenes of devastation and violence. The facts and figures go by too fast to really process but what sticks in one's mind is the association between free market ideas, catastrophes and torture.   

Of course, to suggest that the use of torture is in any way inherent in the free-market system is pretty ludicrous given the record of socialist regimes on that front. And as for Milton Friedman's insidious plot to use disasters to pave the way for his radical free-market agenda, leaders as different as Hitler, Castro, and Lyndon Johnson have used periods of national crisis to push through major reforms. In fact the Keynesian policies that Friedman spent his life trying to counteract only became de rigeur after the shock produced by the great depression. Klein writes that "The market crash of 1929 had created an overwhelming consensus that laissez-faire had failed…" I'm still trying to understand the difference between a disaster that produces consensus and one that produces shock.

Klein has produced some trenchant criticism of free-market orthodoxy in the past and she should not be dismissed offhand. The film will doubtless win her many new readers. Hopefully, they'll be able to separate the substance from the shock and awe tactics in her arguments.

 Twitter: @joshuakeating

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