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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

CitizenFour really IS must-see (sur)reality TV: The Snowden Show: Watch yourself being watched



I’ve just watched CitizenFour for the first time, and one thing I know for sure is that Laura Poitras deserved her Academy Award—she has done nothing short of turning The Truman Show on its head.

I.e., she has cast Edward Snowden as himself, the ultimate whistleblower –or was it Snowden who actually cast her as Laura Poitras, muckraking filmmaker? Or both? Every minute that he is onscreen has a surreal intensity, as we realize that we are watching history as it was made 2 years ago. Poitras and Snowden, by turning the camera on themselves, have simultaneously turned the camera around on Big Brother…and on all of us. The little guy with ingenuity can indeed change the spin of our world.

In an era in which mind-numbing, moronic reality tv scores high ratings by appealing to the lowest denominator of human schadenfreude, stupidity, and peeping-tomism, here we have a documentary which makes us look in the mirror and ask if we have really taken the time to determine what is right and what is wrong, about one of the most difficult and most crucial moral issues of our time.

So this really is “must see” reality television—or rather, surreality television—because it’s not just The Snowden Show—Snowden was very careful NOT to encourage a cult of personality or demonization to form around him as a person--the whole point of his lonely Quixotic crusade—and I think he succeeded --- was to bring home to all of us, dozing on sofas with remotes glued to our hands, that we are the “show”, but there is only one viewer of our collective Truman Show, and it is Big Brother (or Big Blue). Those are “ratings” we don’t want!

Beyond that, I don’t want to say anything else about the film, as it deserves to be watched, and no synopsis by myself can capture the experience of watching it. I will only add a “woo woo” personal note re the way I came to watch CitizenFour today. At 12:30 PST I turned on the TV to watch tennis at the Madrid Open, but was bored by the match on air, and by the other live TV offerings, so I turned instead to my cable provider for a movie to watch from among those I had identified just the other day as available. The only one that was free to watch at that moment was… CitizenFour, and so it was that random sequence that led me to turn it on and start watching.

After watching for more than an hour, surprised at how spellbound I was, I went to Twitter to check out the Twitter feed from Glenn Greenwald (the reporter whom Snowden first contacted, who is another “star” in the film), and what did I see?  His Tweet, sent after I began watching the film, which read: “James Clapper lied and denied the existence of a program which a US appeals court said was illegal. Anyone arguing he should keep his job?”

Illegal? I quickly learned what those following the news cycle more closely than I, already knew—which is that today turned out to be another milestone in the process that Snowden set in motion 2 years ago.

What made me watch CitizenFour  at the very moment that the US appeals court decision was being handed down? Was I the proverbial 100th monkey? I can’t say, but I am glad I finally took my head out of the sand, and decided it was time to start watching myself being watched. If I induce a few of you to do the same, then I’ll be glad. If Shakespeare and Jane Austen were alive today, perhaps they would make something more of the deep absurdity of this spectacle. But while we’re waiting for them to return, see CitizenFour.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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