In the penultimate scene of “Scent of a Woman”, an early nineties classic featuring a resurgent Pacino playing a blind ex-military officer; Pacino’s irascible character extols the virtue of Charlie, the main protagonist and all around nice guy. Charlie was on trial (private school trial) for witnessing an incident where classmates dumped paint on the Dean’s suspiciously nice sports car in a well executed prank. When Charlie refused to turn in the students, who he knew to be guilty, he was threatened with expulsion. He was not really friends with these students, as a matter of fact, they were not even particularly nice to him. Incidentally, the great Philip Seymour Hoffman was the leader of the crew, and he, after much hand-wringing and a sharp neck twist from dada, turned them in, sorta. Pacino then went on to eviscerate every last one of them.
In the film Goodfella’s, this time it’s Robert De niro’s character who gives the lecture on keeping your mouth shut, or as he succinctly puts it “Never rat on your friends”.
This notion is increasingly under attack, it feels quite quaint these days, almost naive; and in a progressively volatile world it seems especially dangerous. Or, that’s what those in power would have you believe. There are those that would try to convince you that whistle blowers serve the public good, and if it’s exposing the dangers of cigarettes or collusion, stealing, or discrimination, oppression or violence than its a worthy cause and they are largely, in cases such as these, in the right. The problem is conflating, you know, actually committing a crime, with those who would betray the trust of the people closest to them that it becomes Orwellian. See, its in their interest for you to spy on your neighbor, film everything, hold no secret sacred.
Whenever I watch ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ I don’t see a horror film, I see a metaphor for the way the world is changing. If someone steps out of line, says the wrong things, is a little different, then the world stands up and points and shrieks till “Society” comes and rips them apart or forces them to conform. Its the same cycle over and over, the public shaming, followed by the public contrition, then reintroduction to the “Collective”. The authorities are becoming increasing proficient at brainwashing people under the auspices of the “War on Terror” or public safety, to peer and peak through eachothers curtains.
I remember very distinctly when the Osama Bin Laden video surfaced not long after 9/11, suggesting that he didn’t view victory the same way us Westerners do, by leveling and invading and standing on the ashes and all the ways that we promulgate victory in war. He clearly stated that what victory meant to him was changing our way or life. Making us fear and worry and never feel safe. I have always felt this was a much more powerful existential threat.
When Orwell or Huxley wrote of a possible insidious, dystopian future, they were warning us about what is possible in human nature, what human beings are capable of if they assume it is in their interest or will “keep them safe”; they will turn on each other if they have to, even family. The election of an authoritarian leader is another step on this road; its another step in the direction of big government as purveyors of social order. Its not government that serves the people its the people that serve the government.
With the media on their side, the authorities have become experts at convincing people of the the dire consequences of independence, of original thought and ideas. The sensationalist fervor they create whips people up into a frenzy of nationalism or community-ism, where the end is coming if they don’t listen; if they don’t turn in their neighbor, if they don’t photograph every perceived transgression. How many otherwise productive lives have been ruined as a result of this environment.
The circumstances we find ourselves in, in America, with the surge of violence we are seeing, gun violence, violence against woman, make it easy to go too far. To trample privacy rights, due process rights, to try anything to control the seemingly out of control. It is at these times that community and trust are most important. It is at these times when remembering who we think we are as a nation is paramount.
Originally published at currentrant.wordpress.com on April 9, 2018.