As I write my first draft of this review I can’t help but be reminded by two items I saw on the news this morning. The first item dealt with the fact that San Francisco police were preparing for a “meeting of 800 self-proclaimed anarchists” in the city. As that news story was reported, the scroll across the bottom of the screen informed viewers that a recent study showed the strong possibility of a WMD attack in America in the next decade.
“Below the American Grain” is about people protesting the American
government’s reaction to fictional WMDs (among other things). It’s a documentary about civil disobedience, civil discourse, and most importantly, fighting empire. It’s chock full of anarchists, hippies and Vietnam vets who have been forgotten and discarded by the government they served. (One vet asks why the government won’t let them share in the world domination they helped it achieve. It’s a good point, and one I’d like to see an answer to.)
The documentary’s main focus is on people’s reactions to world events such as “The War in Iraq 2: Bombs Away” and the IMF and World
Bank’s continual destruction of poor nations. The film’s emotional impact, however, comes from the images of police in riot gear marching down streets with protesters on either side. (Just once I’d like to see the protesters drop their black flags and anti-Bush placards at a time like this and instead raise Nazi swastika flags and pro-Herr Bush signs all while saluting the cops in that efficient Nazi style. That would make a wonderful CNN bit.) Other images show police pushing protesters back with their clubs and threatening the use of pepper spray as the “wacky liberals” ask, “Who has the chemical weapons?”
My politics are pretty well-known and apparent (especially after this review), but I do have problems with this otherwise enjoyable and uplifting documentary. My main beef is: Who is going to watch it? The converted? Yes. But the people who need to watch it — the ones who believe Iraq was involved with 9/11 and who think Ohio’s votes in the last election were just a fluke – aren’t going to bother. This won’t appeal to them at all. It will be dismissed as unpatriotic and perhaps bordering on treason. That’s not only the problem of the film, but also the entire protest movement. It’s hard to get people involved when all they are concerned about is cheap gas prices and
NBC’s fall line-up. So how do you do it?
I don’t know, but until I figure it out, documentaries like this will serve as inspirational viewing material … the kind which lets me know that not all hope is lost in this world of video game wars and drunk presidents. I just wish there was a way to target the proper audience.