Temujin Doran, “Obey” (2012)
Initially this documentary promised to be an inquiry into the rise of corporatism as the dominant ideology in the West during the 20th and early 21st centuries, and how its values and mind-set have come to be seen as the norm across the world. The place of conformity and obedience in such a civilisation, and how corporations and governments in thrall to their agenda mould people to imbibe corporatist values and ethics (for want of a better term), was to be the prime focus. The film delivers on its premise but in a very dense, wide-ranging rant that’s as much alienating as it is informative.
A big problem is director and narrator Doran’s presentation: his pace is fast and there are not enough pauses between different topics as he jumps from one aspect of the problem to another. Although there is a rough chronological structure, beginning with the use of psychology, in particular Freudian psychoanalysis, to harness people’s support for the US war effort against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during the Second World War and then against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, once we arrive at the present day the narration starts to wander from one topic to the next in a stream-of-consciousness way. There is too much information thrown at viewers in a seemingly disorganised way. Doran does not support his narration with interviews or recordings of speeches or interviews that would reinforce his message and help to embed it in viewers’ consciousness.
Images used don’t match Doran’s narrative and the way in which they are used can be peculiar: their repetition as two or four images where one might suffice could be seen as self-indulgent and childish. Images are often shown in their photographic negatives to soften their impact (and some of them can be very violent and upsetting). The disconnect between visuals and the soundtrack can be distracting and some viewers might actually prefer just to hear the soundtrack. I do admit though that the sequence of images in which bombs explode in slow motion and the clouds the explosions throw up has an eerie and surreal beauty when the images and their mirror images appear together!
Background music by electronica artist Clark features the whole way through the film and is very intrusive and annoying.
Several quite important issues are raised: the role of mass media in diverting people’s attention away from their oppressors in government and the business world into a world of self-centred fantasy; the role of intellectuals and so-called highbrow culture as mediators between the ruling elite and the public; the commercialisation and privatisation of all areas of society and culture; the militarisation of society, what purpose it serves for fascism; and the promotion of “happiness” and the effects that pursuing happiness has on individuals, communities and society generally. For viewers not already familiar with these topics, Doran’s narration can appear quite unbelievable and fantastic. Without supporting evidence in the form of interviews with economists, scientists, academics, politicians, sociologists, activists and others, and of statistics and other proofs, Doran’s assertions simply are lost in the maelstrom of statements that swiftly come and go. I daresay many people will have to watch the documentary a few times for much of the information to sink in.
The last fifteen minutes of the documentary are taken up with suggestions as to how viewers can resist being seduced and co-opted by the corporate fascist machine. This section is where Doran’s narrative falls apart: his portrayal of technology as essentially neutral is faulty (much technology is designed with built-in tools for gathering information about users in order to track their online activity and promote products to them) and he says nothing about how viewers could build new groups or communities to bypass mainstream institutions. He makes no use of socialist or similar philosophies or ideologies as a foundation for grassroots movements. Surprisingly, given an earlier rant about historical amnesia in modern society, Doran does not refer to historical incidents in which ordinary people came together and fought governments or corporations – and won, or nearly won.
I really can’t recommend “Obey” as important viewing for people wishing to understand how governments and corporations use soft power and hard power to control societies to the extent where the entire world now stands on the brink of social, economic, financial and environmental collapse. Other documentaries dealing with the same issues in ways that reinforce and buttress their message attractively and with less visual and musical distraction can be found on Youtube.com.