Looking at the Blue Planet (Pt. 1)

Looking at the Blue Planet (Pt. 1)
This article was posted on Camera Lucida Written by Ethem Özgüven Translated by Burcu Halaç   Let’s begin with a single example, with the fact that life will come to an end in all the oceans and seas of the world in 2050, which, if you ask me, does not reflect the whole truth because the fish stocks that can be commercially fished will be consumed much earlier than that date and they will be replaced by a cemetery of plastics. However, the microorganisms adapting to the changing circumstances and living especially in deep waters will be transformed along with other more complicated forms of life. The question is, in the context of our country and the world, as ordinary citizens what do we know about this process of pollution and extinction, of plastic’s invasion of the whole world including the land and the seas, and the decrease of the number and variety of fish stocks and all the other living things in the oceans and seas along with the highly probable total disappearance of them in the near future as a result of these processes that take place simultaneously? What do we know about the great catastrophes waiting to happen because of methane emission, which was prevented by the vegetation cover in the past, and which is now on the brink of disappearance due to the continuous drilling of the seabeds? If you know about the crimes that massive fishing vessels, trawlers, and dragnets commit –and are actually committing right now while you are reading these very words- each night and in the cold grey open seas of the daytime, you will be petrified. You do not know about these crimes that are ceaselessly committed; no one actually knows about them. And the so-called civilized countries of the world, China, the EU, Canada, Russia and their law enforcement officers, police forces, coast guards do not care about this situation. They know about this destruction, and this operation of wiping out the fish, and thereby all the oceans and the lives of all the human beings. The fact that they know about these destructive processes does not change anything. Do you know that a great number of Turkish fishing vessels fish in the coastal waters of Africa and Georgia? blue planet The knowledge of the common man is restricted with what is provided by the school, media, and family. Both school and family have their limitations with respect to one’s social situation while media is of great importance in directing and determining our entire lives and it can be said that this is why it exists. As I always say, in the modern age –maybe it is better to say in this day and age since we don’t really know what modern means and who is modern anymore- people who are in charge, people who herd us like cattle declare their instructions, orders, their wishes regarding what we should eat or wear through the tools provided by the media since they cannot hire a common crier to announce those instructions with drums in the streets. These media tools use certain well-tried forms and formulas, and these are generally produced with the highly internalized and traditionalized complicity of intellectuals. Intellectuals produce effective forms of persuasion (art and capital are generally intertwined with this form of persuasion). Let’s think about this: The uncle is the manager of a bank, his niece owns an agency, his sister is a public relations manager at Procter & Gamble, his cousin is an auctioneer and the sister of the cousin is a decorator and sculptor. And their shared creation is called news, competition, or documentary. This established system of the media, which still functions even though it doesn’t function well is actually known by everyone and it hides from the nation what the people in the government have done and what has happened. In general, the media hides what the Western countries and massive multinational structures –it is no longer possible to call them corporations- have done to the Third World, to the world in general, and to the people of the world. The mainstream media exists not for the sake of providing information but on the contrary for hiding things from people. The act of concealing things from people on an international scale has to be more ‘meticulous’ since it has to cover up bigger and more persistent crimes. Look at how the diversity of fish and life gradually disappears in the seas and oceans; observe how the world is turning into a garbage dump of plastic. And then look once again to those exemplary figures and formats that we deem great and honest. Look at the documentary genre, the unstained of them all. In documentaries, you see the people and children of the Third World, probably from Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco, or Honduras, picking something from the dirt after some yellow heavy construction equipment in the midst of a garbage heap, and the bony and sickly dogs eating garbage or you see the healthy and fit Danish people riding their bikes buying their pasta from a store with their glass containers. There is nothing misleading about what you see. The Danish people are really fit and pretty (I saw them with my own two eyes and I know for sure that they are sturdy), and the people in the midst of garbage are really miserable and skinny. Those people are really in the midst of all that garbage and they try hard to find something useful there. Let’s go back to Copenhagen once again. There is an established system and seller in that store that uses no plastic. It is all true. They even put their pasta in glass containers and they take that pasta to their homes in bags made of cloth by riding their bikes. The roads are very clean. In a documentary, we generally see only those people that the filmmaker himself/herself selects because in developed and civilized countries, one has to obtain permission to film and show someone. But in the countries of the Global South, you can see an entire tribe or wounded Syrians, or people of Rohingya who were beaten up and whose throats were slit, and all the people in Mogadishu on motorbikes. It is, to some extent, for this extremely rich foreground and background stories that the stories always rely on the South. The South is productive in that sense. It is possible to say the following taking the liberty to be a little blunt: We have so far exploited their mines, bodies, and tusks. Let’s exploit their suffering now. Let’s make money out of it. By being even more cruel, let’s say explicitly and implicitly that the South is responsible for all the garbage, plastic, and the consequences of anti-democratic administrations. I can hear you saying that ‘Ok, but it is the developed countries themselves who have come up with and established this exploitative and destructive capitalist system based on fossil fuel. It is those countries themselves who found plastic, made it cheaper and highly popular among people.’ Isn’t this the case? All of these persistent deception tools and processes prove that we still cannot understand the complexity and interconnectedness of the world. It is a proof that we cannot understand this fact as documentary filmmakers either. Beyond that, this also proves that documentary is not a very practical tool in the process of understanding and narrating the fact that it is actually the developed and the so-called civilized countries of the world that destroy the world. The most reliable genre among all the other formats, documentary turns into a huge lie when the big picture is considered. A documentary sometimes tells a lie without actually having any lie in it. This complex ability to lie is worse than telling an obvious lie. In 1987, my friends took me to Dachau in Munich. Dachau concentration camp was the first camp that was opened in Nazi Germany. It is located on an abandoned gunpowder and munitions factory about 16 km northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria in Southern Germany. I think I was only able to barely reach to the main gate. I then hurriedly went back without going in the camp, walked into a bar and drank continuously. Even though I didn’t have the courage to walk in the camp, I was seriously wounded and the healing of this wound took a couple of years. After 30 years from this, I saw just a couple of images for a few seconds (before I changed the channel) showing the Japanese soldiers putting Chinese civilians into the pits that they dug with heavy machines and covering them with soil so as not to waste their bullets on them during the Sino-Chinese War that lasted from 1937 till 1945. This was more than enough to seriously disturb me. There are also the images showing the Russians chasing 40,000 Jews to their graves. They would shoot the ones that were not fast enough on the very spot. The ones who were able to run fast enough to reach the pits that were dug the night before had a few more minutes to live. Having no shortage of bullets unlike the Japans, the Russians shot the people who reached the pit and then rolled them into it. They slaughtered 40,000 people in two nights by using this method. The heavy machinery then covered all those innocent people with soil. These are just a few notes from the past. In his book Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, Alain Badiou considers the act of categorizing the victim in the works related to human rights and victimization as a huge problem –a problem almost as important as the victimization itself. He indicates that we cannot achieve anything through this method in which each human being’s uniqueness is destroyed, and that the road that we set out on the basis of the term help instead of solidarity is a flawed choice. The same problem can be encountered in majority of the documentaries. I have to admit that when we talk about documentaries, I think of those products that include images regarding usurped rights, victimhood, ecological destruction, and the people who are responsible for these. The news that is shared by the media outlets on television and virtual media are also similar. However, if we are to use an analogy, it is possible to draw a parallel between the documentary genre and gourmet delicacies, and between the news and the hamburger of McDonalds. While the first one requires a lot of effort and narrative skills, the latter one is prepared much more quickly and the aim is to ensure its fast consumption. Therefore, it is possible to find more flaws in news. When we especially consider Russia Today’s and CNN’s lack of humor, their news technique that knows no boundaries in vulgarity and subjectivity, their focus on speed lacking any efficiency whatsoever, we can say that the current mainstream news presentation abound with flaws.   environment Nevertheless, we can certainly talk about a fact that is valid for a lot of people, about a mass memory –a cultural memory- that has been woven and constructed by both documentary and news. This means that our visual memory is to a large extent defined by advertisements telling us what to buy, what to wear, what to eat while the documentaries and news largely shape our inferences regarding the world and our ideological structure. We wouldn’t be able to say this as easily as we can now for those individuals who used to read more in the past. However, since the individual of our age is a member of a new species that has difficulty even in processing a visual product including a certain elegance and complex structure, and is hard to digest, we can now defend this opinion much more easily. Young people, to a large extent, feed on visual images and products that they see and do not actually watch till the end, and they form their sentences on the basis of these images –if we can call these sentences, of course. I think the grammar of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram encourages this form of making sentences. The individual of our age, let alone reading, does not even watch something till the end. S/he doesn’t do that, but does the jury of IDFA do that? It is highly probable that they don’t watch the documentaries that are sent to them or they do not do it properly. Leipzig, Sheffield, Montreal, Cinema Du Reel, Hot Docs, Thessaloniki… These are the major documentary film festivals that immediately come to my mind. When 7000 documentaries apply to a festival, what is the routine procedure for pre-selection? How are those documentaries watched? One cannot help asking whether these big festivals, all of which have application fees, finance their festivals thanks to the filmmakers. This is an important question that a genuine documentary should answer. There is nothing to discuss about the mainstream media, which is to a large extent dependent on media monopolies, on the multinational or national holdings that these media monopolies work for, and on the governments that act as their security force. These mainstream machines of deception ceaselessly generate lies by sometimes remaining silent, ignoring what is going on, and at times by not telling everything via adopting techniques that are similar to the ones adopted by National Geographic as Catherine A. Lutz and Jane L. Collins demonstrate in their impressive work titled Reading National Geographic in a very effective, clear, and verifiable manner. Since these problematic products are produced by significant cameramen and very competent directors, they do their job very well. It is possible to think of these extremely delicious documentaries (if we are to call them documentaries), which give pleasure when consumed, as a piece of baklava. Baklava is also incredibly delicious and also highly harmful for one’s health. Its essence is sugar and very thin dough. Apart from the pistachios, its every ingredient is harmful. These documentaries are similar to baklava in that respect and the mainstream media is also engaged in such endeavors. They provide attractive and consumable things for our gaze. As people who are engaged in and acquainted with these efforts to a certain extent, we have a relatively critical approach; however, the majority of people, who actually matter, just look at them and believe in them. And they form a worldview through the sediment of these images. When we encounter something that seems reasonable in the mainstream media, we should be cautious. When this mainstream media, for example ZDF, shows a very well prepared documentary regarding the abuses of right in Turkey and the journalists in prison, we should be thinking about the following: ZDF does this because the German government charged all the money regarding the purchase of tanks to Turkey or Turkey gave the tank tender to Italy. If the second situation is the reality, then you won’t see any documentary against Turkey in any of the RAI channels, at least for a while. In this context, it is possible to say the following: ‘In case the documentary we watch contain a part of the truth, then the reason as to why it is shown does not matter for the viewer. What matters is to show the truth.’ It is due to the fact that only a flow that shows consistency in time and space can create a meaningful impact that is capable of forming cultural memory not the single structures that are atomized and based on fragments. If this were the case, then Coca-Cola would only create an advertisement once in a decade. However, Coca-Cola doesn’t do so and keeps exposing us to its images, logos, and jingles by employing the same sentence anytime anywhere without ever stopping. Just like Good Year, Merkel, Sarkozy, Burger King, Shell, and BP does. For this reason, the singular importance and power of a genuine documentary that is shown at times that are in accordance with the flow of the political realities that I have just mentioned is unfortunately limited. Repetition is importance in the formation of cultural memory. I make this lengthy introduction on the basis of a reason that I consider to be not superficial. However, as in all of the other things that I wrote at different times, I have to take down the walls of the documentary genre, and it is the mainstream media that is the weakest link and the easiest of the targets in this demolition process. In terms of documentaries, mainstream media is like a castle made of paper. Since the funds provided by the EU or by different institutions, museums, individuals, festivals in Europe, Canada, and the US is not the focus of this essay, I won’t address these issues for the time being. This essay will focus on the kind of ideology that the documentaries, one of the last places that we try to find refuge in, screened at independent festivals and are considered to be genuine ones include and the kind of worldview they present. In brief, what I defend can be summarized as follows. Between the years 1945 and 1998, the US made 1032 nuclear tests, France 210, Great Britain 45, and Russia 751. These were all called ‘nuclear tests.’ It can be understood that this was presented as quite an innocuous act and was reduced into a simple sentence. Just like the sentence that the EU formed in recent months, which reads ‘In accordance with the agreement that has been reached with the Libya government, the refugees that come from Africa and attempt to go to Europe via Sicily and Calabria will be hosted in Libya and their situation will be assessed there.’ Can you imagine? You throw a huge nuclear bomb into the ocean (not just a tiny dynamite) and you do this for almost fifty years and for hundreds of times. And this is just the number of the bombs that the US is responsible for. Russia did the same. If it had been only the Russians who had done that, then there would have been many documentaries on this subject in the Western media and among independent documentary filmmakers. Under the dictatorship of a mentally unstable individual, North Korea has recently made a few of those nuclear tests and look at the commotion it has caused. The US made more than a thousand tests like this. There are many documentaries about the poor Greek or Turkish fishermen who fish by using dynamite but there is almost nothing about these nuclear tests. Critical images regarding the fishing vessels of the US, the EU, and China are quite limited apart from the ones Sea Shepherd has. What about the destructive, consumerist mentality of the ideology of exploitation and capitalism? The steaks are the size of a frisbee in US. Japan has destroyed the Mediterranean for the sake of supplying sushi. As 20-25 Mediterranean countries, we haven’t been able to do that for the last two hundred years even though we have tried very had but Japan has finally wiped out the Bluefin tuna from so far away. There is still an incredible consumption of oil, coal, and wood in the US. And the daily power consumption of New York City alone is almost equal to the daily power consumption of the entire African continent. A century later after Robert Flaherty, the nature is still destroyed in the same places around Yukon River. And documentaries are made about the destruction of the nature in the hands of white men with their huge machines. These are not critical documentaries. These films tell the story of how the brave and strong white men were able to extract gold, the story of their labor and sweat. The documentary of Robert Flaherty is much more important and ethical in many aspects than these stories about Alaska and gold that we see in the mainstream media. Sweden gives out the Nobel Prizes but it is also one of the countries selling the highest number of anti-person mines in the world. Netherlands is an important center where hybrid seeds and the pill-shaped drugs that have recently become very popular are produced, and the biggest corporations of the milk industry are located at. The rainforests in South America are constantly turned into fields so as to feed this horrible milk river in the form of cow fodder made of corn and soy. However, we still see documentaries about Peru, the leaves of coco plant, and cocaine on the television and in the festivals. We see child soldiers and female circumcision. We generally see those child soldiers in two African countries that are in war with each other or we seen them as the victims or the killers in a civil war. But when it comes to the young Guatemalan, Honduran, and Mexican individuals that are hired by the US to make them fight and die in Syria and Iraq, there is not much to be seen on the television. The documentaries keep showing the Third World countries with regards to erosion, women’s rights, child brides, organ trade, bribery, sea pollution, and their houses with no roofs, floor covering, and tap water, their horrible schools, their neighbourhoods that are literally garbage sites, and their towns that are lacking in hygiene, education, and sufficient nutrition. There are many images of those shantytowns that are located at the polluted big cities of Africa, Asia, and small island states. A pig and a chicken in the midst of garbage and sewage. This is what we see. And the fact that this geography has been sacrificed and exploited for the sake of the Western countries’ comfort, prosperity, and hygiene in the past and is still ruthlessly exploited in the present time does not remain in our minds as the summary of the many films that we watch in an independent film festival. We either have pity or anger depending on the situation towards those underdeveloped creatures who are miserable, dirty, smashed to pieces because of a bomb, standing on the edge of or in the midst of a civil war, who are sick, who don’t have roads, energy, sufficient protein in their bodies, and no know-how to do things properly. By continuously showing us images depicting the wrecked orphaned children who have no future, no shoes, and cities whose politics, bureaucracy, and air are polluted and crippled, and the destroyed nature, the Western countries actually say us something without ever showing a baby, an adult, a window, a street, a bicycle, or anything from Helsinki or Zurich. They say that this is how this place is. These ignorant and pitiable people, these people rolling in the dirt and not even separating their garbage, these people breathing mercury from batteries and removing parts of a vehicle, these young people from China, Honduras, Morocco, and Turkey… But we have democracy, hygiene, and Human Rights here in the West, in Germany, in Canada. Our streets are spotlessly clean. Our wine and our cheese are produced properly and our olive oil is produced by small families who eat their dinners under huge threes together with the members of three generation. That is how the tomato paste is also produced. Everything is fine. But actually nothing is fine. What the documentary filmmaker from the West consciously or unconsciously says correspond to this: We are different, civilized, developed, and we are moving forward. What is missing in this statement is the revelation that it is the exploitative capitalist order that has left the East behind. And this is of great importance.   documentary   Without going into particulars we can ask the following question: Could it be said that even the independent documentary film festivals, which offer an honest and significant platform that cannot be compared with mainstream media outlets, and the distinguished works of the independent filmmakers attending these festivals, even the most independent and neutral of these works lead to an illusion in the end? Do they focus too much on a certain geography and present time with their cameras that are turned towards the exhausted and wrecked geographies? Do these documentaries prefer consciously or unconsciously not telling everything about the processes that took place in the recent past and began a few centuries ago due to the actions of a few countries (such as Italy, France, USA, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Belgium, Great Britain, Netherlands, Spain, and Australia)? After watching the documentaries screened at these festivals, if what remains in our minds is the burnt and destroyed towns and countries whose crops are bad, and the ignorant, generally unhealthy, yellow-black people who live in these countries and their undernourished, barefoot children, and the white doctors, lawyers, documentary filmmakers from Western countries who try to defend their rights, then there must be a problem to be resolved or there is clearly a missing link.