Sunday, June 22, 2008

Carl Sagan in the zeitgeist

Jim Lippard recently devoted an excellent post to a thorough takedown of Zeitgeist: The Movie, a weird, conspiracy theory-centered movie that's been spreading virally online (it can be viewed on Google Video in its entirety) for the past year. This is pretty pitiful even by the very low standards of CT movies like Loose Change or America: Freedom to Fascism (both of which Zeitgeist borrows directly and heavily from); as Lippard puts it, Zeitgeist is a "piece of pernicious nonsense" which is "almost entirely garbage, dependent on crackpot sources". Plus, it's heavily dependent on video and audio footage "borrowed" from other sources, and crude and cheap motion graphics, to fill out its running time. But I find it interesting, almost despite myself, for two reasons:

1: It juxtaposes conventional CT subject matter in its last two-thirds (about 9/11 and the Federal Reserve) with a first third about the origins of Christianity, which echoes (in a confused, Dan Brown sort of way) some traditional freethought views, with quotes from Robert Ingersoll and George Carlin. In fact, it apes Brian Flemming's documentary The God Who Wasn't There so closely that there were even rumors that it was made by Flemming! (Although this section is filled with errors that aren't in Flemming's original, and Flemming has specifically said that one of the reasons he got interested in the area of Jesus-myth revisionist scholarship was because it was unlike the culture around CTs, which he researched for his previous movie Nothing So Strange.) Even though it really never attempts to explain the connection between its three thirds apart from just putting them side by side, as Jay Kinney puts it in his review:

Exactly how all this fits together is left to the viewer’s imagination or, presumably, the film-maker’s hash pipe. Are those who manipulate Christianity for control purposes in cahoots with the Bankers, and were the Bankers in on the 9/11 caper?

Although there is some parallel to the way that the Aaron Russo-style CTs about the Fed and the income tax in the final third of the movie echo the more reputable libertarian critiques of those institutions; in fact, Lippard cites both Bill Woolsey's Liberty magazine article "Who Owns the Fed?" and Sheldon Richman's series "Beware Income Tax Casuistry". This, in turn, brings to mind how little overlap there is between those who hold unconvetional views on religion and on monetary systems, with some exceptions like the Robert Anton Wilson-influenced Douglas Rushkoff (who, in fact, has commented on the parallels between Zeitgeist and his work, with some reservations about "the agitprop nature of its assertions").

2: It includes a brief clip of Carl Sagan in Cosmos at the end (1:56:47 in, to be exact), after the CTs are exhausted and the tone switches abruptly (to quote Kinney again: "Incongruously, after spending nearly two hours trying to scare the bejeezis out of its viewers, Zeitgeist ends on an oddly upbeat note, telling us that Love — not Fear — is the answer, We are all One"), in which Sagan lays down a call for planetary unity: "The old appeals to racial and sexual and religious chauvinism, to rabid nationalist fervor, are beginning not to work. A new consciousness is developing which sees the Earth as a single organism, and recognizes that an organism at war with itself is doomed." (Adding to the WTF factor is the fact that the shot is letterboxed, cropped from its original full screen ratio to widescreen with most of Sagan's lower body missing.) JHB readers know I'm interested in any and all forms of Sagan's influence, and there's something to seeing it in such an unexpected place; after all, the chance of a CT movie quoting Sagan is, well, about the chance of one quoting Ingersoll. Or as James Randi Educational Foundation forum user boloboffin put it far more colorfully in the forum thread devoted to the movie, "OMG, they used a clip of Carl Sagan at the end! Sweet Sufferin' Jeebus."

UPDATE (6/28/2009): I've received an email asking for the specific source of the Carl Sagan quote, and decided to clarify my somewhat vague reference. The quote used in Zeitgeist is from the 13th and final episode of the TV series Cosmos, "Who Speaks for Earth?" (which is freely viewable on Hulu here); the quote appears 24 minutes into the episode. A somewhat different version of the quote also appears in the corresponding chapter of the book version of Cosmos, on page 332 of the oversize illustrated edition and page 275 of the text-only edition (the latter of which can be viewed on Google Books); it runs as follows: "The old exhortations to nationalist fervor and jingoist pride have begun to lose their appeal.... A new consciousness is developing which recognizes that we are one species."

3 comments:

Patrick Pong said...

Zeitgeist connects some unexpected dots. That's for sure. However the conspiracy theorists do seem to be gaining credibility these days as they've become surprisingy accurate predictors of the future. Perhaps Zeitgeist is put together haphazardly, but does that necessariy mean it's point is baseless? Ending on Carl Sagan's point about a new consciousness emerging seems accurate (and necessary) in my eyes. Perhaps the internet film doesn't match your taste, but I'm not sure you shoud throw its message out so quickly.

Bradley said...

you are a moron

hector said...

the zeitgeist movement supports (www.thezeitgeistmovementuk.com) the view that the laws of nature are thus

Symbiosis: nature is one single organism which we mast be a part of to the best our ability

Emergence: any (human) system (be it technology, philosophy, science,
even sentience its self) is constantly changing, static empirical knowledge does not exist, the only constant is change, "This means we must be open to new information at all times, even if it threatens our current belief system, and hence, identities. Sadly, society today has failed to recognize this, and the established institutions continue to paralyze growth by preserving outdated social structures"