Monday, February 15, 2010

Sedition in the Dark

It is deeply unAustralian to dislike hot weather, be largely disinterested in sport and be underwhelmed by the idea of mowing in middle of the day, but nonetheless, here I am. Your personal representative of that irritating single digit demographic of population that insists on watching SBS, reading books without pictures and not eating meat. Frankly, under Howard the sedition laws were getting very close to netting us pale non-sporties and veggos. I don't think any of those "patriot act" style laws have been revoked, but I'm pretty confident they haven't continued to expand. (Of course, they may have. My deliberate ignorance of news means that I remain unaware of what new evils the blandly congenial face of our Current PM hides).

I used to find the idea of sedition very interesting. As I understand it (ie, vague guessing rather than any looking up of definitions, or actual research. I like to start off with a kind-of gestalt feel and spiral my way towards accuracy. Lends slightly more to poetry if there's any in the offing than just diving in to the dictionary. But I digress.) sedition is kinda like mutiny, but on land. Or the idea of mutiny. Of course learning about Pirates has shown me a few more things about mutiny too. Sometimes 'mutiny' was a fairly straightforward commercial decision where a strongly held difference in acquisitional strategies and philosophies of plunder led to simple (ie bloodless) partings where the pirates' fleet (yes, they often had small convoys and even fleets) would experience a re-distribution of crew and a ship or two would peel away and head to fresh horizons. Seems reasonable. In other times, most notably in the above-board commercial world and the navy, mutiny was the last line of defence against a Captain gone buttfuck crazy - wigging out all over the place and homicidal on an unsustainable trajectory. Of course, Captains get to write the Ship's Log, so later on it could be hard to get the dead to speak in one's defence if the Captain had a lucid moment with quill before the parting of ways.

So anyway, why might this be interesting? It seemed to me that crumbly empires get more concerned with what you might be thinking than what you're actually doing. Critical thought can become a crime. Frank conversation about how things could practically be different can become a crime. Not a misdemeanour, not a concern, not a 'no scones for you naughty thing!' but a crime.

A much greater thinker than I, George Orwell, has of course covered this ground superbly, in his seminal work of paranoia "1984". I recommend it to myself for a re-read and to you dear reader for your own edification (read it here for free).

I'm not up to Orwell. I'm just saying that for some reason a few years back, we started making it explicit that thinking was problematic to the Australian way of life. That was interesting because it seemed so quaintly old-school and utterly, utterly pointless. Then it wasn't interesting at all for a long time, just another example of how shitty life can be, and keeping that list is a really dull hobby. I let it go.

Then last weekend I watched "Death Race" and it set me to thinking (as incredibly brutal, masochistic, post-collapse action films often do) about what we like to think of as "fiction" and therefore entertaining, and who we think are suitable people to fill the roles of villains. Not many people saw Death Race, despite Jason Statham in the lead and Ian "Swearengen" McShane in support so let me break it down for you... and bear with me as the plot does not hang together in the film so this will not sound very cogent*.

An ex-con who happens to also be an ex-car racing guy's wife is brutally murdered and he is framed for it so that he can go to the commercially run jail where they RACE (a la Running Man) in a competition to THE DEATH to win their freedom. BTW the race of fortified and armed cars is telecast live and viewing is by subscription, thereby earning the prison mega-bucks.

Ok. Nothing new there. Literally (it is a remake of a '76 film). I won't distract our conversation by going into the gender stuff (other than to say it is tediously predictable - the wife is a corpse before she gets 2 full lines out, the uber-evil Warden is a post-menopausal corporate witch drone, and then there's 3 or 4 bootylicious and interchangable sets of tits and arses to dress the cars up. Sorry "navigators" from the women's prison.) That was a long set-up for a short pay-off. The fiction here (can you spot it?) that makes all of this allowable - is that "in the future, prisons will be run for (dramatic pause) profit!" (GASP OF SHOCK) Only in that kind of hideously peverted world would something so craven come about.

But of course this fiction is a fiction.

Prisons the world over, and here in Australia, are run by contractors to lesser or greater degrees already. Some in the States are already "purpose built facilities" completely funded by commercial interests. Running a prison is like removing garbage - one of those services that the community expects gets handled, but actually as long as the name and the signage is ok, really don't care who exactly is taking care of that business, and it's a growth industry. It's the Indian call-centre approach to staffing and funding. A hollow-core world, and, most importantly to this discussion, it is old hat. Maybe in 76 it seemed a wild idea, great for some future world (Mad Max-esque - if you will. Actually Mad Max came out in 79 - but you get my drift.) and certainly when Ghosts ... of the Civil Dead came out in 88 it was a chilling commentary on a system running loose and note - even the title tied it in to the concepts that prisoners were people, with rights (BTW Nick Cave co-wrote this, and had an acting role in it. Keyword: BLEAK. It is not a popcorn and beer type film - unlike Death Race which is clearly made to be consumed as Entertainment "Ghosts..." feels like a nightmare documentary ). But I digress.

To bring this back to sedition, it seems we have eaten our own tail. If sedition is a crime of thought in which criticism of the ruling system is entertained, what is it called when telling the truth about the ruling system is seen as distasteful or undesirable enough that we maintain a consensus reality that these unpalatable truths remain fictions?

How close are we to a situation where, on the books at least, speaking aloud a truth becomes a crime?

Close enough, I'd say, that someone will be able to furnish an example in Australia of where this is already the case. Or proposed to be the case. Probably in that that bundle of ridiculous on-line measures. Anyway. There it is. I don't really know what to do with that line of thought. It begs for action of some kind. But what?

In a hollow-core world where do you toss the molotov?

* WARNING - PLOT SPOILER. You and I know that it is unlikly that you're going to:
a. Watch this film, eva.
b. Not see this twist coming, and
c. Have the pleasure of watching massively overclocked cars race around almost endlessly brutally killing 'people' ruined by this brief synopsis. Basically this is a film that delivers on the core promise of the title. "Death Race" That's what they were selling and that's what they made. No nancy-pantsing around.


MsJaye said...

An example in which speaking the truth is a crime in Australia? Too easy. If I recall correctly, under the powers granted to the police to stop the terrorisms if you're detained as a terrorism, then under certain criteria it's illegal for someone who knows you're being held to reveal that fact.

J9 said...

Oh yeah - that's freakin terrifying isn't it!? Shit - I'd blotted that one out.