Death + Taxes MAY 16, 2011 - by DJ Pangburn


A documentary that screened at London International Documentary Festival is making critical waves about our increasingly Orwellian world.

I read something recently that argued Aldous Huxley's Brave New World had actually been the far more prophetic book when compared to George Orwell's 1984. There is no doubt in my mind that Aldous Huxley was a prophet: his mind was as prismatic and absorbent as any the world's ever known, and he led the way in his experimentation in psychedelics and thoughts about how humans might order themselves.

Huxley was the visionary and Orwell was the lens fixed in a constant hover over the state, whether capitalist democracy or authoritarianism masquerading as communism. Huxley left this world on a psychedelic trip by way of a hundred micrograms of LSD administered lovingly by his wife. Orwell's death came early in his life and painfully.

Both of these men's signature speculative novels address different but ultimately similar terrain: that of the state controlling populations with social experiments. In Orwell's 1984, by propaganda and fear, and in Huxley's Brave New World, by drugging humanity and moving them about as cattle. Both arrive at similar endpoints. And the analysis of Brave New World need not be limited to drugs, for it can be applied to any number of things that numb us or grasp our attention - the internet, television, or the need to be perceived as hip which so plagues my generation.

But it should be said that Orwell's 1984 has become by far the more frighteningly real of the two in that it warned us about how the state might conceivably surveil us, by coming into our homes (the internet) and watching us in public places (cameras, phones, credit card purchases and "If you see something, Say Something" campaign, to name a few).

And so Juan Manuel Biaiñ's documentary Article 12 comes at a critical moment in the continuing evolution of how states control populations. In his film, Biaiñ interviews figures such as Noam Chomsky and Brian Eno. Chomsky, of course, is a shoe-in for this sort of commentary, but Eno's appearance in the documentary is far more interesting in that the artist often approaches any subject from some unexpected angle.

Biaiñ uses as his point of departure the twelfth article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

"No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."

The following is a synopsis from the film's website:

"The film is a thought-provoking exposé on our current obsession with voyeurism, surveillance technologies, power and control. Starting from our own private spying habits, Article 12 examines how vulnerable and exposed we have become in our relationship to each other and as a society and talks about those who are gaining from this condition... The film brings together the world's leading academics, philosophers, cultural figures and technologists to highlight the devastating potency of surveillance and the dangers of public and individual complicity, and presents a growing movement fighting for the upkeep of our right to privacy."

Is hyperbole at work here? No. There is the perception that democracies are quite free, and it is likely that bureaucrats and spies don't have near the totality of control found in 1984, but that is really not the point. The critical reality is that there is an uncontested access to a wide spectrum of any human's life through a state's ability to access internet searches, credit card records, library records, surveillance video and now the minute-by-minute movements afforded by the explosion in smart phone use, a technology which functions on GPS for its apps.

As a voice intones as the end of the trailer, "It gives more power than a bad man should have, and a good man should want." As Biaiñ suggests, each human should be given the means to control their information - only then can we wrest it from the hands of the wicked or misguided.