DIE WELLE

Nuran Yıldırım

Middle East Technical University

 

Since fascism is a unique term and it is hard to describe one and only type of fascism, many scholars have long debated on definition of fascism. While fascism can be seen as a level of political regime such as Nazism, it can also articulate itself to the different ideologies such as nationalism and conservatism. In addition, fascism can appear as a spontaneous ceremony in language or in daily activities of people. The movie, namely ‘Die Welle’[1], directed by Dennis Gansel, presents an unusual experiment of a high school teacher to teach his students what it is like to live in an autocracy. Apart from being a masterpiece of German cinematography, the movie is important to show how fascist and autocratic aspects can develop in a modern context. Therefore, in this essay, I will try to analyze the movie ‘Die Welle’ and attempt to answer the questions how is the movie relevant to fascism as an ideology and what elements of fascism are detectable in the movie. In this context, my focus will be on general characteristics of fascism that have seen in the movie, particularly, creation of a mass, a state unit as well as a strong leader. Lastly, I will also try to point out some shortcomings of the movie.

Initially, Rainer Wegner as an unorthodox teacher has to teach on autocracy during a school project week. In the first lecture of the project, when Mr. Wegner asks the students whether or not an example of autocracy like ‘The Third Reich’ could ever happen again, all of the students believe that it could not happen. Then, in order to make the school project interesting for his students and to challenge his student’s approach to autocracy, Mr. Wegner performs an unusual experiment to show them an autocracy not only could happen today, but also it could happen to them. At the beginning of the experiment everything seems going well until the students start to take it seriously. The movie ends with a suicide of a student and being arrested of Mr. Wenger by the police and driven away. [2]

One of the aspects of fascism can be seen throughout the movie is, firstly, creation of a mass. Since fascism is not powerful without masses, it hates individuals. While there are many ways to creation of masses, in the movie, we observe creation of mass by logos, slogans, salute, etc. ‘Die Welle’ brings the students together as a group and they start to lose their individuality step by step. For example, they establish their own uniform and start to wear white T-shirts instead of different clothes that present their personal style.

Another important element of the fascism that is detectable in the movie is, indeed, creation a state unit and this state unit can be whether racist or nationalist. However, while fascism talks about creation of a pure race and nation and it excludes the others, ‘Die Welle’ is a kind of inclusive state unit regarding its characteristics. It is open to all without making a differentiation of race, religion, etc. For example, Turkish student Sinan as a member of a marginalized group in society is also welcomed by ‘Die Welle’. Still, although its inclusive characteristics, just like fascism that creates a common enemy and inferior group such Jews, Gypsies, ‘Die Welle’ also describes an enemy: the anarchy class. In one shot of the movie, Mr. Wenger and the students march together in the same rhythm just to annoy their enemy, the anarchy class below them.

Additionally, rationality behind the fascism argues that while the mass has limited capacity, the main function of the leader is to mobilize the mass since the leader has full capacity. The movie portrays the teacher, Rainer Wegner as the leader who enforces the rules required for an autocracy. However, in my opinion, Mr. Wegner is still far from being a strong, charismatic leader who has unlimited authority because it is hard to talk about unquestioned obedience to him by the students. He as a leader just has told some basic rules afterward the students were mostly acting more spontaneously and chaotically rather than following the leader, Mr. Wegner, all the time. Thus, ‘Die Welle’ can be seen as an autocracy that has some anarchist sense.

Overall, the movie presents what autocracy is and how an autocracy could happen even today but I just want to point out that the movie does not say about why it has happened. For example, Karo and Mona as two independent and strong characters gives the audience an oppositional look to ‘Die Welle’ and in one shot of the movie, these two girls distribute booklets around the school to ‘stop the wave’ but what is written in their manifest against to ‘Die Welle’ and why they hate it that much is not explained at all. Thus, instead of mostly focusing on some teenage high school clichés, the movie would better explain and focus on the reasons rather than ending with ‘I told you so’ conclusion. What must be noted that liberal propaganda of the movie is another shortcoming of it. On the other hand, it is obvious that the movie is kind of powerful plea by Dennis Gansel against to autocracy; therefore, the movie has a banal theme ‘Democracy is good, dictatorship is not’.

All in all, despite the movie’s minor shortcomings, ‘Die Welle’ is a creative movie to show that it is still easy to reconstruct an autocracy in anywhere. In this context, the end of the movie is powerful to show how history could happen again and the danger of an autocracy.

 

Notes

[1] ‘The Wave’ in English.

[2] The movie directed by Dennis Gansel has some differences from the original experiment made by American professor Ron Jones. The major difference are related to concerns the violence and the bloody end which is a part of the movie.

RIFF-RAFF

Nuran Yıldırım

Middle East Technical University

 

Throughout the 1980s, the United Kingdom has challenged by a changing political and economic transformation from state-centered into a neo-liberal form. Neo-liberalism arose with the election of ‘new right’ political leader, Margaret Thatcher in particular. Then neo-liberalism spread in the various parts of the globe especially under the influence of the World Bank, the IMF as well as the European Union. Since the neo-liberalism defined as a set of policies to promote the political economy of capitalism which based on deregulation, privatization, globalization and a laissez-faire economy, Margaret Thatcher in the light of these policies aimed to promote an equality of power and wealth throughout the society in the United Kingdom. Thus, taking Thatcher’s policies into account, in this essay, I will try to analyze the film, namely, Riff-Raff (1991)[1] that is directed by Ken Loach and starring Robert Carlyle and Ricky Tomlinson[2]. Apart from being a best picture award winner film in the 1991 European Film Award, Riff-Raff is important film to show living conditions of Britain’s working class in the Thatcher era. In this context, my focus will be on the consequences of the neo-liberal policies on characters and events of the film, particularly immigration and multicultural policies, the collapse of trade unions and the alienation of the workers. Additionally, I will attempt to point out several shortcomings of the film and finally a conclusion will be made to summarize the key points made in the main part.

Initially, it might be argued, the film ‘Riff Raff’ was written by Bill Jesse who is a former construction worker and it is directed by Ken Loach. It builds a portrait of every day life of workers in a construction site.  Since the construction site which is presented throughout the film is a colorful one with different lives, dreams, and so forth, Robert Carlyle plays Stevie who is a young Scotsman just arrived to London. While all the workers differ one way or another and each have their own stories to tell, e.g., one of them was dreaming to go to Africa, one thing was common at all: the misery. All workers were working under an abusive and unsafe atmosphere where anyone can get injure or even die any time. In addition, wages are so low, living conditions are bad, for example, the construction site was full of rats. Since most of the workers are not able to afford taxes, they use false names, have no bank accounts and get their checks under false names. Sometimes in order to receive their checks, they ask other workers to receive their checks in exchange with money.

In this context, it is worth to recall Thatcher’s Britain in terms of its immigration and multicultural policies. In other words, an analysis of the role of neo-liberalism in conceptions of immigration and multicultural policies is necessary. During the 1980s, ethnic minorities became geographically segregated and constituted a part of the ‘miserable British’. Furthermore, the entry of ethnic minorities for settlement was controlled and limited to close relatives. In the 1988 Immigration Act, the Thatcher government went further to remove the family reunion right[3]. In the 1988 Education Reform Act, Thatcher opposed positive action to aid integration or to encourage multicultural diversity by emphasizing the importance of British history, English and Christianity (Kim, 2010). Therefore, despite its polices on freedom, neo-liberalism did not tolerate cultural diversity and rather than recognizing difference, erasing is supported to bring better justice for minorities as well as majorities. Inequality mostly associated with individual ability in the free market. However, the situation was so this, it is questionable how and why most of the workers were still voted for Thatcher repeatedly. Even one of the worker, Larry, tries to criticize this situation, since the film does not have a didactic overtone and it just mirror the life of workers, the question stays without an answer.

Additionally, the film presents collapse of the trade unions due to policies that are introduced by Thatcher in the 1980s. One the important reason is why she called as ‘Iron Lady’ is that the way she crushed the UK’s trade unions and weakened the powers of the unions, particularly by making it more difficult to strike legally during her reign. What must be noted that Margaret Thatcher’s famous speech;

“We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty,” (Thatcher, 1984)

In the film, for example, in one scene, when Larry (Ricky Tomlinson) speaks about the unsafe and hazardous conditions, he is just easily fired from his job without any explanations or payment. Therefore, the labor union movement had been weakened and led to a decline in union membership. Union membership plummeted from a peak of 12 million in the late 70s to almost half that by the late 80s (Wilenius, 2004).

Lastly and the most importantly, the film give voices to worker’s alienated life under the construction site of a hospital into luxury apartments that they can never afford to live in. According to theory of alienation formulated by Karl Marx, people lose the control of their lives through losing control over their work under capitalist conditions, e.g., workers do not work autonomous, they lose their know-how and technical skills and become like machines. While Stevie presented as a model for daily routine of workers’ life, the film interchanges between his relationship with Susan who is an untalented singer and life scenes demonstrating Stevie and his fellows, workers of the construction site. When Stevie and Susan were discussing in one scene, Stevie famously states that: ‘Depressions are for the middle classes, the rest of us have got an early start in the morning.’ And this clearly shows how alienated life is for workers. In addition, the advertising campaign used during the 1979 general elections by Thatcher’s conservative party, ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ poster should be also noted to show the situation throughout 1980s.

All in all, the film directed by Ken Loach as a drama with a political overtones shows Britain’s working class reality and the dialogues among the workers are so thick and full of ironies throughout the film[4]. Despite its dramatic conclusion, the film included funny moments such as taking a bath in a show house by Larry. It is also a remarkable by a political punch, performances of the actors were so good and even the cast selected from the actors who have construction experiences so the scenes of the film were far from being unrealistic. Despite all these features of the film, I would like to point out minor shortcomings of it as well, for example the film has a cliché storyline so I personally waited something special on it but nothing was special or new. Additionally, it lacks from excitement. Even so these are all very minor problems which does not affect the film’s strong influence, therefore, the film gives a voice to workers who never benefited from properties that are provided by Thatcher’s policies.

 

Bibliography

Kim, N. (2010). Revisiting New Right citizenship discourse in Thatcher’s Britain. Ethnicities, 10(2), 208-235. Retrieved May, 2015, from http://etn.sagepub.com

Wilenius, P. (2004). Enemies within: Thatcher and the unions. BBC News. Retrieved May, 2015, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/3067563.stm

Notes

[1] It translated as ‘Ayak Takımı’ into Turkish.

[2] In real life Tomlinson is a political activist and a long-time member of the Socialist Labour Party. Additionally he worked on building sites for many years becoming actively involved in politics and even he went to jail following a building strike in 1972.

[3] It had been previously given to men who settled in the UK before 1973 such that their wives and children had been able to enter without either marriage or financial tests. (Kim, 2010)

[4] The film is subtitled because the accent of the workers is very thick and difficult to understand.

DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE

Nuran Yıldırım

Middle East Technical University

 

It is obvious to everyone, many things have been changing and today the earth is going into environmental crisis. Since the nature is seen as a kind of free gift that can be used and transformed in the market, exploitation of the nature has increased. In this context, ‘Darwin’s Nightmare’ is a really good documentary in terms of showing the capitalist exploitation of environment. Thus, in this essay, I will try to evaluate the elements of liberal utilitarian approach and capitalist exploitation of environment presented in the film Darwin’s Nightmare. First, to get a complete picture, I will briefly summarize the main theme and the key points in the film. Further, I will discuss the topic of globalization respectively colonization and their relations with capitalism. Then, I will move on an analysis how capitalism gives harm to the environment and of course to the humans. Finally, before making a conclusion in order to summarize of the key points presented in the main part, I will try to point out some shortcomings of the film.

To begin with, Darwin’s nightmare is a documentary on Lake Victoria of Tanzania where is the world’s biggest tropical lake and one day a predatory fish, the Nile perch, came to the lake and wiped out all the other variety of fish that the lake used to have. Then the Nile perch became one of most important commodity for starving Tanzanian families, which is sold in European and Japanese markets. The film deals with not only a fish that are killing everything else but also prostitutes getting killed, mercenary pilots flying with fish, homeless children sniffing glue as well as starving people who suffering from HIV diseases.

The film is initially presented an introduction to globalization by using a metaphor of Nile perch in order to show the impact of globalization and capitalism on local industry. Throughout the film, Lake Victoria became a name to symbolize the global capitalism. Since the Nile perch is an exportable and highly profitable commodity for Tanzania to European market, a bucket of Nile perch were injected into Tanzania’s Lake Victoria. Nevertheless the results were goes so bad- the Nile perch as a very big and predatory fish destroyed all the other species that keep the lake alive so the ecosystem in the lake is dies. Just like global capitalism destroyed and wiped out local industries all around the world, the Nile perch did the same.  So the existence of the Nile perch is a metaphor to exemplify the global capitalism and the small town Mwanza is small module of globalization.

Another important issue the film touches is that capitalism as a form of organization does not plan the future or make any plans about it. Even if the natural limits of their activities are very clear and obvious, capitalism just continues to exploitation of environment without any conscious. When the time come and all the resources are used and destroyed as a result of capitalist exploitation, the capitalists just move a new area of exploitation. Thus, capitalists solely specialize on their short-term interests rather than planning ahead. Just like presented in the film, therefore, destruction of the environment in Lake Victoria is not prevented by capitalists who get profit from the lake since capitalists ignore the natural limits of resources, think only their own self interests even it harms the rest of the society.

The next issue explained in the film is that ecological destruction harms everyone but mostly to the poor. Since the rich people have a self-reliant way of life and they only think their own welfare, they do not worry about the environmental crisis. Even if the crisis starts effecting their life, they can easily escape and move another place to continue to live. Thus they have an attitude of ‘not in my backyard’. Whereas the poor is mostly influenced and suffered from the environmental crisis just like it presented in the documentary.  For example, as a result destruction of the biodiversity in the Lake Victoria, the future of the poor local people is very bleak and dark. Therefore, environmentalism does not only means organic food or tote bags as the most of the rich people think.

As noted before, the film points out a variety of issues-war, poverty, prostitution, environmental crisis and the most importantly global capitalism. Despite all these significant issues addressed throughout the film, it still has several shortcomings. Firstly, the film is very disappointed regarding the context of it since some parts are not clearly explained or exemplified. For example, environmental context of the film is not sufficient enough. A big predatory fish, the Nile perch affects the biodiversity of the lake and it destroys all the other species living in the lake but this situation does not presented well in the film. Secondly, the film present only negative and dark side of a dualistic reality and it completely ignores the positive and good sides. Besides that, while prostitution, HIV virus, homeless children and so on so forth are not only special to Tanzania, they all can be found in different parts of the word, the director Hubert Sauper with a stereotypical, biased Western view  to Africa dramatize the situation in Tanzania. Thus, instead of presenting the counter parts and leave the viewers free to decide and choose their own opinion, the documentary left no open door for discussion or different points of view. Additionally, I personally disappointed about the amount of the interviews throughout the documentary. For instance, no governmental official or experts are interviewed. In terms of people who are interviewed, most of them are not fluent in English so complex and serious subjects are not explained very well.  Thus, this made the documentary a kind ‘question asker’ instead of answering the questions. Lastly, the film has no storyline since it was not professionally edited and recorded.

All in all, Darwin’s Nightmare is a documentary directed by Hubert Sauper and it explores the economic, social and ecological situation in Tanzania’s Lake Victoria and mirrors the life around the Lake Victoria- factory workers, owners, fisherman, pilots, homeless children, prostitutes and so on so forth. The film is not only represent many significant issues but also it use a metaphor of big predatory fish, the Nile perch in order to exemplify the severe effects of global capitalism to the local industries, however, it does not do so very effectively because of its several shortcomings as mentioned before. Despite all, it is a good documentary and it can be recommended for the ones who still not sure about the negative sides of the free trade and global capitalism.