‘Good Night and Good Luck’ and Marxist Social Theory

The core message of the George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck is basically a warning to the modern YouTube culture where mass hysteria has jeopardized civil rights and liberties. Notably, Clooney has employed a Marxist ideology to attack the prevalent corporate influence and the government over the media industry. This influence of the media by the government and the corporate world according to Clooney, has led to undermining of the freedom of speech, and the right to information which are the most basic liberties in America. At the center of Clooney’s ideology is an emphasis for writers/journalists to provide some form of interpretations to the kind of news they write instead of simply reporting verbatim what they encounter. This may even entail questioning the integrity and operations of the government and or corporation firms irrespective of their relationships to the media organizations. Clooney also revisits the tensions that resulted from the post-war paranoia through the sound, editing, lighting, characterization and acting.

The events of the film are clearly a reflection of the modern world where the news and news media are largely run through advertisements. On the same note, the government, particularly the American one has taken control of the media industry and is keen on the news that seeks to tarnish or expose its evil dealings. Those that do so are treated to a harsh environment that threatens their business sustainability. On the same note, media corporations would not want to write negative stories of entities that advertise through them. Therefore, in Marx’s perspective, capitalism has contributed to the “bourgeoisie” of corporations including the media outlets (Etienne, 1995). Amidst these restrictions and media environment, some reporters are known for going against the whims of the seniors when doing their work. One of these newsmen is Edward Murrow who is considered as the master of the pause. The journalist is accredited for being courageous, principled, and clear who adheres to the specifications of his profession. During the tumultuous moment in his time, he and his producer Fred Friendly at CBS chose to remain brave and refused to be influenced by the political class. For instance, they took and exposed the wickedness of Senator Joe McCarthy with disregard to the position he had held at that time. The period was in 1950s when the senator was popular in America as well as the entrancement of capitalism in the society. The phrase, Good night and good luck is commonly employed by Murrow as a signature of his TV and radio news programs.

During the 1950s, the activities of the then senator McCarthy and the political environment which generated a climate of fear became too much for Murrow, the CBS reporter to tolerate. Through his speeches and outrageous claims such as the prevalence of 205 card carrying communists who were operating for the government, McCarthy was intimidating everyone including the president. It is also clear that he was also brandishing the idea of communism at the expense of promoting capitalism. In other words, McCarthy was against communism and as such, he was using evil tactics to attack it and portray it negatively. It is also suffice to say that being in the political class and having amassed a substantial level of wealth at that time, McCarthy was protecting capitalism for his own advantage.

Marxist ideology is perhaps most applicable to the hierarchical nature of the CBS Corporation. In this corporation, the chief executive of CBS William Paley bars the station’s reporter Murrow from reporting the news in an interpretive perspective. The reason why he prevents them from doing this is because he wants to conform to the pressures of advertising and to earn good rating in the industry. Stated differently, William Paley is clearly avoiding the risk to the source of income by doing something that is contrary to the advertiser’s demands. Consequently, the reporters are deprived of the autonomy in making decisions pertaining to how or what stories to make. In this CBS context, Marx would opine that the “bourgeoisie” of CBS has pulled back the vocal news reporters presenting the class struggle between the capitalists and the citizens.

In light of the current political environment, Good Night, and Good Luck has showcased the danger of the government and corporate influence on the news media. As explicitly depicted, this grasp of the media will eventually lead to social and political chaos and the widespread hysteria. The Murrow/McCarthy feud portrayed in the movie is certainly is certainly used by the Clooney, the film author to encourage citizens to freely question the government and corporations regarding their motivations in relation to their actions. If the integrity of the news outlets are threatened, then the civil liberties will be jeopardized. Just like the time of the film’s era, there are many ways in which governments and corporations tries to control the media. To avoid repercussions which include possible loss of business, these news organizations have to tilt towards the whims of these entities.

References

Clooney, G., Strathairn, D., Clarkson, P., Daniels, J., & Downey, R. (2006). Good night, and good luck. Montreal: Distributed by TVA Films. Etienne, B. (1995). The Philosophy of Marx. Verso: La Découverte, Repèrs.

Personal and Political consequences of the Cold War period

Texts written in the After the Bomb period represent the personal and political consequences of an era. George Clooney’s Good Night And Good Luck, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road, and Oliver Stone’s film, Platoon represent this in light of their differing perceptions of the period, but each ultimately foreshadows a diminishing of the self and a challenging of values. These texts foreshadow the politically unstable era where the threat of Communism and the breakdown of government systems engenders a sense of destruction and creates ideologically conflicting situations.

Good night and Good luck represents these personal consequences through the challenging of an individuals integrity, and the anxiety generated as a result. This is depicted by Don Hollenbeck’s suicide after he is routinely accused of being a Communist sympathizer. In portraying his suicide the mournful tone of the music followed by the subsequent absence of music speaks to the human cost of this hunt for communist sympathizers. Richard Lippe states in ‘History Replays Itself’; “McCarthy’s tactics were…making often outrageous accusations…McCarthy had instilled fear into the media”. Clooney reflects this by capturing the exploitation of the paranoia of individuals like Hollenbeck for financial gain. The film further lays bare the personal consequences of the fear that McCarthy’s anti-Communist position generated. As Joe and Shirley speak in the copy room at CBS, the over the shoulder shots capture their conversation in a way that essentially traps them and creates a paranoid sense of awareness for them. The fearful tone in Shirley’s question to Joe: “If you and I don’t sign this, are you a target?” accompanied by the extreme close up of their faces reflects this anxiety that has resulted from McCarthy’s position. This reflects the nature of an era that is afraid of the spread of Communism to the extent that its people are forced to exist in a closed and paranoid manner.

Samuel Beckett presents similar personal consequences in Waiting for Godot through this crushing of the self and an individuals reliance upon hope despite the inevitability of a purposeless existence. He presents this as Vladimir and Estragon contemplate ending their lives as a source of comfort through their exchange of dialogue where Vladimir states: “We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow…Unless Godot comes…We’ll be saved”. This contradiction of ending their lives with the hope of Godot’s arrival allows them to endure this suffering and pass the time to find a meaning to their existence. Andrew K. Kennedy supports this idea in ‘Active Waiting’: “Waiting … can involve…the empty or anxious mind trying to cope by inventing distractions’. The flippant tone of Pozzo’s self effacing rhetorical question: “I am perhaps not particularly human, but who cares?” highlights that his absence of humanity is irrelevant to him; that his concern is more for his belongings than it is for having the values considered meaningful. Beckett again highlights this as Pozzo trivializes the idea that they are waiting for: “Godet…Godot…Godin…” who ultimately offers them hope. Beckett is ultimately reflecting on the flimsy nature of their hope highlighting these specific consequences.

Oliver Stone presents the same consequences in Platoon through an intensified challenging of values resulting from a sharp ideological divide between leaders. As the soldiers are ambushed, Sergeant Barnes murders a fellow soldier Elias, leaving him to die. No music was played in this scene which emphasized the diegetic sounds of fighting, highlighting the direct consequences of the dehumanizing Vietnam war that diminished any humanity within the soldiers. The close-up shots of the men’s faces show the “suspicion and hate” generated from this diminishing of the self where the demarcation lines between enemy and fellow soldier are eradicated. As Barnes holds an innocent child hostage, the absence of music contrasted against the child’s crying accentuates the threatening nature of the soldiers as a result of the existential sense of the war that plagues them as they centralize their focus on their own self-preservation. Taylor’s voice-over narrating his letters to his grandmother: “we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves and the enemy was in us”, where they could not “find a goodness and meaning to this life” foreshadows these consequences of the war that has led to a decline in human morality and inevitable loss of self.

In The Road, Cormac McCarthy explores the intricate interplay between conflicting ideologies and the consequences of disintegrating societal values. The setting of a ruined America: “Sketched upon the pall of soot downstream the outline of a burnt city…” foregrounds the setting to which this decline in human morality has emerged following the destruction of civilization. He presents vivid visual imagery depicting how cannibalism has been conceptualized as a societal norm as the father details his findings of ‘bones and…skin piled together with rocks over them’ whilst noticing “a man with his legs gone to the hip and the stumps of them blackened and burnt”. This exhibits the consequences of the degradation of human morality that appears to be a direct manifestation of an absence of religion and a change in individual circumstances where the increasingly present capitalist systems have eroded the human being and their values. He metaphorically represents this by comparing ‘men’ to ‘Creedless shells tottering’. That they would have no ideologies to fall back on. McCarthy is ultimately foregrounding a destruction of humanity where the extent to which any sense of hope is degraded as is evident as the man explains; ‘part of him always wished it to be over’. This ultimately foregrounds McCarthy’s reflection on the challenging of values that characterized the After the Bomb period.