Media: 'News shouldn't be selling soundbytes and superficiality' - Oliver Stone, 9 February 2010

By B C Lee

BANGKOK, Feb 9 (Asia Media Forum) — The world is living in illusions and delusion, and the media are partly responsible for this because they "have been contributing to false imagery and false history".

This, in a nutshell, was award-winning U.S. filmmaker Oliver Stone's message to a packed Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand at a late January session there.  Known for his thought-provoking and controversial films, Stone was one of the speakers for  the non-profit International Peace Foundation, based in Vienna, Austria.

Stone says he is referring to history being rewritten by the 'gods' of money or profit and corruption, as well as national 'insecurity'. The result, he said, is a lost generation that gets pulled in different directions.

"In China, I see a new generation crippled with amnesia, unable to gain access to their own history. Then there are older Chinese whose lives took a 180-degree turn, from worshipping a collective communist god called Mao to a highly brutal, competitive, individual consumption and corruption in the name of another god — money," he said.

The media, he said, are not helping at all, what with the profit-oriented system prevailing today. "News shouldn't be making money or selling soundbytes and superficiality," he added.

"As a society, we've become like the third grade. We behave like a lynch mob, whether it's a combat platoon in a grip of fear in Vietnam, a student revolution without rules, or Wall Street stock madness," he said.

He doesn't believe that history has always been available to those who seek it. "We may have believed briefly in the sixties and the seventies that  things will change for the better but I think most of us got a brutal awakening to the reality of our existence," he said.

Stone related that his first exposure to his "first great illusion" was as a child when communism was looked at as a "great conspiracy threatening the U.S.".

"Every aspect of social reform was viewed as communism. This is why I ended up in Vietnam because of the hysteria of communism," said Stone, a  Vietnam War veteran who was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart after his service. His three films about the Vietnam War — 'Platoon', 'Born on the Fourth of July' and 'Heaven and Earth'  — were his attempts to jolt the audience out of their stupor and the comfort zone offered by conformity.

"I think we all lie to ourselves in some way during the course of our lives. We're scared because it's a very high price to pay to be a non-conformist in society. But I can't fault ourselves for doing so because forces and history and conformism pull us along," he said.

This is the reason, he said, why his movies try to "undo some of these knots of perception" in order for people to have a more "truthful view of the world".

For Stone, history belongs essentially to the victor.  And these 'victors' are the ones who are in power and have the money. "Never underestimate the power of corruption to change the course of history," he said. "I am not a moralist; I'm a realist."

A vocal critic of former U.S. President George W Bush and his policies on the 'war on terrorism', Stone said that the right to privacy has been sacrificed on the altar of the "false god of national security". He calls Bush "an immature president who divided an unsettled citizenry for political advantage" at the height of the "9/11 hysteria".

Following the paranoia that swept across the United States , Stone said that the right to individual privacy in his country has been drastically curtailed. "At the end of the day, we can be destroyed financially, reputationally and even physically by our own government and media if they so want," he continued.

Stone acknowledges the limitations of the media, as well as its 'weaknesses', saying that the media never really emphasise the good news. "It's mostly about bad news, pessimism and the horrible things happening every day. So much good gets transferred every day but we wouldn't know that from reading newspapers, or watching television especially in the United States," said Stone, dismayed at how profit oriented the media industry have become.

"By the time a kid grows up in America, he or she has already seen 10,000 hours of violence. Violence sells. Television is a narcotic, infused into our bloodstream and is as dangerous as heroin or cocaine," he said.

This frustration with the Fourth Estate resulted in the creation of his film 'Natural Born Killers' in 1994, which he said was a "protest against the media landscape's exploitation of violence". Critics described it as a "glorification of violence", but Stone maintained that it was a satire.

He believes that movies act as "guerillas of the mind that work best subversively and which can sometimes inspire collective action".

Accepting his chosen medium's limitations and frailties, Stone nonetheless thinks that one must be able to walk away from the results of one's actions. "I hope people will leave the movie theatres renewed... with movies that heal the mind and not tear it apart," he said. (END/IPSAP/AMF/LLC/JS/090210)