For the last couple of months, Boing Boing readers have been emailing me about a two-hour documentary available on Google Video called Zeitgeist, the Movie. I finally got around to viewing it.
In three parts, Zeitgeist (which has no credits) attempts to show that 1) Christianity is rehashed pagan sun-worship and is used by the rich and powerful to control people, 2) the 9/11 tragedies were part of an elite conspiracy, and 3) ever since World War I, the ultra-rich have been secretly manufacturing wars and financial collapses to control the populace and to get richer and more powerful.
I don't know enough about politics, history, or religion to have a valid opinion of Zeitgeist, but I was interested in getting a well-informed person's assessment of the documentary. I could think of no one better suited than Jay Kinney. He was the publisher of the late, great Gnosis Magazine, the author of several books on Western esoteric and occult traditions, and the author of The Masonic Enigma, "a journey of discovery into the real facts (and mysteries) of Masonry's history and symbols." He's also an amazingly talented cartoonist, and contributed to The Whole Earth Review which is how I first learned about him. (His 1987 article, "If Software Companies Ran the Country," where he compares Al Capp's Shmoos to infinitely-copyable software, remains as fresh and powerful today as it did 20 years ago).
At my request, Jay watched the movie, and kindly wrote the following review for Boing Boing:
Zeiting the GeistLink to Google Video page | Link to torrent files
The latest bit of guerrilla media to take the online universe by storm is "Zeitgeist, the Movie." Clocking in at close to two hours' length, and with over a million views on Google Video since its June 26th "official" release, Zeitgeist is a grabby, cranky, can't-stop-watching-it documentary that purports to tell the real truth about Christianity, 9/11, and the International Bankers.
Exactly who is behind the video is unclear, although someone with the moniker of "Peter J." has posted an online letter claiming credit and explaining Zeitgeist's message to those who may have somehow failed to grasp the worldview that the video hammers home.
And what is that worldview, pray tell? Religions in general, and Christianity in particular, are primarily systems of social control. 9/11 was an inside job and the destruction of the WTC twin towers and building 7 were aided by controlled demolition. And finally, International Bankers, through the Federal Reserve and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), control our money and our future, leading to, ta da, the coming One World Government and the microchipping of everyone.
Exactly how all this fits together is left to the viewer's imagination or, presumably, the film-maker's hash pipe. Are those who manipulate Christianity for control purposes in cahoots with the Bankers, and were the Bankers in on the 9/11 caper? Zeitgeist sidesteps such logical questions through the use of the all-purpose term, "the elite," a shadowy group of rich and powerful men who want nothing more than to enslave humanity and reap block-buster profits through the promotion of wars and financial crises.
For conspiracy buffs, this is all pretty standard fare, and, indeed, aficionados of the genre will find little new in "Zeitgeist." The notions that most religions were originally a kind of solar worship, and that the Jesus Christ story recapitulated the mythos of numerous other "dying gods," were floating around in the late 1700s. Fittingly, the video features a quote from Thomas Paine reducing Christianity to warmed-over sun worship, which was a daring bit of religion-baiting 200 years ago, albeit not so earth-shattering today.
The nefarious International Bankers meme has been propagating itself since at least the mid-1800s and has long been a mainstay of radical right-wing circles where it has often overlapped with mutterings about Jewish cabals.
The 9/11 truth segment of the video is, of course, of much more recent vintage, but, here too, it mostly repeats accusations that have gotten widespread play in the uber-skeptic milieu.
Breaking new factual ground is not what Zeitgeist is about, however. Rather, the video is a powerful and fast-acting dose of agitprop, hawking its conclusions as givens. Unfortunately, like most propaganda, it doesn't play fair with its intended audience. At times, while watching it, I felt like I was getting Malcolm McDowell's treatment in Clockwork Orange: eyes pried wide open while getting bombarded with quick-cut atrocity photos.
At other times, Zeitgeist engages in willful confusion by showing TV screen shots of network or cable news with voice-overs from unidentified people not associated with the news programs. If one weren't paying close attention, the effect would be to confer the status and authority of TV news upon the words being spoken. Even when quotes or sound bites are attributed to a source, there's no way to tell if they are quoted correctly or in context.
Late in the video, there's a supposed quote from David Rockefeller, which, if genuine, would be an astounding confession of complicity in mass manipulation. But, of course, the quote is not sourced or dated, which renders it useless. (The video's website does feature a Sources page, but a hodge-podge list of books, with no page numbers cited, is of little value for source verification.)
The over-all temper of the video is rather like the John Birch Society on acid, with interludes by Harry Smith. Incongruously, after spending nearly two hours trying to scare the bejeezis out of its viewers, Zeitgeist ends on an oddly upbeat note, telling us that Love -- not Fear -- is the answer, We are all One, and featuring sound-bites from Ram Dass and Carl Sagan.
It's a shame, really, that Zeitgeist is, ultimately, such a mess. There are plenty of legitimate questions about what transpired on 9/11, just as there are plenty of shady doings in international finance or puzzling aspects of religious history, for that matter. And what is coming down in the name of National Security is truly unnerving. Yet, bundling them all together in disjointed fashion does justice to none of them. Time and again, Zeitgeist maximizes emotional impact at the expense of a more reasoned weighing of evidence. But, perhaps that's the intention.
I've often pondered about what it might take to snap everyone out of the walking dream we collectively entered on 9/11/01. Just as the fall of the Berlin Wall provided the emotional pivot for the end of the Cold War, only a collective experience of an intensity equal to that of 9/11 might jolt us awake as to what is really happening in the corridors of power and certain undisclosed locations.
It's my hunch that Zeitgeist is one attempt to provide such a jolt, and it does indeed pack a certain punch. Too bad it also runs off in three directions at once, and is so indiscriminate in its sources and overly certain of its conclusions. Zeitgeist may be powerful, but its power is tainted with some simplistic and pernicious memes that have already received more propagation than they deserve. The video's producer does inform us that "It is my hope that people will not take what is said in the film as the truth . . ."
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.