Last night, I went to the cinema. I almost didn’t go as the weather forecast suggested the evening would be exceeding wet (and I would be en vélo) and I did worry that the film would be a little grown-up for me. As it transpired, it was rather less wet than advertised (though made up for this later) and I had passed sufficiently far into adulthood (though this latter assertion is very much a matter of opinion).
I am so glad I went – it was probably the most amazing film I have ever seen. Whilst I am no Barry Norman (or modern equivalent), it is up against some serious competition this year alone. Boyhood – Richard Linklater’s latest – was also an incredible movie and managed the amazing task of making the protagonist seem more “real” than most “actual” people. I somehow left disappointed that I couldn’t go out for a beer with Mason Jr, as he was (mostly) fictional. However, Citizen Four trumped it – despite being a documentary, a genre I tend to avoid at the cinema.
It tells the story of Edward Joseph (Ed) Snowden from his first contact with the film’s Director, through his revelations and beyond to cover some of the consequences for him and those journalists involved in telling the story. The young lad (29 at the time) comes across as very likeable, principled and – despite his denials – as close to selfless as one is ever likely to find. This contrasts with the governments of the US and UK who come across as almost totally unprincipled (no real surprise there I guess) and willing to do almost anything to protect themselves (again, I’m probably not going to make the front page of the papers with that particular revelation). Barack Obama really comes across as a man whose principles (assuming they ever existed) have not survived the achievement of his ambitions, very much in line with the expectations of the 1st Baron Acton (though they never met).
I suppose I have been broadly ashamed of the UK government for some time (pre-dating, though accelerated by, the current incumbents), but this film did bring this into even sharper focus. So draconian (a word I was disappointed to discover has nothing to do with dragons) is UK anti-terror legislation that the film’s director and several of its speakers were unable to visit for this UK première – though could go to the US for the première there. It was also clear that whilst the US government is routinely invading the privacy (and liberties) of its citizenry, this is as nothing compared to the UK government’s activities through a GCHQ programme called TEMPORA (though, it must be said that its primary listening facilities are sited in truly beautiful scenery). It was also interesting that the European Union was far more interested in protecting the human rights of we Brits than our own government – again, probably not that shocking given that human rights seem to be anathema to our current political masters.
Only yesterday, I recall news headlines about how busy the police were dealing with terrorism. Regularly, we hear of yet more people being arrested under anti-terror legislation – but we rarely hear of any of these people making it to the courts and never (so far as I can recall) hear of an actual conviction. In fact, this week has yielded news of at least one person making it as far as the courts. I haven’t being paying much attention, but he (or it may have been she, as I said I really haven’t been paying attention) appeared to have made some threats about Tony Blair (but then again, which of us hasn’t been tempted) and have his home address (which I suspect is not hard to find). This strikes me as a far lower level of threat than almost any even mildly public female figure receives on Twitter on a daily basis. It would seem that if the terrorists were to restrict their activities to threatening the stronger sex, they would be able to continue unmolested by the forces of authority. Indeed, although preaching hate while in possession of a beard and tan is a very serious offence, doing so while in possession of a pint and a fag is a loveable new force in politics. I know Islam isn’t too keen on beer – its loss – but its more radical adherents might want to learn some lessons from UKIP, an organisation with which they share more than a few views.
Of course, some will say that I have nothing to fear from all this surveillance if I haven’t done anything wrong. If I’m being honest, I must admit that – despite my attempts to appear as a devil-may-care maverick in GofaDM – I am dreadfully law-abiding in real life. I won’t even walk on the grass or jump a red light on my bike (OK, I have occasionally done the latter late at night when the alternative was to wait several hours for a car to arrive and wake the traffic lights from their bike-ignoring somnolence). I must admit that I was tempted by a little civil disobedience earlier in the week as I cycled past a very expense car (of a marque which was probably once British) which was clearly owned by someone senior in Wonga (corporate loan sharks to the desperate – surely, it is only a matter of time before the other staples of organised crime are brought into the corporate fold), but in the end my essentially law-abiding nature won out over the temptation to a little criminal damage
I suspect the law-abiding only have nothing to fear if you trust the government – and have you seen them? I wouldn’t trust them not to mis-use a tea-cosy, let alone the personal data of an entire nation. I suspect the only thing protecting us is their incompetence.
Still, excellent as the film was, I have to admit I didn’t sleep very well last night (though, given my chronic insomnia, this could just be a coincidence). However, it does make me feel much better about the frequency with which I forget to carry my mobile phone or to turn it back on again after being at a gig (or similar event) – at least it might be making GCHQ work a little harder for my (entirely boring) secrets. I think I might have to start buying more stuff in cash – just to increase the air of mystery that surrounds my doings. I am rather tempted by this new life as a spy – at least in some small, rather ineffective ways – and already dislike going more than a few tens of yards in at straight-line when out walking (to throw off, or reveal, a tail – obviously). I know what you’re thinking, how are these attempts at secrecy consistent with blabbing everything on GofaDM? Well, (a) I never claimed to be consistent and (b) how do you know I’m not just making this all up?
Returning to Citizen Four, it struck me that it should be required viewing in all citizenship classes in the UK. The film has a 15 certificate as the F-word is occasionally – and entirely reasonably – used. I’m not entirely sure what 14 year old the BBFC is trying to protect, but frankly I think that ship has sailed for most children before they reach double figures. Nevertheless, the film would still work at KS3 even with this certification. Amusingly, a year to two back, I had a chance to flick through the citizenship test we inflict on foreigners wishing to live here. The “syllabus” could be divided into three main areas:
1. Facts that would actually be useful to someone new to the UK, this was the smallest area.
2. Some very useful facts if the new citizen wishes to hold their own in a pub quiz, but which would be useless in normal life.
3. By far the latest category covered political and other opinions with varying degrees of basis in fact.
I think the good news here is the UK’s continuing commitment to quizing – a commitment all too evident in education policy which focuses on rote-learning of “facts”. I think we can all agree that rote learning is the only way to grow the economy of the future (who needs understanding or creativity) – which is good news for me as I was always very good at it! I look forward to the day when financial success is determined by quiz, rather than the tedious process of economics we use today.
Anyway, I seem to have digressed – and this post was long enough without me wandering off-topic. My biggest worry on leaving the film was how young Ed is keeping himself (and girlfriend) in Moscow, as I doubt he managed to rescue his savings from the US. I did wonder if we should be organising a whip-round? I’d certainly be willing to chip-in.
Given the subject matter of this post, my closing peroration should probably be “Death to the West!” – well, who needs Cornwall anyway. (Sorry Cornwall! It’s nothing personal – just geographical).