Shooting an Elephant

“One of the most striking traits of the inner life of a crowd is the feeling of being persecuted, a peculiar angry sensitiveness and irritability directed against those it has once and forever nominated as enemies.”

Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power


Shooting an Elephant is an experimental documentary that examines the ominous presence of the Tea Party in America’s political discourse at a time of severe economic distress. The film takes its title from George Orwell’s metaphorical essay of the mid-1930s, in which the narrator, a policeman representing the British Raj in Burma in the waning days of the British Empire, tells the story of shooting an aggressive elephant, against his better judgment, while under pressure from a growing mob.

A construct of words and images from different moments in time, the film describes a condition rather than telling a particular story. Numerous individuals from the Tea Party’s rank-and-file are seen in intimate detail at rallies or conventions as they absorb the salient voices that articulate the precepts and paranoid imaginings of the movement. Right-wing authoritarianism hangs in the air as the words, faces and public spectacles of the Tea Party are combined to create a heightened sense of the absurdity, mania and incoherent rage that define it.

The film seeks to pose questions about how Tea Partiers have been manipulated, beginning with appeals to their cores of racism and class bias, which are ugly but familiar strains in America’s collective DNA. The election in 2008 of the nation’s first black President prompted a ferociously negative response from a disgruntled minority of the population, and Republican politicians and their corporate overlords proceeded without hesitation to exploit a golden opportunity. Aided by a shamefully compliant mainstream media, they subsumed the anger and frustration of these relatively small pockets of the population to further their own economic, religious and “moral” agendas. An impressive political force was built in the process, greatly impacting the 2010 midterm elections at the local and state level, and in the intervening period the movement has had an outsized and deeply negative influence on policy debates. The duped throngs depicted in the film are now enlisted in a goal-line stand for a white America that time has passed by, and their ignorance and stupidity have now become weaponized to the point where even those pulling the strings have begun to lose control.

Director: William Noland
Rainstick & electronic files: Scott Lindroth
Camera, sound design & editing: William Noland
Original format: DVCPro HD
Completion date: 2012
Running time: 25:00

Voices: Senator Rand Paul, Kentucky; Lieutenant General William G. “Jerry” Boykin (retired); Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Minnesota; Governor Rick Perry, Texas; Grady Warren, founder of Conservative Sportsmen; Glen Beck, radio host, author, entrepreneur, political commentator & former TV host.