Shooting an Elephant
2012 | Color | HD video | 15:00
“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 a political movement, the Tea Party, as it forces its way into 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, the film describes a condition rather than telling a particular story. Concentrating the cinematic gaze, individuals from the Tea Party’s rank-and-file are seen in intimate detail at rallies and conventions as they absorb the strident voices that articulate the precepts and paranoid imaginings of the movement. American 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 and why the members of this movement have been manipulated, beginning with appeals to their underlying racism and class bias, which are familiar strains in America’s collective DNA. The election of the nation’s first black President in 2008 generated an ugly response from a disgruntled minority of the population, and Republican politicians and their corporate overlords quickly seized a golden opportunity. With the full cooperation of a shamefully compliant mainstream media, these power brokers have built an impressive political force that greatly impacted the 2010 midterm elections at the local and state level. In the intervening period, the movement has had an outsized and deeply negative influence on policy debates, making a barely functional government entirely dysfunctional. The duped crowds depicted in the film represent a minority of white Americans who are desperate to hold onto the past as the rest of the country slowly moves on. The ignorant and incoherent views espoused on their behalf have become weaponized to the point where, ironically, even those pulling the strings have lost control