28 February 2006

The Devil's Miner/ The Yes Men

My campus movie theatre showed these two as a double feature, and they made for a fascinating combination.

The Devil's Miner is a documentary about the Cerro Rico silver mines in Bolivia. The film focuses on a 14 year old boy named Basilio who works in the mines, and also attends school, when he can get the money together to do so. It's a terrifying film, extremely well made.
What was really fascinating, to me, about this movie, was the way that it slowly drew you into an understanding of the lives of these people. In the beginning, you see Basilio and his brother sitting by the statue of Tio, the idol of the devil who is a sort of patron saint of the miners. They tell stories about Tio, and sprinkle coca leaves on the statue as an offering. At first, this seems purely symbolic, but as the movie goes on, you (well, I) realize that this isn't some kind of abstract notion for them - it's totally real. The point is driven home a bit more when you later see the people sacrifice a llama and bathe the entrance of the mine with its blood, complete with a shaman. It's shocking to realize that what you might think of as a primitive ritual is being carried out with full belief by these people. Meanwhile, there are scenes of this same boy in school, learning French, and being taught about the solar system. There is a particularly interesting scene where the boys use their headlamps to burn images into the wall of the mines - it immediately made me think of cave paintings, which led me to contemplate my mental furniture, if you will, in terms of the way that I look at "primitive" cultures, etc.
There are interviews with the local priest, who is likewise a fascinating figure. My friend Jen pointed out that what the priest is saying is pretty radical for someone in the Catholic Church - he really struggles to translate the religion into a paradigm that will be applicable to these people, who, as my friend Sean pointed out, essentially turn to devil worship as a way of coping with the psychological hell that these mines present. And the shots of the interior of the mine are truly horrific - tiny, cramped spaces, where the workers are often squeezing through tiny tunnels to get further underground, meanwhile the camera is steaming up because the temperature is approximately 95 degrees fahrenheit. And they're talking about how the average life expectancy of a guy drilling is 35, 40 years. Wow. It's a brilliant film, but totally devastating.

The second film, The Yes Men, is far more light-hearted, but still highly thought-provoking.
The film follows the exploits of a group of guys, known as the Yes Men, who for awhile impersonated WTO reps and gave talks at conferences. The talks were rather horrific lectures based upon the ideology of the WTO taken to its extreme conclusion. They included, for instance, a discussion about how the Civil War was a tremendous waste of resources, because obviously market forces would have ended slavery - outsourcing is far more profitable, and much easier! What's especially frightening is that nobody catches on. They have to resort to extreme absurdity for anyone to even notice what they're doing. The only group to bat an eyelash is a room full of college students, who are outraged by their plan to recycle feces and feed it to people in third world countries (the Re-burger!) - they actually have to take it that far before anyone will try to ask them some thought provoking questions! The answers they give are pretty chilling, too. It really makes you take notice of the ways in which the corporate world creates authority for itself, the fact that the tenets of this ideology seem to be things that are obviously corrupt and not appropriate for a project that purports to be about making the world a better place for everybody.
I don't want to spoil the movie, so let me just say that their final stunt is perhaps the most thought provoking of all.
The film succeeds on two fronts, I think, in that it not only launches an effective critique of politics (though I would have appreciated more info - and less Micheal Moore, whose presence doesn't really add anything good to the movie), it also critiques corporate culture today, in that their plan at first back-fired, because they under-estimated how unbelievably fucked up the corporate system really is, and finally, it presents an interesting view of political activism today.

Anyhow, good stuff. Lots of food for thought. The struggle to be a better person continues.

On a more personal note, I'll add that this movie totally made me want to marry a Yes-Man. The fantasy goes, I'll be a super-star academic at a top-dog university, and my Yes-Man will go out and fight to make the world a better place full-time. We'll live off my salary, which won't be enough to live large, but hey, we can live modestly. In other words, I need to find someone who wants to make the world a better place and is unable to hold down a job because of a crazy brilliant political activist lifestyle, but doesn't mind following an academic around, and maybe doing some stay-at-home parenting. Alas, I don't think it's really feasible. I was trying to explain it to my friends, and they didn't seem to get it. I don't want a leech, I want someone who is actually trying to do this stuff full-time. But whoever it is would probably end up feeling like a leech. No one really gets how this is actually a brilliant partnership. However, it requires that we have the same goals, but apparently, it comes off like I'm looking for an employee, not a life-partner. Sigh. Nobody understands me.

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