The trouble with reviewing films about movements is that if you say the film stinks, people think you are criticising the movement it portrays. So let me be clear at the outset; “Just Do It” stinks, and so did what the “climate movement” had become – before its unlamented demise in 2010-11. Clear enough?
You could ram-raid a thesaurus for words to describe this unintentional mockumentary, and still come up short. Words like embarrassing, fawning, solipsistic, gutless, nauseating and excruciating don’t really scratch the surface, don’t begin to describe the horror of it.
From the not-nearly-as-cute-as-they-think ramblings about cups of tea at the outset through to the grotesque clinging-to-straws-about-being-comprehensively-outwitted at Copenhagen, this 90 minutes of hell should be compulsory viewing (I’m thinking that scene of Aversion Therapy in “A Clockwork Orange”) for any would-be “movement-builders.”
Within the first ten minutes the narration had delivered some unintentional hilarity. The climate movement had, we are told “shifted the entire climate change debate in the UK.” Shortly after we are told that Plane Stupid has “been bringing [the aviation industry] back down to earth.” FFS.
And of course, there’s the oblique comparison of campaigners to Rosa Parks, who, it seems, single-handedly desegregated the buses of Montgomery with her shining moral example. Apparently all that was needed was for lots of people to agree with her (and for it to be “fun” and “exciting”).
If you’re going to invoke history,it helps to know what the FUCK you are talking about. The Montgomery bus boycott, that broke one minor part of white power in the South, was won by relentless organisation (mostly based in the churches) and was not “fun” or “exciting”. It was dangerous, difficult and prolonged (and ended with the architects of it getting shunted aside by movement stars). (It’s a pet peeve of mine – the US Civil Rights struggle of the late 50s and early 60s – that gave birth to the anti-war movement, feminism, ‘ecology’ and so much else – is reduced to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. No Fannie Lou Hamer, no Robert Moses, no dozens and dozens of other innovative courageous activists. No lessons learnt. Just the ridiculous spectacle that the powers-that-be invented and then sold back to us).
One criticism I’d heard of the film was that there was a section in which a young woman talks about quitting medicine at Cambridge to be an activist. I think this is unfair. Indeed, she’s middle-class. So what? She didn’t choose that, I didn’t see her deny it, and, speaking as someone crushingly middle-class myself, I don’t that it’s a bad thing anyway. It only becomes a problem when you deny that you are, or you pretend everyone’s the same, and will have the same perspectives. (Or when you use the working class as a battering ram against an entrenched elite in order to become that new elite and then sell “the proles” out.) Listening to Pulp’s “Common People” a few hundred times helps (“but still you’ll never get it right, cos when you’re laying in bed at night, watching roaches climb the walls, if you called your dad he could stop it all”). So does a bit of Bourdieu and some elementary ability to imagine not what you’d be like as you in someone else’s situation, but what you’d be like if you had been in their shituation for years and years and years. But I digress.
I just can’t find the answers that keep running through my mind.
To me, it is totally unclear who is supposed to benefit from this film (beyond the film-makers). There are, I think, two ways a documentary can be useful to a movement.
One is as a “recruiting tool” – showing “outsiders” the benefits of getting involved, and the process of how to get involved. The film doesn’t seem to make real efforts to do this – it’s too busy breathlessly explaining the mechanics of “lock-ons” and shaky-cam footage of night-before sitreps.
The second way a film can be helpful is to hold up a mirror to the movement, and force it to reflect on itself. But all the real questions for the Campers and Stupiders and Rushers are ducked. What questions? Well, for starters; “Who is – beyond the propaganda – ‘in’ this movement.” “What do they have to do to get there?” “Who is learning what?” “What are the downsides of consensus?” “Who has left the movement?” “Why did they leave?” “What have you learnt from history?” “What have you learnt from other movements’ histories?” “What will bring a more diverse range of allies alongside you, and how will you move alongside these allies?” “What are you doing about infiltration by the State?”
Do detailed or somehow definitive answers have to be supplied? No, don’t be ridiculous. Do the questions have to be asked? Hell yeah.
Access no areas
Only at two moments do the film makers seem to be willing to ask the beginning of the real questions, and on both occasions they quickly back down. Why? Maybe they were afraid of alienating their friends, or didn’t want to be seen as trouble-makers. The present reviewer learnt pretty early on in Climate Camp that you weren’t supposed to ask tricky questions….
The first time, one of the “stars” of the film is asked “Does all this do any good?” She chews on that for an eternity, and then utters a glib platitude so glib that I forgot to write it down. Late in the film, in the post-Copenhagen debacle another activist is probed on the point of going. Was it futile from the beginning? And after saying yes, he then he says words to the effect that you have to do something to have “hope.” This completely ignores whether going to Copenhagen made sense tactically or strategically in the first place, or was just what everyone wanted to do, a re-run of the “glory days” of Prague and Genoa. There is no effort to point out that the 2006 Climate Camp was a response to the vacuity of “summit hopping” – it emerged from discussions around the 2005 Gleneagles G8 Summit. And at no point is the basic question “So, why, three years after kicking this process off, are you, um, summit-hopping? Is there not something more effective, more local, that you could be doing?”
Why weren’t these questions asked? Because the film makers didn’t think of them? Because they were afraid of losing access to their subjects? Because they think that criticising the actions and choices of participants in a social movement is somehow unhelpful? I don’t know. And at this stage, I frankly don’t give a damn.
The movement and the film deserve and reflect each other. Both are/were cheerfully oblivious to their blindspots, lurch from set-piece to set-piece without much reflection or real willingness to tackle the real questions. And both will – I suspect – be looked back on by their participants with bemused horror. The irony of using the tag line of the company Nike is unintended, I think. Nike was, after all, the goddess of victory, and both the film and the movement are, well, failure.
Is this the worst film ever made? No, there’s always “The Phantom Menace.”
Is this as bad as “The Age of Stupid”? Not quite, but it’s a very close run thing
This review will of course be a) read by very few people and b) responded to by even fewer most of whom will c)respond with subtle to blunt ad hominems along the lines of “the work of a diseased mind” “bears a grudge” etc. As George W. Bush said in a slightly different context “bring it on”; I had that before Copenhagen, when I pointed out how the “movement” was teetering on the brink of disaster. No retraction from the person who wrote that (whom, let it be said, I still have immense respect for).
So, to all those people who think I am wrong, I ask this. What happened to the movement? Where is it? Why is climate change so far from anyone’s agenda these days?
And finally, has any of you actually read “Give Up Activism” lately? The makers of this atrocity clearly never did.