Saturday, September 12, 2009

Entertainment = Compassion 4Evah!

I'm doing a little light reading while here in Toronto; John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. A little break, I thought, from my usual reading list. This is about globalization and power, not about compassion, I thought. If what he says is true, it's horrifying; if it's even partially true, the world is being pillaged and people are being impoverished and murdered so that a tiny few (including me!) can live a life of extraordinary privilege. Perkins wrote the book, he says, as a confession, to come clean about the career and life he lived for decades:
"...this book is not a prescription; it is a confession, pure and simple. it is the confession of a man who allowed himself to become a pawn, an economic hit man; a man who bought into a corrupt system because it offered so many perks, and because buying in was easy to justify; a man who knew better but wh could always find excuses for his own greed, for exploiting desperate people and pillaging the planet; a man who took full advantage of the fact that he was born into one of the wealthiest societies the world has ever known, and who could also pity himself because his parent were not at the top of the pyramid; a man who listened to his teachers, read the textbooks on economic development, and then followed the example of other men and women who legitimatize every action that promotes global empire, even if that action results in murder, genocide, and environmental destruction; a man who trained others to follow in his footsteps. It is my confession."
Perkins does, however, offer a dream that got me a-thinkin':
"...those highly effective communications and distribution networks could be used to bring about positive and compassionate changes. Imagine if the Nike swoosh, McDonald's arches, and Coca-Cola logo became symbols of companies whose primary goals were to clothe and feed the world's poor in environmentally beneficial ways. This is no more unrealistic than putting a man on the moon, breaking up the Soviet Union, or creating the infrastructure that allows those companies to reach every corner of our planet. We need a revolution in our approach to education, to empower ourselves and our children to think, to question, and to dare to act. You can set an example. Be a teacher and a student; inspire everyone around you through your example."
You can set an example.

So I dare you to stop for a moment and use your imagination. Close your eyes if it helps.

Imagine that entertainment is a symbol of compassion. Imagine that when people think of actors, writers, directors, when they think of movie studios and movie stars, when they think of summer blockbusters and the Oscars, they think of compassion. They think of an entire industry that's devoted to compassion; whether feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, or simply honoring the human condition. Imagine that the primary goal of everyone in the entertainment industry is to care for the wellbeing of others. When a movie studio determines whether to make a film, the biggest question is, how does this serve others? When an actor chooses to take on a role, he or she is primarily thinking, what does this contribute to the world? Imagine that a young actor, writer, or director begins a career by thinking, how am I working to make the world a better place for others?

Okay, open your eyes.

It doesn't mean we give up profitability, or fun, or spectacle. There are a million places it's already happening, in compassionate performances, in compassionate filmmaking, in compassionate writing, in everyone who contributes to films that make a difference. It goes from low-budget documentaries like the amazing How to Fold a Flag that I saw yesterday, to the Oscar-buzzed Up in the Air and An Education, to Fox's new show Glee, to animation, to music, from poetry to design, from art to architecture. So what if that kind of work became the very definition of success; what if every young aspiring entertainer viewed themselves as a vehicle for contribution?

Think about this:

What if everyone knew that the entertainment industry was primarily interested in making the world a better place? What would that make possible? *

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