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Issue #1598      June 19, 2013

Culture & Life

Excessive bullets and moral decay

Did you watch the Oscar-winning documentary When We Were Kings on Sunday June 2? When the film was made, Zaire – where the fight took place – was under the dictatorial rule of General Mobutu. He had overthrown and murdered the popular democratically elected leader of the county’s national liberation struggle against Belgian colonial rule, Patrice Lumumba. Mobutu was helped by the usual forces of imperialism at the time: the US, Belgium, Britain and France.

When We Were Kings.

The country was full of valuable mineral resources as well as diamonds. It was a rich prize and Lumumba was too close to the Soviet Union to allow him to survive. So the people of the former Belgian Congo, renamed Zaire and eventually the Democratic Republic of Congo, went through a devastating and seemingly endless civil war, until Mobutu and his ilk were finally kicked out. And another African country had been added to the list of colonial countries that gained their independence only to have it blighted by the greed and machinations of imperialism.

The film of course concentrates on the Ali-Foreman prize-fight, but viewers might be interested to know that right underneath the boxing arena was Mobutu’s chief prison. While the crowds cheered the spectacle in the arena, right under their feet – and largely unknown to the participants – supporters of Lumumba languished in chains in one of Mobutu’s most notorious dungeons.

At the time of the fight, Zaire’s public employees had not been paid for two years.

The imperialist powers that installed Mobutu in power were well aware of his prison regime, but as long as he kept the Commies out of that part of Africa and its wealth out of the hands of African nationalists, they didn’t care what sort of regime he ran.

Just so long as he supported capitalism.


Back in April there was an intriguing little news report that the US Budget for 2014 would include an appropriation of $US100 million to NASA for a project to lasso a small asteroid and tow it into orbit around the Moon. (And if the rest of the world didn’t want an asteroid attached to the Moon? Screw you!)

And why would NASA want to do this? Senator Bill Nelson, who announced the project to the media, said that it “combines the science of mining an asteroid, along with developing ways to deflect one, along with providing a place to develop ways we can go to Mars.”

I think the key words there are “mining an asteroid”. To capitalists, the planets, asteroids and moons of our solar system are just so much “unclaimed” land available for potential mining leases. A bonanza waiting for the right corporation to exploit!

Once they have ripped out all the minerals to be found in a bunch of asteroids they will presumably upgrade to exploiting Mars itself. No doubt a planet of that size will have lots of money-making potential.

Obama has declared it his goal to send a manned mission to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025. Unfortunately for the greatest capitalist state, expert analysis says NASA will not have the funds to carry out such a mission.

So some bright spark came up with the clever idea that if they sent an unmanned spacecraft to lasso a 500-tonne asteroid and bring it closer to Earth, then they could get humans on to an asteroid four years earlier than 2025. Yea!

And once the asteroid was in place they could mine it, and that would enable them to get back some of the money spent to secure it in the first place.

Their big worry is probably that by the time they get set to lasso their asteroid it might already have a sign on it: “Property of the Beijing Asteroid Development Company”.


The efforts of legislators in the USA to restrict the sale of guns have met opposition in all the usual places and also in some less expected ones. New York enacted tough gun control laws in the wake of school shootings earlier this year, whereupon the film industry went ballistic (no pun intended).

Why? Because entertainment is big business in New York. In May this year there were no less than 27 television and film projects in production in New York State using assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And the makers of these “action films” claim they cannot make films without them. “To tell stories, you need them,” says Ryder Washburn, vice-president of a company that supplies firearms for productions based in Manhattan.

No doubt you do, if you make the kind of films that he obviously makes. But not all movies are comprised of endless explosions and mayhem involving ludicrous amounts of gunplay.

And what is the law that is causing film companies such angst? Beginning next January, the newly-enacted New York law will prohibit the possession of guns with magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. What! If you haven’t hit your target after firing off ten rounds you need to give up and go into some other line of work.

Film industry workers in New York claim that they need real guns for verisimilitude, and that it would be impractical to try to make fakes that would fire blanks (by which they mean it would cost too much).

But if they could not rely on mindless displays of mayhem and gunplay, perhaps they would devote less time to pyrotechnical special effects and instead give some time to developing plot and characterisation. Perhaps then we would see more films centred on people in credible situations, behaving naturally, and giving us real emotion and having something to say about the state of the human condition today.

The great films of the past – including the great films of Hollywood’s past – managed to give us brilliant, artistic entertainment without having to massacre every extra on the set. When entertainment becomes reduced to a succession of eruptions of urban violence, its artistic success measured by the size of its body count, we have passed from entertainment (let alone “film as art”) to decadence and very evident moral decay.   

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