Northern Advocate Column

A creepy parable of peak capitalism

430a27748f3853d3745bda9d32419fef_500x7358 August 2015

I recently watched the movie Nightcrawler [2014]. It’s about a young guy in Los Angeles, Lou Bloom, who’s trying to make money by various means, petty crime and generally hustling for a buck. Until he hits on the idea of listening to police radio and joining the “nightcrawlers” who rush to the scene of violent crimes and accidents to get video footage to sell to local television stations. It’s a competitive business. You have to get there before anyone else to get the best and most exclusive images. 

What made the movie utterly compelling was the performance of Jake Gyllenhall, as his character crosses each “moral boundary”. Lou parks illegally and runs red lights. He sneaks into the home of a family to get footage of gunshot holes in the fridge next to a photo of smiling kids. He discovers he has a real talent for composing shots that tug at the heartstrings. Exactly what the networks want. Getting the right shot progresses to dragging the victim of a hit and run, before emergency services arrive, into the best position for a dramatic image. All the while Lou is serving up corporate speak to his poor “intern”, whose role is to navigate the LA streets and park the car.

Each morally dubious action brings new rewards as he commands a higher and higher price for his work. To get what he wants, it seems logical to take the next step of orchestrating the violence. He tampers with the van of a rival, leading to it crashing. In the final gripping scenes he engineers a shootout between the police and two drug dealers in a fastfood restaurant because that’s where he wants it to take place for maximum viewer impact. At the end of the subsequent car chase he sets up his helpless intern, who, increasingly shocked at events is demanding to be paid more. The intern is shot dead by a cornered drug dealer, as Lou calmly catches it on video. He’s now inhuman, a psychopath, but one who’s rewarded at the conclusion of the film with more success, multiple media vans and a new team of eager young nightcrawlers.

We are horrified by this person. Yet it’s the economic forces that have created the demand for what Lou Bloom is happy to deliver. A society where footage of dying people can be turned to a profit. And that’s it isn’t it? We’re living in a period which could be described as peak capitalism, where everything is commercialised, from looking after the old, to sex and adultery, even that most human of qualities, friendship, has been effectively commodified. You can pay to kill rare and beautiful animals.

And of course big corporates are determined to mine, harvest, clear-fell and destroy ecosystems in search of profits, facilitated by national governments. This is the essence of what the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, the TPPA, is all about. Amidst the disagreements and competing interests there’s a shared belief in the unfettered right of corporations to commercialise every aspect of our lives, whatever the morality and whatever the threat posed to the environment and to our own humanity and survival in the long run. That’s why I’ll be joining the protest march against the TPPA leaving Tawera Park in Whangarei at 11am on Saturday 15 August.