Witch hunts, groupthink, and YouTube – reflecting on ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’

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“If none of us ever read a book that was ‘dangerous’, had a friend who was ‘different’, or joined an organisation that advocated ‘change’, we would all be just the kind of people Joe McCarthy wants.” – Edward R. Murrow

Every year, there is a handful of films that define it as a whole. Whether having a social or political statement, or capturing an element of society’s collective consciousness, these films are the first that spring to mind upon reflection. In 2012, it was Zero Dark Thirty. In 2010, it was The Social Network. This year, it’s likely to be Boyhood. These films aren’t always necessarily the best of the year, but they are the most memorable, due to their enduring popularity and position in conversation.

George Clooney’s media drama Good Night, and Good Luck is not the best film of 2005, in my opinion. Rather, it’s a good or great film, excelling in some aspects but falling short in others. As a result, its quality is not what has kept it in continuing conversation in the 9 years following its release, rather its relevance and predictive qualities for what would manifest itself in the media environment in the years following it.

On Valentines Day 2005, about 7 months before Good Night, and Good Luck would premiere at Venice, the world of media, communications, and the general population would be changed forever. YouTube was founded. It’s a website that, in its comparatively short life, has become a brand synonymous with the Internet. The world cannot imagine a life before YouTube or believe how little time it has been around, a time before we could waste hours watching cat videos and have access to everything from harmless, joyful material such as recordings of concerts of our favourite artists, to horrifying acts of violence like the recent torture of journalists by terror groups such as ISIS.

In the YouTube, endless content and instant access world, we are almost too eager to jump on board and immediately paint everything as black or white. We love a good witch hunt. People can ramp up fear and passionate feelings almost instantaneously, like Senator McCarthy and his radio and television broadcasts in the 1950s, but now, all you need is to be a charismatic speaker with a platform that allows you to speak to the masses and get them to side with you. As Edward Murrow said, “no man can terrorise a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices”. The ability to vindicate a group, to incite fear and ruin lives, is no longer solely with political figures, but with basically anyone who can make a persuasive speech. It’s frightneningly widespread. You only need to look at the recent case of ‘Gamergate’ to see this in full force.

Good Night, and Good Luck depicts a world of the early days of broadcast news, where the media was still trying to find themselves amongst new challenges and capabilities, wrestling with how issues such as advertising dollars and private companies, which previously weren’t detrimental to whether a story would air or not, influence their content. It’s a world where it’s starting to no longer be just about the story, about fighting injustices and existing for the audience, but also forces much more powerful than themselves. The romance of the once new and exciting medium is gone, leaving an air of cynicism and tiredness behind. It’s not dramatic, shocking, shouting, fast-moving, or overwhelmingly stylish film (in fact, it feels pretty meaty despite its under 90 minute runtime).

Maybe that’s why Good Night, and Good Luck has endured in the past 9 years; because it’s so simple, finding a relatable pattern of discontent in the 1950s and our society today. The crew at See It Now are no longer idealistic and are now disillusioned with television, it has lost its glamour and now feels constricting and frustrating. Of course, the internet and platforms like YouTube have created immeasurable good, giving voice to those that previously couldn’t be heard, and the Internet has many positives. But in an age where people are moving away from social media, no longer wanting their life to be influenced by it, their every minute able to be tracked and documented, this is something we see relevance in and needs to be talked about. Are we just getting tired of everyone making everything into a battle, going on witch hunts about the most insignificant things and relying too much on groupthink and hearsay, like what happened in the 1950s? As Jeff Daniels says in the book of the screenplay and history behind the film, “everything’s so cyclical. Everything comes back and history does repeat itself if we allow it”. We’ve been here countless times before. It’s the basic principle of marketing new products – the innovators and early adopters make it new and special, using it ‘properly’, surrounding it with a sense of fantasy; before it becomes oversaturated. It becomes abundant and profitable, but no longer attractive. Good Night, and Good Luck doesn’t give any easy answers to this, remedies to bring the romance back, except to deal with it. But, when things are increasingly spiralling out of our control, that’s near impossible.

Rating: 3.5/5

-Ella

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