Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Christians and Hollywood Support Big Brother? What?

I think I was twelve when I saw A Thief in the Night, a 1972 film by Russell Doughton and Donald Thompson. The film looks like a bad home movie now, but it was terrifying as a kid. Thief, along with its three sequels, forecasted the end of the world. It illustrated the rapture (the idea that certain Christians will be taken up to heaven while the rest of the world sinks into war and madness) and the coming age of a one-world government ruled by the Anti-Christ. That was later updated by the massively popular Left Behind series coauthored by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, which sold over sixty million copies. It was essentially the same story, the same theological idea, thematically comparable to the novel 1984, by George Orwell. A dominant one-world government that controlled the masses through drugs and propaganda or, in the case of Left Behind, microchips. (Incidentally, most evangelicals were worried as soon as they started putting computer chips in animals. It was only a matter of time before they did the same to us.)

Which brings us to the new bill SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and its younger brother PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act), which are proposed to be introduced into legislation in the U.S. Here in Canada, we face a similar battle, although much of it is happening under the radar. The essence of these bills, what the legislators will tell you, is to prevent people from “stealing” their material. Movies. Music. Etc… They’ll tell you that they are trying to protect their goods like you would retail merchandise in a store. So why is this important? And what does this have to do with Big Brother? Well, there are a number of reasons, but perhaps the biggest is that we live in a world of computers. It wasn’t always this way, of course, even sixteen years ago technology wasn’t nearly as pervasive as it is now. Back then, computers sat on desks at home or in your office.

Those days are gone. Everything is now a computer. Your car is a computer. Your phone. City infrastructure. Banks. Planes. Everything is either a computer or runs on one. The problem is that we can’t build computers to only run certain programs. (I’m not going to go into technical details, but I’ll post a few links if you want to read more why this is so) The best we can do is insert spyware to manage these computers. This spyware already exists and is used, for example, in ambulances. Everything is tracked, from location to time stamps on the sirens to the speed of the vehicle. Which is fine for ambulances, but what about your car? What about your laptop? These bills, and ones being introduced in other countries like Canada, are an attempt by big business to make more money by controlling you.

This is not an issue of protecting copyright. The issue is the power these huge corporations will have over people.

That sounds alarmist, I know, but this is not a small thing. Privacy matters because it is the basis for this crazy idea called democracy. Without privacy, without the right NOT to be watched, we find ourselves back behind the Iron Curtain or somewhere in China. And as we can only control content through Spyware, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. Providing unseen eyes into our private lives.

Whether we like it or not, computers are here to stay. When I go to the store, I often see elderly men and women being walked through the process of sliding their debit card properly through the reader so they can buy groceries. Even twenty or thirty years ago that would have been unimaginable. But now it’s here, and it’s here to stay. So what we must do, then, is work very diligently to ensure that we protect our privacy despite the invasive nature of technology. That’s why this bill, and its cousins around the world, matter so much. They give too much power to a small group of people.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these bills is the group responsible for it. I know Hollywood is a business, I get that, but how can these executives be so hypocritical? Voting to suppress art in the name of profit? Hollywood (movie companies) will earn well over fifty billion dollars this year through box office, merchandising, television rights and movie sales. Is that not enough? And where are all the evangelicals crying out against this Rapture-like madness? I don’t subscribe to that eschatology, but many evangelicals do, the same ones who form the base of the Republican Party. And where is the Tea Party? Wasn’t that movement all about freedom?

What this tells me is that both groups, who claim to believe in freedom and democracy, are full of shit. The evangelical movement, a large swath of it anyway, pimped out its soul twenty five years ago to politics and big business, and now retains the voice of a chattering squirrel. This during a time when it should be leading the way, if only to give credence to its own eschatology.

Frankly, the whole thing is discouraging. Christians and Artists (although, you could probably assign this to the greedy Hollywood execs) joining forces to support Big Brother. I never would have predicted that. I guess it’s just another reminder that what people say they believe and what they actually believe are completely different.



This is the best essay I’ve read on the subject, but the site is down today in protest of the bill, so you’ll have to wait until it’s up again to read it. It’s worth the wait.

The issues are outlined further here.

SOPA would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a criminal offense, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison if a user gets caught streaming this content 10 times within six months.

One last article from Wired here.