On Sat., Mar. 15th, all over the world people will sit down and watch Zeitgeist: the Movie as part of a worldwide day of activism called Z-Day. The free online film has taken the Internet by storm with it's compellingly edited footage and seemingly obvious message about religion, the 9/11 attacks and the perils and pitfalls of blindly following authority as exemplified by the discussion of the gold standard and the tax code system. While it presents itself with the trappings of a documentary, it is, in fact, a comprehensive collection of memes spread around the right-wing conspiracy theory community gussied up with shocking footage and a tacked-on, feel-good ending that belies the preceding, two-hour shake-up.
On Facebook, nearly 41,000 people have joined the group Zeitgeist: The Documentary of a Lifetime.
Whenever someone criticizes it, the collective Internet furor will often leave the article's comments filled with over nine thousand replies decrying the professionalism, lack of research or how the author spends his time nitpicking the sources and not enough criticizing the ideas. There are nearly 700 public showings of Zeitgeist scheduled for Mar. 15 (688 at the time of this writing), with more than 1100 other private showings. This film is a true phenomenon.
There's an irony, though. For a film that tries so hard to tell the viewer to think about what they experience in the world and to reject authority, many people have blindly followed the documentary without doing their own research. This is why, more than anything, a hard look at the ideas of the film is needed.
A moment should be spent at the online home of Zeitgeist itself. While it would come across as tinfoil hat paranoia, there's been an interesting development on the website. As of Mar. 11 2008, a small subsection of the website has been completely scrubbed from the site. This section, the "clarifications" section, alludes to dishonest filmmaking tactics that would otherwise help to discredit the film. Instead, a self-righteous Q&A section that attempts to smack down its critics has replaced it. Thanks to the wonders of Archive.org and its Wayback Machine, though, anyone can read the clarifications with just a few meandering clicks!
Why is this important? The closer it comes to Z-Day, the more willing they are to gloss over inconvenient facts. For instance, video footage from the Madrid bombings of 2004 is used during a discussion of the London bombings of 2005, the implication being that the footage is from the actual bombings in London. It's deceptive filmmaking pure and simple and no manner of self-righteous explanation can disregard the simple fact: it's an out and out lie, "creative example" be damned. For a film that rails against deception, there's a lot of deception implicit in its creation.
There isn't a degree of self-righteousness to the film, as in any film that tries to use activism to get its message across. It starts off with a two-minute montage of bombings set to thunderously loud and ponderous music to set the mood of chaos, alternating with a quiet and sombre score to show human life and creativity. Then, the thematic image takes to the screen: the world in a cage. Despite the heavy-handedness of the metaphor, that's what the film is trying to show: through religion, the American government's lies or outright complicity in the 9/11 attacks, other "false flag" attacks and the economy that's run by an elitist caste of bankers, we're being controlled and are trapped in a cage that prevents us from being free.
The film first discusses religion. It takes the tack of using an historical Jesus argument and tries to tie it in with Horus, Buddha, and other religious figures with the common thread of a "sun god." While there are similarities, the way the film presents the relation is too straightforward. This is the common problem in the film: presenting something in such a shallow manner without further corroboration or scholarly evidence. It distils years of advanced scholarly work into a pithy little comparison and doesn't explore the examples, the greater historical contexts and the complicated realities into something approaching "Horus and Jesus come from the same place." In the world of a spectrum of greys, the film argues everything in black-and-white, which isn't surprising when the second part of the film hits the screen.
To briefly touch on the second section, if one reads the sources and the way it's been described previous to the website's scrubbing, the second section is actually an amalgamation of many different 9/11 Truth Movement films like Loose Change and the Alex Jones Prison Planet series. This circular method of research means that someone can't even find the source of the claims in this section. It's infuriating and prevents any kind of real discussion about the credibility of the original source material.
As the film transitions into its third part, a John F. Kennedy quotation about secret societies comes on screen. The statement, in context with the film, is ostensibly about the banker clans that are controlling the economy. Anyone who actually knows where the quotation is from, though, would understand that the quote is actually from a speech JFK gave on communism. More deceptive filmmaking at work!
The third part is the culmination of the previous two thematic devices: the amalgamation of the infamous "Seven Jew bankers control the world" meme and the "I don't have to pay my taxes in America!" idea that has surfaced in right-wing militia subculture with such force. Conspiracy theory buffs will understand that while thankfully Zeitgeist doesn't identify any Jews as bankers--instead focusing on men like Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan--the idea that bankers are controlling the world has been around since the 1880s. It's old hat, but gussied up with a fresh coat of paint with quotes that seemingly have no sources to them outside of a list of books.
It's hard to reject or agree with the film when it comes to sources, as it's just a list. There's no contextualization within the sources for the quotations. Outside of the first part's interactive transcript with footnotes, the site and its ostensible administrator just put a list of quotes on the page and expect the person to do the research and find the sources. This isn't useful at all and only makes it harder to believe the film when a sterner look is given to its sources. Given the circular nature of many of the sources, when one firmly begins to research the film, it's hard for any but the most ardent conspiracy nut to believe any of it.
It's okay to like Zeitgeist. It's well-edited and is truly compelling. To use it as a piece of activism, like the idea of Z-Day, however, is unfortunate. There are points about war and religion that are important to note, but they're lost in the greater frothing-at-the-mouth conspiracies. Like the film argues for so firmly: if you're about to watch Zeitgeist, please don't take it at face value. Use your noodle and think!