Battle In Seattle 2007, directed by Stuart Townsend, is an action drama film depicting the Battle of Seattle. The film offers every point of view imaginable, from peaceful protester to not-so-peaceful protester, to mayor, to bad cop / good cop, etc. One could almost call it a multi-first-hand documentary, but the professional critics call it a docu-drama.
Starring Andre Benjamin, Jennifer Carpenter, Isaach De Bankole, Woody Harrelson, Martin Henderson, Joshua Jackson, Ray Liotta, Tzi Ma, and more...
Unfortunately the film is a bust in terms of making money. It was too political perhaps, but the more concerning problem may lie in the cast. One of Rotten Tomatoes critics says it best, "The characters (Townsend) put on screen feel less like real people than like entities created to either make plot points or stand in for specific positions." (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times)
"Activists arrive in Seattle, Washington en masse to protest a meeting of the World Trade Organization. Riots and chaos ensue as demonstrators successfully stop the WTO meetings." (IMDb)
The rest of this node is analysis of the misconstruction of the media's portrayal of events from the protester's point of view. I use examples from the film as an argument that the media is incapable of providing an accurate depiction of causality. The media only shows the results of an event, and often takes one incident, in the film's case - one protester throwing rocks at business windows, and blows it out of proportion - calling the situation anarchy before it truly is.
The Media's Point of View
The role of the media is addressed in this movie. While the storyline depicts thousands of non-violent protesters trying to prevent the meetings of the WTO from starting or actually occurring. They cement their arms together and make circles in the intersections barring traffic. They crowd the building where the meeting was supposed to be and had demonstrations with signs and yelling. It all rolled down hill through escalation, but there was a telling moment in the movie when a reporter and her cameraman get footage of one vandal bashing in windows. She started tossing phrases around like “complete anarchy.” All from witnessing one individual the media was to portray the actions of 10,000 plus people. The group of protesters swing through the tv channels and only see political smut with the slanted view.
Later in the movie she is told to cover the Clinton public address, but decides to cover the police bashing the protesters and to show the “true” or “other” side of the story. She puts tape over her mouth and then right as they were supposed to go live with the Clinton coverage they see a glimpse of the serious faces of the protesters. The station cuts out quickly and goes to commercial. They refused to cover the policemen arresting 600 individuals, and breaking up the protests. The police had used tear gas, and many forms of dispersion techniques, and the protesters felt like their ability of free speech and demonstrations were violated.
Why is this important? Because it proves three things. First the media doesn’t know how to cover the corruption of big corporations or government who are violating rights or whatever they are doing that is causing the protesters to take arms in the first place. Second, the media is biased. They are more likely to cover the individual who throws the rock into the glass and damages property than the protesters stories. They aren’t going to interview the protesters and actually air what they have to say about the situation – at least not the ones who actually share the opinion of the masses. Third, it’s a bad medium for political protest in general. It will only show the bad of the protest, and hardly ever the merit. Because of this, political protesting is thwarted from success. That’s why some end up rioting and taking violent action for the American feeling of immediate retribution and action. It’s a pretty reasonable explanation why most protests are violent to begin with. People don’t take non violent protesting seriously, they just see it as a few people holding up signs and say “whoop-dee-dooo.” Thus it becomes futile.
Now a social movement wants to direct effort to either both or one of the following, change or general awareness. David S. Meyer says social movements are severely limited to direct influence. The media is only an example of why they can’t have direct influence. The corporations are controlling the media from sharing the other side. For starters if the political protesters held a press conference, would the press even show up? Yet if the governor holds one, they do, or even for that Seattle Mayor. The other problem is the political protesters have a huge resource gap to climb. The media has an easy outlet to direct a public message. The protesters do not. If someone didn’t go down town they may not even see the protests in that Seattle scenario. That’s why large demonstrations with enough people to draw attention is key.
It’s also important to point out that the media is a business. They have to operate on profit. If they had come out and portrayed the WTO as “evil” then they could have been sued for libel, or lost funding from advertising revenue being gutted when a corporation decides to no longer subscribe. At the same time if the political protesters even had the resources or expertise to come up with an advertisement to run on the electronic media, they channel could decide to not even run their message. Plus the message itself is going to strike home to some individuals while push others away. If someone is displeased by the presented message, like the WTO kills turtles, then they may never come back to that channel just based on one viewing. So the media is a business with its own head on the line constantly. They can’t support political protesters from both the angle of viewers and business profits, as well as risk calculations.
In summary it is true that the mass media are critical for getting movement messages and movement activities to a larger audience, but they typically fail to do so. The media covers the event but not the cause of the event. They make pro war people heroes but protesters against war to be suspects, or even leading into that grave error of "You're either a patriot or a terrorist." The media do need to be a target for activist efforts, that way they can reach authorities instead of just bystanders, so they can reach a general mass audience. But the fact of the matter is, risks of your message not only being futile, but actually getting your message through a medium, is difficult in the least. Even if you do get your message through, will the readers read it? Will the viewers see it? Will they listen or change their actions or just pass off the protesters desires as bizarre. The activists generally don’t make news without creating the hard news story for channel X. They need some event to attach to, to really throw the movement into a real social movement. Just like the nuclear anti protests after the shutdown of a plant in 1979. Even if protesters get “what they want” a court case like Roe V Wade only shows how to shut up a movement and then political current swings the other direction so that 2/3 are pro choice instead of the reverse 2/3 against abortion since that court ruling.