Today, South African media is taking to the streets to protest the battering-ram speed of the Secrecy Bill being pushed through. In my heart, I want to believe that this will get stomped on by the Constitutional Court but it seems far too audacious to hope for that much right now. At the least, we can be sure that alternative media and the Internet will continue to be sources of information, and there’s too much traction against this for it to go forward. Compared to the apartheid era, with a mostly compliant white population and a completely disenfranchised black population, this Bill will have to go up against ten of millions of South Africans with voices. I hope that it will be enough.
It makes me think about books that are influential to this kind of mood. Besides the obvious 1984 by Orwell, there are hundreds of titles dealing with revolution, history and protest. Below are some of my favourites:
Fight Club by Chuck Paulahnuik
You are not your bank account, and you are not who you tell yourself you are. Perhaps the handbook of Generation Y’s frustrations. Every weekend, in basements and parking lots across the country, young men with good white-collar jobs and absent fathers take off their shoes and shirts and fight each other barehanded for as long as they have to. Then they go back to those jobs with blackened eyes and loosened teeth and the sense that they can handle anything. “Fight Club” is the invention of Tyler Durden, projectionist, waiter and dark, anarchic genius. And it’s only the beginning of his plans for revenge on a world where cancer support groups have the corner on human warmth.
Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
Around the world in Britain, the United States, Asia and the Middle East, there are people with power who are cashing in on chaos; exploiting bloodshed and catastrophe to brutally remake our world in their image. They are the shock doctors. Thrilling and revelatory, The Shock Doctrine cracks open the secret history of our era. Exposing these global profiteers, Naomi Klein discovered information and connections that shocked even her about how comprehensively the shock doctors’ beliefs now dominate our world – and how this domination has been achieved. Raking in billions out of the tsunami, plundering Russia, exploiting Iraq – this is the chilling tale of how a few are making a killing while more are getting killed.
The Last Sushi by Zapiro
This man needs no introduction, and is at the forefront of the race to protect media freedom today.
Media Control by Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky’s backpocket classic on wartime propaganda and opinion control begins by asserting two models of democracy—one in which the public actively participates, and one in which the public is manipulated and controlled. According to Chomsky, “propaganda is to democracy as the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state,” and the mass media is the primary vehicle for delivering propaganda in the United States. From an examination of how Woodrow Wilson’s Creel Commission “succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering population,” to Bush Sr.’s war on Iraq, Chomsky examines how the mass media and public relations industries have been used as propaganda to generate public support for going to war. Chomsky further touches on how the modern public relations industry has been influenced by Walter Lippmann’s theory of “spectator democracy,” in which the public is seen as a “bewildered herd” that needs to be directed, not empowered; and how the public relations industry in the United States focuses on “controlling the public mind,” and not on informing it. Media Control is an invaluable primer on the secret workings of disinformation in democratic societies.
New Rulers of the World by John Pilger
John Pilger is one of the world’s most renowned investigative journalists and documentary film-makers. In this fully updated collection, he reveals the secrets and illusions of modern imperialism. Beginning with Indonesia, he shows how General Suharto’s bloody seizure of power in the 1960s was part of a western design to impose a ‘global economy’ on Asia. A million Indonesians died as the price for being the World Bank’s ‘model pupil’. Ina shocking chapter on Iraq, he allows us to understand the true nature of the West’s war against the people of that country. And he dissects, piece by piece, the propaganda of the ‘war on terror’ to expose its Orwellian truth. Finally, he looks behind the picture postcard of his homeland, Australia, to illuminate an enduring legacy of imperialism and the subjugation of the First Australians.
The Silent State by Heather Brooke
Award-winning investigative journalist Heather Brooke exposes the shocking and farcical lack of transparency at all levels of government. At a time when the State knows more than ever about us, Brooke argues that without proper access to the information that citizens pay for, Britain can never be a true democracy. Silent State is a groundbreaking and important book, which should be read by anyone who wants to know how Britain really works.
Confessions of An Economic Hitman by John Perkins
As an Economic Hitman (EHM), John Perkins helped further American imperial interests in countries such as Ecuador, Panama, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. As Chief Economist for the international consulting firm Chas. T. Main, he convinced underdeveloped countries to accept massive loans for infrastructure development and ensured that the projects were contracted to multinational corporations. The countries acquired enormous debt, and the US and international aid agencies were able to control their economies.
He tried to write this book four times but was threatened or bribed each time to halt. The events of 9/11 – a direct result of the activities of EHMs in the 1970s – finally forced him to confront the role he played himself, and to reveal the truth to the rest of the world.
Counterpower by Tim Gee
No major campaign has ever been successful without Counterpower – the power that the ‘have-nots’ can use to remove the power of the ‘haves’. This is examined by investigating the history and tactics of the suffrage movement, the labour movement, the anti-war movement, the anti-colonial movement, the environmental movement and today’s human rights and anti-globalisation movement. In the context of the financial crisis and the threat of climate change, engagement in system critical social movements is on the increase. This unique book demystifies the power dynamics of social change.
Ubu and the Truth Commission by Jane Taylor
The Truth Commission was tasked to uncover all the painful, individual truths that made up the horror of apartheid. Ubu is a policeman trying to escape punishment for the crimes he committed. Still valid today, Ubu and the Truth Commission is both a slice and prophecy of South African history. This publication contains Jane Taylor’s full playscript from the production by William Kentridge and the Handspring Puppet Company, as well as a diverse and abundant selection of visual materials, including photographs of the production, drawings for animation, and archival images.