“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).” — Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
Alice had to step through the looking glass to discover a strange world where everything was backwards and made no sense. Filmmaker Kevin Bowe only had to go to New Hampshire during the 2016 presidential primary. His film, Democracy Through the Looking Glass: Media & Politics in the Post-Truth Era, screened at the Anthem Film Festival, part of FreedomFest. FreedomFest, a libertarian political and financial conference, now in its tenth year, bills itself as the worlds “largest gathering of free minds.”
Before the film, Bowe shared what is often a trite comment about a film or literary work that lacks a strong point-of-view or conclusion: “My film doesn’t answer a lot of questions, but it should spark discussion and help others to seek answers,” he said. In this case, however, the film does exactly that as it explores an area relevant to all Americans whether they know it or not: the influence of the new media ecosystem on American democracy.
Bowe’s journey began as something of a lark. A videographer, looking for escape from boredom, he created a fake news identity. He then took his camera to New Hampshire in 2015 to capture footage of the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire presidential primary. This turned into a nine-month odyssey embedded in the campaign press corps.
At first, he fell in line with other members of the press, recording the activities of the candidates. He noticed what seemed to him to be some strange attitudes and focus of the other members of the press and turned his cameras on the media itself.
Bowe concluded that the media completely misjudged the direction of the election because their focus was on process and the horserace, rather than the issues. He illustrates his point with footage of reporters asking about the latest poll results, what a candidate would have to do in the next primary if he only came in second in this one and other such “inside baseball” type questions.
He juxtaposes this with the contrasting questions voters were asking. None of the voters’ questions were process oriented, but instead involved issues impacting their personal lives.
Bowe expanded his quest. It was no longer just about gathering footage. He saw the challenge democracy was facing and interviewed voters, academics, and news people, including veteran CBS journalist Bob Schieffer about this. The film is both a warning and a call to action. It demonstrates how media can distort or misdirect attention. At the same time, Bowe’s journey to the other side of the looking glass provides an inspiring example of how one individual with a camera can use modern media to combat groupthink. It suggests that “we the people” have become “we the media.”
The trailer is linked below.
(Photos by Story-Crafters.com)