This weekend’s KDocs Film Festival couldn’t come with a better finish. Closing three days of documentaries covering everything from the global housing crisis to the lethal dangers of the beauty industry to the continuing traumas of colonialism, The Corporate Coup d’Etat draws a line under the entire mess, taking an unflinching look at the antidemocratic forces that have captured and subverted our governments and left us in irrevocable social decline.
In the company of Chris Hedges, Fred Peabody’s film takes the viewer to “sacrifice zones” like Camden, New Jersey, ravaged and left for dead by deregulated capitalism. Cornel West and Maude Barlow lament the false legitimacy of our political systems (“Obama set the table for Trump,” Barlow says, aiming her comments four-square at what Hedges dubs “the faux-liberal class”.) Journalist Sarah Jaffe homes in on the mechanics of election-rigging—never more timely or painful than right now. Indeed, Peabody’s film becomes especially vital following this month’s Democratic caucuses in Iowa.
“We don’t know what happened, but it sure is fishy,” Peabody tells the Straight from his Vancouver home. “I’m kinda suspicious that the Democratic National Committee had its thumb on the scale. The DNC has a lot of people making a lot of money: well-heeled consultants in thousand-dollar suits telling them how to win by doing exactly what they did last time. They’re going to be out of jobs if Bernie gets in. They know that. And they know that their next job is going to be corporate lobbyist.”
That same establishment might prefer Trump to Sanders “because under Trump, their stocks go up”. The media runs a parallel game, neatly exposed in the film by Matt Taibbi, who points out that CNN and its ilk make huuuuge bank while posing as adversaries to the Orange Menace.
Inside this spectacle, the preferred narrative demonizes Trump voters as “deplorables”, but Peabody’s film finds the truer story in another sacrifice zone, Youngstown, Ohio, where lifelong blue-collar Democrats abandoned the party in 2016 out of disgust and frustration.
“That was the high point for me, to be on the ground and interact with people,” the Emmy-winning journalist says. “That’s what really brings the film alive. Those kind of people who flipped from Obama to Trump, they see Joe Biden for what he is. In the rust belt area, particularly, he’s synonymous with NAFTA, which they see as taking away their jobs and ruining their economy.”
In light of Sanders’s treatment by U.S. media—“Biden’s tanking; what do we do? Crank up the Buttigieg machine,” he quips—Peabody points back to Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s Manufacturing Consent as the primary text. “It could have been written yesterday,” he says. The film, meanwhile, takes its premise from Canada’s John Ralston Saul, who floated the term corporate coup d’état back in 1995, citing Mussolini’s model of corporatism as the current political reality. Saul appears in the film, and he’ll join Peabody and producer Jeff Cohen at KDocs on Sunday (February 23) for a keynote speech and Q & A.
B.C. will be three weeks into pipeline/Indigenous-rights protests when those men take the stage. Peabody spent two decades inside America’s corporate media before his recent return to Vancouver, but he’s quick to note that Saul’s dire vision is global. “Just Google SNC-Lavalin,” he says. “The U.S. is the most egregious example if you’re going to pick a country to illustrate the corporate coup d’état, but it exists in all countries, and certainly in ours. We could become them.”
The KDocs Film Festival takes place at the Vancity Theatre from Thursday to Sunday (February 20 to 23). More information is at www.kdocsff.com/.