So, I went to see a movie called “Collapse.” I read about this movie a little bit before seeing it (full disclosure: I get caught it weird Internet spaces and was reading an article about Mein Kampf. This movie was mentioned in the article for some reason). The premise of the movie is pretty simple: Michael Ruppert believes that he know how and why the US and global economies are currently collapsing (Get it? That’s the movie title…and the country…). The ticket was like $4, which in LA is pretty much like highway robbery.
Originally I went to see this film because it looked interesting and because of the whole $4 thing. About 30 minutes into the movie, I realized that there was a larger discussion to be had here that went beyond reviewing a film. There are aspects of this film that I found interesting and problematic from a practical political perspective, but I think that there is even a more interesting discussion here on the limitations of some supposedly “leftist” and “revolutionary” political ideologies and the complicated nature of the political moment that is in our near future.
So, just to summarize: The film really focuses on Ruppert and the Peak Oil Movement (which to be fair I know little about.) For those of you that are in the same boat as I am, the Peak Oil Movement refers to the idea/scientific principle that there is a limited amount of fossil fuels in the world. Ruppert looks at the fact that Saudi Arabia, which has the largest, recorded landed oil reserves, now drills for oil offshore. As offshore oil drilling is a much more costly endeavor than drilling for oil on land, this could be an indication that the oil in Saudi Arabia, and thus countries with even less oil, is on the global decline as a “dependable” resource. Ruppert identifies the fact that the economic system that the US and the rest of the world operates with requires “infinite resources” while depending on the “finite resource” of oil as the central paradox of our existence today. The movie goes on to note the limitations of other fuel possibilities (with the exception of solar and wind power, Mike identifies other fuel resources as economically and environmentally unfeasible) and declares that “revolution” (which isn’t ever defined in the film) will come from the anger people feel because of the fuel and food shortages that will plague the world in the upcoming decades.
Ruppert constructs a parable to help the audience understand his perspective. He describes the Titanic and himself as a boat-builder on the ship. He’s just been informed that the ship is going to sink and that there are not enough boats on the ship to save everyone on board the ship. (While telling this parable Ruppert seems to be ignoring the racial and gendered histories of this moment…aka white dudes locking poor and “colored” folks in the engine room of the ship.)
Ruppert says that as a boat-builder, he can select from a group of three sets of people to help:
1. People that are just trippin’. They can’t figure out what to do and generally run around, scatterstyle like a squirrel.
2. People that are ready and willing to build boats and do what’s necessary to get off the boat.
3. People that have drank the Haterade, don’t believe that the boat can ever sink, and want to go back to playing shuffleboard or whatever it is that you do on a boat for that long.
According to Ruppert, years of work in this field have taught him that the people he wants to save are the people that hang out in that second category. Beyond this, he notes that his only responsibility really is to only help himself. Basically, everyone else on the boat can go suck it. Ruppert’s goal is not to save everyone on the boat, or even anyone for that matter. He simply operates as the key master for access to the New World with no real mechanism for helping people either do something about the end of the world or
get a ticket to this new spot. So, to continue Ruppert’s boat metaphor, he seems stoked to have saved these “conscious” people on the deck of the boat, helping him, but he never thinks about where all the people of color that work on the Titanic went. Something tells me my Black ass isn’t invited on that damn boat.
I should discuss Ruppert’s background because it clearly has an impact on the film and his perspective. His mother was a code-breaker for the US Army and his Dad worked as a creepy CIA spook guy. He got a Bachelors at UCLA in Political Science and graduated as the Valedictorian of his class at the LAPD Police Academy. After that crowning achievement, he went on to work in South Central Los Angeles, a community that he describes as “the jungle” in the opening moments of the film. After working on DEA taskforces for narcotics, he found out that the CIA was helping to facilitate the importing and distribution of cocaine from Nicaragua to communities of color, specifically in Black communities in South Los Angeles. Apparently, Ruppert bucked up and complained to his superior about this shady behavior and was effectively run out of the LAPD. He’s the guy that told John Deutch off at that community forum in South Central. He went on to do investigative journalism through his newsletter Into the Wilderness and hang out with his dog.
While Ruppert spends considerable time discussing the nuances of oil reserves around the world, he seems to overlook and/or out-in-out ignore fundamental principles for the discussion he’s having. He never seems to want to say the word “capitalism.” In fact, I think that he said the word only once throughout the entire film. Along with this, the biggest gaping hole in this film is the lack of a racial or gendered discussion. He talks about the destruction of markets and how demand will wash up as prices go through the roof, but he never explains how white supremacy ensures that people of color are first in line for this path of destruction and upheaval that he describes. He discusses this conflict using a universalized “we” when in reality, the “we” he’s talking about throughout the film is clearly “we, white people.”
Ruppert’s analysis clearly misunderstands US history. The conflict he describes is not a new one; rather the US has been waging in this war against people of color since the country’s inception. What becomes apparent in listening to Ruppert is that while he was hanging out in Oregon, he never used his library card to borrow some DuBois or C.L.R. James or pretty much any race scholar of the past 100 years. His unwillingness to examine social histories and his social position as a white man living in the United States makes his movement almost cannibalistic. His perspective is built on understanding how the drive by capitalist governments to colonize the Brown world for access to power and resources (which, depending on the era has been gold, slave labor, sugar, cotton, diamonds, oil, etc) has lead to/will lead to the end of the world. But the foundation of the Peak Oil Movement as described by Ruppert seems to be to sit around and wait for the shit to hit the fan, while basking in their dopeness in these “eco-villages” or other sustainable, sealed off communities, populated by those that “got it.” Essentially, Ruppert’s solution seems to be to use his white privilege as a way to compile information about the end of the world and protect others (see: white folks), while those that are tied to the system (and locked in the bottom of the boat shoveling coal in the engine), reified by his very identity as a white man, are left to fend for ourselves.
Ruppert looks to compare two countries that have faced changing political landscapes, he says, primarily because the collapse of the U.S.S.R. took their access to fossil fuels away: North Korea and Cuba. He says that North Korea responded with “Socialism” (I quote this because this was his description, not mine. All these years and I thought that totalitarian, authoritative regimes and Socialist republics were different…), Cuba responded with a local growth model. Ruppert goes on to describe the Agrarian Land Reforms of Cuba as the quintessential capitalist idea, one that has provided Cuba with stability through this fuel decline.
At this point in the film, my brain actually popped out of my skull and said, “Shut the fuck up.” So since I didn’t have the time nor desire to spend time thinking about just how flawed that analysis was, I started to think about the tone of the film. The idea behind the movie really just seems to be to show how fly Ruppert and his group of other activist road dogs are. The movie shows clips of him “predicting” the current global financial crises, clips of him claiming to have “predicted” the attacks on 9/11, and “predicting” the growing increase in oil prices and decline in oil production. He starts to cry in the film only when he notes how hard it is for him to always have been right about these crises.
This, coupled with his perspective of individualism/his boat analogy, present a perspective that must be interrogated. Ruppert seems to be caught up in the paradox of a wanting to inform people of all the fucked up things in the world but not caring enough (maybe?) to offer solutions to fix these things.
It becomes clear in the film that Ruppert is right about one thing: there is a global decline and this decline is going to lead a lot more people going down Pissed Off Ave. Most of us, I think, have been waiting for a moment where people can recognize the flaws of the system and will look to reshape the world using a different model. Shit, all we have to do is watch 20 minutes of the nightly news or “Flavor of Love” to know that shit is fucked up right now. But what Ruppert’s movie along with other crazy clips of people trippin’ like this one, this one, and this one, show is that while this is clearly a critical moment, it isn’t a moment that is exclusively seen and/or owned by those prepared to develop a world where exploitation isn’t the central principle. There are others, on both sides of the political spectrum that see moment as a time to capitalize on “collapse” and incorporate their political ideology into the mainstream.
What becomes clear when watching this film or watching various white people flip the fuck out at political “rallies” and tea party shit is that people are legitimately frightened. Whether they’re scared of Black people, Socialism, Communism, Fascism, liberals, religious zealotry, crazy ass white folks, or turtles (seriously. fuck turtles.), people are straight up scared right now. And while fear will lead up all to some revolution, it may not lead up to the one that we all want.
By the end of the movie, it becomes pretty clear that the goal of the film is to frighten people. And that shit worked because I was scared shitless. Ruppert doesn’t seems to want to offer any suggestions to help his audience either. Instead, he spends the final moments of the film chiding the audience for not listening to him and all the things that he knows. The line of the film that best summarizes Ruppert’s political/moral perspective is when he tells the audience “If a bear attacks your camp, you don’t have to be faster than the bear. You just have to be faster than the slowest person in your camp.”
I think the flaws of this movie highlight ideas that should constantly be engaged by any radical organization that is participating in the liberation of people from systems of racism, capitalism, and oppression around the world. The free society we envision cannot come about without the majority of the world becoming participants in their own liberation. I think that the goal of any group doing this work should be to help all those people on that boat, even those dumb motherfuckers that think the boat is fine.
And if a bear attacks your camp, you should all get together, collectively scream, and jump in the car. Fuck running from a bear; the car’s faster dumbass.