Big Brother on the Big Screen
Hollywood, Surveillance and the NSA
From a National Catholic Register article
By Steven D. Greydanus
Have Hollywood movies been softening us up for NSA-style surveillance?
That’s the provocative claim of a recent essay on The Guardian’s film blog by John Patterson. Citing poll data suggesting that a “slim but clear majority of Americans” aren’t worried about the latest revelations of the extent of the NSA’s Prism monitoring program covering Internet usage, email, phone calls and so forth, Patterson argued that Hollywood movies have been accustoming us to the idea of government surveillance for decades.
As an aside, it’s not clear that Patterson is right about American attitudes. A Pew/Washington Post poll did suggest that most Americans accept the basic idea of Prism. But the wording of that poll has been criticized — and other recent polls by Gallup, CNN and Time, among others, suggest that Americans feel the government has gone too far in pursuing security concerns at the expense of privacy and personal liberty.
Has Hollywood really been running interference for government surveillance? From the earliest sci-fi to the paranoia cinema of the 1970s to slick action thrillers like Enemy of the State (1998) and The Dark Knight (2008), Hollywood has generally portrayed high-tech surveillance as at least dangerous, if not oppressive. Police-state concerns of writers such as George Orwell and Philip K. Dick have informed countless films, from direct adaptations to many more films influenced by their ideas.