Favorite Movies of 2014 – Part 4: “Nightcrawler”

Journalism is a field where people do what they think is right, and what is right is whatever gets people’s attention. The demands for “objective journalism” are impossible not just because of the blindspots of the person who demands such a thing (I mean, who takes the Tea Party’s rants about the “liberal media” seriously anymore when said “liberal media” is responsible for movies like “American Sniper”?), but also because of the limits of humanity in general. Here humans are, guided by ideals, claiming to be better than they really are, and making speeches to the effect of “changing the world for the better”. And sometimes, people succeed for the right reasons…but not without taking into account, well, people. Think so-called “aliens” will be impressed by that thing Carl Sagan helped design that was attached to the Voyager satellite? Well, even if they were, it certainly doesn’t take into account the not-so-photogenic parts of humanity it tries to hide, even as it’s cloaked in high-minded ideals like, “Informing the public”.

“Nightcrawler” is a movie positing that for all of the manipulation, the system known as TV news lives because of our measured demand for it. Cringe all one likes at Lou Bloom’s actions, done in a menacing and (forgive me) skin-crawling performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, along with the actions of enablers like Rene Russo’s character Nina Romina and their pawns like Riz Ahmed’s character Rick…but they survive because society (or, rather, the disembodied sprawl called “society”) demands that they provide us with the nastiest shit, under the pretense of being made better for it. Most people don’t think of themselves as the kind who like to consume the worst, and for that, we thank people like Lou Bloom: people who search for content (even manipulating it) and feeding it back to us in an “informative” package. Granted, a lot of good journalists out there do work to bring out the truth. Sometimes, the truth is bloody. Sometimes, it is lamentable, enough to destroy one’s faith in humanity, and yet beneficial to witness. Problem is, when mediums like TV News are made by design to have a certain disconnect, how can the truth really reach the audience?

TV already has it’s own limitations, both by it’s physical design and the government/corporate bodies that maintain and provide content for it. But TV News, in going under the pretense of keeping people informed, has to resort to further diluting the truth in order to fit things in. After all, how can one really be truthful or “objective” if one also has to go under certain limits in order to be able to speak (the FCC in the U.S., corporate interests, etc.)? And it’s not like the internet is immune to bullshit, either. One knows they have to filter through a lot of things on Twitter and Facebook, and the limits in that regard are mainly due to human nature…god help us all. Because if most people are already too lazy to challenge popular tweets around #DeflateGate, imagine the damage done when said complacent person sits in front of a TV tuned to CNN, MSNBC (don’t worry, Janet Mock, you’re still cool) or Fox News.

That’s the most damning part of this movie. Forget the violence, racism, gentrification and pollution, lingering in the cool and open (yet grimy and dystopian) city of L.A.. “Nightcrawler” exists because we allow the things it portrays to exist, simply by being tuned in. Want to wring your hands about citizen journalism, pornography, crowdsourcing, social media and hashtags? Fine, because those things are flawed, too. Not by design/regulation like TV (at least for now), but due to the people behind them. TV News, by design, hammers all human emotion, suffering and aspiration into a Twinkie-sized morsel, in between commercials of shady For-Profit colleges and various products advertised towards stay-at-home parents and slackers. There’s a lot of shit humanity has no control over…TV News is not one of them. While, “Nightcrawler” focuses on just a few characters, their very existence in real life, in the form of Bill O’ Reilly or in smaller (but just as shady) news outfits, is really a damning indictment of our existence. Because we never change the fucking channel, and always tune in just to play catch-up to…who, exactly?

We’re never truly informed through the news, because the news is like looking outside the window in a speeding car. Only so much room for such sights and sensations, gone the moment they’re acknowledged…unless they’re eye-catching and enraging. The human craving for novelty, which drives innovation, invention and fantastic sex, is turned into a cruse when one realizes that one hasn’t really “learned” anything through their consumption of the news, uncensored images be damned. We sit through life in rapid-fire consumption of “information”, stuff we barely act on besides saying, “Oh, dear” or, “That’s fucked up”…and then we die.

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