Ethos: New Documentary Calls for Consumers to Reclaim Power

In his new documentary, Pete McGrain details the ever-expanding systemic quandaries that plague our society and the steps necessary to resolve them.


“The romantic idea of revolution with riots in the streets and heroic deeds that our children will sing songs about in years to come is just that - a 'romantic myth' - it has never worked,” explains film director Pete McGrain. “The real revolution will be an evolution. No bloodshed, just common sense, people learning the facts and then acting accordingly. Not as romantic, but effective and sustainable.” 

Common sense progression is precisely the idea that the documentary filmmaker hopes to rouse audiences with through his new film, Ethos, a compelling picture that offers an inside look at some of society’s most daunting problems. Hosted by Woody Harrelson, the documentary is supported by an array of interviews from several of the world’s leading thinkers, including Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn, to whom the film is dedicated. Tackling a slew of issues – from the U.S.’s current state as a plutocracy to the military-industrial complex – the documentary highlights numerous examples that illustrate the demise of governmental power and the mounting corporate takeover.    

Free enterprise has permeated every facet of life, Ethos explains, as Big Business now appears to maintain total control, from the major media conglomerates to the White House. Sam Gibara, chairman and former CEO of Goodyear says, “Governments have become powerless compared to what they were before,” citing the evolution of corporations and their expansion into major political players. Another commentator notes that this realization of power is largely due to the very basis of corporations, as protected by the government, stating, “[Corporations] are required bylaw to please the interests of their owners above all else, even the public good.”

As a result, corporations, and the politicians who financially depend on them, function with a singular purpose: to make the rich richer.

Such corporate reliance can be observed in a plethora of ways. The military has rendered itself dependent on private defense contractors and the media remains all but entirely governed by a small collective of firms that aim to serve their own interests. Ira Jackson, director of the Center for Business and Government at Harvard’s Kennedy School, says, “Capitalism today commands the towering heights and has displaced politics and politicians as the new high priests.” The result of such a concentration of control has inevitably led to a grave exploitation of power and the use of the public as passive consumers. 

Ethos, however, is not simply a film designed to show viewers what is wrong with society. Rather, McGrain uses his medium as a platform of motivation. Though capitalism appears to be the root cause of many of the world’s problems, it also supplies populations with the tools needed to resolve them: power. Power of the people, that is. With such an emphasis on consumerism, corporations inevitably find themselves dependent on the consumers themselves. It is because of their capacity to manipulate populations into herd mentalities that they have been able to control the thoughts of the masses. If the consumers themselves become aware of these tools of manipulation, they can reclaim that power and force Big Business to listen to their wants and needs. Conscious consumerism is what is required to overcome the status quo. 

To bolster the movement of conscious consumerism, McGrain, in association with Media For Action, has opted to provide Ethos to viewers for free online and available for download. The film’s Web site is also filled with ideas for action – from purchasing sustainable products to utilizing the range of alternative media sources (such as AlterNet) available to the public. 

While so many seemingly independent and progressive modes of media turn out to be essentially profit-driven, McGrain offers Ethos simply as a means of motivation and empowerment to his audience, hoping to spread the word and ultimately affect change.

Visit www.ethosthemovie.comto watch Ethosand learn more.

Megan Driscoll is the editorial and communications assistant at AlterNet.
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