Democracy is not perfect. A millennial ideology possibly originating in Athens, Greece, the original idea saw all “eligible” citizens able to give their opinion on the laws and policies implemented within the community. This is something the Founding Fathers of the United States held dear with strict respect that elected officials were the representation needed to reflect the consensus of a majority.
The United States today is home to nearly 340 million people and 542 federal offices tasked with best representing the bureaucratic needs of their constituents. It is a daunting task for anyone to manage, made even more difficult by a reformed population via online channels and vicious information cycles. Echo chambers are getting louder, opinions are increasing in number and intensity, and most of us just have to sit and watch. After all, Republicans in the House of Representatives can’t even agree on a Speaker of the House.
For filmmaker Andrew Callaghan, the questions and answers surrounding the current crisis aren’t as black or white as your traditional sources’ reporters would have you believe. By studying fame, fortune, family and numerous internet blogs, Callaghan’s new film This Place Rules paints a very gray picture of democracy, conspiracy and what to do with a country that often looks to a parody of himself.
Who is Andrew Callaghan and what are the rules of this place?
This Place Rules is Callaghan’s feature debut (now streaming on HBO Max). The comedy documentary follows the 2020 election and its myriad factors (and frauds, depending on who you ask) leading up to Election Day, as well as the Jan. 6 Capitol attacks. The All Gas No Brakes creator has spent most of his career in on-the-go journalism, traveling the country to get his stories in a ‘boots-on-the-ground’ approach that still feels alien to the reporting you’d find scrolling through the channels. on cable television. Callaghan began her journey in New Orleans, Louisiana with the hit online show Quarter Confessions, documenting the drunken shenanigans found on Bourbon Street every night.
This idea later manifested in a more politically charged approach with his Channel 5 News and All Gas No Brakes shows, where he attended rallies, marches and demonstrations to interview participants as well as agitators and onlookers. All this to say that Callaghan has a keen eye for capturing a much more intimate point of view of history with his reporting methods.
As CNN and Fox News observe and report from “their” perspective, Channel 5 is at the heart of all the turmoil our country is experiencing that week, making sure to get the scoop straight from the source. This gonzo, “warts and all” approach to journalism offers a revealing look at how things got to where they are, as well as where to go from there.
How we got here, according to Andrew Callaghan
So how did things get to where they are? This answer really can’t be found in any specific lane, but rather how a multitude of platforms and resources bounce off each other. For starters, Callaghan was very vocal in citing the 24-hour news cycle as a catalyst for the seemingly heightened polarization seen in our nation’s past decade, even going so far as to criticize CNN on its own program, at the great dismay of Don. Lemon. Callaghan had this to say when asked about the film’s inspiration and content:
The movie isn’t just about the Capitol riot and all that stuff, it’s kind of about, like, the echo chambers of the media, you know what I mean? And like, the dangers of the, uh, 24-hour news cycle, and how mainstream media like Fox and even CNN compete for opinions by running constant, 24-hour news cycles based on fear, division, outrage and panic, probably to sell ads.
It was a hard-hitting punch that, when delivered on national television, was met with awkward dislike from the big guns in those studio offices. Throughout This Place Rules, this quote above can be seen fleshed out with cheeky editing as well as simply interviewing the biggest supporters of these news stations. This is mainly seen in the disparity between the descriptors used by news anchors and the actual temperament of the participants in these demonstrations. It was verbiage that was sure to draw conclusions about militant strength and a lust for violence on both sides. Remember, these stations are all vying for your attention, and it looks like credibility can even be ignored to get it.
They’re not all mad here Rules
Now that the mainstream media has a grip on the political climate, where do we go now? For Callaghan, that meant venturing deeper down the conspiratorial rabbit hole, more specifically sites like QAnon and InfoWars. Rather than choosing to sting and mock those who fall into these networks, Callaghan’s methods are much more inquisitive about the hows and whys of people’s affinity around this type of conspiracy. The panic and outrage of a global pandemic, coupled with plenty of new free time for everyone thanks to lockdowns, could cause anyone to find meaning in the madness.
What Callaghan found was a fairly succinct correlation between those who adhere to the savage conspiracy ideology and financial status, as well as the ability to even have time to dedicate your life to bringing down the Vatican (which is secretly run by reptilian lords from another planet, according to the “Q family” interviewed in This Place Rules). Unlike the interviews outside the rallies in Washington DC, most interviewees focused on much more immediate and tangible concerns. The news may be more accessible than ever, but for most people, the worry only has time to focus on what’s right in front of it.
Alex Jones, Enrique Tarrio and the Panic Profiteers
With so many now relying on these fringe sites as democratic gospel, let’s look at those who organize and perpetuate this kind of thinking en masse. Alex Jones of the conspiracy-based web show InfoWars and far-right coalition chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio of the Proud Boys were interviewed and followed in depth for This Place Rules. Again, Callaghan manages to contrast these isolated interactions with the characters these men portray so regularly and for so many on camera.
Whether it’s using specific verbiage, using the soapbox for personal gain, or even calling their audience downright stupid, it’s clear how much these men have taken advantage of impressionable people under the guise of of free thought, and Callaghan exposes and explores all of this. with curiosity.
Tarrio tells us he’s selling Joe Biden’s campaign merchandise as a sort of second income, while denying belief in ‘Back the Blue’ and other far-right slogans seen so regularly over the past cycle. electoral. Alex Jones spends a good fifth of his time selling products meant to protect (or help eliminate) a threat whose origins began behind a fringe bulletin board, as well as vehemently denying any influence he might have had. on the storming of the Capitol, after its failure was confirmed.
Democracy and the dollar
While interviewing Tarrio and Jones, Callaghan reveals that democracy still takes a stabbing blow from the greatest corruptor: money. These rules of place ultimately come down to how institutions and people give up ethics and integrity in the name of the mighty dollar, and for pretty good reason. Whether it’s Tucker Carlson addressing left-wing activist groups simply as ‘Joe Biden voters’ between Burger King commercials, or Alex Jones using way too much of his on-air time to trying to get you to buy a testosterone supplement, it’s clear that political agendas have gotten their priorities mixed up somewhere between the messenger and his recipients.
This, coupled with the incredible ability of the internet to assign credibility based solely on its digital status or the number of clicks it has garnered, can lead to some pretty questionable narratives and narratives. Callaghan repeatedly takes note of this throughout, confirming who really deserves the blame.
Does this place really rule?
As you can see, Callaghan’s feature debut isn’t just about the shocking day of January 6th. Callaghan’s primary aim is to highlight the intense relationship that media (including entertainment) has with democracy. For all intents and purposes, the internet age could simultaneously be considered the niche age. You see it in the online fanbases of sports teams, movie franchises, and (unfortunately) also in politics. The ability to lock yourself into a corner of an online community willing to tell someone whatever they want to hear is easier than ever.
It’s a scary thought to sit with, but one that Callaghan doesn’t spend too much time demonizing its participants on. Most of its content tries to keep the light energetic through the display of these theorists and their ridiculous claims, but this film almost provides some semblance of sympathy or understanding for those who have dedicated their lives to “stopping theft”. in what was thought to be resistance to tyranny.
Callaghan’s finding of blame is more focused on individuals who saw these impressionable, desperately searching people for meaning as a way to climb the ladder by any means necessary. It is truly a stark look at the state of American democracy and the ease with which the dollar can influence its notions, but one that cries out for rationalism to make a return to political discourse. People may be crazy and the news may tell you otherwise, but this place truly rules.