Oliver Stone is Hollywood’s leading director when it comes to dramatizing conspiracy theories, but in Snowden, he’s given a reality that resembles a conspiracy theorist’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, the reality of Edward Snowden — the man — makes for lousy entertainment, but the importance of Snowden should not get lost in the malaise of keystrokes and and computer screens depicted in Stone’s film. History will look back on whistleblower Edward Snowden and treat him as a hero. History will have no memory of this biopic.
In 2013, Edward Snowden risked his job, his relationship with girlfriend Lindsay Mills, and his life by leaking confidential documents to the press that confirmed what many tin-foil hatters already believed: That the United States government was monitoring the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans, listening in on our phone conversations, watching us through our laptop cameras, and collecting data on our web searches.
The power of the government to invade our privacy should have scared the living sh*t out of us, but we mostly confronted this information with a shrug. We’d long given up our right to privacy to Mark Zuckerberg, so what if the NSA was listening in on our phone conversations if it means keeping us secure? If it means maintaining the superiority of the United States of America?
The real problem as I see it is not what President Obama — who is as culpable as anyone here, and should be held accountable for not discontinuing the NSA’s mass phone data collection program until last year — might do with the power to inspect the contents of my cloud, but what a man like Donald Trump might do with that power (or anyone like Donald Trump). It’s not just our personal information, either: It’s the ability of a President to snoop into our lives, to collect secrets and hold it as leverage over members of the press, other world leaders, or anyone who might hold an opposing opinion, journalists and political rivals, alike.
That should not be underplayed. We should not take that threat lightly. Indeed, Donald Trump’s campaign had yet another journalist arrested this weekend for no apparent cause. Imagine what he could do with the tools of the NSA, CIA, and FBI at his disposal. The terrorists shouldn’t be afraid. We should be afraid.
It’s terrifying, and these capabilities haven’t disappeared simply because Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA. It takes one terrorist attack and the stroke of a pen to hand those powers right back to the government, and if there’s anything that Snowden is successful at, it’s in displaying how vast and absolute those powers are. A President with little appreciation for the Constitution could shut down anyone who spoke against the government. Our media would be neutered; our freedom of speech chilled; and even the most nominal privacy rights rendered nonexistent. A woman or a man who rules by fear could crush our democracy with a series of Boolean searches.
It’s important we know this. It’s important we understand this. It’s important — at least from my perspective — that Edward Snowden be recognized for outing these secrets, because the cover of media may be the only weapon we have against these powers. Under a Trump administration, not even the Fourth Estate may be able to protect us.
It’s not important, however, to watch Snowden. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fine in the movie (terrible voice notwithstanding), and to the extent that Snowden is humanized in the film, it’s because we hold JGL in high regard (Shailene Woodley, playing his girlfriend Lindsay Mills, is also more than adequate in the role). There’s not much drama in Snowden, and what there is tends to be preposterously contrived.
What’s not contrived, however, is the threat posed by the unchecked powers of our own government. What’s even more dangerous is the idea of a man using those unchecked powers in pursuit not of just potential terrorists, but anyone who speaks against him. Imagine a country where Fox News and Breitbart are not just the main sources of information, but the only sources. If that doesn’t scare the hell out of you, I don’t know what will.
A story about Obama, illustrated with a picture of a gorilla. From an outlet run by the GOP nominee’s campaign CEO. pic.twitter.com/P4oYLHGCUt— Ana Marie Cox (@anamariecox) September 16, 2016