Duration: 1 hour – 2 hours.

Objective: To explore the legal and psychological concept of ‘Willful Blindness’, i.e…

“a term used in law to describe a situation in which a person seeks to avoid civil or criminal liability for a wrongful act by intentionally keeping himself or herself unaware of facts that would render him or her liable… Although the term was originally – and still is – used in legal contexts, the phrase “willful ignorance” has come to mean any situation in which people intentionally send their attention away from an ethical problem that is believed to be important by those using the phrase – either because the problem is too disturbing for people to want it dominating their thoughts, or from the knowledge that solving the problem would require extensive effort.”

 – Wikipedia


The concept of willful blindness will be explored in relation to mass media; to determine what are the factors which can bring about collective willful blindness, as was evidenced in the rise of Nazi Germany, and to speculate if mass media serves a role in combating and/or further propagating collective ignorance. Ultimately, the spectator has to leave this episode asking themselves: “What is my point-of-view not seeing?”

Focus: The primary media content of analysis will be Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will and Charlie Chaplin’s Nazi parody The Great Dictator, as they are essentially polar opposites of the same set of circumstances surrounding the allure of Adolf Hitler to the people of Germany. A close reading and analysis of each film text will be collaboratively constructed in relation to larger mass media, cultural, historical and psychological relevancies and media text references in order to expand the scope of the discussion beyond the tunnel vision of film analysis – precisely the type of tunnel vision which very easily leads to the propagation of further willful blindness, this will in turn form a key component of the episode’s conclusion.

Format: Factual documentary analysis using a combination of my linking voiceover narration and contributions from a range of interviewed guests (not just film-centrics); as well as excerpts from other related media texts to further expand the scope, validity and reliability of the discussion.


Pre-Intro segment – don’t know yet.

Podcast Intro (45 seconds) – Cave of the 8-bit Binary Organ theme music as combined with excerpts from other media texts to create a summative overview of what is the Breaking Cinema podcast.

Main body – The analysis of Triumph of the Will and The Great Dictator will form the spine of the main body of the episode and all the other relevant points of mass media, culture, history and psychology will sprout from this spine. Beyond this, I do not yet know the structure of the main body in regards to the other non-film-centric contributors and in regards to the inclusion of other relevant media content references. However, this is why I am going to begin the construction of this episode with the recording of the collaborative reading of Triumph of the Will and The Great Dictator… and then use that as a base for the recording and construction of the additional elements and elaborations. The topic of constructing this episode will then be touched upon within the episode itself in order to lead us nicely into the conclusion.

Conclusion – Ultimately, in addition to exploring the topic of willful blindness within the content of the episode, the entirety of the episode itself will serve as an experiment in how easily a piece of media content, such as a podcast episode, can weave together a very seductive and convincing, but heavily biased – i.e. wilfully blind – piece of argumentation – this will be the topic of the conclusion. I am of course referring to my role as the “dictator” of the Breaking Cinema project and my heavily biased stance against willful blindness and its propagation, as would have been firmly established in Episode 1: My First Education. As would also have been established in Episode 1: My First Education, Breaking Cinema is about point-of-view and point-of-view is essentially just another name for willful blindness, because it is always impossible for a single point-of-view to be aware of ALL the facts and figures of reality. However, a world of difference occurs in variances – the level of willful blindness varies from one point-of-view to the next – and, in this sense, someone can be more wilfully blind than another. Additionally, there is another world of difference between willful blindness induced by the unconscious mind and willful blindness intentionally induced by a person’s conscious reasoning (this is where the legal concept of willful blindness comes into play). However, willful blindness is not something you can ever eliminate 100% from a human being’s point-of-view – the sanity of our psychologies rely on some degree of willful blindness being present. And this is precisely what the episode’s conclusion will explore in relation to my point-of-view, the subject of willful blindness, my strong prejudice against it and how I have presented the entirety of this argument in my point-of-view’s construction of the episode… and, by extension, how a human being goes about justifying their “individual” point-of-view, which will be continued further in Episode 3: Pride and Prejudice and Smartphone Zombies.

Podcast Outro – a: “Thank you for listening to Breaking Cinema, like the Facebook page, leave a review on iTunes, etc.” message will play over the outro music.

Next Time on Breaking Cinema – a short teaser of the next episode.


Additional Notes:

  • Contributors – There will be a range of contributors with different aptitude focuses on this episode, not just film-centrics. I am currently looking into potential contributors who would be good fits to cover the other cultural, historical and psychological relevancies of this topic. This is the reason for why this episode will not utilise a single sit-down discussion format, as breaking up and recording contributors individually and/or in small groups allows me to start recording this episode while still seeking additional contributors to fill in the blanks later on.
  • For copyright queries on media content inclusion, see the Pulling Teeth & Breaking Blindness overview document.


Media content to be referenced and included:


Triumph of the Will, documentary, 1935

The Great Dictator, film, 1940

The Tramp and the Dictator, documentary, 2002

Margaret Heffernan: The dangers of “Willful blindness”, TED Talk, 2013

Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, book, 2012

Born Liars: Why We Can’t Live Without Deceit, book, 2012

The Liar in Your Life: The Way to Truthful Relationships, book, 2009

The Organised Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, book, 2014

Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind, book, 2012

Charlie: The Life and Art of Charlie Chaplin, documentary, 2003

The Nuremberg Trials, documentary, 1947

The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, documentary, 1993

Adolf Hitler: The Greatest Story Never Told, documentary, 2013

More to be determined…


Original outline for the Triumph of the Willful Blindness and its Great Dictator:

Speculative rough guiding points…

  • The overriding concept is willful blindness
  • The focus is on Triumph of the Will, as it is a great big advertisement to buy into the Nazi’s willful blindness. However, the focus is also on the exact reverse of Triumph: Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, a highly impassioned proclamation not to buy into the Nazi bullshit.
  • The Tramp and the Dictator – 1-hour documentary – ESSENTIAL viewing (switch the YouTube subtitles on).
    • It touches on the role Triumph of the Will played in the glorification of Nazism and the initiation of WW2.
    • It documentary nicely sums up the message and essence of the The Great Dictator.
    • It provides an ESSENTIAL overview of the rise of Nazism, the initiation of WW2 and juxtapositioning Hitler and Chaplin’s parallels and motivations.
  • Triumph and Dictator – two ends of the same spectrum.
  • In addition to Triumph and Dictator, the exploration is through the mass innovation and re-thinking at the beginning of the 20th Century, World War One’s role in the formation of Nazi Germany, a brief consideration of German cinema’s – German Expressionism, Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, etc. – meditation on (and a warning) of the growing unease and the eventual political transition/Nazi willful blindness throughout the 1920s and 30s.
  • The conclusion is the role films in general play in propagating willful blindness, BUT how they can also be used to nurture critical thinking to counter it AND, ultimately, why intelligent, open- minded and critical cinema is still hugely important in today’s digital world of distractions and absorptions and consumerist willful blindness left, right and centre. I would argue that cinema is even more so important today because of societies heavy reliance on quick fixes to take all multitudes of pain away, until those problems very quickly arise again…


Elaboration on topic points and where I am going with this topic

“Willful Blindness: you are responsible if you could have known, and should have known, something which instead you strove not to see.” – Heffernan, 2012:1, ‘Wilful Blindness’

So you guys might have caught onto the fact that I am not a huge fan of bullshit or of using excuses to avoid doing things that frighten you or which would greatly benefit your well-being and the well-being of those around you.

“Embedded within our self-definition, we build relationships, institutions, cities, systems and cultures that, in reaffirming our values, blind us to alternatives [otherwise known as cognitive biases]. This is where our willful blindness originates: in the innate human desire for familiarity, for likeness, that is fundamental to the ways our minds work.” – Heffernan, 2012:8

There are a lot of problems in the world at the moment: poverty, economic inequality, Disney, climate change, animal suffering, obesity related diseases, war, domestic abuse, cancer and Michael Bay.

However, as far as I am concerned all of the solutions being implemented to solve these problems are only temporary fixes. They are temporary fixes because human beings have an inherently good habit of relapsing, telling themselves everything is all fine and then not actually doing anything in the long-term to ensure that everything does actually turn out to be fine, outside of their comfy willful blindness.

“The truth is – this is a human problem.” Heffernan – see the video.

As far as I am concerned willful blindness is the single biggest threat facing the human race and until it is completely stamped out, the human race will keep relapsing, keep ignoring the ills of the world and keep deluding itself into an early grave.

The REALLY annoying thing is that willful blindness is actually a hugely simple problem to solve – it’s a little thing called Critical Thinking.

You ensure that every education system on the planet teaches critical thinking to children from day 1 and that every education system has it set as the number 1 priority to produce world citizens who have an intuitive ability to constantly question big and small judgements… there will not be a single problem the human race will not be able to solve.


Because the human race will not ignore the problem or invent a ‘solution’ to ‘temporarily’ (let’s not kid ourselves) cover it up, while the problem grows and poisons like a cancer.

Whether acted out in big or small decisions willful blindness is a hugely worrying state of being.

And nowhere was incompetence more apparent than in the perversely distorted will of Nazism – Hitler connived an entire nation to follow in his willful blindness.

“This is how wilful blindness begins, not in conscious, deliberate choices to be blind, but in a skein of decisions that slowly but surely restrict our view. We don’t sense our perspective closing in and most would prefer that it stay broad and rich. But our blindness grows out of the small, daily decisions that we make, which embed us more snugly inside our affirming thoughts and values. And what’s more frightening about this process is that, as we see less and less, we feel more comfort and greater certainty. We think we see more – even as the landscape shrinks.” Heffernan, 2012: 27

One of my reasons for starting this podcast is that I have had enough of all the bone-idled bullshit complacency in the world (and in cinema and the education of film)… and I think you might start to see how this topic is carries over and continues in the ‘Interstellar’ ep I want to do.

“We used to look up at the stars and wonder. Now all we do is stare down at our place in the dirt and worry.”

Or not worry enough…

Margaret Heffernan: The dangers of “Willful blindness” – ESSENTIAL viewing

This article may also be of interest: The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational