The movie Citizen Kane by Orson Welles is a story about a man and his rise and fall within the newspaper industry. Charles Kane, played by Orson Welles, inherits a vast fortune as a young man and uses those funds to purchase a newspaper in the early 1900s. While the film mainly focuses on the actions of Charles Kane, its storyline can be used to teach a lesson in hedonism and eudaemonia.
Hedonism is defined by Merriam Webster as “happiness is the sole or chief good in life,” or also as the desire and search of endless love. Eudaemonia can be defined as the pursuit to “achieve the most happiest goals in life” based on a moral or ethical approach. Given these definitions, we can apply them to the film Citizen Kane and search for examples of each throughout.
Roughly 25 minutes into the film is a good example of eudaemonia. Charles Kane is having a conversation with his financial adviser Mr. Thatcher about his role as a publisher of the fictional New York Inquirer. When first viewing this scene, one may pick up on the obvious hints of hedonism when Kane jokes to a colleague that he can “provide prose” and Kane will “provide the war”—a reference to the yellow journalism of the early 1900s that essentially advocated and forced American into the Spanish-American War in the Caribbean and the Philippines. However, this scene continues and Kane goes on to take very moral stance when he is discussing his role as the publisher of the newspaper. He says, “I am the publisher of the Inquirer… and I’ll see to that the working people of this community aren’t robbed by a pack of money mad pirates.”
This quote from the movie is very important to consider within the context of journalism because it is essentially saying that the role of a newspaper—or in our modern context a news producing content delivery machine (i.e. print, audio, video, digital, etc.)—is to give a voice to the voiceless and to stand in solidarity with the marginalized groups of society. This very thought is held by some of the current moral compasses of the journalism world such as Democracy Now! and The Intercept.
Though numerous and spread throughout, one example of hedonism in the film takes place around 36 minutes in. During this scene Charles Kane is having a conversation with his Editor-in-chief Mr. Carter about headlines on the front page of the newspaper. Kane is questioning Carter as to why the Inquirer does not have a three-column headline in the paper when the Chronicle does. Carter essentially explains that there is nothing noteworthy enough to warrant such an action when Kane responds with, “If the headline is big enough it makes the news big enough.”
This example can fall into the realm of hedonism because it is an action without merit that brings about a positive reaction in the content creators. By using a headline or a news story as a way to mislead readers to drive up profits feels good in the short term, but discredits the quality of the newspaper. It is essentially reduced to a “scandal sheet,” a fear that Mr. Carter elicits to Kane.
A real life example of this can be seen in some of the baseless reporting of the whole Russiagate scandal that dominated the mainstream television news outlets for the better part of the past two years. Rachel Maddow was one of the driving forces of this narrative and when no collusion between President Trump and the Russian government was announced, she told her viewers to wait for the Mueller Report. When the Mueller Report was released and strengthen the fact of no collusion, she told her viewers to wait until Mueller testified. When Mueller testified and said there was no collusion, she told her viewers to look at possible obstruction of justice. While it may be true that President Trump violated the law and obstructed justice, the core of Maddow’s reporting hinged upon collusion with the Russian government and when that did not bear out, she out of desperation reached to whatever she could to keep those audience numbers up.