Thursday, April 17, 2008


Our youth pastor has been getting promotional info on Ben Stein's Expelled (his new documentary that attempts to show how modern science is acting like a religion in its dogmatic dismissal of Intelligent Design), and whenever a big movie starts targeting churches like that, I get the heebiejeebies.

Before I continue, let me say that I think there is some truth to Stein's claim. I think if scientists did a bit more history homework they'd realize that the church isn't always the ones responsibile for dogmatic support of one side of issues. Science has been guilty of this as well (see the current debate of Neodarwinism vs. Punctuated Equilibrium or the old debate between Edison vs. Tesla, etc.). Nonetheless, just because Stein may have something to this claim, its presentation and the way he's marketing the film give me pause.

Whatever we may think about the movie itself, Mel Gibson employed the same strategy of appealing to churches with The Passion of the Christ to lucrative effect. He made 1000% profit off that film. I'm not necessarily questioning his motives, but the question is-if you market yourself to the choir, what is your aim? Education or ensuring you have an audience? It's a good business move, but is it really a good meanse of raising awareness?

I have not seen a recent "issue" documentary, from Jesus Camp to Inconvenient Truth to even one of the most entertaining films of last year-the King of Kong-that has not succumbed to misrepresentation and manipulation to prove points (except Paper Clips and a very unknown film Dear Francis).

You'd think it would be harder to lie with video than with words in a book, but that is rapidly being proven false. Since Michael Moore purposefully and willfully misrepresented events, people and chronologies in Bowling For Columbine in order to convey his point (whatever it was), so many directors have taken to the documentary as the perfect medium to make money and raise awareness FOR THEIR CAREERS instead of the subject matter they supposedly feel so passionately about.

I actually want to make a documentary myself. I want to call it Schlockumentary: The Art of Using the Truth to Tell Lies.
My aim would be to attack this recent spate of documentaries that have turned the genre into one-sided diatribes that have no honest intent to arrive at truth. Their goal is to be entertaining and to be watched, consequences to fact and truth be damned.

Now it may seem hypocritical for me to talk about making a documentary after decrying it as a medium, but in substance the medium itself is fine when it is not manipulated to meet the expectations of your target audience and molded into a nice Arisotelian plot arc even when the subject takes a dramatic down- turn in real life.

Anyway-Expelled seems to me to be the same animal. I predict that it will only muddy the already murky waters of honest debate over evolution even more. There's good information out there to be had (see Talk Origins for the evolution side, and listen to local Pastor Nic Gibson's phenomenal analysis from a Christian perspective -Click on the two talks on evolution and biblical authority links), and if people want to honestly debate it, maybe we could get somewhere. But I feel that movies like this merely make the dividing lines more pronounced, and even people who know better end up succumbing to name-calling and diatribe as a result.


stephen said...

I always enjoy reading your thoughts & opinions on media, makes me miss the old days. Anyway, I won't get into Stein with you, seems like there's more underneath that surface...but I read up more in the meantime between our last message & your blog posting. It made me squirm to discover that he apparently links evolution/darwinism with Hitler & the Holocaust...the ultimate groan-inducer in both online and offline debates.

And is it just me, or does it seem like the American/Evangelical/Cultural/Christianity/whatever has taken a step (up or down?)...going from producing crappy films, to better looking films & documentaries, only lacking in the actual storytelling or "meat" behind the arguments, when it's really possible to do so, humbly & respectfully. The gospel in and of itself (ontologically!) doesn't need our help drawing lines and pissing people off, but we constantly have to be given the imagery that we're in this major war, and have to be ready to fight at all times, who cares if we're using the wrong weapons, as long as we get some puppet master's agenda across.

Maybe Benjamin Linus is the head of the Evangelical Empire.

brianmetz said...

While I agree with your assessment of Schlockumentaries. Expelled is boring in the front end with some weird editing - prob from Ben Stein's humor. I think that the second half with Richard Dawkins' interview is really great. Stein pushes Dawkins to admit (actually willingly) that Worldview determines what one embraces as science.
And Hitler's Darwinian views on Origins doesn't necessitate the Holocaust but it definitely lent to it. It is fact that the German scientist even before Hitler were leading the way in Eugenics. Basically breeding for humans. While Darwinian Origin Theory and Evolution was not the ultimate fuel for Nazi racism it was a documented (Mein Kampf)accelerate.