Friday, February 29, 2008


Ben Stein is playing at being a sort of right wing Michael Moore in Expelled, a film that whines because, in effect, people don't want their children to be taught creationism. Obviously marketed to the religious set (I like the not-so-subtle bleeding cross for the X) the film doesn't have to have a wide release to make money. It can be shown in churches and the like, and the DVD release will probably do well. The success of the Left Behind books and Passion Of Christ demonstrated the existence of a huge market for something like this.

As or the film itself, the hallmarks of modern conservatism are all there: carefully crafted propaganda that refuses to deal with the actual issues (arguing creationism is a sure loser, so they argue for "free speech" instead); casting themselves as victims of some powerful, elitist organization ("Big Science" actually sounds funny when you look at it, especially considering that "Big Science" is all but entirely owned by Big Industry, but Big Industry has Big Money Friends, and so is sacrosanct in a right wing film); and a core angry irrationality that wouldn't look twice at genuine reason if you plated it in gold and crusted it with diamonds. But they don't have to be reasonable to make this film and make money out of it -- that's the beauty of it all. They have a target audience that wants to be told certain things whether those things are true or not, that wants, as all of us do, to have its world view affirmed, and is willing to pay for it. And so this film. And there will almost certainly be more like it, made to appeal to different segments of the conservative public, more clearly defining the boundaries of their own world, a world that is 10,000 years old, a world that was created in six days, and so on.

I'm reminded of George Orwell's words to the effect that technology, far from bringing people closer together, actually puts up barriers between us. More people are made ignorant by the radio, for example, than are educated by it; I can find more palpable lies in the average issue of Time than I can verifiable truths. We're beginning to use sophisticated technology to shut our borders down; cable television is becoming a screaming contest between the deranged and the greedy; and of course, our military has become so powerful that we don't really need to talk to other peoples. All this isolates, isolates both the country from the rest of the world, and different sub-populations within the country from each other. You can talk to a devout Christian of a certain type and wonder if you grew up on the same planet, let alone in the same country, so different are the basic beliefs groups live by, and films like Expelled are going to exacerbate -- are made to exacerbate -- that situation. It isn't 1936 in this country yet, but when I look around me, I don't feel we're all that far away, either. The world Orwell was writing about eventually recovered its sanity, but only after many millions of lives were lost. We seem to be losing that sanity again, and given that the world we're in now has atomic weapons (another example of technology driving wedges between people) this recovery could be expensive indeed.