Friday, June 02, 2006

"Liberal" Movies in the Culture Wars

It has been well documented that so-called "conservatives" (who no longer fit any traditional definition of "conservative," as they seek to radically alter society rather than "conserve" it) are much better than so-called "liberals" at propaganda. But, ever since Michael Moore's landmark 1989 film Roger and Me, "liberals" have been catching up. We now have our own cottage industry of books, movies, and television and radio programs designed to tell the untold stories.

I don't have the time or energy to do an in-depth analysis of this trend here, but, lucky you, I don't have to. Check out this article from the Christian Science Monitor. While not quite as in depth as I would like, it is a pretty good look at the new(ish) genre, "docu-ganda" films.


Amy said...

I actually read that right before I headed over to your blog. It was interesting - I think my only concern by saying their not really "documentaries" is then the automatically become fiction, as that is the only current non-fiction movie category...

Anyway, did you see this article in Rolling Stone. All I can say right now is "HOLY $#!+"

Sandalstraps said...


I'm reading the Rolling Stone piece as soon as I finish typing this.

I share your concern, and want to add to it another one: The "mainstream" (for lack of a better term at the moment) view of documentary filmaking rests on a dangerous assumption often made by the news media: that is, that every story has two equal and opposite sides. This assumption is false in at least two respects:

1. There are often many more than two sides to a story, and

2. The sides are rarely equal.

The best critique of this was in the outstanding film Goodnight, and Good Luck, in which it was clear that McCarthyism did not merit such a "balanced" treatment, but, in fact, needed to be roundly and unequivocally condemned.

While some of my favorite "docu-ganda" films (including and especially anything by Michael Moore!) are unbalanced and often unfair, they do ring out in the sort of morally prophetic voice which has been missing from the "mainstream" media. But, the lack of balance does have a serious downside: the occaisional loss of the moral high ground.

Conservatives have been using their propoganda machinery for years, dominating the national discussion on social issues and demonizing their opponents with little or no conscience. Perhaps the best example of this is the career of Rus Limbaugh. But, with the rise of Michael Moore and his ilk we "liberals" forfeit the right to claim this mode of discourse is unfair.

As Ellen Goodman once said, "Micheal Moore is the liberal Rush Limbaugh, but I have to ask, do we liberals really want our own Rush Limbaugh?"

I can't answer that question. On the one hand, we are finally fighting back. On the other hand, in our fight we are using weapons which for idealogical reasons we have often condemned.

Brian Cubbage said...

I need to read both of those articles, and until I do, I won't offer detailed comments. One thing, though, about documentaries' tendency to reduce debates to two "sides" is that doing so makes it easier to use disagreement as a tool of socialization. Having, say, three sides, or four, makes it more difficult to figure out who is on whose side. If (as often happens) everyone in the debate actually holds all the same principles but disagree over (a) how to interpret the principles, or (b) how to prioritize them in application to practice, it's impossible; everyone is in principle on the same "side."

If you have a binary opposition between two "sides," though, it's easier to figure out who belongs where, who you can depend on and who you can't, who's within the charmed circle and who's without. If you feel under threat by your ideological enemies (as liberals currently do), or your ideology trades in binary oppositions in the first place (as does that of the neo/theo/Bushcons), "us vs. them" is both a source of comfort and a useful way of organizing the world.

I have nothing to say in praise of this way of thinking and acting. I can say, however, and you would agree, that it knows no single ideological affiliation. Hell, the political blogosphere is a laboratory for mass ideological socialization! There's the constant obsession with who's in and who's out of the fold; the refusal to allow an outsider in unless s/he demonstrates total loyalty; and violent reactions against the pollutive effect of outsiders' intrusions. I've grown to hate the Huffington Post for this reason; there, religious belief, especially Christian belief, is a pollution from the outside that must be expunged by violent ritual as soon as it appears.

I don't know what to do about the problems binary thinking of this sort creates. I do know, though, that it's very deeply ingrained. I also know it's why third-party movements in America are more or less doomed to failure; the binary opposition between Democrats and Republicans organizes loyalties and governmental energies far more than multi-party parliamentary systems do. (Of course, many parliamentary systems actually do things for the public!!!!!)

Arrgh. Enough ranting. Off to the library for another day of poring through Ronald Reagan's and George H.W. Bush's public papers. (Don't ask.)

Sandalstraps said...


But I want to ask... really I do... (whining)

Brian Cubbage said...

I will tell all soon in a post on my own blog, "Lost on Twin Earth" (

How's that for blatant self-promotion?

Sandalstraps said...

Pretty good. You got me interested, anyway. Nice tease.

Brian Cubbage said...

No more teasin'. The post is there now. It's long. Enjoy.