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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

‘Expelled’ as a cultural artifact

I’ve closed comments on my review of the creationist propaganda film Expelled. And yes, I use that term — creationist propaganda film — quite deliberately. I’d hoped the discussion about the film and my review would be about, you know, the film and the issues it raises about how science and fact are warped in our culture for political purposes, or about how we can counter such propaganda… anything other than the usual clueless misunderstanding from those who don’t understand science and requests to read the Bible followed by basic lessons in Evolution 101 by well-meaning readers who nevertheless might as well be banging their heads against their desks, for all the good they’re doing.
I’m pretty stunned too, though I shouldn’t be, by the commenters in the thread and by others around the Web who don’t like my review (I won’t link to them — there’s no point) who wonder why I don’t just stick to being a film critic and talking about production values and lighting and the like, as if movies exist in a vacuum beyond which they have no impact, and beyond which nothing legitimate can be said… as if what movies have to say is not as important as how slickly they say it. To them I say, Bullshit. It has always been the underlying thesis of my film criticism that there is not such thing as “just a movie,” that movies are important because of what they say about us as a larger culture and how they speak to us both as individuals and as members of that larger culture. If movies had no connection to anything beyond their own small selves, why would we even bother with them?

And then, as it concerns Expelled, sometimes there are things are that simply, factually wrong: this movie is a big honking example of outright lies that cannot be allowed to speak for themselves without the truth pushing back — if any movie was not “just a movie,” it’s this one. If that means I get emails from clueless idiots calling me a “liberal facist,” then so be it — I guess it really is true that reality has a liberal bias. I take it far more to heart when, say, Steve Mirsky, an editor and columnist at Scientific American and the host of its weekly podcast, emails me to say “Great job on the Expelled review,” as he did late last week.

SciAm has a great roundup of reactions to Expelled, by the way, and it’s worth mentioning again the site Expelled Exposed, which I linked to last week and was also mentioned in comments thread following my review of the film. And there’s also NewScientist: Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions, which doesn’t mention Exposed at all but, since it was just posted last week, does appear to be a reaction to the film.

We’ll try again to get a substantive discussion of the film going here, but be warned: this thread is NOT for debating the merits of evolution or religion. Quotations from the Bible will be deleted, for example… as will definitions of the scientific usage of the word theory. The assumption here will be that evolution as science is settled — since, you know, it is — but that facts are being warped by people who know better for their own purposes. It’s for discussing the film as a cultural artifact in that context.

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