Free Kathryn Bigelow!

Is there any kind of person on Earth more ostentatiously clueless than the free speech purist? Here’s a recent letter in the New York Times written by former ACLU director Norman Siegel and Saralee Evans, a former acting judge of the New York Supreme Court:

The controversy over the film “Zero Dark Thirty” is troubling (“Hollywood Makes Case for ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ ” news article, Jan. 20).

Senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain’s criticism of the film because of its depiction of the efficacy of torture and their request for Sony Pictures to alter the film’s content smacks of government censorship. History, in particular the 1950s McCarthy period, demonstrates that government officials should not use their official status and power to try to censor citizens’ private political viewpoints.

We, as a country committed to open and robust freedom of expression, should have learned that the concept of an open marketplace of ideas means that we allow all viewpoints to be expressed in the belief that the good ideas defeat the bad ideas. We have learned that censoring ideas that some find offensive, inappropriate or wrong-minded is antithetical to democratic principles.

The better course would be to encourage all citizens to see “Zero Dark Thirty” and to encourage them to make their own decisions about the validity of the film, including the scenes involving torture.

Oh mercy me, no. Congress mustn’t interfere, via polite letters, with the free artistic expression of CIA operatives and their Hollywood collaborators. How else but through manipulative, formulaic films with scrappy CIA heroines can we, as a society, determine whether torture and extrajudicial killing are good or really good? Who will mildly chagrined Congress people write letters to next: Bond rating agencies that freely expressed inflated ratings? Large cable companies exercising their first amendment right to monopolize programming? Groups that robustly challenge our society’s stodgy conventions around death and funerals? The mind reels!

No. Let the marketplace of ideas choose, lest we go the way of authoritarian regimes where people with controversial opinions are denied the right to assemble,  put in cages, assaulted by police, jailed, and even murdered!

Related Reading

A Radical Look at Free Speech

On The Authoritarian Asshole Erik Loomis’s Free Speech Problems

A Real Shill: The Nation’s Ari Melber

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23 Responses to Free Kathryn Bigelow!

  1. Wow. I missed that letter. I love this: “The better course would be to encourage all citizens to see “Zero Dark Thirty” and to encourage them to make their own decisions about the validity of the film, including the scenes involving torture.”

    Everybody go see ZD30. At $12 a ticket, that will really show Bigelow!

    • ohtarzie says:

      Yeah, it’s adorable. The country has no more pressing matter than the validity of ZDT. Oscars will be here before we know it! The whole thing is just so lovably clueless, especially the obligatory genuflecting to the country’s uncompromising commitment to free expression.

    • Walter says:

      You jest, but this part of the ACLU’s thinking points to the pernicious effect of free speech purism – encouraging the spread of bad ideas like this leads to lots of people adopting the bad ideas.

      I walked into ZDT with an open mind and walked out a slightly shittier person for it. It’s not a particularly good or well-made movie, but it heavily leverages the (at minimum) curiosity we all felt about OBL during the post-9/11 years and escalates it to monomaniacal obsession. Sitting through the film, knowing rationally what it was doing didn’t stop it from working on me.

      In encouraging people to see the film, the ACLU probably thinks it’s innocently promoting engagement in the torture “debate,” but we all know that’s a red herring. ZDT is about giving the national security apparatus an appealing human face and normalizing the tactics of the war on terror (surveillance, murder, torture, etc), a goal that is forwarded with every person who sees the film.

    • Walter says:

      Also, in what fucking universe is having government officials “encourage all citizens” to watch CIA propaganda “the better course” than literally any other option?

      • ohtarzie says:

        Hey Walter:

        Always great when you show up around here. I find it hard to believe that you’re a slightly shittier person for having seen ZDT, but I’ll take your word for it. I get your point, though. Encouraging people to see this trash is misleading and toxic. Tasking the government with the encouraging is a deeply weird thing for free speech enthusiasts to do. That’s a keen observation that went by me.

        Really doubt even they would say the same thing if the expression in question were disgustingly racist, misogynist or just generally gross in ways proscribed by ruling circles. (See ‘Two Girls One Cup’ and make up your own mind about scatology!) By suggesting that people see the film they endorse the idea that it’s presenting ideas and possibilities that are worth considering.

  2. I wish I was so skilled a writer that I could perfectly contrast the myth and the reality of the country’s uncompromising commitment to free expression in a single hilarious tweet, but I’m content to leave it to the more gifted:

    This guy needs to STFU. | Hedges: NDAA is ‘chilling’ the practice of journalism #p2 #tfy— Imani ABL (@AngryBlackLady) April 3, 2012

  3. Kat says:

    Hello. People still don’t get it? What is so complicated? You know, just because Biglelow is allowed to present her “artistic vision” or (the thoroughly classist and sexist) To Kill a Mockingbird survives for another day on the shelves of your public library does not in any way mean we have this thing called “free speech” in our country.

    • Kat says:

      And yes,your point– “free speech” is not a magical shield to deflect criticism of speech (although I guess you are allowed to criticize “engage in a robust debate” if you fork over your cash to Bigelow) should not be all that complicated either.

  4. Kat says:

    Sorry, I’ll stop typing after this, but the free speech debate on ZDT shows how limited the free speech debate is as it has been confined entirely to the depiction of torture and the question of whether torture was endorsed.
    I haven’t seen these questions addressed:
    If you persist in believing that the terrorist threat is as much as a threat to Americans as say, getting hurt in an auto accident can you still explain to me what exactly assassinating OBL accomplished?
    Numerous terrorist acts are depicted (I’ve read)– any depictions of US actions that radicalize “terrorists”?
    Any discussion of the other victims of OBL’s assassination? How about a discussion of the whole idea of assassination and bypassing an international court of law. The movie is after all, about “the greatest manhunt in US history”. It’s pretty clear that it endorses this, what appears to me, extralegal action.

    • ohtarzie says:

      Kat —

      Yeah, as well-intended as some of ZDT’s critics are, the focus on torture does sort of implicitly endorse the rest. In the current environment, it is almost impossible to have a discussion about anything that’s not seriously degraded in just this way.

  5. A.nihilist says:

    When formers attack.

    Their letters are always so dull.

  6. dronkmonk says:

    “…the concept of an open marketplace of ideas…”

    It’s my understanding that one of the assumptions underlying the idea of a functional “marketplace” is access to adequate accurate information. In which case, isn’t ZD30’s influence actually harmful to the marketplace of ideas?

    • ohtarzie says:

      No, silly. What’s simply needed is more speech! So what if Hollywood makes a dishonest movie with the CIA and, as a result of lavished praise and awards, millions of people go to see it. Glenn Greenwald and a handful of others can condemn it in articles that almost no one reads. It totally evens out.

  7. d.mantis says:

    Every single action movie that has been produced in the last 30 years has depicted some sort of torture. Christ, in the popular “Taken” the lead character not only successfully acquires information from torture, but kills the tortured anyway.

    Nevertheless, I find it fucking hilarious that the “marketplace of ideas” would be concerned with a common hollywood trope rather than the fact that the movie is a 2 hour long apologia for our nations standard operating procedure of ‘killing violent assholes”. Of course, we now can replace ‘violent’ with ‘merely dissagreeable to our way of thinking’, but I digress.

    On a cinematic level, why pay $12 for a 2 hour long description of the “intelligence industry” pissing millions (if not billions) away to hunt for a guy who ended up being in a basement surrounded by porn? This is the most dangerous fucker on the face of the planet….seriously?

  8. babydingo says:

    Not to go all conspiracy theorist or anything, but it’s at least worth mentioning the possibility that Feinstein and co. sent that letter to Sony when they did as a way of drumming up more media attention on ZDT prior to opening weekend.

    The idea that these people have some strong political or personal objection to the USA torturing people is a bit laughable – they personally helped bury the mere possibility of prosecution for actual, real-life Bush era torture crimes and have fuck-all interest in exposing their continuation under Obama. Plus it goes without saying that they support the basic thrust of ZDT (i.e. GWOT propaganda) 100%.

  9. babydingo says:

    Oh, and if you haven’t seen it be sure to check out Michael Moore’s rousing defense of Bigelow ( in this context. The perfect blend of Obamaniac fanaticism and braindead identity politics.

  10. mardy says:

    If there was one thing Greenwald got right, it was to lambaste this fucking abomination. Americans are already keenly indoctrinated with the idea that they aren’t indoctrinated, so the amount of damage this propaganda reel would’ve (already has?) done is incalculable… Especially after it being further validated and with Oscars and like… With the new report coming out of congress and the CIA this week, it puts the collusion of the CIA with movie makers in stark perspective (highlighting these industry liberal’s naiveté ….or deep corruption.)

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