In light of our post last week on the collusion between Hollywood and Beijing, I figured that it might be worth addressing a recent critique of the film industry. Three senators, as well as a handful of Hollywood stars, have voiced objections to Zero Dark Thirty‘s depiction of torture as being a useful means of extracting the information that lead to the elimination of Osama Bin Laden. The senators, all past or present members of the Select Committee on Intelligence, admit that although the film is a work of fiction, “the people who see Zero Dark Thirty will believe the events portrayed in it are facts. The film therefore has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner…you have a social and moral obligation to get the facts right.”
Allow me to break down the argument:
1. Zero Dark Thirty is an artistic work of fiction.
2. It contains both truthful and fictional aspects.
3. The narrative thrust of the film – the elimination of bin Laden – is mostly truthful. Contributing detail – torture as a means of gathering information – is in this instance fictional, though in similar situations, truthful.
4. Theatergoers, suckered in by the truthful parts, will believe the veracity of the fictional elements, and form a negative opinion of American government.
5. This reaction warrants Sony Pictures’s emendation of the film.
I mulled over labels for a while, but eventually settled on “colossally stupid” as an appropriate description of Senators Levin, Feinstein and McCain’s argument. In their telling, American minds are so malleable that a veritable work of fiction – albeit one based on largely truthful elements – will compel viewers to leave the theater criticizing the United States government. By this logic, Spiderman might also need to be refigured, since it might leave the impression that a high schooler in red and blue Spandex, and not the NYPD, is capable of fighting crime.
The argument really seems to be threefold.
1. The senators have a problem with torture, in which case their complaint is best brought up with the CIA rather than Sony Pictures.
2. The senators are concerned about the ductile consciences of American citizens, in which case they are best-advised to pursue educational initiatives aimed at instilling cynicism and objectivity into moviegoers.
3. The senators have a problem both with torture, as well as its portrayal in theaters and impressions on Americans. I think a link to the First Amendment suffices here.
Senators Feinstein, Levin and McCain would have a better point if Zero Dark Thirty were a documentary, rather than a film “based on first-hand accounts of actual events.” But the film isn’t, and doesn’t pretend to be. And even if it were, the Senate’s ability to request changes is at best questionable and at worst, illegal.
In light of the fact, I’m soliciting donations for a “Morals for Moviegoers” fund. After all, we don’t want the kids to think that there’s an actual government agency devoted to fighting aliens, now do we?