On Propagandists

Bene Diction has a longish post on the mess over Ben Stein’s new movie, Expelled and the controversial screening which saw biologist P.Z. Myers tossed out (though Richard Dawkins was let in!). It appears that the producer of Expelled is a bit of an interesting case himself, says Bene D:

“Expelled producer Mark Mathis, a former broadcaster and owner of Mathis Media (check out his client list!) is willing to lie, play people for fools, play the fool, spin, trash and do whatever he needs to do to get this movie into the public spotlight and get this paid for. He is quite open about his rules of engagement.”

Go read the original post, it expounds much more on this aspect of Mathis. I know that if these are his rules of engagement, then Mathis certainly fits into an established mold as a documentarian-propagandist unafraid to let boring facts ruin compelling footage, a good score and an authoritative narrator’s baritone voice. In this he goes along with the likes of Aaron Russo who claimed Americans don’t have to pay income tax, or the people who say that the same group who botched Iraq so badly somehow carried off 9/11 as a top-secret inside job.

As an aside, this is not to say that documentaries are awful things, there are some rather good ones out there. It’s just that film (or, more likely, DVD) is an excellent format in which to propagandize people. The pictures, the music, everything moves you along to the inevitable conclusions that the filmmakers have laid out carefully from the first pre-production meeting to the final cut.

What’s more frustrating is that documentaries often do not need to resort to the sorts of hysterics that have become their hallmarks. As an example, the premise of, say, Fahrenheit 911 (that the war in Iraq was driven by misinformation peddled by powerful interests – with horrific consequences) is perfectly defensible without resorting to Michael Moore’s level of theatrics.

What is troubling about a film like Expelled is that it is so clearly aimed at a Christian audience. It’s no secret that the producers are courting faith-based private schools, home-schoolers, and others who they figure are sympathetic to the film’s message. What kind of reputation will Christians get for buying into something that’s been produced by people who quite openly admit that they are propagandists and who filmed many of their subjects under false pretenses? I suppose for someone like Mathis, this all just the same as business and politics, or maybe it’s okay because everyone does it. That troubles me.