Expelled: agitprop not even Fox News can love

You’d think if Expelled could find a receptive outlet in the mass media to promote its lies, it would be the fine folks at the Bush Administration Ministry of Propaganda. But even Roger Ailes’ network, that brought us Sean Hannity and John Gibson, let alone Bill Orally, isn’t benighted enough to swallow Ben Stein’s anti-science spooge.

What the producers of this film would love, love, love is a controversy. That’s because it’s being marketed by the same people who brought us “The Passion of the Christ.” They’re hoping someone will latch onto an anti-Semitism theme here since there’s a visit to a concentration camp and the raised idea — apparently typical of the intelligent design community — that somehow the theory of evolution is so evil that it caused the Holocaust. Alas, this is such a warped premise that no one’s biting.

It’s looking more and more like Expelled will be to documentaries what Howard the Duck was to Hollywood special effects blockbusters.

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A Christian chimes in on Expelled

It’s always nice to be reminded that not all who call themselves Christian are dishonest anti-science ideologues who use their beliefs to justify their haughty disdain for reality. Henry Neufeld is a self described liberal Methodist who has a few things to say about Expelled, and he nails every reason why the movie gets it all wrong with admirable succinctness. From its confusion over what “free speech” really means, to his unequivocal condemnation of the movie’s most brazen lie — that “Darwinism” led inexorably to Nazism and the Holocaust, when in fact the teaching of Darwin’s theory was banned in both the Third Reich and Stalinist Russia, and Hitler famously credited his own anti-Semitism to a certain invisible guy in the sky — there’s not a single one of Stein and Co.’s reprehensible falsehoods Neufeld doesn’t take down. His most interesting point is one which is liable to raise the hackles of most of Neufeld’s brothers in Christ.

Repeatedly, Ben Stein equates the theory of evolution with atheism, and claims that all ID wants is to open the door to considering that God might have done something. Evolution may be incompatible with certain forms of Biblical interpretation, but it is in no way incompatible with basic theism.

Neufeld’s batted 1000 here. True, Dawkins’ passage from The Blind Watchmaker to the effect that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” is the one often flogged by creos who want to condemn evolution as a tool of the Devil to turn everyone away from Jebus. And the “evolution=atheism” link has been effective in pushing the emotional hot buttons of scientifically illiterate religionists. But, while it’s true that evolution does explain how nature works entirely on its own to effect biodiversity without any “need of that hypothesis,” it’s also true the theory itself is not fundamentally incompatiable with some notions of theism.

The deistic god is one who is said simply to have created the world and then left it alone. So evolution has to be operative under deism. But if the Christian God is supposed to be omnipotent, there’s no reason why he couldn’t have done his business via evolution either. Indeed many liberal Christians have attacked creationism on this very point, that a bunch of stick-up-the-ass fundies are trying to dictate to God how he must have created life, and that it could not have been by evolution. How arrogant! Heh heh.

I, of course, think the concept of God is entirely superfluous, but again, Neufeld’s right in that a basic understanding of the principles of Darwin’s theory does not necessitate atheism. On the other hand, as I read from some commenter elsewhere this morning, the makers of Expelled must be completely clueless doorknobs if they think the Nazi Holocaust is a great argument for the loving God of the Bible!

UK’s Guardian flunks Expelled

Haven’t been blogging for many days, mainly because of being busy, but also because there’s been little to report that hasn’t been covered very extensively elsewhere in the atheist blogosphere, and Austin’s been pretty quiet. Also, what else is there to say about the train wreck that is Expelled? Every day these people reveal themselves to be a little more reprehensible than they already were. My mind reels at the thought of what it would be like to be the kind of person whose life has been so completely swallowed up by the endless stream of lies required to shore up a creaking, desperate ideology. I think of what it must be like to be Ben Stein and Mark Mathis, and, if I believed in souls, I figure I know what it would be like to sell yours to Mammon. Sure, these guys have probably got the Benjamins. But to do so at the cost of all fundamental human decency is just depressing.

The UK paper The Guardian has now weighed in on Expelled (at least the bit of it that’s been previewed online) in a snarktastic little dig at that pompous fool Ben Stein. It’s a fun morning read.

From the parts I’ve seen – the first 10 minutes online – it seems to deploy all the loaded-dice arguments, the overdog’s deep-seated sense of victimhood and conventional rightwing hysteria. Stein lambasts academe for dismissing the work of “ID scientists”, even when they are bankrolled by the rancid likes of the Discovery Institute, a think-tank inseminated yearly with funds from California savings and loan heir Howard Ahmanson Jr, who in 1985 told the Orange County Register: “My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives.” Man, I can’t wait for that, Ben, the priests running everything and we live like it’s Ireland in the 1940s. Par-tay!

Heh. But otherwise, yeah, not much new under the sun. The movie is still a dishonest piece of shit, and the people promoting it are still dishonest pieces of shit. That’s creationism for you. [Cue Thompson Twins] Lies, lies, lies, yeah….

Natural selection to weed out Expelled at box office

The release date for Expelled is said to be April 18. Josh Timonen over at RichardDawkins.net seems to think it’s rolling out wide on 1,000 screens, which I find frankly unbelievable. Independent features, let alone indie documentaries, don’t get that kind of theatrical rollout unless they’re made by guys called Michael Moore. Almost no indie has that kind of a wide release. The simple cost of creating and shipping out 1,000 prints to theaters, and then buying the saturation advertising needed to make such a release strategy pay off, is simply way out of the reach of independent productions. Unless you’ve been picked up by one of the boutique “indie” arms of one of the majors, like Fox Searchlight. Which Expelled hasn’t.

So I suspect that an earlier figure I’ve heard of 100 screens is a lot more likely.

But what’s problematic for the movie at this point is that there is literally no buzz for it at all outside of the science/creationism/Christian/atheist blogosphere. Which, I’ll grant you, is big, but it’s not exactly where Jack and Jill Sixpack go for their entertainment news. So if Expelled really does stick to its April 18 release, it might as well be called Ignored. After all, look at what else is going out wide that weekend.

That’s a pretty serious slate of pre-summer Hollywood heavy hitters. Also, there is no April 18 listing for Expelled on the upcoming release pages at such major movie sites as IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, or Box Office Mojo. Those sites do, however, list one prominent independent documentary release for that date. It’s the new movie by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), which has had serious industry buzz for months.

Seriously, going up against a release slate like that, is it any wonder Expelled‘s producers have been trying to bribe Christian schools to take their students to see it? Without the “church bus bubble,” it’s looking like any theater showing Expelled will be as empty as ID’s scientific credibility.


Addendum: Jim Lippard has been dropping the occasional comment over at Pharyngula and reports that Expelled‘s own site claims they’re rolling out on 490 screens. We’ll see if that pans out. In the meantime, enjoy this entertaining report from New Scientist about a different screening, and the way that sleazebag Mark Mathis handled the Q&A. The producer of a movie complaining that ID supporters are systematically silenced threatening to throw out a challenging questioner? Gosh, fundies never do ironic, stupid things like that, do they?

Thanks, Eugenie!

Following up my post about the Facebook group “Protest Ben Stein’s Expelled”, I got this blush-inducing celebrity endorsement from no less than Eugenie Scott!

Martin Wagner, you have your head on very, very straight.

If we raise a fuss for Expelled, we increase the publicity and the gate. We play directly into their frame.

Why would we want to do that?

Okay, take a minute to chuckle at the visual of me putting on my “aw shucks” face. Anyway, Eugenie goes on to point out that while Expelled is sure to be a huge hit in “church basements,” — har! — the general public isn’t exactly awaiting it with bated breath the way they are, say, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Launching some massive protest campaign against the movie will simply play into their hands by validating their false message that “Big Science” wants to shut down open debate. She goes on to recommend the NCSE’s newly launched site Expelled Exposed. It’s new and fairly spartan at the moment, but it’s been launched both as a one-stop shop for all of the news surrounding the movie’s release and publicity (such as the PZ fiasco), and will go on to be a resource for refuting the false claims in the movie itself. Go on over and bookmark it.

Incidentally, if you’re a member of the Facebook group, you’ll see that one guy who’s responded, one Barrett Cune, is doing a great job making my case for me, by presenting himself as exactly the kind of histrionic assclown we don’t want responding to the movie. In a couple of ALL CAPS harangues, he wails about the need to “hit the streets” and attacks imaginary people who “just want to whine about the Earth and her problems.. you dont actually want to do anything to help.. you want your fucking parents to do it for you.” If old Barrett can’t tell the difference between coming up with ways to counter the movie effectively and productively, and thinking no one wants to do anything simply because we think parading the streets like some kind of I.R.A. rally would backfire, he clearly needs to grow the fuck up. I can understand and sympathize with his passion, but not his immaturity. The idea is that we’re smarter and more rational than the IDiots who do things like make movies comparing scientists to Hitler as a way of concealing the fact they have no science backing up their own position. Acting even stupider than they do is not how to turn the generally indifferent public off to their message.

Picket Expelled? No no no no no!

I just got an invitation in my email to join a Facebook group called “Protest Ben Stein’s Expelled,” which lists PZ Myers as one of two admins. The thrust here is to organize protests in front of theaters wherever it’s playing. I joined right away, mainly so I could stop these folks — whose motivations I am, of course, 200% in sympathy with — from what could be a foolish mistake. I promptly posted a bulletin to the group, which I will reproduce in full below. There’s a right way and a wrong way to oppose a folly like Expelled, and picketing theaters is the wrong way.

I think picketing theaters is a bad idea. Why? Because it will only serve to draw attention to the movie and might make people curious where they were indifferent before. Nothing sells tickets like controversy, and by organizing theater protests, we who oppose this pack of lies may unwittingly help give it more business.

Remember what happened with Passion of the Christ? This was Mel Gibson’s small independent movie, until the Anti-Defamation League began making a big stink in the media about the possibility it might be anti-Semitic, and complaining Gibson would not screen the film for them. The media ran with that, with the result that so many people became fascinated and curious that the movie ended up taking in over $375 million in its theatrical run.

I don’t think we want to make the same mistake in dealing with Expelled.

Instead, how about contacting your local media (newspapers, TV, radio) if the movie’s coming to your town, and offer to either write a guest editorial detailing the specific lies in the movie, as well as the long campaign of dishonesty being used to promote it? Or ask to talk to their staff movie critic, and provide him with correct information to counter the film’s falsehoods that he can then include in his review.

Picketing theaters may even feed into the movie’s false message that “Big Science” and its supporters merely want to shut down dissenting views. When in fact, that’s what the producers of Expelled are doing!

This movie isn’t poised to become some big megahit, people. With the possible exception of an opening-weekend “Church Bus Bubble,” I think theatrical attendance will be minute, and the movie will end up doing the bulk of its business with DVD sales marketed directly to churches. Right now, Expelled is having a PR nightmare surrounding the screening they kicked PZ out of. Let’s keep working that angle, to help the public understand what liars and hypocrites are responsible for this shit. The best thing that could happen would be for the movie to peter out after a week in theaters due to massive public indifference. That won’t happen if we raise a big ruckus and make everyone eager to see it out of curiosity over what the fuss is about.


Addendum: Ames Grawert, who’s listed as the group’s other admin, replied to my bulletin with the following, which gives me a sense of relief.

I think you’re probably right. I’ve heard this critique from a lot of people. I’ll change the description of the group a bit. I like the editorial/education angle a little better.

Very nice. This is a time when cooler heads will prevail. Still, I think this post is relevant, in case there may be any other folks out there considering some kind of overt protest activity on their own.

Last night turning into PR Waterloo for Expelled

Now the whole hilarious story of PZ Myers being thrown out of a screening for Expelled has hit at least one mainstream media outlet. The dishonesty of the people behind this propagandist rubbish is being spread far and wide for the world to see. I laugh. I giggle. I even chortle. Meanwhile, PZ’s daughter-of-darkness Skatje has reviewed the movie, and the short version of her take is: Bring a pillow. It sounds like it’s a very slapdash affair, and most tellingly, it never does what the promoters are claiming it does: make the case for “intelligent design.” They seem to think that intercutting stock footage of Nazis with interviews of scientists constitutes some kind of withering refutation of evolutionary biology. Amateurs.


Addendum: Now the New York Times has picked the story up, and allows associate producer Mark Mathis to lie at great length, only to be rebutted at the end in full. He really sounds like a blustering little nobody with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, while Dawkins and PZ and Genie Scott sound mostly bewildered at the staggering foolishness of these people.

But you know, if they weren’t fools, they wouldn’t be IDiots either.