Friday, March 21, 2008

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.


  1. Well done. Protesting in from of the movie would about the worst possible tactic.

  2. I agree, they shouldn't picket it.

  3. My view at the moment: "Don't picket. Laugh derisively."

  4. i agrre---totally! i will love this movie, because i find this stuff sooo funny and horrible at the same time! truly, movies like this are beyond belief! i agree, though. DON'T PICKET!!!!

  5. well done definitely!!
    Picketing is a bad idea as it gives them free publicity- I like the idea of editorials and education :)

  6. I got the invite as well. If I recall it right, it said something like "protest"? At first I recoiled because I linked that with "ban"--but then recognized that protest isn't the same as banning. When Xians protest, they do so with a goal to harm sales, intimidate advertisers--basically stop the money coming in, in order to shut down the speech. And I see this as impeding freedom of speech--albeit in a legal way.

    But "protest" can be just a response, not just a call to ban. And that, I can get behind. Would I support a picket of the film? It would probably depend on how it was targeting the film. I wouldn't encourage anyone NOT to go see it. In fact, ACA should probably get up a group to go when it opens--so we can see it ourselves and make informed judgement (although I'm skeptical we'll come out with anything but "sad joke").

    Still, I encourage anyone to go see it, then research that information at unbiased locations--books, edu sites, etc., and make up their own minds about whether someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes via propaganda or observable data. ;-)

    If a picket were organized to promote something along the lines of "see it, then look up the information for yourself, and make an informed decision," that would be hard for creationists to denigrate. What could they attack? The fact that I'm encouraging people to see the film if they want to, or the fact I'm encouraging them to research the data for themselves, or the fact I'm asking them to make their own decision?

    Calling any of that an "attack" on the film would only serve to make someone look really really stupid and/or biased.

    But I do agree that overall, pickets might not be the way to go in this case. I'm not sure the people most into this film would get that sort of distinction in the message. They'd probably only see "protestors."


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