Skip to main content

My post, followed by discussion, on avoidance of political campaigning at the New Yorker Movie Facebook Club

One of the requirements for this group is that there not be any political campaigning. We've already seen that there is some confusion as to what this means. Posts have gone up -- like is "Dunkirk" a Brexit movie? -- that at least one person thought shouldn't have been permitted. Specific candidates have been mentioned, which also garnered some reproof (though how on earth we can go weeks at a time without ever mentioning "T" is a bit beyond me). Some clearly understand a broad conception of what campaigning is, while others see it precisely limited to arguing my-candidate-is-better-than-yours-so-there! Some see any political discussion as ruining groups that are a singular delight for their absence--ostensibly a rarity in the world of the internet. Some feel the absence of discussion of this sort would be starkly neutering. 

My prompt for the group is for some discussion on this issue. How tight? How lax? How encouraged? How discouraged? My own prompt for raising this concern is that given that many of us see our own period as bearing some not so encouraging similarities to a similar one in the 1930s, and given that film was understood during that period as having so much potential political implications that they were either aggressively banned or aggressively phished everywhere, I can't but think it immoral if some push isn't made for us to keep more than just a tolerant attitude towards discussing the political implications of films. We need to know which ones sway the viewer which way, and why. It should be one of our foremost concerns. We shouldn't want discussion topics like "is 'Dunkirk' a Brexit movie" to squeak through, barely, but go through as fluidly as a frequent flyer, is my take. If this doesn't prove the case, then note that there are other ways of discussing politics, of discussing which films implicitly support the manner and direction of specific candidates, other than overtly. In my judgment, Richard's argument that "Detroit" is a pornographic film, where a director makes historical matter serve her own run-amuck ego, must have had some of us thinking on certain political figures currently beset upon our world. We agree with his take on this film, certain political figures in our own environs have just been implicated. 

The movie’s protracted scenes of captivity, terror, torture, and murder are the moral equivalent of pornography.

The New Yorker Thanks for this thoughtful post. We'd love to hear the group's thoughts and we'll consider adjusting our policy based on the responses here.

Eric Mattingly As an art form that-- due to the collaborative, technological nature of its creation-- is inherently political, removing all talk of politics from the discussion of film seems perverse. That doesn't mean the group should devolve into one more place to fight about the obscenities of the current political situation, but an analytic attitude toward our time as it reflects in the films we like doesn't seem so bad. If, as Mr. Brody suggests, Detroit is an example of white privilege in the guise of liberalism (I've not seen it so I have no idea) then that's relevant. Because white privilege is still an important thing to recognize. It's even more relevant after Charlottesville. Maybe it's like that old definition of pornography--knowing it when we see it--but I think there's a clear difference between situating a film into a political context and openly campaigning for (or against) a particular policy or candidate. We could all use a respite from the latter, but we ignore the former to our detriment.

Agosh Gaur I take exception on the pornography analogy by Brody on two levels: first it implies that pornography is inferior to movies, which is not necessarily true. I am not trying to be a troll here m, pornography has its own purpose. Secondly, if by pornography, Brody means indulgent or hedonistic, then that could be said about any director and his movie.

Eric Mattingly Just a loose analogy, and nothing to do with Brody's review. I was referring to whether a political discussion was relevant to understanding/enjoying film or if it was an attempt at campaigning for some person or cause. I don't think Brody's review is all that relevant to what the OP was getting at, beyond the fact that talking about Detroit without mentioning politics is impossible.

Agosh Gaur Eric Mattingly Thats a good point you raise about divorcing politics from a film. Actually talking about Detroit WITHOUT talking about its politics is something that I would love to see. The political theme in and out of Detroit, while most important, is not that nuanced: racism exists and we need to fight it. What I'd like to see is an analysis of the film itself, the story, pacing, character development etc. I know it's impossible to completely ignore the politics when discussing Detroit but is it possible to see it as a film not completely subdued in its politics?

Patrick McEvoy-Halston Agosh Gaur Yes, but in even not talking about the politics, in deliberately trying to ignore them, one can do work which can help us read politics in a whole variety of things, unaccustomed... pacing, cinematography, lighting, acting style--what have you. It is perhaps in becoming more aware of how this can be true--how certain preferred ways of lighting a movie, for instance, might reflect a film maker's disposition, as well as his or her political preferences, that conversations about politics and film can be most enlightening, for it might not be all that well explored. Detroit is going to draw political analysis, but the political implications of films that would seem to overtly repel such analysis, might be more worth attending to for their political implications if they prove popular or unpopular. What are the political implications for the success of Wonder Woman? In exploring how characters react to one-another in this film, can we read some of our own political future? I think we can, and I'll make note of it myself, even as "you're" talking away from politics and focusing on character development.

Agosh Gaur Patrick McEvoy-Halston I would love for this movie to be talked about more. For a movie this topical, there has been surprisingly less talk about it

Agosh Gaur I saw Detroit yesterday and felt it was very powerful. I think Bigelow did a great job of depicting what those people in that motel went through. I read Brody's review, which has criticised the film pretty brutally and has found almost no redeeming qualities in it. I think more than Brody not liking the movie just as a movie, from his text it feels like he was deeply upset by it and felt uncomfortable by it, as he did with Schindler's List. I find those sentiments justified, but they in an in themselves don't make Detroit a bad film. I am hardly going to go rebutting The New Yorker's film critic's review, but I think Bigelow has continued a rich tradition of hard hitting cinema following her last two films. I think they comprise a very nice trilogy exploring similar themes. While the first two (The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty) look for American redemption in far away lands through the lens of conventional war as history understands that word, this last one is a brutal introspection on our homeland, where the war is with ourselves to ask ourselves some very hard questions. A timely, brooding, and engrossing movie, which I have found to be one of year's best

Griselda Haygood The only reason I would go to see this film is because Katheriine Bigelow directed it. She has a body of work that is awesome, not surprising since she is the only woman to win a Best Director Academy Award. I just not sure who would be the audience for this film. I am not eager to see a film about a riot that happened years ago. Lord knows, we see enough of that stuff on cable news. But I am going to give it a chance...

Agosh Gaur The reason you stated is a common one being touted as the reason for a low interest in this movie; people think it's just gonna be depressing to watch blacks being oppressed in a movie, which it will be. It's not an easy movie to watch but is a worthwhile experience

Griselda Haygood I will give it a try...

Erik B. Anderson It's torture porn. Not history. If I Didn't get a free advanced screening ticket, I would have asked for my money back.

Terrence C Briggs The author of the article cited by the OP actually created a thread in here about the movie. But clearly, he was touching on some political issues that the film raises.

Erik B. Anderson The author of the article is a moderator of this group.

Nicolas Zeifman I broadly agree.
I haven't seen Detroit so can't comment specifically, but it's not the only film that exists as part of a political reality, and you can't ignore it. I understood the rule about politics to be very strictly about political campaigning, not to avoid discussing the politics inherent to the films, or how they fit with current events or debates. Similarly, our politics will likely affect how we read certain films, we should be able to take them into consideration and discuss them when it is relevant to the films and our reaction or interpretation.
And while I know that political discussions tend to get ugly, all the discussions I've seen in this group have remained very civil so far, I'm sure it could stay that way.

Patrick McEvoy-Halston Who on earth is going to talk about the politics about a film and not effectively also doing some campaigning for a specific political orientation? Do we gain anything by posts not saying, "I dislike this film because Trump sucks and this is a pro-Trump film," but by their effectively arguing so? CNN and NYT have to pretend they're neutral because... actually I'm beginning to lose sense of why, exactly--it almost seems to be about the comfort in living within the decorum of being detached. For us, this passionate group, why exactly shouldn't we make a post saying, "let's put together a list of films that'll help us defeat the fascist Trump and elect in somebody sane like Hillary / Saunders! Go Hillary or Saunders go!" It's already been done here, was posted by the moderators, but was about as against-rules as you can get. 

And it felt to the point... let's skip all this "our politics will likely affect how we... and we should take them into consideration when we..." circumspect, gentlemanly bulls*t, and talk core: one political position is associated with seeing things, like real things, that actually exist, and we don't distance from it but inhabit it profoundly and proudly, to shake everything relevant out of everything we're studying. When we obfuscate this point by showing concern for bias, we're probably performing... or dreaming, that we're living in an age where all sides agree that there might be something to what their opponents say. No, there isn't. Let's skip to the point where we're square with reality.

Diane Lake Agree that this forum is a model of civility, and for that reason refreshing. There were divergent views on Detroit, and while there was some mild mocking, unfortunately, nothing overtly rabid. But many, many films are political. Just to give one example, pretty much the whole oeuvre of the great Costa Gravas, whose films depict controversial if not incendiary political issues. He tackles oppression, military dictatorships, torture, laws and justice, based on real events - Z, Missing, Amen, Hanna K., to name just a few. Betrayed, a 1988 film, is particularly timely (or sadly, perennially relevant) given it's based on the terrorist activities of American neo-Nazi and a white supremacist and his gang. Do we preface everything by saying, "in my opinion" as I noticed one poster instructing another poster to do when he commented on a clip in which Jeff Daniels in HBO's The Newsroom talks about how America is not the greatest country in the world?

Patrick McEvoy-Halston The tippy toes came up in a discussion of "lost in translation" as well.

Diane Lake Missed that. (So much to read, so many other pressing issues). I've been known to tiptoe myself. But truthfully, I prefer not!

Richard Brody Interesting question. I had a peculiar and revealing experience a few years ago while talking with an editor with whom I work every week. I said that I'm careful to avoid politics in my capsule reviews, and she said that all my capsule reviews are political. I think that we're both right: there's a difference between stating political opinions and drawing out the political implications of films. There's also the difference between tracing out the political messaging of a film and considering a movie's aesthetic politics--the implications of style and affect. It's hard to avoid being influenced by one's own views, but there are critics whom I esteem for their perceptions but who submerge them in such a corrosive broth of doctrine that there's little of the matter left, others who, regardless of their point of view, grant the film its own identity.

Peter Hoffman The emphasis being: are you trying to sell your political ideology or discuss a work of art.

Patrick McEvoy-Halston Richard Brody Your focus and fairness to what's before you, is always evident (and you certainly see a lot of the politics in film). You do give films their own identity, and it's so appropriate to them and kind to oneself. A model. Indeed, I would be wanting to simply nod my head, only when some of us read your Eastwood reviews (or your review of "Wolf of Wall Street"), what seems missing is the corrosive broth that to some of us... is in his films. I think with him I might prefer Noam Chomsky's take, "Chomsky, what did you think of American Sniper?... (he has actually provided an answer. it's what you'd expect.). And I'm wondering, given that some who are normally accused of applying their viewpoints, better captured in their reviews my own sense of revulsion at some of his films, if there might be something imposed in your approach. Do you miss what some feminists might see, I mean feminists who associate with certain specific theorists, and summon them thickly in their reviews, might see? And does your way of identifying them, these critics, work to make their, in this case, clearer vision, less legitimate, harder to see? I think it might be easy for me to feel anguish at a critic because there's way too much theory you have to wade through, but conclude it might be requisite that I still do indeed continue to plow, because people who see some vitally important aspects of films tend to deliver... as such. I'm trying to think of who's coming to mind, but it is possible that Andrew O'hehir's reviews could be like that. Not sure, because he always wants to cut through the b*ll (and he can be a corrosive...), but that's who nevertheless comes to mind, anyway. With him, I'm going to hear an awful lot about how every film applies to Trump, Hillary, Sanders, and late days of capitalism hell, if that's the kind of thing you're referring to.  

This discussion reminds me a bit of literary criticism where new criticism (close reading of text itself) objected to, say, new historicism, or sociological analysis, by saying they were applying doctrine and not focussing and letting the matter itself speak. New Criticism, they said, was best because they picked up everything... politics too, for sure: they were fair to every emanation, but it must be IN the text, not us. Their critics replied... then why is it you so rarely see the politics?... and learned to ignore them as men who needed to keep a certain architecture of analysis in place for fear of becoming aware of how they had made their texts agents to keep their personal chaos at bay.

Brian Brunton To ban politics, or insist that art has no political content, is itself a political act

Peter Hoffman It's common sense, I think.

Brian Brunton I am not sure what "common sense" is. Could be a device for emptying a conversation of its politics.

Peter Hoffman You don't have to research facts to figure out a problem.

Brian Brunton Hollywood has always been intensely political

Brian Brunton The problem is that the art of cinema allows for messaging at different levels

Peter Hoffman Yes. As long as you focus on the movie you can talk about the politics it presents, how it presents it, fine. Just don't use it as an excuse to go on a personal diatribe, by taking the politics out of the movie and entering an ideological discussion about political concepts.

Brian Brunton would a discussion on why the Bridges of Madison County won the Oscar, against Reds, on the centenary of the 1917 October revolution?

Peter Hoffman I can understand how it could be fun to figure out the rare exceptions that exist with any rule.

I haven't seen those so I have no opinion there.

Lisa Green If there is context in relation to a movie then politics, as with anything else, should be freely discussed. People on this forum seem intelligent and insightful and I think they can tell the difference between the political themes of a movie and personal political opinion. It would be sad to censor free discussion.

Lizzie Nicholson i dont think limiting personal political ideology is censorship...i think if it relates to the movie, fine, but then it's a one-step tango to open strife when people inject their personal political beliefs

Barbara Monahan Speaking only for myself now, I feel the physical effects of anxiety much more now that I am in my sixties. No matter how well made the film, the prospect of feeling anxious for 90 minutes fills me with dread so I avoid upsetting movies. Funny, though, that I am drawn to political discussion in real life and seek it out. Go figure.

Agosh Gaur Detroit will definitely make you anxious

Churion Kim Thank you for speaking for me. I also have to think twice before I make decision to see a film with torture, cruelty, etc., its very hard on the body and mind. (Also in my sixties) I've been enjoying the whole threads in this post. 
Everyone is well spoken and polite even when disagreeing, unlike what's happening in your current political scene (am Canadian).
I think we've already been talking about politics a long time here and I'm assured that it won't be 'trumpish'!

Diane Lake Okay, venerable, apolitical film buffs. (Joking). Here's one for you: The Venerable W. A Buddhist monk, unrepentant Islamophobe and avowed Trump admirer, serving as our guide in a documentary set in a Myanmar where violence—and even ethnic “purifying” -- being fuelled by incendiary religious rhetoric. Supplementing interviews with on-the-ground amateur footage, the veteran filmmaker invites us to stare into the face of intolerance and leaves us questioning whether any of us have the luxury of turning a blind eye to such heinous conduct.

Burcin Cevik wow thanks for sharing this...

Maureen Daniels As it is impossible to untangle politics from our lives, so it is unrealistic to hope for discussions of film to be a politics-free zone, and I would say as long as comments do not descend into personal abuse it should be allowed. Unless you're a Nazi.

Leslie Brown Every good movie (book or art) that I've considered worth experiencing has created an emotional response (dread, fear, anxiety, joy) a catharsis.

"Detroit" was worth seeing. It did not preach, it told a story in human terms that has been long overlooked. It sadly reminds me how little has changed.


Popular posts from this blog

Old Youth

You write about how poverty breeds creativity. You think about how scavenging for wild food gives you the perfect opportunity to slow down, to really appreciate your surroundings. You talk about how frugality is more environmentally sustainable. You pontificate on why creating meals from scratch is cheaper, healthier and deeply satisfying. Then you run out of cooking oil.You love fat. As a child you ate margarine by the spoonful. You didn't know any better. Now you've moved on to more delicious pastures. As a cook you can never resist sneaking in that extra bit of butter, that tablespoonful of olive oil, that dab of bacon grease. You believe that cake is a vessel for frosting, that salad dressing should be two parts oil to one part vinegar, and that packaged low-fat foods are a symptom of the decline of Western civilization. Fat makes food taste good.Under the best of circumstances, you have eight or nine varieties of fat on hand. In ascending order of importance: chicken drip…

Superimposing another "fourth-wall" Deadpool

I'd like to superimpose the fourth-wall breaking Deadpool that I'd like to have seen in the movie. In my version, he'd break out of the action at some point to discuss with us the following:
1) He'd point out that all the trouble the movie goes to to ensure that the lead actress is never seen completely naked—no nipples shown—in this R-rated movie was done so that later when we suddenly see enough strippers' completely bared breasts that we feel that someone was making up for lost time, we feel that a special, strenuous effort has been made to keep her from a certain fate—one the R-rating would even seemed to have called for, necessitated, even, to properly feed the audience expecting something extra for the movie being more dependent on their ticket purchases. That is, protecting the lead actress was done to legitimize thinking of those left casually unprotected as different kinds of women—not as worthy, not as human.   

2) When Wade/Deadpool and Vanessa are excha…

True Detective cont'd

Recently, Rachel Syme wrote this
As the dust settles on the “True Detective” finale, and the adventures of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart fade into the television firmament like the distant stars they found so meaningful, at least one thing is clear: it didn’t quite end the way we wanted it to. There is no doubt that the writer, Nic Pizzolatto, and director, Cary Fukunaga, pulled off a midseason coup, giving us a show in the January doldrums that caused temporary mass insanity. Like one of Rust’s intoxicating philosophical koans about sentient meat, “True Detective” cast a kind of spell over its viewers, convincing them that no matter what it was they were watching it was at the very least something worth the hours of debating, clicking, parsing, and comment-section feuding. Moreover, the gorgeous cinematography depicting Louisiana in the gloaming, the delectable short-anthology format, and the movie-star bona fides made us believe that we were watching something novelistic, even approachi…