16 February 2008

Can You Use 'Controversial' in a Sentence?

Ales Gibney's Taxi to the Dark Side has won awards at various film fests and has been nominated for an academy award for Best Documentary. The film has recently opened in theaters. You can find a preview from Bill Moyers here (8 February 08). I have not seen the film yet. All of that said, this is the second time I've written about it. The first time I called attention to the deplorably idiotic treatment the MPAA accorded to the posters for the film. Unfortunately, the MPAA is not the only self-appointed agent of misguided paternialism trying to protect us (can you say censorship?). The TV rights to the film had been acquired by the Discovery Channel. But, as Moyers reports here (15 Febriary 08), it now turns out that the Discovery Channel folks have changed their corporate mind. They have decided the film is "too controversial" and so dropped plans to air it.

Disturbing, surely. Outrageous, just as surely. But controversial? Hardly. It has been U.S. policy to torture detainees. Many, perhaps the vast majority of those people, like the Taxi driver Dilawar referred to in the title of this film, have turned out to be wholly innocent. And some of thoses people, also like Dilawar, have died in custody. Actually, let's avoid the passive voice and the way it lets us gloss over issues of criminal responsibility. Let's say instead " ... some of whom have been murdered while in custody." There could be controversy about that only if there were some indication that the charges are false or overstated or one-sidedly partisan. I believe torture has been U.S. policy under prior administrations, Democratic and Republican alike; the Bush administration is simply more blatant about what they are up to. So, I just do not see where the controversy arises. The Discovery Channel, like the MPAA, is more concerned with the supposedly delicate sensibilities of some anticipated audience than they are with the truth. No controversy about that either.
P.S.: (Added 17 February) Today The New York Times ran an astringent Op-Ed by Col. Morris Davis (U.S. Army) about the extreme difficulty and absolute necessity of getting the horse of torture back in the barn. He writes from the point of view of the consequences our deserved reputation as torturers for military stategy and the rule of law. The place were I disagree with Davis is in his claim that the torture policy is new with the Bush Administration. I will say though that an unavoidable first step in the task that Davis rightly sees as crucial - namely, reapturing something like a reputation for decency - requires that we face facts like those Gibney presents. Unfortunately, the overly concentrated, minimally acountable and profit-driven mainstream media have little reason to contribute to that enterprise.

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Anonymous Nick said...

Jim, If you haven't seen it yet, go and rent Kirby Dick's "The Film is not yet Rated." It's a frustrating, surreal, and long overdue muckraking expose of the MPAA (with whom Dick has had many encounters with over his long career). Labeling the MPAA as a "self-appointed agent of misguided paternalism," which is an almost too kind description, suggests you may already know about it.

18 February, 2008 09:57  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Nick, I've heard of this film, but not actually seen it. I will check it out. Thanks! JJ

18 February, 2008 12:05  

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