Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Bird Flu Hits America!! (in an irresponsible TV movie)

Don't we live with enough fear in our lives? Does ABC really need to turn it up a notch? In a clear case of fear mongering, ABC kept secret, until this Tuesday, a "worst case scenario" television movie about Avian Flu entitled Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America, which will air during a sweeps month, on May 9. Reportedly, entertainment columnists around the country were shocked to learn of the ABC made-for-TV disaster movie -- which stars Stacy Keach, Joely Richardson, Ann Cusack and Justina Machado -- as the network had been successful in keeping the production completely under wraps. The fictional film details an outbreak of deadly Avian Flu, from its origins in a Hong Kong market, through its mutation into a virus that is transmittable from human to human, around the world. That's pretty scary stuff. The film's co-producer Diana Kerew said in an interview with The New York Post that the network kept the project secret because "The world changes very quickly, and we wanted to make sure at the point we were ready to unveil [the movie] that we were accurate and up-to-date." But I don't believe her. I think ABC saved this one up so audiences would be hit by surprise and not be anticipating it, thus revving up the fear factor of the situation. This movie is designed to scare viewers, but not the way conventional horror movies scare viewers. Horror actually works in reverse of what ABC is doing -- it serves to offer a cathartic release for viewers who are stressed out by the concerns of the "real world" (crime, war, poverty, terrorism, pollution, etc). Here, ABC commissioned a film that exploits our knowledge of a still theoretical outbreak of a deadly flu strain, and "makes it real," thus raising the stress factor for all who will see it. After all, for months now, news programs have been speculating if this strain of Avian Flu will be the worst outbreak of deadly flu the world has ever seen; wondering if, in fact, one in three people around the world will actually contract it; wondering if it will kill millions of people in a short period of time. And ABC decided to pander to these fears. Of course, as with 9/11, if the Bird Flu virus had already mutated and spread, no one would touch such a movie with a ten foot pole. (Look at the outcry that it's "too soon" to make 9/11 movies.) To produce such a film while millions were dying around the world would be deemed irresponsible and tasteless, right? It would be left to the low-budget grunge filmmakers to cover and then be tagged "exploitation." But I think what ABC is doing is much worse. It's kind of like raising the terrorism warning level to orange and hoping it never truly goes to red. Think we'll see repeats of this ABC film if people are dropping around us from the real virus? This is a pathetic attempt on the part of ABC to get ratings and I deplore it.

Interesting how you stand up for Wal Mart's right to feed the very disturbing (and apparently growing) demand for 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion,' one of the most incendiary volumes of propaganda ever created--a justification for the murder and torture of millions going back to Tsarist Russia--but you deplore ABC's attempt to leverage people's bird flu fears.
Do you believe in freedom of speech or just in freedom of speech that doesn't cramp your style?
I find it interesting that in a piece in which I focused almost exclusively on the so-called "Christian backlash" to the fact that the respected movie Brokeback Mountain was being sold at Wal-Mart, you chose to focus on a passing mention of the fact that a controversial book is sold there as well. The point of the Wal-Mart piece is that it is a store and not a religious gathering place. If people don't want to read 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion,' or see Brokeback Mountain, they simply don't have to buy them. Wal-mart is not a video store nor is it a book store. Nor does it promote the fact that it carries 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion,' in any overt fashion. (You don't object to libraries carrying it throughout the country where people can get it for FREE.) Wal-Mart's financial well being does not depend on these two items being sold. As for ABC's decision to air this movie, of course they have the right, in this country, to do so. I simply find it deplorable that they use fear to get ratings.
Let me be more specific about the point I was making. You wrote a blog lambasting a group of Christianists for their public condemnation of Wal Mart for selling Brokeback. But your indignation wasn't just directed at this one group and the apparent lack of merit for this particular protest. You claimed to see the protest as part of a wider issue and you came out against anybody ever protesting the selling of any kind of movie or book, etc. The people doing the selling, you argued, are necessarily in the right and the people who loudly criticize them in the wrong.
You widened the point out way beyond the specific protestors claiming that if Wal Mart sells Brokeback, our youth will all go gay. And you took your argument that protesters are wrong and the book sellers/movie distributors are right to an extreme by adding that Wal Mart shouldn't cave to people saying they shouldn't be selling a special edition of Protocols of the Elders of Zion (according to the site you linked to, the volume they're selling is devoid of the disclaimers and historical context included in editions found in all other bookstores) because of this wider issue.
Since I'm completely certain you don't approve of the contents of that book—again, a manual and justification for countless acts of murder, terrorism and torture perpetrated across vast swaths of space and time by Tsarist priests and Cossacks, Klansmen, storm troopers and today's Islamists, to name a few—then you must be criticizing anybody anywhere who wants to criticize or shame someone into not offering a particular piece of art or entertainment. Presumably, this is on a general First Amendment basis.
I'd have to assume that by your choosing to take, on principle, Wal Mart's side on the Protocols issue, that you would have nothing but contempt for people who publicly condemned a bookstore for selling, say, a manual on how to build a dirty bomb or a step-by-step guide on how to lure and molest children. Repugnant as the books were to you, you'd side with the publishers and the bookstore, and against the protesters, on principle.
Okay, I can respect that. You're a man of principle. To the people who want to protest the selling of Brokeback or Protocols, the people who want theaters to stop showing trailers for United 93, you say, "Shut up and pay the price for living in a country with free speech." Their very act of criticism, I'd guess, makes them worthy of criticism by you. Okay, you support this overarching principle: You don't have to support the content of free speech to support free speech absolutely. And you'll always side with the people making and selling objectionable content over those that would try to shame them.
But why, then, doesn't that principle apply to the makers and broadcasters of a bird flu MOW? Suddenly, the content is so objectionable that you have to make an exception to your fierce stand and become one of the public critics saying, 'you shouldn't do this!'? This is where you draw the line? And what about the Mafia cop? The makers of that are worthy of public criticism despite their rights of free speech? They should reconsider even making this because it might send the wrong idea about Italian Americans or glorify a despicable character? These guys deserve to be called names and shamed? Just by putting out an MOW with bird flu as its topic, they're "deplorable"? Now you'd side with protesters and against the creators and publishers or broadcasters? In those particular cases suddenly the offensiveness of the content trumps the network's absolute right to put it out?
This is what I was referring to when I mentioned consistency. If you're going to side with any studio, network, publisher against any protestor of something they put out, regardless of the content, then in my opinion you should do so consistently and not make exceptions for content that happens to get your goat.
Otherwise, you're just like Howard. And Howard can get away with being inconsistent because he can afford to have the Constitution changed if he wants.
Thank you for your remarks. I appreciate your passion, as well as your time and effort, in addressing the many issues raised on this site. Let me try to be more precise as well. You are correct -- as an American who honors our constitutional rights -- I always support the right of a publisher to publish, of a writer to write, of a broadcasting network to broadcast, and of a protestor to protest, etc. That said, we all have our opinions, and opinions do not exist in the absolute. They are, by nature, subjective and change with the times and the people who espouse them. Therefore, I can BOTH state that Wal-mart should not cave into religious groups, and STILL support the groups right to protest, (while ALSO believing that Wal-mart is not worthy of such attention), and not be inconsistent. Likewise, by simply voicing an opinion about the wisdom of making a movie about a corrupt cop, or scaring a TV audience with a film about Bird Flu, I DO NOT imply I believe a production company, or a television network, does not have the right to make these films. Of course they do. But I also have the right to object to their judgment in doing so. In turn, the protestors at Wal-mart have the right to protest if they wish -- a right I wholeheartedly support -- even if I support the store's right to also sell certain items. You know as well as I do, once "certain" books or films are banned from sale, a la “Fahrenheit 451,” it is a fast and slippery slope to what may be read or viewed by the public. And that simply isn't acceptable in the United States. Being consistent and having opinions are not mutually exclusive.
The only way to see if a legal argument holds up is to test it out and see how consistent it is. Would it treat all like cases alike? If there are cases where an argument doesn't hold up, then you need to a) show why it's not a like case or b) refine your argument. A nation of laws can only work that way. A nation of dictates and decrees can be inconsistent. Once you throw out the principle that your position can apply universally, then you've stopped arguing a rational point and the discussion's reduced to 'I want things this way' /'I want things that way.' If you can't apply your principle consistently, then you no longer have a principle at all.
That said, I appreciate that you're not trying to make anybody stop production on either the bird flu or the mafia cop shows and, also, that you're not telling anybody to stop protesting Brokeback or Protocols or anything else. So while I still think there's some inconsistency in your approach to what is essentially four like cases, you are not at all inconsistent in what you think the law should DO about any of it, so on that level we're both consistent and we both agree: The government must let the people make the mafia cop and bird flu shows, the bookstore sell Brokeback and Protocols as well as the dirty bomb production and child molesting manuals, and you and me and everybody else should be able to be as vocal as we want in protesting it all.
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