Sunday, June 04, 2006

Propaganda about "docu-ganda"

The Christian Science Monitor has published an impressively blatant piece of propaganda attacking films like "An Inconvenient Truth" as "docu-ganda."

The term "docu-ganda" itself is introduced as if it were an objective description. It implies without argument that the point of view presented in the film is false and deceptive. However, neither the point of view nor any of the evidence presented in any of the films is directly challenged, and not a shred of counter-evidence is presented. The opposing point of view is not even named.

In the case of "An Inconvenient Truth" the other side would be that of the global warming skeptics, Exxon and it's allies. In the case of "Super Size Me" it would be a defense of the health value of fast food. Hmm.

All deliver on the promise to tell an "untold" story, but is theirs the full story? Or even the true story?

Don't count on it, say media experts. The days when "documentary" reliably meant "inform the audience" - rather than "influence the audience" - are no more. The makers of such films today see their cinematic contributions as an antidote to media consolidation that, they say, restricts topics and voices to the bland and the commercial. As such, they feel little or no obligation to heed documentary-film traditions like point-by-point rebuttal or formal reality checks.

No examples of films that allegedly restricted themselves to informing the audience are cited. All the films critiqued are from the left.

"We need to clarify that this new wave of 'documentaries' are not, in fact, documentaries," says Christopher Ian Bennett of New School Media, a communications and public-relations firm in Vancouver. "They fail to meet the Oxford Dictionary definition, in that they editorialize, and opine far too much. They are entertaining.... But they can be dangerous if viewers take everything they are saying as the whole truth."

The expert here is someone who works for a PR firm? Yes, the title of his firm makes it sound like he is an academic film critic, but that is no university. His background is quite amusing: he handled "North American PR for one of the fastest growing brands in North America, 1-800-GOT-JUNK." An auspicious start for a documentary critic. And apparently this expert also has some trouble reading the dictionary he cites. Here in fact is the OED definition of documentary.

Documentaries are films or TV programmes concerned with fact: they depict real people events or landscapes. The documentary film as social comment emerged most strongly in the 1930s, notably in Britain with the work of John Grierson. Such films were used as propaganda by both sides in the Second World War, but after the war their production sharply declined until the growth of television provided a new outlet.
Oops. So documentaries as social comment are in fact documentaries according to the OED, and they were not invented by Michael Moore.

The only other named critic in the article is "Matt Felling of the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, which studies news and entertainment media." However, Source Watch points out that the CMPA is a right wing think tank which gets all of its funding from conservative foundations. Source Watch's profile of the company includes a revealing quote from Matt Felling about "Fahrenheit 9/11" that nicely illustrates his lack of objectivity.
"Of course, this movie is going to be Michael Moore's version of what he thinks President Bush is up to and what he thinks his capabilities are," he said. "We already know that he does not think that he is really cut out for the job. So Michael Moore will pick out everything he can to support that argument and we can only hope that Americans are well-versed enough in the successes of the Bush administration that they can balance it out on their own."
So that's what's meant by "nonpartisan."

This article is of a piece with all sorts of other reporting from the right which attempts to use an appeal to a misplaced sense of fair play--most notably in the "debate" over creationism--to disguise the weakness of their own position.

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