?

Log in

No account? Create an account
devil duck

Just saw "Religulous"


The movie makes a bunch of points that I basically agree with, but makes them in such an annoying, patronizing, unnecessarily-confrontational way that one is almost ashamed to call oneself an agnostic. The movie is full of "cheap shots", most often abrupt edits to excise a few seconds of somebody's speech or insert a few seconds of TV news footage of stuff blowing up, so it starts to feel like a high-voltage TV commercial. It doesn't even pretend to be even-handed, or even respectful of difference: Bill Maher is right and all religious people are wrong, end of story.

OK, so he despises and disdains religion. I can understand that. What specific aspects of religion does he go after?

  • hatred, bigotry, intolerance, and violent nationalism

  • literal interpretations of sacred texts as historically true

  • anti-intellectualism and ignorance

  • corruption among religious leaders


All of these things richly deserve to be "gone after"... but there are large segments of any major religion that don't do those things. Maher almost acknowledges this, for a moment, by interviewing a Vatican astronomer who disavows Biblical literalism. But for the most part, Maher doesn't seem to acknowledge that there can be legitimate differences within a religion, cutting quickly between a Muslim scholar talking about peace and footage of Ruhollah Khomeini preaching violence as though they were the same person. Sometimes he is equally inconsistent himself: in interviewing a Senator, he criticizes the assumption that ten commandments written down 2500 years ago are good choices for guiding today's society, but a moment later he ridicules a young Muslim woman for suggesting that the Koran be interpreted in the context of the time it was written, and reinterpreted to be relevant to today's society.

Most of the movie is simply Maher making fun of people, and with the aid of a sharp editing blade, he can make them look pretty stupid and ridiculous. He (or his editor) appears particularly fond of making people look stupid by showing them pausing for a few seconds after saying something. At one point, apparently unable to find a real Scientologist to interview, he dresses up with a goofy hat, stands on a street corner, and preaches Scientology to a crowd. The whole thing is an exercise in shooting fish in a barrel.

I would really like to see this movie done by a journalist rather than a stand-up comic.

Comments

The sad thing is that though the comics are doing a half-assed job of journalism; they feel forced to because the journalists have been out to lunch for a long, long time.

When is the 4th estate coming back to serve democracy? (rhetorical)

Different Audiences

There are many well-reasoned and -documented books out there which do what you want. The most popular at the moment are by Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

But the people who Maher is aiming his movie at are unlikely to read any of them. TV and movie polemicists need to do over-the-top things in order to breakthrough from the rest of the material clamoring for attention.

This may not be a "good thing", but that's the way popular culture is ordered these days...

Re: Different Audiences

TV and movie polemicists need to do over-the-top things in order to breakthrough from the rest of the material clamoring for attention.

Yes, but if those viewers come away thinking not "Boy! he has a point..." but "Boy! that Bill Maher is an arrogant, patronizing SOB!" then the movie hasn't done its job. (At least, I don't think that's the message that Maher wanted to send :->)

I spent most of the movie wishing that it had been made by Bill Moyers instead.....

Re: Different Audiences

How big is Bill Moyers' audience and how big is Michael Moore's?

Maher isn't trying to convert people to rationalism, he is just trying to open up the space to debate, something which has been off limits in most areas. The religious (whatever their differences) manage to come together whenever the idea that supernaturalism itself is the problem, not a specific dogma.

If you hunt around online you can find the BBC series hosted by Jonathan Miller on the history of atheism. Until fairly recently in the west (and still in much of the Muslim world) being an atheist was a crime punishable by death or imprisonment.

So showing that it is OK to mock supernatural beliefs is the point, even if it is done in a crude fashion.

Re: Different Audiences

Maher isn't trying to convert people to rationalism, he is just trying to open up the space to debate...

... where "debate" is defined in modern-day TV-talk-show terms: if I score more "zingers" than you do, or edit the footage to make my opponent look ridiculous, I win.

But I guess that's what it takes in 2008. :-(

Re: Different Audiences

So showing that it is OK to mock supernatural beliefs is the point, even if it is done in a crude fashion.

If nothing else, it proves that atheists can be jerks, too :->

Edited at 2008-11-13 12:14 am (UTC)

This Movie Was NOT Done By a Stand-up Comic...Mostly

I would really like to see this movie done by a journalist rather than a stand-up comic.

I'd love to say he's NOT NOT NOT a stand-up comic, but he has done stand-up, in spite of his being more cranky and irritating than funny. However, stand-up hasn't been his primary forum for over fifteen years now because he stank at it when he did. He's a comic like Charles Grodin is an actor. He's a jerk who would embarrass any cause he championed. He's neither informative nor entertaining and I mostly just wish he would go away...

Re: This Movie Was NOT Done By a Stand-up Comic...Mostly

I stand corrected. I would really like to see this movie done by a journalist rather than a wannabee stand-up comic.