Am I Missing Something?

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Evidently I’m the only film critic in America who isn’t convinced that Lake of Fire–the new abortion documentary from Tony Kaye–is the hyper-balanced, exceedingly fair film it’s been touted as. My 2 star review for Christianity Today is listed at Rottentomatoes.com as the only “rotten” rating, thereby bringing the film’s total percent score down from 100% positive to 96%. This both thrills me (b/c this film does NOT deserve a perfect rating) but also worries me. What are the other critics missing? Or what am I missing?

Here’s an excerpt from my review of Lake of Fire:

Coming in to the film, one expects (or at least hopes) that it will be a thoughtful consideration of the issues at stake in the ongoing abortion debate. Heaven knows we are desperate for a congenial sit-down in which all perspectives, arguments, and scientific evidence are presented and considered evenly—apart from personal attacks, cynicism and vitriol. But in this respect the film is a huge letdown—a wasted opportunity to truly consider the issue/act of abortion and its moral meaning.

Instead, we get a lopsided parade of talking heads in which well-mannered, intellectual liberals (Noam Chomsky, Alan Dershowitz, Peter Singer) represent the pro-choice viewpoint and firebrand country bumpkin fundamentalists represent the pro-life side. Defenders of the film might point out that the brunt of screen time goes to Christians and pro-lifers, which is true. But the majority of time devoted to the “pro-life” contingent centers upon the fringe extremists who picket and sometimes bomb abortion clinics, and occasionally assassinate abortion doctors. This is the face of the pro-life movement, as represented in Lake of Fire. (read more…)

It seems to me that this film represents the strangely paradoxical nature of representational politics in the media. On one hand, we are an extremely PC culture in which all races, orientations, minority groups, etc are supposed to be given a fair representation (either in film, or TV, or print media, etc). In my classes in graduate school, this is a HUGE emphasis: the ways in which we should critique media for uniformed, unfair, or otherwise skewed portrayals of minority groups.

An unwritten assumption for many such “progressives” in academia or media, however, is that Christians are NOT to be included in the “minority groups abused by the media” category. Perhaps it is because Christians are perceived to be part of the hegemonic “establishment”: the WASP-dominated coalition that wields all the power and money and spits out hate and bigotry. Surely this group needs no advocacy when it comes to fair media portrayal. If anything Christian representations should be actively and visibly dismantled or lampooned in the media. Or so goes the unspoken rhetoric.

Does anyone else see the contradiction here? Why, in film after film, are Christians being portrayed so unfavorably? Sure, you can’t say that the people in Jesus Camp or Lake of Fire weren’t asking for it, but there are plenty of other more moderate Christians who could have been featured just as easily. Documentaries (and any media, really) are in the business of selection. They reveal their bias through the choices of what and who–given all the options–is highlighted or used to “stand in for” a larger group or phenomenon.

While we scramble to fill quotas and level the socio/economic/cultural playing fields through media literacy programs and multicultural initiatives, some groups are glaringly omitted out of spite. And while the call for universal tolerance rings ever more loudly, the intolerant squelching of certain voices (i.e. intelligent, albeit exclusivist Christians) continues unchecked. I’m not calling for some reverse Affirmative Action or anything, but I do think the illogical nature of it all deserves some careful scrutiny.

2 responses to “Am I Missing Something?

  1. It is hard to be surprised by yet another extreme (and skewed) portrayal of Christianity. Unfortunately, it is not hard to find such a perspective when the issue being raised is abortion.

    Though I agree with everything you said, it is to be expected. There is a reason abortion is one of the hot topic issues of our time. The two sides of the argument have no foundation for understanding the other. Either abortion is murder, or it isn’t. What you believe makes the other side irrational and inhumane.

    All of that is to say – from the perspective of a pro-choice media, it makes sense to portray the extreme Christian response.

  2. Brett, I’m so thankful for your dissent on this film. I haven’t seen it, but the reviews I’ve read have praised its balance — primarily for the fact that Kaye shows an actual second term abortion, which has been taboo for as long as the debate has raged. I haven’t read your entire review, but the fact that the director does show the procedure should count as a step in the direction toward balance. However, it appears the only “rational” pro-life representative in the movie is Nat Hentoff, who is neither a conservative nor a professing Christian.

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