Ben Stein: Everyone I Don’t Like is Hitler, Obama Edition

July 26, 2008

After failing to inspire a national movement of his own with the pro-ID-as-science documentary Expelled, arch-conservative pundit Ben Stein is now hating on people who have the audacity to be, you know, actually popular:

STEIN: I want — I’m glad you brought up this Denver thing. I don’t like the idea of Senator Obama giving his acceptance speech in front of 75,000 wildly cheering people. That is not the way we do things in political parties in the United States of America. We have a contained number of people in an arena. Seventy-five-thousand people at an outdoor sports palace, well, that’s something the Fuehrer would have done. And I think whoever is advising Senator Obama to do this is bringing up all kinds of very unfortunate images from the past.

BECK: Well, yeah, you know what? I’ve been — I’ve been saying that we’re headed towards a Mussolini-style presidency forever. (emphasis added)

I find it utterly amazing that Stein manages to say, with a straight face, that huge rallies are just “not the way we do things in political parties in the United States of America.” Really? Politicians both Republican and Democrat have huge mass rallies (even bigger than 75,000) as a regular order of business in their campaigns, all without a Godwin-esque peep from Beck or Stein. And national convention speeches are, while not exactly the Superbowl, watched by millions of Americans on television. How exactly do we go from millions of viewers to 75,000 people in person crossing some invisible line over into the Third Reich?

And note Stein’s use of one of the most bizarre meta-inanities of modern politics: bringing up a nasty associative smear while at the same time fretting over the supposed poor campaign advice that would give him the chance to make that very same smear! It’s a testament to the strange evolution of cable news coverage, wherein actual political analysts were first put on panels with hardcore partisan pundits (you know, for balance!), and then wholly replaced by them. Now we have the pundits pretending to both give sage analysis of politics while at the exact same time stumping for their party and politics.

Between this and Expelled, Stein really takes the cake when it comes to trivializing the Holocaust.

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Anti-Evolution Doc Expelled Really Is Trying for a Theatrical Comeback!

July 19, 2008

Looks like those vague hints and rumors were indeed authentic: Ben Stein’s anti-science opus Expelled is going to be re-released later this summer.

The rationale, however, strikes be as pure hype:

“We had many individuals and groups who had planned to see the film, but decided not to because the cloud of doubt this lawsuit brought to the film,” noted one of the film’s producers, John Sullivan.

Riiiiight. Because an obscure lawsuit based on copyright claims that few people outside of nuts like myself that follow these things ever heard about had a chilling effect on ordinary moviegoers.

Now, it might have been reasonable for Sullivan to note that the Ono lawsuit hurt the distribution efforts of the film, which it almost certainly did, and that this hurt their momentum.

But this production has always favored incoherently overwrought rhetoric over honest appraisal. Does Sullivan really expect anyone to seriously believe that any moviegoers at all avoided the film because of the lawsuit? Were they afraid that Ono would have thugs stationed outside the theaters threatening anyone who dared to watch it? Conflicted fans of both the Beatles and Ben Stein that held off declaring their allegiances until the legal issues were resolved?

“We came out of the gate with strong momentum only to have our integrity questioned by this frivolous lawsuit. While we’re thrilled with the film’s having earned nearly $8 million during its first run; we’ve heard from enough people and groups who want to see it in their theaters that we’ve agreed to re-release it this time without an undeserved cloud over its head.”

Because, of course, the only “cloud” over the film’s head was an obscure copyright lawsuit and not, well, you know, most critics panning it, sciencebloggers raking it over the coals for its distortions and slander, the ADL condemning it, and so on.

And this paragraph makes the “cloud” reasoning even more ridiculous. People obsessive enough to demand the immediate re-screening of a film which will likely be out on DVD in a few months are not the sort of people who would have stayed away the first time… based on the mere existence of a copyright lawsuit against the film.

“We will not be silenced. In fact it will have the opposite effect: we will re-release it and allow millions of Americans to go to the box office and register their vote against Ms. Ono and her attempt to keep them from watching our film.”

As John Pieret has pointed out, something is funky with the math here. Given that Expelled made about 7.5 million during its run, and ticket prices were generally in the range of 8 dollars and up, then at best the film got about a million viewers (not counting the fact that some percentage of people would have been repeats). The odds are astronomically low that any hypothetical second run would match that, let alone exceed it.

And indeed, despite all the hype, it looks like the producers know that, and that the “re-release” is not quite akin to a remastered Star Wars. At the end of the article, they note that they have 1000 prints of the film ready to go. Which is a rather far cry from “1000 different theaters already booked to show the film”: the sort of thing you might expect from an announcement about an impending re-release. As far as I can tell, this is all just hyperbolic way of announcing that the producers, free from the injunction, are now willing to lease out old prints to anyone who wants them.

Which all strikes me as sort of pathetic coming from an outfit that once seemed to sincerely believe that they would be sparking off a vast nationwide movement. We still don’t know whether the filmmakers actually broke even after their production and marketing costs.


Ben Stein, Still Classy, Tells ADL to Shove It & Finally Doubts Darwin Quote

June 21, 2008

Via Thoughts in a Haystack, I see that Expelled is currently appealing to Canadian audiences and reviewers… and getting about the same critical results it saw in the US.

John Pieret highlights two interesting new elements of the story.

First, there’s Stein’s response to the Anti-Defamation League, which was understandably unhappy about the way in which Stein’s film played the Holocaust for a cheap ideological goose, and completely ignored the rather pertinent role of antisemitism:

When I asked Stein about this statement, his response revealed his hostility toward the Anti-Defamation League more than anything else, as he told me bluntly, “It’s none of their f—ing business.”

Next comes the rather shocking realization that Stein is apparently only just now either realizing or openly admitting that the Darwin quote he reads in the film from Descent of Man… the one supposedly showing Darwin’s love of eugenics and amorality… was a highly edited, misleading quote mine:

When I alerted him to the alteration of the Darwin quote and read him the full passage, he said he was “kind of dismayed if that’s true.”

It’s a little late to be “kind of dismayed.”

I have a lot of sympathy for creationists who basically read lists of carefully compiled and context-excised quotes supposedly from biologists, and are basically hoodwinked into a bunch of misconceptions about what those biologists really thought and argued.

But when you put together an entire motion picture whose premise is that the majority of working scientists are basically giant conspiracy of dunces and you know better… well, we’re rather past the point where you can employ ignorance as an excuse.


Stein’s Anti-Evolutionary Doc Expelled Trying to Organize a Theatrical Comeback?

June 12, 2008

With Expelled down to just a handful of theaters nationwide, it certainly looked like it’s theatrical run was pretty much over and done with. The film’s blog hasn’t been updated since April, it’s Press Room since early May, and the most recent content about from the film from the producers seems to be a largely irrelevant celebration of their victory in the fair use case against Yoko Ono.

But some people have apparently been receiving word that the producers want to stage a theatrical comeback of sorts. Various emails and other messages have been appearing over the last week purporting to be from Motive Entertainment, Expelled’s marketing/PR firm, and all are calling on supporters to help lobby the film back onto multiplexes around the country. From one such:

I am in charge of the re-release of our film Expelled…The goal is to gain 1,000 new theaters to release the film….over the summer…We are booking new theaters now…

The caveat is that we need at least one group of 250-300 to support the film with a verbal commitment and then tell me personally what theater is preferred and I will see to it that theater get the film at once…

If this little whisper campaign is legitimate (and I’m still a little skeptical at this point on that score), it’s simply more evidence that the film failed to have the cultural and financial impact that the producers had once hoped. And that, flustered and confused by the lack of impact, they’re trying to find some way to implement a small-scale do-over.

Still, as I said, I’m skeptical. While the name noted in the story, Tripp Thorton, appears to be a real employee of Motive, the email included doesn’t seem to be their corporate domain. And, unless I managed to stare straight at it without seeing, Motive’s website no longer mentions Expelled in any of the places you’d expect.

The only thing that strikes me as really plausible about the messages is that they appeared just after the film’s producers won their lawsuit against Ono, thus freeing them from the injunction that may have hindered previous efforts to expand the film’s distribution.

Other than that, no one seems to be talking so far, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Unless we do see some miraculous return from obscurity in the theaters, it won’t be until the DVD release, along with the inevitably maddening extras, that there will be much more to say.

Update: On her handful of redundant, self-plagiarizing pro-ID blogs, Denyse O’Leary keeps referring to a “surprise or two in store for Americans.” Could she be referring to something like the above?


Sternberg Was Not Expelled By Big Science: More on Ben Stein’s Movie Misrepresentations

April 18, 2008

In honor of Expelled’s release, it’s really worth taking another long hard look at one of its key cases: the supposed destruction that rained down upon Dr. Richard Sternberg for publishing an article supporting Intelligent Design in a systematics journal. Since the crux of the film’s case (and the claims that even movie reviewers which hated the film bought into, is the idea that academics are wrongly persecuted merely for being open-minded) is that we’re living in another dogmatic Inquisition where merely questioning the scientific orthodoxy is career suicide, you’d think a little more attention would be given to seeing whether these claims really hold up to scrutiny.

Ed Brayton over at Dispatches on the Culture Wars has written a phenomenal article covering the controversy over at eSkeptic. The content covers much of what Expelled Exposed’s section on Sternberg does, but in much more detail.

The Discovery Institute makes a tepid response to the later, and you know what? It’s a good one for what it needs to do: which is simply to sound plausible at first. You read through it, and it sounds like it has some really strong points, and as long as you stop there, maybe you’ll think you’ve done your part, heard from both sides, and maybe split the difference.

Unfortunately, Ed Brayton is still around and kicking, and lays bare just how deceptive this additional defense of Sternberg’s ephemeral martyrdom is as well.


HJ Live Interviews Expelled’s Mark Mathis

April 15, 2008

Greg Wright and HollywoodJesus have been covering the film Expelled! over at SteinWatch for quite some time now. Wright has been fairly skeptical of both sides of this debate, and while I’ve spent some time disagreeing with his positions on the film, he’s nailed down enough excess, overstatement, and error from people in both camps to qualify as a must-read perspective.

For instance, Wright today has an interview with Expelled’s associate producer, Mark Mathis that manages to get significantly more detail on the film’s production than we’ve seen previously, including mention of other film titles that were under consideration along with “Expelled” earlier in the project’s production. Mathis also repeats his usual implication about the film not receiving substantive criticism:

Throughout the last weeks, maybe even months, what we have seen are allegations, charges that are made, that are not substantive, that don’t cut to the heart of the film’s arguments, that are really nothing more than insignificant distractions.

I agree that in the grand scope of things, debates over the behavior of the production are pretty insignificant (though I’m not sure that those aren’t issues still worth looking at on their own terms). But when it comes to whether critics have addressed substantive issues, I would say that it’s either Mathis that’s simply too distracted to notice that they have done so (indeed, in many cases have been doing so long before the movie was even conceived), or that he himself wants to distract others from noticing said substantial criticism.

If you missed it, Wright also interviewed PZ Myers a little ways back about his perspective on the film, his featured interview in it, and the infamous Mall of America screening that Myers was ejected from.