Several months ago a film came out called Expelled. Narrated by Ben Stein, the film purported to uncover some sort of anti-creationist bias in the scientific community. I did not see this movie, nor will I until I have the opportunity to see it for free. I can’t bring myself to give the producers a dime. By all accounts (at least, all accounts that I consider worth listening to), the film not only fails in its mission as creationist propaganda, but also fails as an example of documentary filmmaking. In many an Atheist blog the producers of Expelled were taken to task for the underhanded methods they employed to get prominent pro-evolution figures to agree to be interviewed for the film. My favorite evolutionary biologist PZ Myers, for example, was told he was being interviewed for a film with a different title, subject, and even a different production company. Many accused the filmmakers of fearing the truth; people claimed that the producers lied because they were afraid of what the interview subjects might say if they knew who was really interviewing them, and why. Or worse, these scientists and scholars might refuse to be interviewed at all.
Now comes Religulous, featuring Bill Maher. I intend to see this movie because I know in advance that it will give me a smug sense of self-righteousness, and that is a pleasant sensation even if it annoys the people around me. Part of me wishes the film could score a TKO against all organized religion, or at least the douchebags who want to blur the line separating church and state. Of course it won’t do that. Most creationists probably won’t see it, or at least not pay to see it, and either way their minds are already made up. There are probably very few people in the country who will be moved to change their lives as a result of what this movie has to say. Rather, many folk will probably be put off by the devious methods the filmmakers employed to get interviews from noteworthy figures representing the other side. According to this article from the LA Times, the makers of Religulous pulled pretty much all the same crap as the guys who made Expelled. Of course Religulous was directed by Larry Charles, who also spearheaded Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, so you can imagine he’s pretty much an expert at this kind of stuff. We Atheists and anti-creationists will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that our movie was better made.
And thinking about Borat, I realize that I have no problem with the filmmakers fooling their subjects. Seriously, can you think of a recent film that gives a more realistic depiction of heartland America than Borat?
The downside here is that, when using Borat-style filmmaking tactics to tackle subjects like evolution and religion, you can’t take the end result any more seriously.