Oliver Stone, PBS, and Censorship
Who has a real right to complain?
Two seemingly unrelated stories were in my morning paper. The first story is titled: "'Naive' Oliver Stone surprised by failure of 'Alexander'" where Director Stone asserts that his film was a box office failure due to Christian fundamentalist morality.
Director Oliver Stone said he was surprised by the critical reaction to his historical epic Alexander and put the blame on the fundamentalist morality in some parts of the United States.
Critics lambasted the film, which stars Irish actor Colin Farrell, and some conservative groups condemned Stone's depiction of the Macedonian conqueror's sexuality.
"I was quite taken aback by the controversy and fierceness of the reviews about a character we don't really know too much about," Stone told reporters in London Wednesday before the film's British premiere. "I operate on my passion and sometimes I'm naive, I don't think about the consequences," he said.
Stone said the commercial failure of Alexander in the United States could be linked to "a raging fundamentalism in morality."
"From day one audiences didn't show up," he said. "They didn't even read the reviews in the South because the media was using the words, 'Alex the gay.' As a result you can bet that they thought, 'We're not going to see a film about a military leader that has got something wrong with him.'"
The second story entitled "KNME Shelves Christian-Funded Show Challenging Evolutionary Theory" (Albuquerque Journal, January 7, 2005), is about the refusal of KNME to show the Intelligent Design oriented film "Unlocking the Mystery of Life". As I reported the other day, KNME, the local PBS affiliate, has determined that it would not be showing the ID-oriented film. The article quotes the marketing manager of the station explained the station's reasons for not airing the show (even though it has been aired at other PBS affiliates throughout the United States.
"The funders of this program have a clear and specific agenda that they openly promote," said KNME marketing manager Joan Rebecchi. "KNME has no position regarding this agenda, but we must guard against the public perception that editorial control might have been exercised by the program funders."
While these are two widely divergent articles, they are about the same thing: censorship. In the first, Director Stone believes that his movie was not seen due to a "fundamentalist morality" that kept people from wanting to see a "gay" Alexander the Great (ignoring, for the moment, the question of whether he was really gay). The second is about a PBS station exercising its editorial right to exclude a certain film which it believes is outside of the realm of the type of films this particular PBS affiliate runs. The first claims that the "fundamentalists" didn't show up to see the film, while the second complains that Christians had a hand in producing the film.
While I have my doubts about the veracity of either claim, if they are accurate then Christians are wrong when they refuse to see something that is immoral and they are equally wrong when they produce something themselves. In other words, if Christians take a stand for a topic either by refusing to watch something that they disagree with or by producing something that they do agree with, they are acting wrongly. In effect, both these stories are telling Christians to "shut up" and watch what we want you to watch. Now, that's open mindedness for you.
With respect to the actual claims, I have my doubts that the "fundamentalist morality" of the nation prevented Oliver Stone's movie from being a hit. Philadelphia was about a gay character played by Tom Hanks who sued for a wrongful termination, and the fact that he was an openly gay character didn't prevent people from coming out (perhaps, a bad choice of words) to see the film. My recollection is that it did very well at the box office.
And with respect to the claims by KNME, I submit the following analogy: Suppose that KNME ran a series of shows that assumed that the earth was flat. Suppose that it ran programs on how the water keeps from falling off the edge of the world, what scientists believe the earth is being held up by, and prime vacation spots near the world's edge. Suppose some group of scientists with some funding from Christian groups (a natural ally) presented a program that challenged this paradigm for airing. If KNME refused to run the program, would "KNME has no position regarding this agenda"? Of course not. It has accepted the flat-earth paradigm and regularly broadcast programs that are consistent with the flat-earth paradigm. It's refusal to broadcast an opposing point on the weak basis that some of the funding came from a Christian group is hypocrisy.