What Censorship Doesn't Look Like
MTV.com reports that film director Frank Darabont has officially filed for intellectual bankruptcy:
It's a rabidly anti-intellectual world — a world in which literature is destroyed or otherwise censored; the intellectually curious are chastised and punished to the point of distraction by nonstop, insipid programming; and meaningful knowledge and interpersonal relationships are shunted in favor of empty propaganda and personal apathy.
Welcome to Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," where "fireman" Guy Montag burns books while prosecuting, and in one instance killing, those who cling to them.
Welcome to President Bush's America, said director Frank Darabont, a culture that proves that there is more than one way to burn a book.
"There's always somebody who's trying to take away your right to think for yourself or express yourself and call you unpatriotic if you don't believe their bullsh--. That's what's going on now," Darabont asserted at last month's Comic-Con (see "Comic-Con '07: Big News On 'Iron Man,' 'Watchmen,' 'Star Trek,' 'Spidey 4' Amid Carnival Atmosphere"). "Our democracy is tottering on its last thread right now, and people don't really notice because, as Ray Bradbury predicted 50 years ago, they're too frightened or they're too distracted to notice.
" 'Fahrenheit 451' is more relevant today than [when] it was published 50 years ago," he continued. "George Bush has made this the most relevant piece of literature ever written."
(Emphasis added-DD; link via Norm Geras)
Welcome to the most idiotic utterance ever made by someone in Hollywood (and that is saying something). For one thing, Darabont might want to check with the guy who actually wrote Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury insists that the book is not about censorship, and in fact has been quoted as saying that "we've never had censorship in this country".
Still, Darabont has a point about the systematic crushing of dissent in George Bush's America. You should have seen the book burning we had outside the Greenville Barnes & Noble yesterday afternoon. Oh wait, that's a figment of the imagination, just like the alternate reality that Frank Darabont apparently lives in. In the reality the rest of us inhabit, you will find no shortage of anti-Bush books at the Greenville Barnes & Noble, let alone magazines and newspapers. If they don't have the specific volume that you're looking for, you can easily order it online, or go to a bookstore in the Triangle, where the selection of Bush-hating books is even more impressive. If you're not the book type, you can go on the web and browse any of the countless thousands of anti-Bush blogs and web sites. Or you can go to the cinema and be treated to a number of films "exposing" the alleged evils of the Bush Administration's efforts to combat radical Islamism. Finally, if you want to stay home, finding anti-Bush sentiments on television is about as easy a task as there is. Being anti-Bush is not only acceptable; it is fashionable; and in environments such as librarianship and academia, expected. To put it another way, Bush hatred is the new black.
In short, only an idiot could claim that free expression is under threat from the Bush Administration and its supporters.
Civil liberties scholar and Bush Administration critic Geoffrey Stone makes this point quite clearly:
So, we should consider recent events in context. The legislation amending FISA is unwarranted, reckless and possibly unconstitutional. Nonetheless, the overall state of civil liberties in the US, viewed in historical perspective, is surprisingly strong. There are no internment camps for American Muslims, no suspensions of habeas corpus for American citizens, no laws prohibiting criticism of the war in Iraq. This might not seem like much, but in light of past episodes, the intrusions on civil liberties since 9/11 have been relatively modest.
Sadly, though, Mr. Darabont is far from alone in his detachment from reality. Naomi Wolf, for example, has a new book coming out called The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. Just how does Ms. Wolf think the "end of America" will come about? Because Darth Cheney and the Bushitler are taking us straight down the road to Fascism. In a terrific essay in the September 3 Weekly Standard, Noemie Emery summarizes Wolf's argument as follows:
...In 4,600 overwrought words, she explained to the readers of the Guardian that there are ten steps to "Fascist America" and Bush is taking them all. He has whipped up a menace (the war on terror); created "a prison system outside the rule of law" (Guantánamo, to which public dissidents, including "clergy and journalists" will be sent "soon enough"); developed "a thug caste . . . groups of scary young men out to terrorize citizens" (young Republican staffers who supposedly "menaced poll workers" during the 2000 recount in Florida); set up an "internal surveillance system" (NSA scanning for phone calls to and from terrorists). An airtight case, this, and leading to just one conclusion: "Beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable . . . that it can happen here."
Emery then goes on to point out the very slight flaws in Wolf's case:
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, Cindy Sheehan is running for Congress; Valerie Plame is rich and famous; the young Republican "thugs" made all of one appearance seven years ago--chanting "Let us in!" when Miami-Dade County vote counters planned to move to a small inner room with no observers present; and press censorship is now so far-reaching that you can't even expose a legal, effective, and top-secret plan to trace terrorists without getting a Pulitzer Prize. "What if the publisher of a major U.S. newspaper were charged with treason or espionage?" Wolf asks breathlessly. "What if he or she got 10 years in jail?" Well, journalists have been harassed, pressed for their sources, and threatened with prison, but not by George W. Bush and his people. Back in the real world, only one prominent journalist has been jailed by the federal government in recent memory, and that was Judith Miller, imprisoned for 80-plus days for contempt by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the great hero of the anti-Bush forces for having indicted Vice President Cheney's chief of staff.
Finding the right balance between liberty and security during wartime, especially an asymmetric conflict against a transnational terrorist foe, is a serious issue that merits serious discussion. The Bush Administration is far from being above criticism. However, ridiculous paranoia of the kind peddled by Darabont and Wolf does not add to such a dialogue. Whatever mistakes the Bush Administration has made, it is not imposing fascism, censoring its critics, or crushing dissent. To argue that is has done any of these things is to display either a mind boggling detachment from reality or a shocking level of intellectual dishonesty.