Friday, November 16, 2012

In Defense of "Innocence of Muslims"

There’s no denying that the hyper-controversial movie is crude, stupid and highly offensive…but is that really enough to warrant worldwide censorship?

On June 23, 2012, a film called “Innocence of Bn Laden” (apparently, the extra “i” in “Bin” went over the Kinkos budget) was screened at the Vine Theater in Los Angeles, to an audience of allegedly 10 people. And unbeknownst to that scant crowd, they’ll probably be the only folks in history to get a look at the full version of what has come to be known as “Innocence of Muslims”, i.e., “That One Movie That’s Pissed Off A Whole Lot Of People Over There in The Middle East.”

Even before the condensed version of the film went viral on YouTube, it’s history was pretty darn bizarre. The first sighting of the film came in the form of advertisements that somehow made it into the pages of Arab World, perhaps the Los Angeles area’s most circulated Muslim-targeted entertainment industry trade magazine. According to the Los Angeles Times, the ads caught the attention of some fellows over at the Anti-Defamation League, but since they couldn’t read Arabic, they decided to just live and let be.

The crew supposedly filmed the movie on a one-day shoot at the Blue Cloud Ranch, for a somewhat paltry $1,195.00 USD. It’s primary backer was Media for Christ - a Duarte, Calif.-based nonprofit that, obviously, has tried to move heaven and earth in order to distance itself from the incendiary production - who say that they were duped into laying down money for some religious-themed action movie called “Desert Warriors.” A second screening of the film was scheduled for June 30, but according to an expert eyewitness - a Vietnam Veteran who told the L.A. Times that he slipped ads for the screening at various mosques in the area, with the hopes of most likely beating up whoever came out of the theater afterward - not a single soul showed up for the presentation.

And then, some dude named “Sam Bacile” uploaded a poorly edited 13-minute digest of the film to YouTube, and the rest, as the say, is history. And also, 75 dead people and counting, but hey, who’s really keeping score here?

By now, we’ve come to fill in most of the blanks regarding the film’s origin. We know the primary financier of the film was some dude named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who, over the last three decades, has been busted by the feds for everything from intent to manufacture meth to bank fraud to stealing the identity of a six-year-old child. We know that the actors involved in the film were totally duped by the filmmakers, who ended up dubbing over their dialogue to include references to Muhammad, Allah and the Quran without their knowledge. But what we don’t know - and may possibly never, ever know - is what happened to the full version of the film, which was said to have been at least 70 minutes long. At this point, it looks like “Innocence of Muslims” - by the way, a media-bestowed title and not an official one, in any regard - has officially joined movies like the original cut of “Greed” and Jerry Lewis’ “The Day the Clown Cried” in the pantheon of legendary “lost films.”

You’ve probably seen the clip on YouTube by now, but if you haven’t, here’s my condensed look at the condensed movie:

The film begins with a doctor’s family being attacked by an angry mob, who ransack the doc’s clinic (in what is easily one of the poorest green screen jobs you’ll ever see) and hack women upside the head with plastic axes. Prior to that, some unnamed general talks about how had Muhammad had 60 plus wives, and how he himself would kill his wife and “steal her medicine” if she became ill.

From there, we learn that the doctor’s family is Christian, and by golly, all them Egyptian forces sure are persecuting them extra hard today. Following some of the absolute clumsiest editing you’ll ever bare witness to, the doctor draws an equation on a dry-erase board explaining how “Muhammad” is the great variable in terrorist activity. Of course, everyone has had their voices dubbed over, and horrendously. If you recall that one episode of “South Park” after Isaac Hayes left, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what audio atrocities await you here.

Then, we get to the stuff that may be considered just slightly offensive to members of the Islamic faith. “Muhammad” is introduced as this thin white guy with long hair - think, an anorexic Conan the Barbarian - who is called both “the unknown father” and “the bastard” by his family. He lays in the lap of a woman, who keeps asking him if he “sees the devil” between her thighs, which is followed up by a quick cut to “Muhammad” labeling a donkey as “the first Muslim animal.”

After that, one of “Muhammad’s” handlers says that he will make a “book” for him, consisting of various parts of the New Testament, the Torah and some flat out lies. Then, we see “Muhammad” as a gang leader, who advocates pillaging, raping and all sorts of perverse child abuse. A few parallels are drawn between Muhammad’s campaign and the Jews’ conquest of Jericho, which devolves into a segment in which not only is “Muhammad” accused of being a child predator, but a H-O-M-O. And if that isn’t enough for you, two of his underlings even debate whether or not he’s a “top” or “bottom,” too.

Then, we see an old lady get ripped apart by horses, because she called “Muhammad” a caravan robber, an oppressor and a tyrant. Following that scene, a dude is killed in front of his wife (once again, an all Caucasian cast on display here), which is capped by a sequence in which “Muhammad” is beat up by two women after some sort of three-way sexual escapade. The film concludes with a blood-soaked “Muhammad” staring into the screen…in essence, the audiovisual equivalent of telling the really, really unstable kid back in the third grade that his mother was a whore, his father was a transvestite and that his breath smelled like various shades of animal anus.

It’s pretty easy to see why so many Muslims would take offense to that. In fact, it’s very, VERY easy to see that. The big question moving from here, however, is whether or not the film has the RIGHT to exist, solely as religiously-anchored agitprop.

So far, the movie has been banned in Egypt, Libya, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Singapore, with efforts currently underway to ban the film in Russia, Brazil and Turkey. After the suits at Google refused to take the video of YouTube, the governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sudan responded in kind by simply blocking ALL of YouTube from its national Intraweb. Even members of the Obama Administration are reported to have asked Google to “reconsider” hosting the videos, if that wasn’t Orwellian enough for you. There’s no denying that “Innocence of Muslims” is offensive and stupid and poorly made, but is that really enough reason to attempt to eradicate it from the face of the earth like it was rinderpest or something?

Well, ya’ll know me, and I’m one First Amendment-loving mother-lover. Not only do I think the guaranteed right to free expression is the absolute best thing about America (umm, when it’s allotted, anyway), I would say it’s pretty much the ONLY truly, 100 percent, unequivocally, indisputably great thing about the US of A as a whole. Just try looking at the libel laws in Canada and the U.K, and the staggering number of films banned in such liberal progressive utopias as the Netherlands and Norway, and you’ll see just how much more expressive freedom we have as Americans than any other peoples on Earth. Much more than any other right - the right to healthcare, the right to economic equality, the right to employment, the right to housing, and all of that other jazz we’ll never really have - I value my First Amendment right to say whatever I want, no matter how stupid, illogical, irrational and offensive more than any other liberty. As long as I have mostly unfettered expression as a citizen, I could probably put up with all of the other crap going on in the country, and rather happily, too.

And then, along comes something like “Innocence of Muslims,” and things get all sticky and problematic for everybody. Now, the U.S. Constitution says you’ve got the right to say pretty much whatever you want, barring three exceptions: it’s a threat to national security, it’s obscene (and woo boy, the fun we could have discussing the ridiculously subjective nature of that little tidbit) or a direct public threat to at least one or more individuals. Hell, the Supreme Court even ruled earlier this summer that, technically, lying was constitutionally protected speech, so there ya’ go right there.

Clearly, in the hands of easily frightened reviewers, “Innocence of Muslims” could  be considered a national security threat (well, no shit there, Sherlock) but whether or not it’s truly obscene is in the eye of the beholder. Seeing as how the film has SOME inkling of artistic and political merit, it passes the SLAPS test rather facilely, and the film, while definitely aimed to piss off, doesn’t make any direct, physical threats to any specific, identifiable peoples.

With that in mind, the grounds for censoring the film - in accordance to the presupposed, U.S. Constitution definition of expressive freedom - can only exist in a vacuum in which the film itself is considered a security risk that MUST be suppressed in order to prevent vindictive retaliation from some foreign presence. It’s a film intended to agitate a population known for extreme behavior, no doubts there, but is that REALLY enough of a reason to contemplate banning the video outright?

I say no, for several reasons. First of all, just about EVERYTHING can be considered offensive to a certain population, even something as innocuous, domestically, as giving another individual a “thumbs up” of appreciation. Displaying an image of Muhammad as a wife beater and a chi-mo is certain to infuriate a couple of lunatic fringe Islamists, but in case you haven’t noticed, it’s only a small portion - as in, proportionally, about the same percentage of Christians that blow up abortion clinics and try to keep Martin Scorsese movies from playing at the local cinema here in America - of the Arab World that’s instigating such acts of violence supposedly inspired by the movie. Call me a cynic, but I don’t necessarily think that the film itself was what directly inspired such acts of mayhem and murder; in essence, these are people that have wanted to commit acts of widespread homicide for quite some time, and “Innocence of Muslims” only served as a convenient excuse for the periodic uncapping of said murderous rage.

A secondary reason as to why the film shouldn’t even be in the running for censorship is that it PROMOTES domestic civility. Yeah, you heard me right, I said “promotes” civility. How? Because it’s an artistic, non-violent form of political activity, that’s why. As dumb and offensive as a lot of politically-motivated folks are here in the U.S., we can at least take comfort in knowing that their stupid and offensive behavior is limited to inane blog posts and empty, non-nondescript threats on YouTube. All in all, I’d much rather have some wacko burn copies of the Quran to display religious contempt than having some other wacko drive a truck bomb through a restaurant, so the next time you hear someone bemoan the “wretchedness” of Fred Phelps or Louie Farrakhan, just remind yourself that at least they’re expressing their hostilities with words as opposed to pipe bombs.

And lastly, I parrot the words of a guy I never thought I’d by quoting for any legitimate reason, because if the film IS banned, that means the terrorists have indeed won. By appeasing a loose string of religious fundamentalist maniacs, that’s practically cultivating violent activity as a sure-thing in the future, because it demonstrates that targeted, violent acts WORK as modules and methods of obtaining prior restraint against politically, religiously and culturally dialectic opinions. “If you blow us up,” the message there is, “then you’ll get exactly what you want out of us.” Now, let’s just see how far that little strategy goes in preventing acts of ethnocentric violence in the future.

At the end of the day, there’s no denying that “Innocence of Muslims” is but an attempt to rattle the monkey cages, but guess what? It’s an attempt to rattle the monkey cages that’s decisively non-violent, non-oppressive and ultimately, non-hurtful (directly, anyway) to anyone. It’s crude and stupid and pretty thoughtless, but in those Bizarro qualities, I think you’ll find everything you need to in order to defend it as an artistic vision.

Hey, I’d rather watch a movie that blows than get blown up, any day…

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