American Circumspect

I wrote a review that was published on April 20th about the documentary American CircumcisionI didn’t think it was particularly controversial. I essentially said the following five things:

  1. I didn’t care for the emotional appeal / call to action of the film. That style of persuasion annoys me as a matter of personal preference. I don’t make intellectual decisions based on my emotions. I don’t like to be sold.
  2. I didn’t find any objective medical evidence of deep harm done by circumcision. Of course there are isolated cases of botched operations, deaths from anesthesia, and so on, but big picture, there have been men circumcised for over two millennia with almost no issues arising from it.
  3. I’m circumcised and it’s never meant anything to me.
  4. I didn’t care for the connotation of using the word “intact” for uncircumcised men as that implies circumcised men are something other than intact. In a culture where most men are circumcised the word “uncircumcised” is a concise and accurate description that isn’t politically loaded. 
  5. I concluded by saying I don’t have a strong opinion about circumcision. I wasn’t persuaded by the doc. I said parents should be able to decide. I basically shrugged and said I didn’t see what the fuss was about.

“Somehow my lack of strong views resulted in name calling like ‘creep,’ ‘uninformed,’ and worse…”

Again, nothing about that seemed remotely controversial to me when I hit the save button. However, In the three days that followed, we received 70 comments or so. A few comments supported the review, but for the most part they were, to say the least unkind, and at most came across as direct attacks, not on the review, but on me for more or less a low intensity response to the film and its message. 

Somehow my lack of strong views resulted in name calling like “creep,” “uninformed,” and much worse. I was accused of prosecuting my own campaign for circumcision and not writing a review. I was accused of ad hominem attack, but if you read closely, what I said was that I didn’t care for the method of delivery of the message. I had nothing to say about the people sending the message. I, in fact, do not know the people in the film and therefore am not qualified to have an opinion about anything other than what they said in the documentary.

I’m not here to rebut the comments. They stand. We published most of them. (The only comments that weren’t approved included outside links.) All of the rest were approved regardless of content.

I’m here to talk about how we talk to each other. There were some calls for my reviews to have less opinion in them. I found that striking… a review is an opinion. Film Threat doesn’t publish articles simply to summarize or advertise films, though often both of those effects are achieved. Without opinion, what you’ve got is a film catalog. And that, we are not.

“There is another point of order to make here too, and that is the arrogance of such an intractable moral stance. Each generation seems to decide that they, finally, ultimately, after all of human history, have arrived at the pinnacle of moral purity and accuracy…”

Movie reviewers are like doctors or mechanics, you have to find one you trust. I myself find there are reviewers I usually agree with and some whose reviews annoy the hell out of me. I value most the recommendations of the reviewers I’ve tended to agree with when deciding which movies to spend my time on. I read the other reviewers also to get a different point of view. I see some of the movies they recommend in order to get a more well-rounded view of Cinema.

Being a reviewer for an outlet that covers a diverse array of films from around the world has been an amazing education in stories and experiences of people I would never have even known about. They span disparate topics that would never have crossed my mind and that I would not have sought out on my own. It’s been a gift to see through the eyes of these filmmakers and their subjects.  

The comments go too far. There is something biased in the tone that is culturally and politically insidious at work here too, in my opinion, that goes to the question of privilege. The Jewish faith (I am not Jewish, before anyone accuses me of preaching Jewish agenda) has had a deeply embedded tradition for thousands of years of circumcision, so if you mean to ban the practice, you’d better have a damn good rationale for doing so. 

There is another point of order to make here too, and that is the arrogance of such an intractable moral stance. Each generation seems to decide that they, finally, ultimately, after all of human history, have arrived at the pinnacle of moral purity and accuracy. That this time and this place, then, represents the conclusive moral framework of all cultures for all time. Never mind that people across the street or around the world don’t agree. This is it now, and you Philistines past and present will be judged by the laws of here/now. From Hammurabi to Clarence Thomas, the lawgivers have spoken and so it is written for all time. I’m sure Ozymandias thought so too. Yet morality still continues to change and evolve regardless. After some time we will be judged the Philistines. If you wait long enough, we’re all proven wrong.

So, maybe, show some flexibility and respect for other opinions, given your tiny little position in space and time?

Martin Luther King said “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I don’t know if that’s correct, but I’d like to think it is. If it is, then time will out the right answer, and you don’t have to declare war on everyone who disagrees. The Spanish once undertook to bring Christianity to the world if they had to kill every non-believer to do it. It just seems to me that there has got to be another way to address the fellow travelers we are sharing this time and place with in our brief lives.

“The real problem is the bubble…”

The real problem is the bubble. We saw this in the 2016 US Presidential elections and we continue to see it in the political and cultural polarization of our country, and around the world.

The bubble is an artifact of being online. The internet was supposed to give the power of the press to everyone, but it also cursed us with the power of the filter. The latter turned out to be far more effective. You can ensconce yourself now in an echo chamber that reinforces your biases. A philosophy now is something we reverse engineer: codify your existing habits/flaws/beliefs into a set of rules, find people of similar ilk, and decide we must purge the world of the misled infidel non-believer.

Comments sections become a sewer of vitriol mob rule populated by villagers with torches and pitchforks. In this model of the world where our Venn diagrams never overlap Other = Enemy. And any opportunity for real discussion and intellectual growth is lost.

It may be too late to point this out, but we have a journalistic obligation to at least leave a note here for anyone down the line doing forensics about what on earth happened to the early 21st century. The bubble is what happened.

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