If Al Gore paraded around the National Mall wearing a sandwich board and screaming, "We're all going to die," the nation's opinion leaders would roll their eyes and conclude that the former Vice President's long slide into insanity was finally complete. But because Al chose to express this sentiment using a more technologically modern medium -- a movie titled An Inconvenient Truth -- crazy Al has won back some of the sophisticates' respect he lost during the MoveOn.org/"how dare they!?" phase of his post-public office life.
Al Gore has become to climatology what Dan Brown is to theology. And since we're on the subject, Dan Brown has become to theology what Eric Schlosser is to sitology and Michael Moore is to foreign affairs.
Movies are the new sandwich boards. Suddenly, crazy people with daft ideas are being taken seriously. If you've got a crackpot theory that doesn't seem to be getting a lot of attention and is too intricate and abstruse to fit on two sheets of plywood, just turn it into 120 minutes of movie magic!
Back to Al Gore. There has been no shortage of debunkings of Al's end-is-near snuff film (here and here, for example). These point-by-point refutations use the printed word, research, scholarship, and cool logic -- but we are left unsatisfied. Al's got video of himself giving a PowerPoint presentation and computer generated graphics of what the world will look like if we all don't stop using disposable wooden chopsticks (no, really).
Clever amateurs have responded to Al in kind. Some web-based videos have swirled through the blogosphere ridiculing the Vice President-turned-college professor-turned-urinal manufacturer-turned television executive-turned-movie producer. Some are cute and biting (for example) but are only a couple minutes long and don't have the vast fortune of Laurie David backing their promotional campaigns.
As for Dan Brown and his wildly popular book-turned-movie The Da Vinci Code, all I can say is that the editor of a popular religious webzine recently told me he could not find anyone willing to write in defense of the movie and the accusations it makes about Church history. Nevertheless, Brown, who lives a few towns over from me, is presently having an underground tunnel dug through his yard so he can access his lap pool without exposing himself to the elements. That is to say, Mr. Brown has become shockingly wealthy selling a conspiracy theory that has, I'm sad to say, convinced many of the people who have been exposed to it.
And of course, we have Mr. Eric Schlosser, who doesn't like McDonald's very much and is apparently convinced that they are poisoning his food. Or something. Mr. Schlosser is rolling out his conspiracy theory on the silver screen as well. A fictionalized film version of his book Fast Food Nation takes yet another whack at the fast food industry. It also goes quite a bit further than its stated mission; IMDb describes the film thus: "An ensemble piece examining the health risks involved in the fast food industry and its environmental and social consequences as well [emphasis added]." The Motion Picture Association of America gave the picture an R rating "for disturbing images, strong sexuality, language and drug content," which makes very little sense to me. What is more, the film is a dud. Writes Wendy Ide in the Times of London, "Early buzz about [director] Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation as a Cannes competition front-runner quickly turned stale after the muted response to the first press screening." Apparently few Frenchmen share Mr. Schlosser's paranoid worldview. And if you can't get the French all worked up about American hamburgers, then you have little hope of winning over the broader American public.
There's a movie protesting Wal-Mart, too. And one that protests the Patriot Act. And one that protests industrial agriculture. And I am sure the years 2007 and 2008, the last two of George Bush's presidency, will bring us many more celluloid conspiracy theories.
When I was younger and I allowed myself to get upset at liberal Hollywood propaganda, my liberal friends would say, "Relax! It's just a movie." It seems now that our liberal friends need a little reminding. Get over yourself, Al. It's just a movie.
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