I am not a sympathiser with Men’s Rights Activists. There are many, many reasons for this, and I’m not going to mention a single one of them , because it’s beside the point. I only mention it to be clear – the cancellation of a screening of documentary The Red Pill by Palace Cinemas does not annoy me because I think it will be a good or particularly interesting film. My objection goes beyond any individual film and its worldview.
My primary reason isn’t a particularly new one, yet it seems to need repeating – a robust pluralist democracy has to allow for views people may find abhorrent, or it simply isn’t a robust pluralist democracy. Australia, for all its undoubted freedoms, doesn’t do particularly well on this front. The past few years have seen a flurry of artists, politicians, religious figures and academics denied entry to the country, not because of anything they’ve done, but because of things they’ve said. The cancellation of The Red Pill screening is a continuation of that mindset, and it’s not good for us.
Once you ban something based on the fact it offends people, you either have to ban all things that might offend people, or you start deciding what a valid point of offense is. I covered a protest at the Israeli Film Festival (also at Palace, as it turns out) in 2015 by Friends of Palestine. They felt the festival legitimised what they saw as decades of war crimes by Israeli Governments. They would be within their rights to ask why they were ignored as the festival went on without a hitch. Why is the offense caused by the Israeli Film Festival any less valid than that created by The Red Pill?
Then you have the issue of what it is one is trying to achieve by preventing a film from being screened. I may well not have heard of The Red Pill were it not for the protests. By the reports I’ve read, it’s a fairly shoddy, uninspiring film with no obvious thematic point. The cancellation only serves to do 3 things: bring the film to more people’s attention, invest the film with unearned notoriety, and feed the MRA notion that there’s some sort of feminist conspiracy supressing their ‘truth’. Suddenly, it’s no longer a poorly constructed, kickstarter funded oddity, but the notorious, incendiary movie Social Justice Warriors don’t want you to see. If the goal of the protest was to lessen the impact of the film, I suspect its achievement will be the exact opposite. It’s 2016. If people want to see this movie, they’ll find a way.
But to return to my first point, my main worry is this – it’s not good for any of us. The calls to prevent offensive points of view from being discussed appears to be our first and only method of engaging with them. It starts swallowing ideas that ought to be publicly contested. The impulse to ban becomes the default.
My own view is that the film would have (minus the controversy), faded without much publicity. To the extent its ideas got into the public arena, I believe they could be defeated by other, stronger ideas, and I would hope to put a few of those forward. Withdrawing the platform for a film like The Red Pill only deprives us of the argument and does nothing to address the ideas that make the argument necessary.
Image from The Red Pill courtesy of Jaye Bird Productions & Cinematic Red