Who Says Filmmakers Can't Change the World?

(Editor’s Note: As this entry was being prepared, news reports indicated that some of the violence in Libya may have been carried out by armed militants, rather than rioters, and that “Sam Bacile” may be a pseudonym for one or more individuals. Make of that what you will.) Let’s get this out of the way first: “We here at andrew-sherwood.com condemn in the strongest possible terms the attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt, and especially the violence which killed four diplomats in Libya.”

Happy, Mr. Romney?

I also should say I completely respect the rights of Mr. Sam Bacile to make the video which is alleged to have inspired the riots. Nobody’s freedom of speech should be trampled on.

But with Mr. Bacile’s rights to make his video come mine- to say he’s a moron, and his work is inaccurate, stupid and needlessly provocative. The New York Times said it best when they called the production “amateurish.”

I have a complicated relationship with incidents like this- I remember the hubbub over political cartoons in Denmark depicting Mohammed a few years ago. I was in a journalism class at the time where we discussed the merits of newspapers and media outlets printing the cartoons after the fact- “Aren’t they part of the story? Wouldn’t not printing them be bowing to censorship pressures?”

There will be no links to Mr. Bacile’s video on this website- if you want to see it, there’s a link in the NYT article here. This policy is not because I fear retribution for distributing it, but because Sam Bacile is a small, petty man whose ignorant little ego does not deserve any more attention than he’s already gotten.

“But what of the people who stormed the embassies? Aren’t they at fault?” you cry. Yes, absolutely. But in Egypt at least, people were incensed after the media there first publicized the video. Having not seen those reports, I am admittedly speculating, but I’ll guess they were not entirely accurate.

I had followed this story since it broke, and before Western media outlets had reported which video everyone was upset about. All anyone knew was that it was an “American” movie. I’m guessing that the Egyptian media sources were telling everyone this was a major American production- one of next summer’s blockbusters, maybe. I’m also guessing that many of the rioters had never even seen the video, but were reacting to what they had heard secondhand.

Of course, this video is not a major American production. It is largely the work of one brainless, awful individual. It was not in anyway newsworthy, in Egypt or anywhere else. The only reason to report on it would be to make people upset.

Which is exactly what happened.

It’s unfortunate that so many events that come out of the Middle East inspire metaphors about small children, but they’re all I’ve got. I include Sam “Horse Teeth” Bacile in this- he’s the seven-year-old poking Egypt in the back with a stick going. “Buttface! How’y like being a buttface, buttface?”

The reactions of the foreign media and the people of Egypt and Libya are also unjustified: “MOOOOMMMM!!!” And in situations like this, parents just say, “He’s trying to provoke you. Just ignore him.” Which is terrible advice. But true. Good parents will also say, “Sam, knock it off.” But he won’t. [ref] I’ve discussed these children metaphors with actress-writer-producer Stephanie Rosenberg, who agrees: Temper tantrums aren't acceptable. [/ref]

Sam “Only Capable of Conversing with a Farm Animal” Bacile is looking for attention. He

wants people to get angry. Maybe he says he wants to warn people about “the dangers of Islam.” As if there were any. Also attention seeking were the news media who initially reported on the insignificant, un-newsworthy video in Egypt and Libya. So were the rioters who wanted to express their displeasure at a fat, flightless pigeon on the far side of the world. [ref] Actually- I’m sorry about that last one. Fat flightless pigeons are still distantly related to really cool dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex, a relationship that pond scum like Sam Bacile will never have. So, fat flightless pigeons of the world, I apologize. [/ref] The only appropriate response to people saying and spreading horrible things is, “What a disgrace of a person,” and then letting them rot in their obscurity.

This all begs the question of why there are riots in the Middle East, specifically, when people talk about Islam, as opposed to anything else. I don’t know. I could chalk it up to a conservative culture, fundamentalists owning TV stations, or untl-recently tightly controlled societies adjusting to the open dialogues we’re used to in the U.S. Then again, every December, we have to hear about the alleged War on Christmas, which does not exist, is not newsworthy, and is dutifully reported on by people looking to make their viewers upset and drive up ratings.

Again, I don’t think anybody’s freedom of speech should be curtailed because of what they want to say. Television shows like Family Guy and South Park have faced threats and censorship for producing episodes about Islam and Mohammed. The network executives who censored the shows overreacted to the nitwits who made the death threats. Put them on the air, and let the police handle it.

We should be able to have open, honest discussions about everybody’s religious beliefs. There are vile, revolting passages written in the Quoran, just like in the Bible, and horrible things have been done in the name of Islam, just like every other religion and ideology in the history of the planet. But that doesn’t make saying nasty things to provoke people innocent or okay.

Use some judgment, people- filmmakers and news outlets: If you are trying to make people riot over your prejudices, do us a favor and keep your trap shut.

It took many people to make the events in Egypt and Libya unfold, and all share part of the blame. Legally, the only ones who can be prosecuted are the rioters committing the violence- and they should be. But the other links in the chain know who they are, and will have to live with their responsibility the rest of their lives. For Sam “Indirectly Responsible for the Assassination of a U.S. Ambassador” Bacile, I think that is punishment enough.