Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Ann Arbor Film Fest Saga Continues

Cut the routine alreadyI don't know Christen McArdle, but I do know that she's a savvy marketer. The Ann Arbor Film Festival's executive director has been everywhere the past few weeks, staying "on message" about last year's state funding mishap and playing the role of the principled but magnanimous cineaste -- Defender of Art! -- to the hilt.

And some reporters, for their part, are eating it up like crack-flavored ice cream with heroin syrup on top. Mike Hodges's piece in today's Detroit News is a case in point. From the heroic-sounding headline -- "Film festival takes a stand" -- to the breathless description of the flap -- "one of the biggest free-speech controversies currently on the boil" -- the David (Davida?) vs. Goliath backdrop is set.

Wrong Again

But this take on the story remains as ludicrous as it was last year. I won't rehash what I previously wrote about the hullabaloo -- including that it's not in any way about "free speech" -- though I do want to again touch on some key misrepresentations. From the Hodges story:

"No one had watched the movies before trashing them," McArdle says. "The way it all went down was really wrong. You have to be accountable, because there's a ripple effect to what you do."
False. I was with LaFaive when we went to see the festival's screening of Proteus, a film featuring several racy scenes of hot man-love that somehow never seems to get mentioned in any of these news pieces. Now, in fairness, there is sure to be some disagreement about these scenes. Two quotes from IMDb reviewers illustrate this:
Those who go to this movie expecting lots of nudity and graphic sex will be disappointed. The sex scenes are frank but non-exploitive and, by current standards, almost modest.
As for the erotic part of the film, it could very well border on porn (again, due to the video look) except that it is much more human and realistic, and yes, touching. Anybody whose tastes run to lean-and-muscular men will definitely get their nickel's worth.
My tastes do not, and your mileage may vary, but the basic agreement is there that those scenes are sex scenes, and that is what got Lansing involved.

The Plot Stinkens

I admired McArdle's decision last year to forgo the state grant and instead seek voluntary funding to make up the difference because nobody should want politicians setting the boundaries of permissible artistic expression. But I say boo to her decision to get into bed with the ACLU this year to file a stupid lawsuit over the matter.

Now excuse me while I digress ever so slightly.

Basically, the ACLU is a fraud. They pose as champions of freedom and pretend to be constitutional experts, but when it comes to the First Amendment in particular, they need to get ACLU-E. They almost always seem to take the side of some special-interest group that wants to keep or expand its place at the tax-funded public trough and this, to them, is apparently the epitome of liberty and free speech. No surprise they are ready to defend the AAFF's "right" to its bit of tax boodle.

I do agree with the ACLU's attitude toward some things -- the so-called PATRIOT Act, for example. But their inconsistency and ignorance on many key issues only reminds me of the organization's murky historical ties to socialist and communist persons and activities. Probably this history is what makes them take logically absurd positions on other things like school choice. (State schooling is essential for the formation of obedient little comrades, after all.)

Oh well, this lawsuit should get the blue-haired 1960s radicals who make up the ACLU donor base to cough up a few more bucks for yet another self-congratulatory cause.

More Nonsense

Back to the Detroit News:
"With the Michigan case," [ACLU legal director Michael] Steinberg says, "what we've got are specific prohibitions on 'offensive' art that we think are unconstitutionally vague, overbroad and constitute impermissible censorship."
Not so fast, my friend. The relevant state law prohibits gummint grants "for projects or activities that include displays of human waste on religious symbols, sex acts or U.S. Flag destruction." The scare quotes around "offensive" seem to imply that is the language used in the law, but it isn't. Only if you cannot identify human waste, religious symbols, sex acts, or the U.S. flag is this language "vague" or "overbroad" (Also, how can a law sport "specific prohibitions" and be "vague" at the same time? Where can I mail away for my own ACLU law degree?)

Also, as usual, the ACLU cannot or will not distinguish between making forms or types of expression illegal (this is called "censorship") and declining to tax everyone in order to give some favored someone a platform (this, in the absence of any prohibitions, is called "free speech").

The whole thing is a perfect illustration of why it's important to keep the government out of the art business. Not only is it wrong to spend Ernest Q. Yooper from Iron Mountain's tax dollars on a film festival he will never likely see (or want to see) in his life, but state arts funding puts courts and politicians in charge of determining what things like "art" and "sex" and "human waste" are in order that somebody or other can wheedle a few thousand more samoleans out of the treasury. And last I looked, the courts and legislatures in these parts are not staffed with Solomons, Aristotles, and Kants.

Parting Shots

I also find it maddening that at a time of a budget crisis allegedly so bad that the state allegedly must impose non-alleged new and higher taxes on goods and services -- including stuff that hasn't been taxed in Michigan before -- that a) spending money on film festivals and the like is not automatically considered a luxury that the state can no longer afford and that b) the ACLU needs to further pile on legal costs (to be paid by -- guess who, sucker?) in its misbegotten lawsuit.

I'm having some personal budget issues of my own right now, but I can't go mug my neighbors to boost my checking account. I don't see why it's reasonable to imagine mugging's all right any time the state and its horde of supplicants deem it necessary, no matter how righteous they think they are.*

Why is it any harder to write a grant request to, say, Borders than it is to write one to the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs?

The Ann Arbor Film Festival will get along just fine without the 5-percent budget cut from last year's state grant. It survived before Michigan had its own little arts bureaucracy and it will survive just fine in the present and the future, too.**

And as long as it doesn't take a dime from Lansing, there's nothing the politicians can say about it, either.

* This is at least the second news story I've seen that mentions Ms. McArdle's Los Angeles pedigree in such a way that suggests we cow-tipping Midwestern rubes don't deserve a person of her sophistication and avant-garde stature. (John Cusack, star of Better Off Dead, is so cutting edge.) Well, if that's really the point, then yeah, maybe we don't.

** And yes, I will be attending at least one of the AAFF films this year -- using my own money, even. Who else wants to go? It's still a pretty cool event; let's just cut the self-righteous bullshit.

45th Annual Ann Arbor Film Festival -- official site
Festival strikes back -- Ann Arbor News
Money tight, Ann Arbor film fest goes on -- Detroit Free Press
ACLU, Ann Arbor Film Festival File Lawsuit Against Michigan -- ACLU of Michigan