…as a piece of propaganda. I noticed that the local “art house” theater was screening Expelled, so I decided to check it out. There weren’t many people there. It started off very heavy-handed, a montage of archetypical scenes from the Communist and Nazi regimes, but the production values & execution of the first half of the documentary wasn’t half bad. I assume the producers were pitching this to a sympathetic autidence, so the intent was glamorize and present the argument effectively, not convert anyone to the message. The interviews with the eminences of the Intelligent Design movement were presented in very tight “sound bite” formats, in appealing settings with natural light. In contrast, the anti-Creationists were depicted in a far less flattering fashion; the lighting often artificial and harsh, the angles strange, and the cutting often was choppy. There wasn’t really that much data or new evidence in the film, and the arguments for and against Intelligent Design weren’t really explored with any depth. It was a superficial exposition of the issures, but Expelled does a good job of being less embarrassing than the ameteurish films that Creationists have been peddling for years (this is a low bar, I know).
All that being said, I thought the second half of the movie was less well done. Ben Stein’s sardonic delivery really didn’t fit well, in my opinion, with attempts to show the connections between evolutionary theory and the Nazi genocide. I’m sure that Ben Stein is really genuinely appalled, but he’s spent too long as a comedic actor to not be typecast. The novelty of Stein the actor also being a conservative public intellectual with a razor sharp mind doesn’t work for me when it comes to exposing the intellectual innards of the Nazi movement. And Stein was acting, the Expelled Exposed site notes that he had already made up his mind long before the film when it came to the connection between Darwin & the Holocaust. His moments of surprise and shock were almost certainly feigned, and I thought transparently so much of the time.
What’s going to be the long-term effect of the film? There was some buzz about Expelled exceeding expectations and becoming a hit. It looks like it will take in a little more than 2 million dollars, so scratch that. When it comes to Creationism I’ve always held that it is a shallow but widely held belief; half the American public rejects evolution, but never with enough ardor to overcome the elite consensus with any staying power. It seems likely that George W. Bush is sympathetic to Creationism, but what has he done about it? When it comes to evolution the elites accept it is the scientific standard, and I doubt that movies such as this will do anything to change that. At the end of the day Ben Stein, who has an economics degree from Columbia, has more cash on hand. And that’s about it.