Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Myers Gets Some Airtime

Follow-Up To the Crashed Telecon

April 2, 2008
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In the wake of last week’s controversial telecon, coordinated by marketing Motive Entertainment, I took up P.Z. Myers’ invitation to email him. I requested an interview with him over the phone, which he very graciously agreed to. We talked about Expelled and its marketing for a little under fifteen minutes. Below is the full transcript of the interview, which Mr. Myers and I have both reviewed for accuracy. (A separate interview segment recorded for Past the Popcorn will run at that site later this month.)

Greg Wright: I’ve got three specific questions that I’d like to ask you about Expelled, (plus, of course, anything else that comes up along the way) about the film and the marketing of the film. It seems to me that the way that Motive Entertainment and the producers of Expelled have gone about marketing the film is reasonable enough; what they’re trying to do is to spin as positive a light as they can on the film, building buzz through word-of-mouth screenings, and then follow on later with general screenings for press. Now, that may or may not happen; I’m not privy to those plans. But from where I sit as an editor and a critic, it doesn’t seem that the publicity for the film is being conducted on an outrageous basis. What’s your perspective on that?

P.Z. Myers: Well, I don’t know what you mean by “not on an outrageous basis.” From a purely money perspective, sure, I can understand. What they’re trying to do is they’re trying to get some good word out there about their bad movie, and let’s ignore the content. Let’s just pretend it’s a good movie; all we want is to get people in the seats. And in that sense, sure. That’s what they’re doing. I’m more interested in the content.

GW: Right.

PZM: And I disagree strongly with their subject, so what I see happening here is that I’m actually helping them a little bit; I’m fueling the controversy, and I kind of expect that what’s going to happen as the end result of all this stuff is that there are going to be more people in the seats watching their movie. But you see, from my perspective, I don’t care how much money they make. They can get as filthy rich as they want. I don’t care. What I want is for people to go to that movie and see how bad it is; I want them to come in prepared to be critically-minded and skeptical, and look at it and see some of the awful things that they’re doing with that particular movie.

GW: And that leads me to my next question, which is about the content of the film. You mentioned in you blog post at Pharyngula yesterday that, from your perspective, the “premise at the heart of the movie is that the Holocaust was a consequence of evolutionary theory.” Now, I saw the movie, and it didn’t seem to me that that was the central premise of the film at all, but that the central premise of the film is that people are losing their jobs over disputes about Intelligent Design. So—

PZM: And that’s actually the proximate issue that they’re discussing. But I saw the clips, and I talked to people who have seen it, and the interviews of me and of Dawkins are all larded with this nonsense about Hitler. And they have actually promoted it using footage of goose-stepping Nazis marching down the street and so forth. So that does become a rather central issue. I can also criticize— I can criticize both parts. I agree that there are both parts there. So the one bad part is the Nazi business, which is total nonsense: Darwin is not a necessary prerequisite for Nazism because we’ve got a long history of persecution of minority ethnic groups in cultures everywhere; it doesn’t take Darwin to fuel that. But then when you say that it’s mainly about being people getting fired for this argument, I would say that there have actually been very few incidents like that; I know Carolyn Crocker was mentioned, and Guillermo Gonzales, and that’s about it. But you see, the thing is, they weren’t fired for disagreeing with someone. They were fired, if they were fired at all, for incompetence. And I see no problem with maintaining standards in academia, and only allowing people with expertise and with some perspective on the actual issues to be in that particular elite group.

GW: Right, right. I agree with that. But my question with regard to that: it seemed to me—and, of course, the question of how well they make the argument is another issue entirely—that the central premise of the film is this core issue. The Nazi imagery and the sequence in which Ben Stein goes to Germany to visit those places are, I think, very bad choices; but that didn’t strike me as being the central premise of the film at all.

PZM: But it quickly becomes the central premise of the film.

GW: Because of the baggage, you mean?

PZM: Well, you can’t sit there and accuse someone of being like Hitler and then say, “Well, that’s not really my complaint.” That’s kind of going over the top.

GW: Okay, so that’s a good question, though. So you felt that [because of that connection] the movie was saying you were actually like Hitler, then.

PZM: Oh, it’s accusing evolutionary biologists of being like Hitler.

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Greg is Managing Editor of the movie review site Past the Popcorn, and has written and contributed to a number of books. He is also a curator for Official Best of Fest.