“America” – Response to Critics

Admittedly, Christians are primarily conservative in their political viewpoints and generally sympathize with the notion of American exceptionalism as outlined by Christian apologist and conservative activist Dinesh D’Souza in his latest documentary, “America: Imagine the World Without Her”, and book bearing the same name. To anyone who is marginally informed in today’s western world, most media outlets will refuse to welcome this documentary with open arms and an inquisitive journalistic approach. If you had no other information to establish your opinion on ‘America’ and D’Souza other than the information provided to you by mainstream movie critics, you would think that D’Souza was a complete moron who decided to make a controversial movie on a fallacious whim with a motivation of upsetting the liberal establishment out of spite fueled by conservative radicalism. Well, I’m hear to tell you that this movie is much more than some cinematic infidel on a quest of unbalancing the politically-correct status quo; his motive is much deeper than that.

 While I’m not traditionally a voice for the movies, I feel strongly compelled to support a fellow Christian apologist and fellow American in need of support. I have read five of Dinesh D’Souza’s books and have grown to appreciate the quality and substance in each of his works. There are few authors that can consistently provide substantial and reliable works in a vast amount of areas with the skill and clarity of D’Souza. It is a skill that commands respect, regardless of whether one agrees with his conclusions or not. Those that dismiss him as a narrow-minded ideologue are foolishly underestimating an intellectual whose abilities are unrivaled by a large majority of academia.

 With great pride I wholeheartedly concede that I am a Christian conservative who largely shares the same political and religious ideology as Dinesh D’Souza. In fact, D’Souza has been an influence on the way I view politics in the world and has been an example of how to persuasively communicate my Christian faith to skeptics. I consider him a valuable resource to both Christians and conservatives in respect to the communication of this valuable information to the public at large. Over the last couple years, I know he has experienced significant personal turmoil which I know very little about and pray that this turmoil will mold him into a stronger Christian man.

 Now that I’ve established my biases, I’ll do my best to objectively provide responses to some of his most hostile critics. Are the critics only chest-pounding about their own personal dislikes of the movie without an evidential basis or are their criticisms evidentially justified? We must evaluate their criticisms of the movie on the basis of their arguments and not on the basis of our ideology lest we commit the genetic fallacy. My desire is to give their criticisms a fair treatment and not simply dismiss them on the basis of an ideological disagreement. My thesis is to discover whether or not the current responses to the movie are presenting an evidential problem to D’Souza’s thesis.

Peter Sobczynski with http://www.RoberEbert.com

 The first of the disgruntled reviews is authored by Peter Sobczynski at RogerEbert.com. The review begins by setting the tone of the article by describing D’Souza as a “disgraced former university president and convicted felon” in the first sentence, so the personal biases towards D’Souza are open and obvious for those that subscribe to the reviews of Mr. Sobczynski. Sobczynski believes that,

 “Most of his [D’Souza] theories and suppositions are misleading at best (he makes a point of mentioning that Obama supported the bank bailouts but fails to mention whose presidency they occurred under) and silly at worst (such as his assertion that the real face of income inequality is none other than Matt Damon since he made a lot of money from those Jason Bourne films)”

 Sobczynski then asserts that the film will inevitably be “picked apart in the coming weeks” from an evidential perspective so he then redirects his attention to focus on how terrible the filmmaking was. As he described the film, “It looks terrible, it plods along with all the verve of a PowerPoint presentation, the occasional dramatic recreations are exceptionally cheesy and the interview footage is so needlessly over-edited that you get the feeling that something may have gotten changed around in the cutting room.”

 In his conclusion, Sobczynski states that, “”America” is like the cinematic equivalent of one of those forwarded e-mails of mostly discredited “facts” that you receive from an uncle and at least those sometimes include family photos or a meat loaf recipe that can be of some value”. 

 It is abundantly clear that he is not a fan of D’Souza, personally or politically, and abrasively expressed his dislike from the first sentence. However, he outlined that his primary purpose of the review was not to criticize the facts presented in the movie because he said that he trusts they’ll be ‘picked apart’ soon; but as I noted in the quote above, that didn’t stop him from trying. He felt the facts presented in the movie were “misleading at best” and “silly at worst” but failed to substantiate any of his comments with any facts that would support his claim that ‘America’ is comparable to the ‘discredited facts’ you’d receive in a forwarded email. Maybe his trust in his liberal colleagues to ‘pick apart’ the movie is greater than his desire to fact-check the claims for himself to ensure the reliability of the film before critiquing it to make sure he’s presenting an accurate review?

 The reality of the matter is that the genre of film that he is critiquing is a documentary; not a drama, comedy, action, etc… He is critiquing a political documentary about the current condition of the United States. The fact that he wants to construct an escape hatch by saying that his “job is to analyze how the film works in cinematic terms” to avoid honestly addressing the political issues in the movie is a cowardly way to get a couple cheap shots at the movie from a cinematic perspective. In my opinion, if someone attempts to review a movie, especially a documentary, then one must review the content of that movie along with the cinematic quality of that movie; not just the cinematic quality while leaving it up to someone else to deal with the fact-checking.

 Read his review at http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/america-2014

Gabe Toro with The Playlist

 Gabe, similar to Sobczynski, made a lackluster effort of trying to rebut ‘America’ and also failed to provide evidential support for his refutations. It begins with a series of personal attacks, some of which are relatively mean spirited in nature. For example,

“D’Souza is an obnoxious personality on film: often wearing bleached mom jeans and multi-colored thrift shop polo shirts, he speaks condescendingly slow so that the cheap seats can hear him nice and clearly. His speech has the sort of halting, faux-intellectual cadence that makes you wish you were more of a bully in high school.”

This first critique of D’Souza’s character is enough to show where the rest of the article is leading. Toro does not wish to give a viable refutation of the movie; he merely wishes to participate in a series of unrelenting personal attacks. He characterizes the film as “the weakest and most pathetic straw man argument ever put to film.”

 Toro outlines the points that D’Souza makes regarding slavery, such as, “slavery had been a part of several other countries’ evolutions…, that ONE major slave owner (William Ellison) was black, and that the first female millionaire in American history (Madam C.J. Walker) was in fact a former slave.” While D’Souza presented these facts, which are acknowledged as facts in the review, he does not seem to acknowledge the significance of the points from a historical perspective and left out the primary thrust of D’Souza’s historical analysis. Instead, his conclusion was, “So, we can’t really talk about slavery’s negative affects without discussing the potential character-building that was going on.” By drawing that conclusion, Toro is guilty of the very same thing he accuses D’Souza of being… a cherry-picker. Toro did not address how our founding documents were the basis for the justification of freeing the blacks from slavery and abolishing segregation.

 For example, D’Souza showed a reenactment of Lincoln in a presidential debate with Stephen Douglas where he described how the Founders viewed slavery,

 “They intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects…they defined with tolerable distinctness in what respect they did consider all men created equal – equal in certain inalienable rights. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, not yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them…they meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit”.

 The Founders understood that if they insisted that slavery be abolished immediately, they would not foster the support of all the colonies needed to proceed forward in the establishment of independence of a single nation. The reality is that we rightly look back and sense the hypocrisy of establishing a country where one of the basic tenets is that ‘all men are created equal’ and still permit slavery. There is no morally justifiable reason for such allowances, but I do feel proud that our Founders had the foresight to produce a document that considered all men equal in certain unalienable rights, such as ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’, which is ultimately what the abolitionists relied upon to justify their position during the abolition of slavery. For Toro to ignore this point that was clearly emphasized in the movie is a picture perfect example of cherry-picking in favor of his agenda

 Toro classily concludes his review with one final poke at D’Souza,

 “Of course, those aforementioned bullet points merely hammer home that this is artless propaganda, uninformed, sensationalistic and devoted to buzzphrases (“the shaming of America”), simplicity (“have the United States been a force for good or ill in the world?”) and grandstanding (“We won’t let them shame us, we won’t let them intimidate us”—who is them and who is us?).”

 Toro is certainly not a D’Souza fan and he didn’t even pretend to be objective. He allowed ideology to get in the way of an objective review. There was nothing within the review that had a shred of critical methodology nor does the author give the impression that he is really concerned with giving an objective review.

 Read his review at http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/review-is-dinesh-dsouzas-america-the-worst-political-documentary-of-all-time-20140630

 Martin Tsai with the Los Angeles Times

 To be fair, this is probably the most charitable of the negative reviews. It gives credit where credit is due, but still doesn’t yet fully buy what D’Souza is selling. Tsai remarks, “D’Souza makes some cogent points yet will not concede the existence of any gray area.” While he is moderately respectful of D’Souza, Tsai still is not withholding from characterizing D’Souza as a participant of “”Sesame-Street”-style show and tell, complete with highly suggestive musical cues.” Again, like with all the other reviewers, he is failing to produce a review that legitimately challenges D’Souza’s claims.

 Read his review online at http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-america-documentary-movie-review-20140703-story.html

 Rafer Guzman with News Day

 Simply put, this is the conclusion of Guzman,

Now, you could bother debating D’Souza on history and semantics and rudimentary logic, but chances are you’d end up feeling like Meathead arguing with Archie Bunker. D’Souza’s thinking is so disorganized and emotionally driven that he often loses his own plot. By the time he’s shedding tears for “the naive corporate executives” of Wall Street and the health-care industry — all pawns in the government’s evil chess-game — you may wonder what America he’s living in.”

This is the conclusion of a roughly 500 word review. However, this quote summarizes what the rest of his review was communicating. As I have personally seen the movie and read the book, I can assure you that any individual of average intelligence would not be lost by the communication of the plot. Again, we see another reviewer fall victim to critiquing with their emotions rather than their intellect. In fact, it almost appears as though the review was written without ever having saw the movie.

 Read his review online at http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/movies/america-review-dinesh-d-souza-s-winners-history-dismisses-underdogs-1.8642169

 Conclusion

 All these reviews send the same old message packaged and repackaged under different names. Simply because something is phrased differently does not make the message any different. There is absolutely nothing original about these reviews. The most common ‘critique’ was an ad hominem. I’m including other reviews that I didn’t individually address but pretty much stick to the common narrative that most reviewers are sticking to; which is the narrative of trying to mitigate the damages to the liberal ideology before people begin to recognize the fatal flaws with it.

 As one of my mentors J Warner Wallace puts it, “stay in your lane!” I concede that I’ve stepped out of my lane on this post. I feel most comfortable talking about matters concerning Christian apologetics. However, I have a deep love for my country and am growing increasingly worried, like Dinesh D’Souza, about the stability of our nation under our current leadership. Obviously, the Obama administration is not the sole cause of this problem. However, a strong case can be made that it is the progressive ideological approach to politics that is causing the steady decline that D’Souza warns of.

 Most importantly, we must never forget that the founding documents have their foundation in Christian principles. This is why we believe in American exceptionalism. Our Christian principles that are uniquely expressed through the founding of our American nation transcend each individual American and have emboldened us to become a Christian country that can positively grow and influence the world and become the standard that everyone measures themselves against. This is what American exceptionalism is. Without Christianity, there is no American exceptionalism because our Christian principles are what made us exceptional to begin with. This is what we must preserve to maintain the life of liberty that our Founders dreamed of and so many other Americans have fought and died for.

 God bless America!

 Reviews:

 http://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/movies/america-imagine-the-world-without-her-movie-review/2014/07/01/a420aac6-012e-11e4-8fd0-3a663dfa68ac_story.html

 http://www.avclub.com/review/director-2016-obamas-america-it-again-america-206466

 http://www.villagevoice.com/2014-07-02/film/dinesh-d-souza-s-america-the-vainglorious-huckster-trembles-before-another-left-wing-conspiracy/

 http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/America

 http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/entertainment2/58132654-223/souza-america-movie-obama.html.csp

 http://variety.com/2014/film/reviews/film-review-america-imagine-the-world-without-her-1201253480/#

 http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2014/jul/04/america-imagine-a-world-without-her-201/?f=entertainment-movies

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