7/3/09

RVOD070 The Bill of Rights in Action

(1968, Educational/Short, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

Isn’t there a middle ground where we get to pound his ‘nads?

Rating: **

In a Nutshell:

Are Neo-Nazis allowed to make hate speeches in front of synagogues?

Summary:

So, the Bill of Rights encourages white supremacists?A man walks up to a synagogue, puts on a swastika armband, and starts calling out to passers by in praise of Adolf Hitler, while advocating the extermination of the old, the infirm, the mentally disabled, and (of course) the Jews. The crowd is havin’ none of it, and soon the hate-filled interlocutor is overcome by a mob of angry old ladies. Casualties are assessed, charges filed, and a sentence handed down.

Nazi Man appeals. The first amendment, he maintains, affords him the right to stand in whatever public place he chooses and shout as much hate as he damn well pleases. His lawyer stands up in court to state that, while he personally finds his client’s opinions repugnant, Nazi Man ought to be allowed the opportunity to express them. An attorney for the prosecution rebuts with the argument that we do not allow perverts to stand outside schoolyards and shout obscenities at children, so why does this guy get to stand outside a synagogue and preach hate about Jews?

The narrator takes us out of the film with a version of the classic, “What do you, the audience at home, think?”

Thoughts:

When the groovy bongos started up at the beginning, I was all set to dismiss this short as ludicrous sixties cheese. Then Nazi Man started preaching, and I started wondering what kind of educational film would give such a free and unrestrained forum to racism in one of its most toxic and persuasive forms. Then there was the mini-riot, the sentencing and the subsequent appeal where it actually got... thought-provoking. And I thought, “This is an educational film? Why isn’t the point maddeningly obscure or stupefyingly obvious?” I guess there’s no pleasing some people. And by “people” I mean “me”.

For the record, I think Nazi Man’s sentence ought to stand. I admit that the defense has a valid point. I agree that Nazi Man has the right to possess reprehensible world views, write pamphlets and books detailing his crackpot theories about the superiority of his race, and hold organized meetings with like-minded psychos in private, or even in public so long as he respects the local ordinances pertaining to such meetings. Nazi Man wasn’t arrested for doing any of those things. He was arrested because he stood in front of a synagogue and preached that everyone who worships there deserves to die. That’s as close to a direct threat as you can get without waving a gun and screaming, “I want to shoot the rabbi!” If a guy ever stands in front of my driveway and starts shouting, “This house deserves to be robbed!” I want the cops to arrest him before he talks someone into it.

Sadly, “thought-provoking” doesn’t translate into “funny” very well, and neither does “hate”. Mike, Bill and Kevin have a go at it anyway, though. As the narrator goes on about the individual’s right to free speech, Bill wants to know, “How do we get Man-Cow to shut up?” When Nazi Man wanders past, Kevin observes, “This guy exudes ‘Lone Gunman’”. As a child hides his face in his mother’s blouse during the speech of hate, Mike cries, “Mommy, his analogies are weak and stilted!” It’s a simple, effective short that, unfortunately, doesn’t much lend itself to mockery.