On Tuesday, May 3rd, I attended a showing of “This Divided State,” a documentary by rising filmmaker Steven Greenstreet. Sponsors of the event include the Roosevelt Institution, the Stanford Progressive, and Campus Progress, a sub-division of the Center for American Progress.
The film covers the events at Utah Valley State College during October of 2004, when the student council invited controversial filmmaker and writer Michael Moore to speak two weeks prior to the election. This decision caused a massive uproar from what local
resident Kay Anderson called “the most conservative town in the most conservative county in the most conservative state in the union.” Many of the conservatives, Republicans, mostly Latter-Day Saints members of the community around and within the college wanted to prevent Moore from speaking, and some even wanted to punish the student body presidents who invited Moore to come in the first place. A massive debate ensued over finances, ideology, and most importantly, the First Amendment, and it is this controversy that comprises “This Divided State.”
The documentary debuted at Utah Valley State College’s Regan Theater on February 3rd, and Stanford was one of 22 stops on the national college screening tour. Director Greenstreet, who was a film student at
, invited UVSC Communications students to assist him in making the film.
Greenstreet succeeds as a filmmaker in many ways that Michael Moore does not. He reveals only a little bias, focusing on the actual events more than his own personal views. In the interest of true debate, he includes solid and faulty arguments from all areas of the political spectrum, and shows only a slight dislike for ideological conservatives in the local UVSC community. He does a solid job of illustrating the differences in ideology and strains between conservatives and liberals in
. This political situation acts as a microcosm of the rift that exists in the rest of our country.
While the movie does its best to remain objective, Greenstreet does spend some time explicating on the callousness of several of
’s conservatives. He highlights portions of talk show host Sean Hannity’s speech at UVSC barely two weeks prior to
’s visit. In the speech, Hannity harassed and deprecated liberals, doing his best to “Hannitize” (give conservative ideas to) the audience. Greenstreet also shows the hypocrisy of many of these conservative citizens, implying that they are using their right to free speech in an attempt to stifle the free speech of others. He shows footage of students protesting
’s visit and allows viewers to hear angry phone messages sent by the public to the student body presidents. Most strikingly, he shows clips of Kay Anderson, a very conservative local who has pride in his community and flatly refuses to have anything “different” penetrate it. Greenstreet demonstrates
’s self-contradictory nature during a meeting where
proclaims that “Free speech works because most of us know when to keep our mouths shut.” The portrayal of his hypocrisy was effective, as evidenced by the reactions of those sitting behind me. My fellow students laughed at this quote, remarking that these radical comments were made by a man who apparently doesn’t know even when to keep his own mouth shut.
Greenstreet’s objectivity did fail in one major way. While he spent ample time demonstrating the hypocrisy of the right, he spent little to no time observing similar contradictions coming from the left. Luckily for me, he didn’t have to include that in the film, because the audience clued me in. In fact, the film was often less interesting than the reactionary comments going back and forth in the row behind me. Whenever
’s face filled the screen, moans of “Oh, not him again,” and “I hate that guy!” and “This dude makes me so angry, I can’t believe there are people who actually think like him” filled my ears. I also heard a great deal about the “sketchiness” of prominent, more eloquent conservatives like Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Bill O’Reilly. Interestingly enough, whenever an eloquent supporter of
’s presence in the town, or Moore himself, appeared onscreen spouting leftist ideology, the snide remarks and condescending laughter were gone, replaced by affirmations and supportive statements.
I observed the same reactions even when ignorant people in the documentary made a nonsensical, haphazard argument. If a radical conservative tried to decry Michael Moore’s arrival, angry murmurs pervaded the auditorium. However, when Hannity asked a liberal to defend Senator Kerry’s campaign, and the hapless citizen failed to come up with a single cogent argument, sympathy filled the air; this time the audience directed anger at Hannity for putting him on the spot. What does this suggest about the hypocrisy of the left? I say, that they wish to stifle the words of those they feel to be ignorant, solely because of their personal disagreement with the statements made. On Stanford campus, this is demonstrated by those who feel that it is their duty to burn or recycle large stacks of the Stanford Review newspapers.
In addition to inconsistencies from the townsfolk, Michael Moore exposes his own hypocrisy during his speech. Indignant that people actually tried to stop him from speaking, he turns to the Bill of Rights, pointing out that the very first article is freedom of speech and expression. He fails to realize, though, that the second article (placed higher than everything besides speech) gives Americans the right to own guns. Considering that he has an Oscar for a film dedicated to attacking this policy, I wonder exactly how dedicated to preserving the Bill of Rights he is.
All in all, I feel that Greenstreet did a solid job with “This Divided State.” He calls attention to a controversy in
that stems from and reflects the conflicts that exist on a broader scale in
. These conflicts include, most devastatingly, the inability to reconcile political and ideological differences because of stubborn, close-mindedness from both sides. He does spend more time illustrating the hypocrisy of the right in their desire to stifle free speech than he does attacking similar attempts by the left. In the end, I only can hope that citizens who identify with all areas of the political spectrum can call into question their own ability to handle disagreement. Eventually, we can come to accept that we all merit our own opinions.