The liberal democratic model doesn’t need a tune-up; it needs a full body overhaul. Increasingly, the university campus — the very place where young minds should be challenged and provoked, where preconceptions should be tested and the notion of intellectual comfort zones should be anathema — is becoming a symbol of the dismal future of liberal traditions.
Warning signs from the US are bad enough. Safe rooms allow young students to escape confronting ideas in the lecture room. Inside lecture halls, students demand trigger alerts for literature that has been taught, without warnings, for hundreds of years. Students revel in their no-platforming to stop even Germaine Greer talking on campus because some of her views don’t comply with campus orthodoxy. Other speakers are drowned out by drums and saucepans and banging sticks to stop them being heard, in front of cameras, with no shame over the illiberal antics. Complaints about cultural appropriation are aimed at authors such as Lionel Shriver, a fiction writer, on the grounds a white woman should stick to her own white story. Where would this leave Shakespeare? On it goes, the push in one direction to shame those who express different views and to shut down debate we once took for granted in a liberal democracy.
The same virus is closing down Australian minds. Last week the University of Sydney Union board withdrew funding to show a documentary called The Red Pill. Young filmmaker Cassie Jaye was researching rape culture when she came upon a website for men’s rights activists. The feminist, who had previously reported on issues such as single motherhood, LGBTI rights and marriage equality, had her own preconceptions challenged. The result is a thought-provoking exploration of issues that confront men, from unequal custody outcomes to male suicide rates, from male deaths in the workplace to inequalities in the criminal justice system, from dismal health statistics affecting men and more.
The film takes its title from the red pill reference in The Matrix where the protagonist is given a choice between taking the red pill that opens the mind to exploration or the blue pill where the story ends. Clearly the USU board chose the blue pill. And why wouldn’t it? It seems Dendy Cinemas may have swallowed a blue pill too, apparently telling organisers last week they were cancelling a screening of the documentary in Sydney’s Newtown theatre. Dendy have gone curiously quiet, perhaps hoping it will fly under the radar.
The most compelling parts of The Red Pill are Jaye’s video diaries where the filmmaker thrashes through the strictures of her own feminist training. Here on film is the opening of a young feminist mind — precisely what most frightens the feminist ideologues and the cultural Marxists. Having lost control of the economic debates, the left’s shift into the cultural sphere has been underway for more than four decades. Daily assaults on basic freedoms, such as the freedom to speak, attest to their domination of this sphere.
Parroting the dogma of feminist academics who admit they haven’t seen The Red Pill, the USU board justified its decision by arguing the film promotes “sexual violence”. No one who has seen the film could make such a ridiculously dishonest claim. The film does no such thing. It explores issues affecting men.
Today’s cultural dietitians seek to control debates by slapping a nasty label on those with different views, repeating it over and over again, regardless of whether it fits. The aim of using vile labels is to strip opponents of credibility and, even better, censor their views.
Former prime minister Julia Gillard labelled her then opponent Tony Abbott a “misogynist” when her own power was under threat, providing zero evidence of such an evil claim. To coin a phrase from Helen Garner’s nuanced look at sex and power in The First Stone, Gillard had a grid labelled “misogyny” and she resolved to apply it to the broadest possible field of male behaviour. The late Bill Leak was labelled a “racist” by critics to delegitimise and shut down his cartoons about dysfunction in some indigenous families. Enlightenment thinker and former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali was a peddler of “white supremacy” for challenging sharia law and demanding a reformation of Islam for the sake of Muslims.
By all means, review Jaye’s documentary. Critique it, pan it if that’s your view after seeing it. But banning it is another chapter in the left’s cultural strangulation of liberal values.
This is a return to another era when puritanical hysteria banned DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Back then the objection was to words deemed too rude to publish. The modern puritans treat different views as rude enough to censor. Opposing views have become the newest taboo. Sydney University screened The Hunting Ground documentary about sexual assault of women on American campuses, even though 19 Harvard professors challenged some of its claims. The same university refuses to finance the airing of a documentary raising serious issues afflicting men.
The same pusillanimity was on show last year when The Palace Kino cinema in Melbourne banned The Red Pill, making Australia the first country in the world where it was banned. That move led Ultima Function Centre manager and businessman Nick Georgiades to show the film. Online protests attacked his business, a death threat was made against him, yet Georgiades aired the film, pointing out that those trying to shut down the film were “proving the very point the director is trying to make”.
I’m ashamed to say that before seeing The Red Pill, I wondered whether the documentary was really one for me. But as the mother of a teenage boy on the cusp of manhood, I should have been more curious. This is a brilliant documentary that touches on so many issues that may one day confront our sons. Too many of us think we know enough, or at least we are comfortable with what we already know about certain issues. Worse, the USU decision shows stubborn and ideological blindness to information that challenges preconcieved positions. The consequences of the closing of young minds won’t be healthy, given that this generation will shape society in a few short years, which is why fighting against every episode of censorship is a worthy battle.
The Red Pill, with the help of an organisation called Fan Force, will be screened across Australia if enough people sign up on its website to see it. And why shouldn’t we be curious to learn about Jaye’s journey to a more open mind? Why shouldn’t we explore the pressures on boys and men, consider their vulnerabilities and ask how they are faring in a world where women’s issues attract most of the attention? What on earth are we afraid of?